Why Read This?

You should read this blog for the same reason I should write this blog: to re-calibrate our place in the world. For all I know, you are the happiest person on earth, dunked in karma so gold it is amazing you are not locked in the vault every time you go to the bank. [Does anyone actually go to a bank anymore?] But even if you are at peace, have no fears, are able to give and receive love, never feel like flipping off the driver ahead of you, are secure in all your relationships, had an undamaged childhood, know what to make for dinner every night, and (worthy of a second mention) have no fear, we can all be even more golden if we take a moment to consider another’s point of view, reconsider our own views, and accept that our lives are in a constant state of unpredictable flux. Here’s what I hope for with this blog:

  1. each posting will be better than the one before
  2. to gain new awareness of variety of unrelated topics
  3. to enter into a dialogue with others reading this.

Go ahead, talk amongst yourselves.

Seeking Redemption

For grades eight through ten, I attended boarding school. It was a small co-ed school without cliques and the girls in the dorms got along well enough. But one night I was part of a group of about six girls who bullied another girl. The incident was a one-time thing. There was no name calling or physical contact and once the event was over there were no lingering snickers or a retelling of the tale at breakfast the next morning. Nonetheless, it was nasty behavior and a gross example of peer pressure upon someone more vulnerable than any of the perpetrators.

I had a roommate who found a part of my body worthy of the adjective “ugly” and routinely called me by that description. She even used that moniker to address her comments to me in the yearbook. I ripped that page out immediately upon reading but the memory of the name she wrote is so fresh that the page might as well still be bound in the book.

I like to think none of us had an intent to harm but that doesn’t mean no harm was done. My 45 year old memories of being persecutor and persecuted attest to this.

Whenever I reflect on incidents such as these I do so with the insight I had at that time and not with the insight I possess now. “Could my roommate have been right?” I wonder as I look at my body in the mirror, oblivious to the empirical evidence of the past four-plus decades. If my daughters ever look through my yearbooks, what do I tell them of the undeniably ripped-out page?

As for my turn as the bully, did I ever mitigate the experience of my victim with a well-deserved apology? Here my memory is not so precise. If I had apologized, I would probably have mumbled “I’m sorry” and figured both she and I had a clean slate. But that is the wishful thinking of a young teenager. My present day, adult mind, questions if saying (or hearing) “I’m sorry” would have had real meaning given that most of us say “I’m sorry” innumerable times each today. “I’m sorry I didn’t call you back”. “I’m sorry I let the elevator door close on you.” “I’m sorry I ate your ice cream.”

Bullying isn’t on par with not holding open an elevator door or eating someone’s ice cream. The colloquial “I’m sorry” is an easy out for a teenage apologist. Asking for or granting forgiveness is another clean-the-slate approach; forgiveness granted or received cannot undo what has been done.

If forgiveness is impotent and “I’m sorry” is idiomatic what gives apologies such as those deserved in these situations the gravitas they merit? My adult self nominates “regret”. “I regret” has heft and substance and a seriousness that indicates if given a chance for a do-over, one would behave differently. Letting go of all hope for a better past, I am left with a need to commit myself to a more enlightened future. My present-day values free me to say I regret my participation that night in boarding school. These same values prevent me from repeating the non-exemplary behaviors of my past and heeding them is my redemption.

Are Writers Obsolete?

The best writing connects the reader to the emotions and thoughts of the author or the author’s subjects. Divulge on the page what we have shielded within and the reader will stay with the story until the last paragraph. But as we become accustomed to Tweets and Instagrams are we also becoming less inclined to read anything over 140 characters long? (at this point this is 319 characters and counting; still reading?)

The on-line magazine Slate goes so far as to label each story with how many minutes are needed to read the story. (This will take one and a half minutes more.Hang in there.) Given the constant barrage of “writing” we get each day from family, friends and acquaintances who share their every meal and sentiment with us, is there still a need for the the narrative writer to lay open the soul?

Writers are no longer necessary to write sports reports. Computers at Narrative Science (http://narrativescience.com) are able to turn raw data, such as sports scores, into readable copy like the following that appeared in Bloomberg Business Magazine: “Michigan held off Iowa for a 7-5 win on Saturday. The Hawkeyes (16-21) were unable to overcome a four-run sixth inning deficit. The Hawkeyes clawed back in the eighth inning, putting up one run (http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/10_19/b4177037188386.htm) Yes, a computer wrote ‘clawed’.

Right now Narrative Science generates copy for industries that rely on data such as crime statistics and medical surveys. But the day when Narrative Science is able to turn out romance novels using stock adjectives such as heaving, moist, misty, or mournfully may not be far off. Maybe it will fulfill the dreams of high school seniors and write college applications using words such as purposeful,volunteer and the ever-popular “I clawed my way to the top of my senior class….”

I’m not discouraged. Until the day computers experience loneliness or love, writers will be needed to describe and record human experience. When we read something that resonates, we are connected not only to the writer but to everyone who has read the same thing; reading words that move us, gives us a shared experience even when we are alone.

Yikes, the promised 90 seconds of reading is almost up. Keep on tweeting and posting and texting. This is one writer who is betting writers will be necessary if for no other reason than to write copy for the Narrative Science website.

I Am The Forty Percent

Nearly 40% of people who have lived in more than one community don’t consider home to be where they are currently living. Count me among the 40%. I still answer “Los Angeles” when someone asks where home is even though I have been in Seattle 10 years and have no intention of living in Southern California again. At least I’m not among the pathetic 4% who consider home to be where they went to high school.

The question of home is a vexing one for me. It does not hinge on quality of life (the social, physical and emotional parts of my life here are excellent) but hangs on something more visceral. For now, home is where I am able to put into place my aspirations and able to live with equanimity.

There are three places I imagine this can happen. One is this house in the Spanish Pyrenees:


This grabbed me and has not let go even though I have not been to the Pyrenees. There are lots of guest rooms. Take a look and pick out yours.

The other is the state of Montana; almost anywhere that is not Butte. You know the butterflies you get when you see a person you really love after you’ve been apart awhile? That’s how I feel whenever I have been to Montana. Every time, no matter the season.

Add to the list, the hills of Sonoma County where I used to drive as a student at UC Davis, to find a bit of comfortable anonymity in contrast to the everyone-knows-my-name side effect of being student body president in a small town. Steve Sperry, a hitch-hiker and gold-miner I picked up one day at a Sacramento on-ramp, (full disclosure: I drove by him the first time and took the next exit to circle back to give him a lift) first told me of Juanita’s, a bar and restaurant (I use that term loosely) on Highway 12 in Sonoma. Coming in at an imposing 200 plus pounds, Juanita Musson, all jowl and chins, ran the place and were it not for the following obit I just found, I would question whether Juanita and her cold beers really existed or if they were some lore I created to explain how I would come to drive those hills that felt so right.


Not being able to call Seattle home saddens me. If there were more sun and warmth it would be a real contender but no amount of global warming will make that so. I suspect that, like the turtle and snail who carry their home everywhere, I may one day realize that everywhere I go is home; that home is some peaceful place that you reach from within, always welcoming the many people each of us holds inside.

Ravaged Or Ravishing: Picturing Your Best Self

I am a voracious reader of obituaries. Inevitably, the accompanying photo of the deceased is decades old, taken before age or disease has set in, and selected so as to sear in our mind, an image of the person at their physical peak. Gone are the gaunt cheeks, the papery hands, the bleached, bony legs. Back for your viewing pleasure are the sparkling eyes, smooth neck and coifed hair. Hell, any hair. But what happens when your physical best and your psychological best are years apart? What picture do you choose when your best selves are, like mine, distanced from one another?

In a February New Yorker article by Ariel Levy, eternal swimmer Diana Nyad rhetorically asks “How many athletes have I interviewed who say “Oh, if only I could have my mind of this age and be back on the world stage as a skater, golfer, tennis player…” It’s unlikely that you or I will excel at anything that puts us on the world stage (ouch!) but each of us will have one last opportunity for a published headshot.

Will that snapshot show the svelte you of white, straight teeth and natural color hair who still thinks body deterioration happens only to the less diligent, or, will the snapshot be the you of later years with the additional 25 pounds (of which five reside under each eye) and milky, yet fully self-actualized gaze, that screeches “I live with no apology or shame”?

There are too many windswept faces in Hollywood and beyond to say our evolution from peak physical prowess to peak emotional/cerebral prowess is one we all welcome as the natural order of things. Leaving behind our most perfect physical self requires that we replace the behaviors of our youth with those more attuned to our -ahem- maturing bodies. Let’s face it: a twerking 60 year old is not as alluring as a twerking 23 year old although a twerker of any age may not be appealing at all.

Your best physical and psychological selves may be a lot closer to each other than mine are. I really hope so. At best mine have switched leadership positions as my healing psychological self trudges on, one internal enlightenment at a time, to take over the lead position from a halting, faltering body. The years of bumping and grinding my way through relationships until they were ash were a necessary cover while the rest of me first hid and, then, painfully evolved. I may have been easy on the eyes but a piffle of dust is not the image I want to leave behind.

A Non-Linear Life

In a cupboard in my office is a stack of calendars I used for way too many years after digital calendars came along. Some of the rubber-banded pages fit Filofax, some DayPlanners and I know there is a similar pile in a plastic bin in the garage. Should a detective want to know my whereabouts on July 22nd, 1985 at 2 pm, I can find that calendar, flip to the day in question and have the beginnings of a perfect alibi. The calendars record milestones like the dates of IVF attempts, a multitude of back surgeries, the court appointment to finalize my daughter’s adoption. Less monumental are dental appointments, lunches with friends, work deadlines. Read individually, the calendars chronicle my whereabouts and what-abouts; seen as a whole, they are validation that no matter how circumspect our intent, our lives are non-linear.

What’s a non-linear life? It’s the ATM machine not working. It’s the power going out. It’s a down-sizing at work, the broken zipper, a fight with a friend. A non-linear life is life. No day goes exactly as planned and no life is lived as it is imagined.

Essence of This Blog: Part 1

I heard this brief tale at a dinner as part of the before-meal blessing. It seems this particular Rabbi also got knocked from his trajectory as he went about his day:

One ordinary day a few millenia ago a rabbi walked to a nearby village to purchase supplies. On his way home, he absentmindedly took the wrong path. Suddenly a voice challenged him from the darkness: “Who are you, and why are you here?” Realizing he had wandered into a nearby garrison and that the voice had come from the young sentry standing post, the startled Rabbi (setting the precedent for all Rabbis thereafter) answered the question with another question: “Sir, how much do they pay you to stand guard and ask that question to all who approach?” The sentry, seeing that this was a rabbi and not an intruder, responded meekly “Five drachmas a week, sir.” The rabbi replied, “Young man, I will DOUBLE your pay if you come with me, stand in front of my cottage, and ask me that question each morning as I begin my day: Who are you, and why are you here?

Non-Linear Moment of the Day

Today I woke my daughter early to take her to the dentist for a cleaning. She is home on break from college and sleeping in is a protected pleasure. I ignored her grumping in the car, as I demonstrated the skillful driving that enabled me to hit every red light between home and Bellevue. The only green we saw for 15 miles looked like a tree. Checking in, book in-hand ready to pass an hours’ time, the receptionist informed me that I was the patient, not Maggie. The kid spent her morning in the waiting room, sans breakfast, while I spent two hours listening to my dentist say “Wow, this cavity is much bigger than shown on the x-ray”. See what I mean by non-linear? By 11:00, I was to have read a number of chapters in a book but by the time 11:00 rolled around, my face had blown up like a toad and my daughter was getting miffed at my multiple apologies.

Mrs. Simon Makes A Call

Zen and Jewish Women

Rest assured my love for all things suede and most things leather prohibit me becoming vegan. My even greater affinity for clean shaven arm pits (women only) keep me a safe distance from communal meditation. Nonetheless, because the whole point of this blog is to consider concepts, views and topics we might not come across and might make us uncomfortable, I want to share an idea I’ve recently read about Zen practices. Not venturing too far from my roots, all the authors I am reading are short, round, Jewish women who no doubt answer to the name “Bubbe” as much as they answer to the moniker “Nasturtium of the Glen” or whatever and probably turn out a great noodle kugle. Anyway, there are some parts of Zen practice that are useful when repositioning our lives. Sylvia Boorstein (told ya so) writes “mindfulness, to me, means seeing profoundly, seeing what is beyond my immediate impression of what’s happening to a level of discriminating awareness that leads to skillful response”. Sylvia Boorstein is clearly way more evolved than me. Here is my version of mindfulness that I call: Doing The Sandy Simon.

Old rotary dial telephone on plain background

Old rotary dial telephone on plain background


Mrs. Simon was practically diaphanous: her translucent skin contrasted against her red hair and she flowed instead of walked. Even her house seemed to float, set as it was on a hillside, its front wall a sheet of glass exposing all to the street below. Her son Jon and my younger brother were buds and she would periodically call our house to speak with my mom to make plans for the boys. It is crucial, here, to remember – or to learn- that when I was eleven years old, there were no portable phones or answering machines and phones had two pieces to them, a bulky body with a dial embedded in it and a receiver connected by a curly, thick plastic cord. Back then, to not get to the phone on time meant that that call, that potential contact with another person, was gone forever. Thus, upon hearing the phone ring, it was imperative that I scamper through the house, careen around corners, trip down stairs, do whatever it took to corral the receiver to my ear and choke out “hello” before the ringing stopped and the dial tone returned. Since caller ID had yet to be invented, I never knew when I would grab the receiver who would be on the other end. Sometimes, in not quite a whisper and not quite breathless, the voice on the line would say “Sheryl, hello. This is Mrs Simon” and I would be stopped dead in my tracks, the sprint to the phone forgotten and any chaos swirling in my head dissipated. With an audible exhale of my own I would reply “Hello, Mrs. Simon. Let me call my mother to the phone”.

Sandy Simon died in 1983. I learned of her death from an article in the Los Angeles Times two years later in 1985. A film had been made of the last few years of her life as she died of leukemia. She had used those years to foster the nascent hospice movement in Los Angeles. In reflecting on her death in the LAT article her husband, Jack Simon, said “She set the example”.

Thirty years after her death and at least five decades since I have heard her voice Sandy Simon sets an example for me. Call it deliberateness, call it composure, call it Doing The Sandy Simon. Whatever. When I am careening through my days recklessly grabbing for something to steady me, I remember the feeling I had when I heard her voice on the phone, manifested by the briefest cessation, during which I examine my impulses before acting on them. It is inserting a beat -a pause- between a feeling and an action. It can be the difference between acting on a negative impulse and letting it go.

Acting on it makes me feel bad. Letting it go makes me feel good. That’s worth waiting a beat.

Had Sandy Simon called in 1971 or later I may not have made any effort to get to the phone knowing my new Casio answering machine would record her soothing voice on its tiny reel-to-reel tape. Had she called in 1986 I would not have had to make the mad dash to the phone since I would have had my nifty new portable phone with me wherever I moved in the house. Today, she probably would just text and I would have never known or reaped the benefit of the feathery voice of Sandy Simon.

You can read about Sandy Simon here:


What’s Next

Expect to read about recognizing and navigating non-linear lives. Topics that will course through the discussion are horses, memories, bravery, fear, values, clarity, charity, the dilemmas of truth, the concepts of home, the sense of belonging, and the challenges of aging. We will look at the daily events that contribute to making our lives non-linear and as I get more comfort-able, I will lead the discussion to the stuff we all think (at least I think others think) but won’t divulge. It’s the human story, folks. Somebody has to tell it and that might as well be us.