Mr. Holmes, Dame Smith, and The Valuable Phone Call

August 11, 2015 6 comments

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A friend I’ve known since I was 22 years old joined me a few days ago for a girls’ weekend.

The first afternoon we went to a movie, Mr. Holmes: The Man Behind the Myth.  Wonderful acting by Ian McKellen, Laura Linney and an enchanting Milo Parker.  A story within a story within a story with a plot of twists and turns and clues that can go right by you if you’re lazing into one of those recliner-seat-type movie theatres.   Underlying the storylines is the fading expertise of master British sleuth, Sherlock Holmes.  Without giving away anything that’s not revealed in the first minutes of the film, the now-nonagenerian Mr. Holmes has retired for two reasons.  One of them is not revealed immediately; the other is his slipping memory.

The next night we opted to stay at home and re-watched one of my all-time favorites, The Quartet, with Maggie Smith.    If you’ve seen the movie, you know that Dame Maggie’s opera-star character wages a battle on two fronts: with ghosts of the past and, like Mr. Holmes, with a diminished sense of her ongoing worth.

Seeing both movies made for a fun, relaxing weekend.

Then came The Phone Call the next day.  Real-time, real-life.   From a different friend who had recently moved several states away from her long-time home, life-long friends and a successful career.  All of these had formerly served to identify her but all now seemed to have gone missing and with them her sense of personal value. How to get it back? A case for concern.  There was a familiar ring to all this.

I  am also living in a different place than I was just a couple of years ago.  What has that change meant for how I feel about myself and what I do now in comparison with what I did then?   My friend’s surprising reprise of the same issue I had just watched on both the big and small screens left me doing a double take.

I love good movies.  The stories they tell almost always show us something about ourselves, along with providing a tablespoon of entertaining sugar that makes any such truths easier to swallow.

Both the fictional Mr. Holmes and the Quartet’s star performer knew from experience that they had enjoyed near legendary reputations and adulation.  But that was then.  Now who was the person, what was the reality behind the myths?  To find out,  each ultimately had to go inside to face privately what had motivated the use of their unique abilities and, perhaps even more painfully,  how they had responded to relationships intertwined with their careers.

In both movies it took a near-catastrophe to jolt the lead character out of an all-about-me zone,  in which what controlled them was  the fear that they might never again live up to their previously enjoyed public persona.   When love and friendship forced the fabled detective and the famous prima donna to forget past achievements and focus instead on what others needed in the here and now that no one else could realistically provide,  each discovered new life.   In Holmes case, that led to solving an old mystery as well as a life-saving new one.  In the Quartet’s Tales of Retirement it resulted in a bravo-worth denouement.

What I do next in my own life is yet to be determined.  I know I don’t want to be said about me what Oliver Wendell (not Sherlock) Holmes penned back in an 1858 poem he titled “The Voiceless”:

       Alas for those that never sing, but die with all their music in them.

The other Mr. Holmes, the one in the eponymous movie,  found a way to avoid that fate;  so did Dame Smith’s character.

Moral of the movie weekend for me: be open to discovering now ways to use one’s unique “singing” abilities for others.

A Murder Fable from Colorado

July 22, 2015 6 comments

If I hadn’t heard it myself, I wouldn’t have seen it myself.

First came the caws, followed by squawks, and finally screams.    That’s when I got up from my perch on the couch to see what was up with the angry birds. No, not the video game.  Real live, irate crows.

From both my balcony and my dining room, (sorry, can’t resist this one) I had a birds’-eye view.  The squabble seemed to be over some prime Colorado real estate, a rooftop that afforded would-be squatters great opportunities to pick off meals on the fly.   The crows all looked alike but being birds of a feather didn’t make them friendlies.

Initially, the three, large noise-makers confronted each other close-up and personally, literally beak-to-beak.  I watched mesmerized.

No actual physical attacks, but plenty of verbal abuse and ruffled feathers.   Then with oral intimidation failing to oust any one of the contenders, two of the crows paired up in a ploy familiar in high school hallways and high flying social circles: isolation. Two or more against one.  Two of the crows moved closer —much closer —to each other until there was scarcely a feather’s difference separating them.  Then they began an amazing choreography, silently side-stepping away from the middle toward one side of the rooftop ridge, pointedly leaving the other one on the opposite end, alone.

That’s when it occurred to me — Nature was providing a parody of pre-presidential primary politicking.  As I waited to see what the outcome would be for my nearby roof-top squabblers, I could almost hear the human-voice attacks  and picture caricatures of  famous and wannabe political figures dancing around positions in an upcoming debate.

After a few more minutes, a  flurry of activity across the way once again turned  my attention to that event. The two now buddy-buddy crows were lifting off in one direction; shortly thereafter their feathered competitor flew off a different way, presumably in search of friendlier skies.  Within moments of each other, all three were gone, leaving the once furiously-contended-for prize for some totally different newcomer to claim.

Interesting— as they flew away, no sounds filled the air.  No cackling. No crowing. Even bird brains apparently know internecine squabbling doesn’t make for a winner.

After this intriguing illustration from nature, I did a little research.  The centuries-old label for a group of crows is not a flock; it’s a “murder.”   According to PBS, one folktale explanation for the term is that this very intelligent, very social  species will gather periodically to decide the capital fate of another crow.  I’m not making this up.

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M is for…

May 9, 2015 4 comments

More than the greeting-card line that will be read and heard countless times this Mother’s Day weekend.

And while I add my own praise and gratitude to the Mothers in my life, and the Million things they have done and continue to do, M is also the beginning of meaningful words that have nothing to do with maternity.  To name a few and what they’ve come to mean to me :

DSC03619-BM is for Money.  A mantra I recently coined for myself: Make sure I control Money.  Don’t let it control me.

M is for Math.

file0001330166183 Without it there wouldn’t be money.  But it’s more important than that.  Math is a key player in “The Theory of Everything” —  not justhe movie, but in the governing principles of the universe.

M is for Mentoring.  Mentoring is a word that regularly pops up on business, writing, and the business-of-writing sites.  I saw it on a blog post just last week. file000729042698  My online dictionary defines mentoring as advising or counseling a younger colleague.  It also points out that a mentor is someone trusted. Unsaid is that mentoring is usually unpaid.

It may be a newer buzz word, but Mentoring has been around as long as families. It’s what those of us who are oldest daughters grew up doing, though we didn’t volunteer for the position and I’m not sure our younger siblings would have called it that.  It usually manifested itself in mantras like “Do what your sister tells you to do.”  While that was sometimes seen by siblings as an invitation to tyranny,   it was more often viewed by those of us in that position as a mandate to set a responsible example, as in “You’re the oldest, you should know better.”  We were expected to pass along life lessons along with homework help.

And now I realize Mentoring is a life-long opportunity for everyone.

Before moving from Kansas to Colorado, I’d spent four years tutoring in a remarkable program that provided assistance to local community-college students struggling to learn despite being physically, emotionally, or cognitively challenged.  It was called tutoring, but it went far beyond explaining academic material.  It involved time, effort, encouragement and trust.  Those words sum up Mentoring.  I am not currently involved in any formal mentoring, but opportunities to do so informally, like Math, exist in everything.  I recently discovered them in the success stories shared in a support group.

On the coffee table in her living room, my mother kept a bowl of those little round candies imprinted with an M – you know the ones that melt in your mouth, etc.  Thanks, Mom, for an idea worth replicating. I’ve begun purchasing packages of the tempting morsels.  The contents now frequently spill into a bowl on my own living-room table, inviting others to share some sweetness and reminding me of the Many things I can count on in life.

Categories: General Tags: , , ,

Orchid-Speak or Why I Changed My FB Pic

May 5, 2015 5 comments

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Art imitates life, they say.  But in my home, life has become art.   Specifically,  an orchid that is now for me an objet d’art .   Arcing in hues  from boldest to barely blue, it commands the surrounding space, silently shouting “Pay attention to me.”   I’ve become enamored of this exotic plant.  So much so that I photographed it.

Which brings me to Facebook.    Previously an image of a blue butterfly served as  my FB “photo.”  It was a stock drawing, available to any and all for creative use.  I had chosen it because butterflies emerge from cocoons and fly free. I liked that symbolism.  It’s still a nice idea, but I no longer want someone else’s work (even at no charge) to represent me.  Nor is my self-image any longer that of a butterfly, social or otherwise.  Time to proclaim a new public persona.

If you look closely at  the above photo, you’ll see there’s a new, pale flower that doesn’t have the darker colors of its predecessors.  In fact, it’s not even from the same branch, but from a side off-shoot I had overlooked when I bought the plant.  Just above the newly emerging  blossom is a shriveled, not-going to-make-it floweret. Both of them are surrounded by an abundance of beautiful blooms.

In a thought-provoking little book, When I Loved Myself Enough, author Kim McMillen repeated the name of the book on each page and then added what she saw happening in herself as a result.  On one page she wrote, “I began seeing the abuse in trying to force something or someone who isn’t ready — including me.“  On a later page, she continued, “The impulsive part of me learned to wait for the right time.”

Maybe she had an orchid in her home.  Because as I’ve  learned from contemplating this exotic plant,  you don’t force an orchid.   It’s going to wait to open a pregnant bud and birth a beautiful blossom until it somehow knows the time is right.  So it is with me.

I’ll intuitively know when it’s time, so to speak,  to blossom socially again. And I’ve learned as a writer — sometimes to my dismay — that  I have to let some ideas  wither on the vine and focus instead on other ones that are appearing right before my eyes.

Before getting this plant, the only thing I knew about orchids was that they were the prized corsages at prom-time.  I had no idea they have a language of their own that I can hear if I sit quietly and listen.  It took a while to learn orchid-speak.

Now the more I sit silently with it, the more this orchid slowly reveals what’s budding in both of us.

Orchid-speak or Why I Changed My FB Pic

Categories: General

Orchid-speak or Why I Changed My FB Pic

CAM00392 copy

Art imitates life, they say.  But in my home, life has become art.   Specifically,  an orchid that is now for me an objet d’art .   Arcing in hues  from boldest to barely blue, it commands the surrounding space, silently shouting “Pay attention to me.”   I’ve become enamored of this exotic plant.  So much so that I photographed it.

Which brings me to Facebook.    Previously an image of a blue butterfly served as  my FB “photo.”  It was a stock drawing, available to any and all for creative use.  I had chosen it because butterflies emerge from cocoons and fly free. I liked that symbolism.  It’s still a nice idea, but I no longer want someone else’s work (even at no charge) to represent me.  Nor is my self-image any longer that of a butterfly, social or otherwise.  Time to proclaim a new public persona.

If you look closely at  the above photo, you’ll see there’s a new, pale flower that doesn’t have the darker colors of its predecessors.  In fact, it’s not even from the same branch, but from a side off-shoot I had overlooked when I bought the plant.  Just above the newly emerging  blossom is a shriveled, not-going to-make-it floweret. Both of them are surrounded by an abundance of beautiful blooms.

In a thought-provoking little book, When I Loved Myself Enough, author Kim McMillen repeated the name of the book on each page and then added what she saw happening in herself as a result.  On one page she wrote, “I began seeing the abuse in trying to force something or someone who isn’t ready — including me.“  On a later page, she continued, “The impulsive part of me learned to wait for the right time.”

Maybe she had an orchid in her home.  Because as I’ve  learned from contemplating this exotic plant,  you don’t force an orchid.   It’s going to wait to open a pregnant bud and birth a beautiful blossom until it somehow knows the time is right.  So it is with me.

I’ll intuitively know when it’s time, so to speak,  to blossom socially again. And I’ve learned as a writer — sometimes to my dismay — that  I have to let some ideas  wither on the vine and focus instead on other ones that are appearing right before my eyes.

Before getting this plant, the only thing I knew about orchids was that they were the prized corsages at prom-time.  I had no idea they have a language of their own that I can hear if I sit quietly and listen.  It took a while to learn orchid-speak.

Now the more I sit silently with it, the more this orchid slowly reveals what’s budding in both of us.

Not the usual bucket list

April 29, 2015 5 comments

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“Who am I?  Oh, that’s the great puzzle.”

Today I’m challenging the claim made in that famous quote from Lewis Carroll’s  Alice in Wonderland with my own newly discovered befuddler.   What do I want? Oh, that’s the great puzzle.

It’s the question a walking friend and I discussed as we summited an uphill path last week.  We weren’t talking about things.  We both meant what we wanted out of life. Neither of us answered our own question.  Maybe it was because we were at the end of our walk.  More likely it was that we didn’t feel confident that we knew.

I kept thinking about it after I returned home.   What do I want — out of life?  Hoping to find out, I made a list.   It included things I wanted to be, things I wanted to do.    Then like a child at Christmas, I began culling,  crossing off the ones that I knew in my core weren’t truly important. Two items remained: having meaningful relationships and being/doing what’s relevant.

As usual, whether I’m thinking with my fingers when writing or my feet when walking, quotes came to mind: “Do that which makes you feel most vitally alive” (William James). “You must do that which you think you cannot do  (Eleanor Roosevelt).

What makes me most vitally alive?  After relationships with family and friends — Writing.  Connecting and  communicating with people, sharing what I see as  Relevant. Through a blog, for example.  Or a book.

As many of you know, I began working several years ago on a book about oldest daughters.  I am convinced from personal experience, observation, research and interviews that the position of oldest daughters is unique in the way it impacts the three S’s in adult families — Self, Siblings, Spouses.   Relationships.

In the course of writing the book, my own oldest daughter who is a clinical psychologist specializing in women’s issues, joined me as co-author. She provides her professional perspective in our book through commentaries and questions for family reflection.   The book was finished last month.

What follows now is the search for just the right agent/publisher. It’s not what gives meaning to my life.  It’s not Writing for me.  It’s a combination of researching,  contacting,  and self-marketing.  That last is  something I’m not comfortable with.  Enter Eleanor’s mandate.  It’s not that I think I cannot do it .  It’s that I resist doing it.

So the question morphs.  Will I do What it Takes to get What I Want?

This past week a friend called, concerned about a blending of families that may be taking place in the  life of one of her children. I told her about an oldest daughter who’d become a middle child in a blended family.  “Tiffany’s” experiences, related in our book,  resonated with my friend.  The power of story.

However, such stories have no meaning unless they’re told and read.  And that won’t happen, dear Eleanor, unless I make myself fall through the looking glass into my relevant wonderland.

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