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Archive for the ‘Inspiration’ Category

I turned 45 last Friday.

 

Funny thing just now—my fingers went mysteriously rogue and plunked in 24 the first time ‘round.

 

Strange.

 

It’s not a marker birthday or anything. It’s not like 21 or 40, but it is half way to 90 and I’ll admit that’s been slightly mind-boggling for me. Is that even a possibility? Can you be slightly mind-boggled or is the very word itself a full-on admission of a complete and utter flabbergast?

 

Technically, it’s middle-aged. I’m at mid-point. I’ve officially crossed the line between what was and what will be. This half versus that half. That is, assuming I make it to 90. There’s always a chance I may not. In which case, I am more than half way through my life. How in the world did I get here?

 

And, what happens now?

 

I can remember stretching out on the sun-warmed carpet in my family room sixteen years ago and promising myself I’d publish a book by the time I turned 30. (Who hasn’t promised themselves that? I can hear you asking) I was 29 then. I didn’t make it. But in the sixteen years since, I’ve raised a family, worked and written a book, albeit terrible and unpublishable, it is a book nonetheless.

 

Well, I’ve had a week to unboggle and now that my head is clear, I’ve come to a place where I realize I’m not only content with my age, but overjoyed to arrive at it. This year has taught me that. I am the fortunate one. I got here. I did make it. My goals are still on the table. I get the chance to keep going. I’m lucky to wake with hope beside me. I can continue my journey with possibility.

 

I get to live.

 

And, of course, make my own laundry soap. Because I hear that’s what 45 year-olds do…

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Two years ago today…

As all good things must come to an end, I thought life with Rowan would go on forever. No, you’re not confused. You needn’t read that sentence again. It’ll still say the same thing.

You see, I’ve been known to remark once or thrice that she really must be the World’s Worst Dog. I haven’t hidden my rants or rages. My sputterings and spews have been no secret. I have openly complained and cried in frustration. I’ve fallen and forgiven for all to see. I’ve been a martyr at best.

You understand, right? I mean, she filled my life with insane and unnatural amounts of hair and stained my carpets to the brink of despair. She chewed up precious belongings and sabotaged our prized Wisteria. Her incessant howls cost us neighbors and got her ixnayed from our camping roster. She dragged garbage out over the floors and snatched lavish steaks off the barbie. Walks were harrowing horrors as she pulled and strained with all her might. She vanished when unleashed and ignored our frantic pleas for her return. Yes, without a doubt, she was the world’s worst dog.

But this week, she lay at my feet, panting and whimpering, immobilized and pained. Helpless.

And all I could remember were her ears flapping in the wind, her saucer eyes and her soppy, sweet demeanor. As my family spread out to sleep on the couches and the floor because she could no longer make the trip up to our rooms, I thought of the way she once guarded our house and made us feel safe. While we set our alarm for her 3am meds, I envisioned the way her legs splayed out to the sides as she scrambled to meet us each time we came through the door. While we hand-fed her a homemade turkey and quinoa mix with little sips of water, I wished for the once annoying click of her nails on the wooden floor. And as we changed out the cool packs soothing her collapsing neck, I swore I heard all the laughter she’d brought into our home over the last seven and a half years.

This week, she could do none of that. She simply lay, gasping, blinking, scared and scarred and I realized what I must’ve known all along. She wasn’t the world’s worst dog. She’d be my family’s best memory.

Rowan aka: Ro, Rowey, Rosa and The Ro Show January 23, 2006 ~ August 22, 2013

Rowan aka: Ro, Rowey, Rosa and The Ro Show January 23, 2006 ~ August 22, 2013

Note: Rowan was taken from us by an inoperable case of Intervertebral Disc Disease

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Hayley Mills

Hayley Mills

 

I was almost a Heidi. However, some distant cousin, thrice removed, whom I haven’t seen since I was six and was not actually related to at the end of the day anyway, was born mere weeks before me and snagged the name first.

 

Who’da thunk?

 

So my mother figured calling me after her favorite teen actress was a much better idea and I ended up a Hayley instead. And because we are of that befuddled British bunch, that name was never used. I have been called by my middle name my entire life. Yes, right from the get-go. A name my parents thought they’d made up. My dad’s name with an a on the end, Alana. (Rhymes with Savannah, never to be confused with banana) And really, there was not one other Alana to be found in my early years; I’ll give them that. In fact, I didn’t meet another Alana until I was fourteen, which in child years, is an entire lifetime.

 

Not to offend all the Heidi’s of the world—it’s a lovely name—but I’m glad I’m not one of them. A name not only states who you are, it shapes who you become and I am who I am because I had to repeat my name several times when meeting someone new, because I had to enunciate it slowly and clearly over and over—painful for a shy young girl, and because I was made fun of by kids who feared all things new and foreign. I’ve evolved and strengthened a certain way because I wasn’t one of the five Lisa’s in the class, just as the Lisa’s are who they are, in part, because they’ve had to vie for their individual identity at every turn.

 

Branding someone is a hefty task. One loaded with potential and possibility. Obviously, we’re given our names at birth, sometimes even before, and rarely do we get to pick them. In combination with many things throughout life, we are kneaded with the experiences and interactions we have because of our names.

 

This is why they often bring me to a halt. I’ll be plodding along; engrossed in creating an opening scene, and…urrrrch…I need a name. It sometimes stops me for hours. I have even been known to write short stories in such a way that I don’t need to name anybody. Not a single character. Sometimes it’s a copout; sometimes it just works well with the tone of what I’m writing.

 

So you can imagine I had an agonizing time creating the name for my blog. Looking back on my “brainstorm list” now is embarrassing. At the time, I had no idea what I wanted to write about—ahem, we don’t need to note that not much has changed—so picking a name for it was, needless to say, challenging. I’m a Make-up Artist by trade and beauty blogs are extremely popular, but I figured out early on that I didn’t really want to start off writing about beauty, or, be pigeon-holed to just that one topic at the very least. In the end, Hazy Shades of Me was born from a combination of my indecisiveness, much play on the metaphorical and cosmetic connotations of shades and shadows, my desire to be as uncommitted to one subject as I possibly could and, of course, my long-lost first name.

 

Maybe you pick names that have a meaning? To you? Or to your character? Or your subject or story? Perhaps your storyline determines your decisions? Do you decide fate before their birth or after? Maybe they tell you who they are, or do they mold to the names you chose for them? Have you ever changed a subject’s name mid-way through?

 

By some miracle, I have never, ever, had one pang of regret for the decisions I’ve made in naming things that cannot be changed—my children, my pets or my blog. Someone clearly has my back in that department, for which I am eternally grateful.

 

As a writer, I know there are many different answers to the questions I’m asking and that they will even vary coming from the same person, depending on which story or topic they’re writing or referencing.

 

I’m curious. How do you name the important things in your world?

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Like Julie Powell to Julia Child, I am going to ride the coattails of Donna Tartt off into the wordy, smooth posting of a flighty blog entry. After all, when you can’t write yourself, writing about what someone else has written is, well, material. She’ll understand—we’re BFF’s after all.

 

Truth be told, there was no decision on my part to join a Book Club. I was dragged by the neck, warned there would be much wine-drinking and minimal book-talking and that I’d just have to suffer through because I simply had less than no choice in the matter.

 

And I’ll admit that I didn’t decline their multiple demands, err, invitations too loudly, for any more than six months, because, to be honest, I was in need of a reminder that reading is not a device designed to torture me for my failure to produce anything of substance.

 

Or, just anything.

 

At all.

 

And because I’d forgotten that reading can be done for the simple fact that it brings immense pleasure. Because I’d lost sight of the light it spreads and the inspirational notion that anything, whether observing or creating a world of fiction, is possible.

 

Infinite anythings.

 

How could I have forgotten?

 

Not to fret. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt brought it all back.

 

I don’t review books. I have trouble being that presumptuous. But I do like to share things I learn from, things that entice me to reach for more, things that make me entertain possibility—things that make me forget how envious I am, long enough to merely bask in their bewitchment. This book was that. Bound by incredibly long sentences and crisp with incomplete fragments, it proves that just because Word underlines it in red, you don’t have to correct it. Full of undisguised emotion and weighty character, words I had to look up and succinct sentiment. I nearly phoned Ms. Tartt to ask if she has ever actually been a thirteen-year-old boy at any point in her lifetime.

 

It was a truly gratifying read, but my reasons may differ from yours. I was seeking to be both grounded and lifted. Shaken and stirred. Simultaneously tamed and teased. Oh, and I needed something to not discuss at Book Club.

 

It took Donna Tartt eleven years to write The Goldfinch. I’ve got at least that left in me, wouldn’t you say?

Donna Tartt in her Paris hotel room, promoting her book , The Goldfinch (Photo courtesy of theguardian.com)

Donna Tartt in a Paris hotel room, promoting her book, The Goldfinch (Photo courtesy of theguardian.com)

 

 

 

 

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No surprise, but I’m a daydreamer. It’s not an easy thing to hide. My school reports often cited that I tended to wander off without actually leaving the classroom, and seeing as I’m confessing it all, I may as well admit that I probably still wander off about a hundred and sixteen times a day.

 

But there was a period of time in my life where I was able to focus. You see I used to be this really good housewife. I was even, in fact, once accused of mirroring the likes of June Cleaver from Leave It to Beaver. I admit I didn’t see the resemblance back then, but I will say that I took my daily chores very seriously. They were always completed in a timely, organized fashion and no cupboard or corner was ever left unturned. The kids smelled good, unmentionables were folded, floors gleamed, toilet rolls were always miraculously placed on the holder and there was something fairly edible to eat at all the right times. The least of which is not that I somehow managed to perform all of these things with barely an eyelash bat.

 

So, why not now?

 

Now everything is Everest, its trails littered with obstacles and me, always looking to tunnel through the middle rather than suffering the long way ‘round. You know the drill. The perfectionist holds out—Oh, if I just give this a swipe and that a wipe I can hold off another week until I can do it…properly. These are the tall tales I tell myself. They are the bungees that bounce me up just before hitting the hard bottom of that long dark rabbit hole—It looks fine. It’ll do for now. No one notices anyway. But I notice. And I’m held in a state of unrest.

 

So, why don’t I just buck up?

 

I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. And, it’s starting to sink in. There are just too many balls to buck. I can’t focus because I don’t know what my focus is anymore. Now that the kids are older, my plate is piled even higher with outside responsibilities that go beyond vacuuming and changing the bed sheets. Back when I was a young housewife with three small children, my role wasn’t in question. It was simply to serve and protect. And although serving and protecting will always be my heart’s work, the kids are vying for independence and with me on the precipice of 45, it seems only natural that I start to question whether there might be more to the meaning of my existence.

 

So back to my daydream. I was imagining what it would be like to step off the front stoop every morning to follow my fiction. To have nothing on my mind for the first eight hours of every day but fostering what it is I want to achieve. To write without distraction. To have someone running my family and my home, allowing me to work on making a success of myself. To be one of the chosen few who gets to concentrate solely on my goals and aspirations.

 

But daydreams aren’t always realistic. To truly triumph I must achieve whatever it is I want while living the life I’ve already made.

 

That’s victory. That’s genuine success.

 

That’s being a mom.

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Driving this morning, contemplating my woes—plenty of material for long journeys—I hear the radio DJ’s talking about the sequel to Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker. And it got me thinking. Where will they go from there? Where can they go? Well, being a woman of almost forty-five years, the only answer to that is; The Darkest Shades of Fifty. (I swear if EL James & Co. use this title I will sue. You are my witnesses)

 

I’ve never read the book. I’m not against steamy subject matter, but there are far too many titles ahead of that one on my To Read list. However, I have spent a lot of time thinking about it. In fact, it keeps me awake at night. You probably want me to say the content is what’s stimulating my brain’s core to the point of distraction, so, I will.

 

It’s the content.

 

There’s been so much talk about how poorly written this book is. About how it’s written like a high school student—someone who just found out how babies are made and takes it to a whole other level to prove they didn’t just find out how babies are made.

 

This book has been criticized by many people. People who do not have a published novel sitting on a shelf…anywhere…or a blockbuster on a screen…be it big, small or silver.

 

I could be bitter about EL James’ success. I could be angry that her apparent grade nine scribbles didn’t slip to the bottom of the pile of slush, where most people (who gobbled up her prose) say they should be. I could be sad that such writing has a place in the literary world at all.

 

But, I’m not.

 

I’m jealous. I’m envious. And I’m spurred.

 

She had something to offer. She wrote it down. She believed in her work. She got it published. She completed her mission. And then some. Good for her, I say. After all, she’s not fretting over putting food on the table or making her minimum Visa payment.

 

We’re all we’ve got. There is no other us. We have only our take on things, our thoughts, our originality. Our idea of what makes a story good. This is what we have to use to win in this game. We have to plug our ears, put on our blindfolds and handcuff the haters to a bedpost.

50-Shades-of-Grey-Poster

 

 

 

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Years ago, when my kids were just tiny specs of what they are now, a best friend of mine would drive from her house, nearly an hour away, just to cook dinner for me.

 

At least once a week.

 

She invited herself of course, as all good friends do. In my state, it never would have entered my mind to entice another person into my varying vortex. When it began, I had only a single child. The task was fairly uncomplicated at that point, but even when the total of tots quickly rose to three, she, somehow, was not deterred.

 

She would arrive to screaming babies, scattered Cheerios and mounds of laundry piled in the hallway. There would often be a sink full of dirty dishes, a forgotten diaper gracing the table or me, crying in a corner.

 

But, week after week, in the door she’d burst with an arm full of groceries and a funny story to tell. Out would come the pots and pans and commence would the chopping, slicing, stirring and simmering.

 

My husband was traveling a lot then and with three children under five, her visits meant the world to me. Raising kids—being housebound for long days on end—can be very isolating and as decadent smells, (these being anything non-urine or spit-up related) started to permeate the air, I’d often reflect on how having someone go to the magnitude of shopping, commuting and cooking for me was much like a good dose of vigorous CPR.

 

She didn’t have any children at that time and I wish I could say that now that she has had two of her own, I’ve been as worthy a friend as she. I’d always intended to return the favor, but as it turns out, tiny tots transform into taxing teens and there is somehow even less time now than there was all those years ago.

 

Over the days, weeks, months and years that this went on, we, okay she, concocted many recipes that the two of us shared a love for. One of these favorites was fresh Crab Cakes with, made from scratch, Chipotle Sauce.

 

And I’ll tell you, having it made for you when your children are five, three and zero is truly wonderful, but returning home to find a serving of it in your mailbox when they’re eighteen, fifteen and fourteen is a true lump-in-the-throat moment.

Because sauce is my favorite

Because sauce is my favorite

 

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