Monday, December 31, 2007

New Year's Eve - Crack the Champagne?

I have a bottle, and I'm making a list of reasons to raise a glass.

It is quite amazing to me the things I learn about life from writing, in the act of finding language to create meaning and sensation. Here is one I'm pondering today: in editing, I often spend too much time trying to correct symptoms of underlying issues. For example, I'll say that a section of dialogue is stilted, when the real problem is that the character is underdeveloped. That sort of thing. Guess what...I do that in life, too. I react to symptoms and try to fix them, instead of taking that single breath and step backward to be sure I'm correcting the right thing. I've been working on this pretty hard in 2007, and I've made a lot of progress but dammmmmmit...I keep slipping up.

I forgive myself...but I really wish I would stop it. No: I will stop it.

Here is how I slip up most: not measuring opportunities FIRST against how they match with my priorities, and THEN by what else they might offer me. I'm very lucky in many ways - opportunities come to me. People who love me say that's because I work hard. Ehhh...I think it's some sort of balancing act for the crappy stuff that's been thrown in my direction. Either way - when opportunities arrive, it is hard not to be persuaded by the priorities that OTHERS have for me. More salary, more "prestige" - these aren't on my priority list. More time, more focus, the time and energy to write and to care for my body - these are on my list.

Oh, wait. Maybe how I slip up most is in overbooking myself, overcommitting my time. No. I'm getting better about that. Progress.

So, I'm withdrawing from consideration for a job that has a great title and pays better (and does get me to the side of the country I'd prefer living in) - but that advances none of my priorities. Whew. I'm getting better at this.

It occurs to me that if my priorities are attained...I'll likely find myself a healthy, fit, poor-but-happy writer. That's okay - I'll still have my shoes. It will be better than okay. It will be perfect. :)

That 12 week thing started today. So this morning, after a healthy breakfast, only ONE cup of coffee and a couple of glasses of water, I bundled up and went out to walk my 4 miles (including the breath-stealing hill!) in the chill air. It felt great. And now I'm here...and soon I'll go give myself a pedicure and get semi-snazzily dressed to ring in the new year. I'm wearing the shoes, I think...even if they are a super impractical choice for the quieter celebration we're planning.

And today, tonight, tomorrow - I'll be making my list of things to be grateful for, 2007 milestones and great moments, people to thank and connect with. And I will also be working on my plans for next year.

Be safe and joyous!

~ patti

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas Cormac McCarthy

This morning, around 9, I started reading No Country For Old Men, a novel by Cormac McCarthy. He is a brilliant writer, and his prose thrills me even when his material troubles me. But it's Christmas Eve, so I expected to read a few chapters, then set the book aside and read something else. Something Christmasy. Lighter. Like, say, maybe...Dante.

Oh, my. Nope. Read the whole book in one sitting. Straight through. What a novel. It raises big questions about the nature of faith, the aims of our country, the aims of each one of us - questions it doesn't answer and that it raises without approaching preachiness. The characters are complex and simple, honorable and flawed. Lovely. You will, if you know me, hear about this book for a while. But tonight, I am moved to quote one section.

So as not to ruin the book's lovely and quiet surprises, I'll not say where this section is from, or who the speaker is. He's smart, tough, and wise. He is not educated, and is, as they apparently say in Texas with great reverence, "common as dirt." He has not had an easy life, and he is speaking to another character about the nature of regret in a life. He says this:
"I ain't got that many regrets. I could imagine lots of things you might think would make a man happier. . . You can make up your own list. You might even have one. I think by the time you're grown up you're as happy as you're goin to be. You'll have good times and bad times, but in the end you'll be about as happy as you was before. Or as unhappy. I've knowed people that just never did get the hang of it."

My, yes. I've known people who never got the hang of it, either, and this passage rang with such immense and simple truth to me. I've known people, smart people, who sniffed at happiness as the playground for the simple-minded. But in the end, that's just not true. It may be, arguably, harder to stay happy when you can see the complexities of the world's problems. But in the end, you're going to find a way to be happy with today if you are so wired. You're going to smile at some touch of nature in your life, or the sweet smile of a child, or the taste of something simply delicious. And it will not matter, really, if you do that from a chair surrounded by sunshine and daisies, or from a place that is darker. Because for happy people the darkness is transitory. It simply is.

I'll tell you, this gives me pause. You have to try to place yourself when you read something like that, don't you? Out walking tonight, in the cold and clear darkness, I thought hard about this. I have had a series of hard times, unrelated to one another, but piled on top of one another, such that I became an essentially happy person who began to doubt that the darkness was transitory. Or, as one of my friends says, the "little donkey burdens all added up." I didn't even really know that I was losing my faith in the light. And then, then a lot of things conspired to lift my head up. I was reminded that the darkness could be lifted. I remembered, and I believed. That memory made me kick for the light, in a way that reminds me, still, of kicking for the surface of a lake when my lungs ache for air. One never knows what you'll find at the surface, or in the clarity of bright light, but the happy person is certain it will be better than burning for air, or fumbling in darkness. Rediscovering the light has been such a gift - it's hope and happiness all in one.

Merry almost-Christmas to all those who helped me to find my light this year, and those who waited while I did. Thank you, a thousand thousand times over.

~ Patti

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Snow Falls on ChainLink....

My house sits on a corner, across the street from an old, private golf course. I always say I have the cheap seats - the lush open space spread out and filling the view from my windows...just across a rather busy street, and on the other side of a chain link fence that is almost invisible. Until the snow outlines each rectangle with teeny drifts of white that glisten in moonlight.'s nice, almost decadent, that expanse of groomed earth. In summer it's too green for this desert climate, and in winter it feels like a private park.

It snowed last night when I was out walking. First it was that icy kind of sleety rain-snow, and I was laughing to myself about being so hard-headed that I was 1.75 miles from home, in the dark, in the sleet, without a hat but with both an Ipod and a cell phone. Nice. But then...the snow changed to the heavy, dense curtain of flakes - the kind that falls straight down in a silent press of white. And I smiled at it, tipped my face up to let it strike my skin and thanked the universe for sending it. It made me MUCH less homesick to have the snow falling. I might have dialed my cell to share the news with someone...but it was as sweet, I think, to send my thoughts out into the dark night sky and trust that they would be felt, if not heard.

Yeah, this 12-week thing? Uhm....I'm thinking maybe I started with a four week maintenance warm-up kind of plan, and then I'll leap right into the 12 week weight loss cycle. Yeah. I have changed my habits a lot, and I'm no longer at risk of just piling on pounds when I let my guard down. I have habits that involve uh...vegi burgers and whole grains, instead of my old standbys of french cheese and delightful breads. Thus - it is okay to be in a maintenance loop for a few weeks - it IS. It is a long road, this life road. And I'm under direct orders to treat myself with love and respect. To which I say...whatever...and then try to honor that request, because it came out of love and care.

Love and peace to us all - it's just a few hours from Christmas Eve day here, and I'm enjoying the silence and the glow of my late-decorated but lovely Christmas tree.

Peace and love ~ Patti

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Twelve Weeks

I was manhandled by one of those "free gift" offers into buying a book titled Body for Life for Women. The book is a little inspirational (galleries of before and after photos, success stories) and quite blunt. If you're over 40, you are on a fast track to a higher percentage of body fat and less lean muscle unless you work hard at reversing the process. Ugh.

One element I like quite a lot is one that I've followed rather unconsciously the last few years as I worked to lose the pounds I'd piled on: 12 weeks of focused weight loss effort, and then 12 weeks of maintenance at the new lower weight before losing more. I like this. It works for me, and it makes sense to me.

So, today is day 1 of a 12 week weight loss segment.

I ate wisely, drank lots of water (that part's always easy for me) and, joy of joys...walked my 4 mile loop, though without taking the hill that steals my breath. It felt awesome. Yay, me.

Happy December.

Peace to all ~ patti

Friday, November 2, 2007

Staying in the Now

People who strive to stay in the now, to experience this moment as it happens, are magnetic. It simply feels good to be near 'em.

I wrestle to achieve being in the moment, and only sometimes succeed. A coworker was shocked to find, when he attempted meditation for the first time, that he could not free his mind of busy thoughts for even 10 seconds at a time. We really are that frantic, inside our heads. So, I give myself some slack - staying in the now is hard to do. When my life feels "in balance" it usually feels nearly effortless to stay in the now. My actions and intentions are in harmony, the pieces and parts of my life all claim the appropriate amount of attention. But it's hard to stay in that state. Nature abhors a vacuum, right? And stasis is...well, 'tis better to be in flux than dead!

What I find most interesting today is the habit of imbalance, the forces that tug and press this way and that in an effort to push us off center, into the gap. Speaking bluntly - not everyone appreciates having us "in the moment" - or in balance. Bosses, lovers, coworkers and sometimes friends all like, they think they like, the frantic, hyper, wildly amusing/busy/zany/zingy versions of ourselves. My boss, for example, thinks that my calm when I am balanced is a kind of dullness, a lack of engagement. Some of my friends find me livelier when I am out of balance - that crazed edgy energy, the panic of feeling that drives humor and motion. Hell, I like being inside all that energy - it keeps me from having even an instant to reflect.

D'oh....was that my outside voice?

But the ease that I feel when in that balanced place - it's so vivid. It is a sense of well being that is easy to recall even in dark moments, an ease that is a worthy goal.

So what is balance? It is, as I mentioned, that state when my actions are in line with my intentions. Action is intention. So what I really mean to say is that balance is when my actions are in balance with my stated intentions, the intentions in my head, those I say out loud, write on "my goals" lists, measure myself and my worth against. Mine are easily stated. My intention is to live so that I value my time over money. To love generously but without giving up my true self. To eat well and move my body in all the ways that it is intended to move. To give back to those who need, to those I love. To follow my dreams. To write well and daily, and to read.

We are now entering the season of little balance, and much mania. Seems a good time to remember what peace there is in silence. I'm trying - those of you who love me best know that. I'm trying very hard to stay in balance. Thanks for the hands and hearts and hugs and good wishes.

Hold tight to your center.

Peace ~ Patti

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Liquor, Sugar and Hormones

There are many times that I love being a woman. There are other times that I do not enjoy it quite so much. I speak, of course, of the interesting (damn, I've grown to hate that word in the last month or so, standing in as it does for so many other more specific, clear or direct word choices - but I'm writing, so I get to use it with impunity and y'all just have to deal w/it) interplay of hormones and mood. Hormones, those invisible chemical strands traveling my blood and inciting tiny riots in my various organs. I imagine them like Pan, little teeny-tiny specks of perfectly-natural-just-a-part-of-femininity wandering freely, urging me to eat just one more handful of salty wasabi/soy almonds at just the moment when my tissues most want to grip tightly to every molecule of water, apparently fearing some massive internal drought, or waking me at 2 AM to remind me that there is stashed organic chocolate in the cabinet where I keep my liquor, or making me impatient with every aspect of my life at once.

It is this last thing that bothers me most. I can stumble back to bed at 2:15 AM, mouth smeared with chocolate, smelling sweetly of cocoa and cognac, and be asleep again in a few minutes. I can pay someone to hide the salty snacks, or just wear bigger clothes and marvel at the puffy places where my cheekbones sometimes appear, like phantoms. But the urge to change everything - sometimes I trust it, and I think that maybe this urge is the only time I really see clearly, and I could easily, and have actually, made big decisions and taken big actions while caught up in what may be a simple hormonally-induced fugue state.

Here is my dilemma: what if this really IS the only time I truly see clearly, when the nicey-niceness of my spirit is laced with a bit of Tabasco-hot "gimmesomeofthat" clarity? Because what I want becomes very clear when I allow myself to think about it. I have a friend who thinks we are all, the entire nation, even the entire world, becoming too self centered. In theory, this works for me, but in practice. Hmm...I don't know. It seems to me that the self centered become ever more so, while normal people often forget to get their needs met at all, busy as they are with mortgages, children, careers, obligations, a thinner waist and attaining a weed-free lawn. Normal people figure out how to not want what they need - that's my experience. They, or we for this one, excuse the hurtful behavior of others because "they didn't intend to hurt me." We pile on obligations to make meaning of our days. They imagine that they don't need to be loved and cherished and passionately sought by their lovers or spouses, that any one of those is enough. Or they decide that really-really-liked with shared parenting responsibilities is enough. I'm pretty sure these are not enough, not really, but there sure are a lot of us settling for a piece of any of it.

I think maybe I'll start to listen to the hormonal me's list of "this ain't working for me and let me tell you why" items. Maybe write them down. Peruse at my leisure, maybe when I'm back to eating the they-almost-have-flavor rice cakes. I'll smear the rice cakes with Nutella, cause hey, everyone needs a little nuttychocolatey goodness in their life.

I'm big on letting people who love me know that I'm hurting by saying that I'm putting on my big girl panties. It's official, folks. Today is a full-on Nutella-with-a-spoon and big-girl panty day. Stand clear unless you're part of the solution.

Smiles all around.

~ patti

Sunday, September 2, 2007


Today I had long instant message conversations with two girlfriends. I met these women online, one lives 1500 miles away, the other on another continent, yet they've become real, whole people to me. I stood later in my living room, and later yet in my backyard, and danced to music playing on my iPod's headphones, to songs recommended by those far-off friends. Here is the thing: my constant reminders of the shrinking world make me despise my ignorance. It is shameful that I have not engaged myself with people from other cultures in years, that I am well educated yet know no other languages, that I've never travelled outside this continent. My time has been far too focused on the tiny sphere that I moved within each day, and that sphere feels constricting these days. I am fighting the urge to sweep everything aside, but I welcome these stirrings of desire for change. Change that I might choose. That seems the key to my musings these days.

Just watched the film "The Queen" - several friends had recommended, no, demanded that I see it. What a performance Helen Mirren gives, and what an icy-cool message of such weight. The film reminds us that some elements of our lives are prescribed, some of the life-paths we will walk, that we must walk, are chosen for us. But it is in us to change, to adapt, to react with purpose and not with fear. This is my mantra these days - to live with purpose and not in fear of what I do not, cannot, will not or have not had. Living with purpose is, it seems, the prerequisite to living in joy.

I am a fan, a starstruck and giddy fan, of the writer Andre Dubus. In a book of tributes to Andre Dubus, a friend quotes a letter that he wrote. The quote is lovely, and funny, and smart. But a single sentence in it has become something I hear echoing in my mind in moments of joy and of pain. The sentence is this:

This is not all fun in the sun but a durable, graceful dance to the music of mortality.

Indeed. I believe that shadows make us see light more vividly, that there is no life worth living that doesn't have difficult moments, that loss and failure and hurt make success and joy sweeter. We are in a durable, graceful dance to the music of mortality.

Isn't it lovely?

Peace and hope ~ patti

Thursday, August 23, 2007


Do vacations prime you to see things differently? Maybe not the kind filled with drives to vacation "destinations", where the expectation of what you will see and experience is created in brochures and through the don'tmissyougottasee comments of friends or relatives. Maybe not the kind where your express reason for travel is to see those relatives or friends, which lead you to visit places like Detroit in August. NotThatThereIsAnythingWrongWithDetroitInAugustExceptTheHellishnessOfItAll. My vacations tend to fall into one of a couple of categories, with my favorite category being the go somewhere beautiful and read/relax/write/singsongs/walk/eatwell/drink wine/laugh much/talk irreverently about everything under the sun. I need that type of vacation at least annually. I just had one, a trip to the Oregon coast from my home in Boise, trading dry desert summer for the cool wet coast in August.

It is an amazing thing, to feel the slow uncoiling of tension that happens in me when I unplug. For some this relaxation requires backpacking crazy mountain peaks in extreme weather, or riding bicycles to exhaustion up or down mountains, or across miles of roadway. But for me it takes only quiet, beauty, no phones ringing, no devices clamoring for my attention. Water speeds the process, particularly big water like the Atlantic, Pacific or Superior. My favorite stretch of Oregon coastline, thus far in my travels, is the one south of Newport. No wireless coverage reaches SouthBeach, as they call it. My cell phone worked only spottily, though it worked beautifully when we drove into town. No high speed internet - in fact, I brought no laptop! Five full days, four books, a pile of magazines and a lot of iTuneage brain feels restored to some state of ease.

The drive back from the coast was tiring, but uneventful. Driving it, I noticed things. The long and deserted stretches of road through Oregon's southern desert valleys alternate on this drive with the wide green spaces with black, black bottomland, where farmers grow everything from grapes to onions to organic lettuce in fields that seem effortlessly groomed. Lazy late summer farmstands rolled past now and again, wood-slatted counters filled with the big bushel baskets of tomatoes, melons, peaches, peppers. Summer's richest colors show up now, I remember from the gardens we grew when I was a kid. All of summer's sun and good rain packed into the dark red and juicy flesh of a tomato, thinly sliced on toasted wheat bread with some mayo and lettuce, salt, pepper...a bit of bacon, thin sweet onion and avocado strictly optional.

I remember gathering peas, and then baby cucumbers, and then in late summer the cherry tomatoes in our garden. In late summer my hands filled with small red fruits, fresh rinsed from the garden spout. At first ripening we could not eat these vegetables fast enough, greedy fingers overfilled. But by the late summer ripening of the tomatoes we knew - no hurry, there will be plenty of tomatoes. Our eagerness tempered with knowledge. But we knew, too, by August that the season lasts only so long. In a few weeks, the tomatoes would be bitten by frost and gone.

The light on this vacation captured my attention as it hasn't in such a long time. Here is what I remembered, driving across Oregon with my peaceful brain listening to cello music alternating with buttshaking Motown and anything Rick Rubin has ever produced: moonlight from the risen moon on the ocean surf outside the window of our rented house, or off the deck, the silver light a pathway, gorgeous and soft on the water in perfect harmony with the sound of the surf surging to shore; the sun setting and spilling lovely pink and peach tones across the sky, staining the fluffy white clouds with color, rinsing the water with a wash of rose; soft morning light on tall white bouncy Shasta daisies and Oregon holly and rhododendron's dark green, the bright pink and orange of a thousand blooms of late-summer lily on a hillside above the beach while I walked the packed sand and marveled that I was there. Light changes - even while you stand on a sandy stretch of beach, the light moves and changes and will not return to that space again. It is wondrous.

We can have so much, so MUCH, but we can't have everything. Isn't the trick to accept the gifts of life, to reach but not grab, to allow hunger but not greed? It is a trick that takes every day to relearn. I'm greedy for experiences - and so I have too much crowding in my life, too much pressing at my fingers and demanding my minutes, so that I find myself not choosing but simply reacting to schedules, deadlines. I need to change that. That's what vacations are for, I think, the best kind. To remind me to live in real time - get out of the past, stop thinking so far into the future, and take excellent care of the now. To remind me, and maybe you, precisely what it is that you want more of in your life.

Seek joy. ~ patti

Sunday, August 12, 2007


Is this the height of ego, starting a blog?

Here we are, August. I'm about to take my annual trek to the Oregon coast to play in the surf and let the sounds of the water and the wind soothe me. But before then I have a big week - lots of work herding the cats through peanut butter at my place of employment, a subpoena-ordered appearance at a trial, and of course PACKING.

But that can wait a bit - what I'm thinking about today is connections, and about something I read this morning by Mary Clearman Blew. I am missing a connection that has sustained me, and maybe that is why this leaped out at me. It's an excerpt from her memoir, All But the Waltz, part of a textbook that I am helping to edit. Blew is in the cab of a pickup truck with her grandmother and uncle, looking out across a river swollen with runoff and rain at a pig and her piglets, moored on an islet of earth. It reads, in part:
My surge of understanding arcs across the current, and my flesh shrivels in the icy sheets of rain. Like I cringe at the roar of the river, although behind the insulated walls of the cab I can hear and feel nothing. I am in my center and they are in theirs. The cur­rent separates us irrevocably, and suddenly I understand that my center is as precarious as theirs, that the chill metal cab of the old truck is almost as fragile as their ring of crumbling sod.

I'm taken aback by this passage, today. Two things strike me: we are all separated by currents, whether they are physical, like the rain-swollen river in this excerpt, or more ephemeral, like currents of mistrust, doubt, fear or misunderstanding. We are all, then, stranded alone on tiny islands of earth, or moored in the relative comforts of houses or offices or cars. It seems, today, as though all there might be that matters are these arcs of understanding and connection that surge across the currents that isolate us.

It is the mark of my heritage, my Scottish, and Irish, and steeped in lapsed-Catholic fatalism, that in this realization, this imagining of isolated souls being connected by arcs of understanding, that I find hope, and the beginnings of joy.

I'm going out to my pleasant deck, in the cooling August night air, to drink a glass of wine and try to feel surges of understanding arcing toward me across the currents that isolate me. Peace and hope, light and love to us all tonight.

~ plk