Book 6 Teaser: Toss that past! (Or, how I finally let go of bad 30-year-old paintings and other junk that holds me back)

There’s one huge advantage to moving cross-country: knowing that everything you own has to fit in one truck, or it gets left behind. The “There’s no going back for that,” mentality has forced me to evaluate what can be released. Web and Facebook pages of minimalist strategies has helped me to see the clutter I no longer want to.

It’s also allowed me to give up things from my past that I should have shed decades ago.

Such as my oil paintings from high school. My father kindly framed them, my mother generously displayed them, but aside from some decent technique here and there, the paintings were unremarkable. So much so that for thirty years—30!—I’ve kept them in a bulky box and carted them from home to home, across the country twice, and finally, last month donated them to a recycling store. Someone else can paint over the canvas.

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While this won first place in a school district competition, it’s an EXACT replica of a very common 1980s poster. What’s the point of replicating a $3 poster?!

I held on to the mediocre art, not even fit for a motel room, because it represented something: my teenage dream to someday be a wildlife artist. I’m “artistic” in that I’ve remodeled homes, made many designs for my Etsy shop, created my book covers, but I never painted that one great work of art.

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The best thing about this cougar was the head, which my art teacher did to get me started. Notice my “happy little trees“? Yes, I was a Bob Ross watcher.

Finally I accepted that I don’t have to fulfill a dream I randomly pulled out of the air when I was 16. I may someday pick up fine art painting again, and if I do, would I really want these old paintings haunting me with bad proportions, inconsistencies, and random highlights and shadows? No!

So I did what I’d wanted to do two decades ago, but didn’t dare: I sent them on their way, grateful for what I learned, and ready to look forward, not backward.

I’ve done this with many objects: clothes I’ve held on to for too many years, books I’ll never read again, dishes and collectibles and Christmas décor and fabric I’ve kept out of obligation. All of it is gloriously gone, at least half a moving truck full.

I keep putting aside those things that hold me back, that remind me of what I used to be, and the old dreams that I no longer care about. Unfinished stitching projects, untouched wood crafts that went out of fashion in the 1990s, old stencils I used for a bathroom two houses and fifteen years ago.

When I let those go, I get to look forward. I get to plan for what I want to become now, where I hope to go in the future.

Gone, too, is a lot of regret, a lot of “Oh, I should have kept pursuing this, although I had no time or resources or desire.” I’m able to think, “It seemed like a worthy pursuit at the time, and it’s had its moment which is now over. I get to pursue something new.”

Solidly in middle age, I’m finding the satisfaction of releasing my younger self. I no longer collect teddy bears or snowmen . . . or anything, really. Once I thought collections were necessary. Now each week I make sure my extra garbage can is brim full of stuff that previously held me back. To the donation store goes tablecloths I never used, to the neighbors go canning jars and vases I won’t fill, and to the dump goes the sofas I can no longer repair.

No more hauling around old expectations and obligations, or feeling guilty about dreams that were never feasible or necessary anyway.

Onward, I get to go freely.

While Peto knew the satisfaction of harping about the past, he also knew that satisfaction was short-lived, soon to be replaced with renewed feelings of anger about a life that couldn’t be changed, words that couldn’t be unsaid, and events that couldn’t be erased. The past was to be occasionally remembered, but not lived in.

There’s too much to do today to dwell on yesterday.

~Book 6, Flight of the Wounded Falcon, coming May 2017

book 6 teaser THE PAST

 

Don’t kill The Beast! I love “Beauty and the Beast” (even though as a conservative Christian I’ve been told to shun it)

I wasn’t going to see the new “Beauty and the Beast,” although I’d been looking forward to it ever since it was announced two years ago, because of that “gay factor.”

But then I decided to go anyway, because I remembered something: People are not always worth listening to.

So here’s this very conservative Christian’s take on it: I LOVED IT!

Oh, it was bigger than life! Visually gorgeous, with additions to the story that made it so much richer than the 1991 cartoon. The music and the characters all had greater depth, the story deeper meaning, and “those scenes”? Can we say, much ado about nothing?

I’d been betrayed.
Deceived.
Thrown into angst over really nothing.
In fact, I found myself quite liking the “gay” character LeFou. He was never as evil or nasty as some reviewers had suggested, and became the voice of reason toward the end, making some excellent choices. His orientation (which he’s not entirely sure about himself) had no bearing upon his improving character. (And yes, I caught all the verbal references, and I thought they were pertinent and hilarious.)

Indeed, I found myself rather ticked off that I’d ever considered boycotting the movie because of the raging on both sides of the issue. The “This is our first gay character and we’re proud!” was merely PR blustering, because once I saw the movie I was left thinking, “Sheesh. THAT’S gay? Gimme a break.” Then there was the “Oh, horrible Disney! It’s all over and the world will end with this movie!” blustering on the other side which now makes me roll my eyes. (And as for the old argument that the movie promotes bestiality? Those worriers don’t know what bestiality is. Belle clearly is attracted to the beast’s humanity, such as his knowledge of literature.)

All of which had me pondering as I drove home from the movie, “Does something have to be perfect—‘perfect’ according to my very particular standards and sensibilities—in order to be ‘good enough’ for me to enjoy?”

No. Nothing needs to be ‘perfect’ because why in the world should I expect the world to meet my peculiar sense of perfect? Or anyone else’s idea of “perfect”?

Another movie example: I finally saw “Moana,” and I’d heard criticisms of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s singing in “You’re Welcome.” Cringing in worry when he started, I soon relaxed, because you know what? He sang great! Better than me, that’s for sure. (And that’s not hard, either. Is there anything dear Dwayne can’t do?*) (Listen for yourself, and I defy you to not have this earworm stuck in your head for the rest of forever.)

Too many critics, too many snarky folks insisting that this wasn’t perfect in the movie, or that could have been better, kept me from watching “Moana” until this past weekend. And you know what? I LOVED IT! I’m getting the music to add to my walking repertoire.

I find myself scratching my head more and more frequently at the immense criticism flying around about every last little thing, and finding that very little of it is actually deserved. I need to stop listening to people, at least the critical ones. And at times it seems nearly everyone is a critic, for the worst of reasons.

It’s as if we’re finding power and authority in dragging someone else down.
As if we think we’re something special because we can nitpick someone else.
As if we can’t accept something unless it’s our perception of perfect.

Here’s the thing: NO ONE and NOTHING is perfect! (Not even “Rogue One,” which some of my Star Wars crazed children believe IS PERFECT, even though I LOVED IT!)

Ask yourself this: why should my definition of perfect be met by others? Why should I expect writers and actors and politicians and music and entertainment and stores and products and every last little thing in the world pander to what I believe is perfect?

How utterly self-centered and childish.

Here’s the other thing, the more important thing: God doesn’t demand that we’re perfect, either. He loves and appreciates us as we are.

Now, He tells us to strive for perfection, which, according to the scriptures, actually means becoming one with God the Father. Jesus himself didn’t declare himself perfect until after he was resurrected and was one with the Father, which tells me that perfection is impossible in life.

However, perfection is the goal, because it has to be. Nothing less, really, will do. As the great football coach Vince Lombardi said, “We strive for perfection, knowing we’ll never get it, but achieve excellence as we do so.”

Ah, EXCELLENCE! THAT’S the mark! Perfection is impossible; for you, for me, for anything we experience.

But excellence? That’s everywhere! I can create lists of truly excellent movies, music, people, books, art, national parks—and I’d probably never find an end to them.

“Beauty and the Beast” was excellent. So was “Moana,” and “Rogue One.” So are thousands and millions of other things.

Enjoy that excellence! See how someone else did something well, and let it inspire you to try to make something excellent in return. There’s no reason—no decent, good, honest reason whatsoever—to demean and denounce and degrade something minor in something that is excellent.

Because isn’t it wonderful that something can be marvelous, but the minor smudges left by the very human people who created it remain, and still it’s excellent?

So instead of harping upon these flaws, these perceived slights to our overly sensitive sensibilities, forgive them. Accept them. Take heart in them, that excellence abounds despite small failures.

Excellence abounds even in us, despite all of our failures. Maybe we need to be more accepting of ourselves to be more appreciative of the wondrous success of others around us. We’re not competing with them; we’re being inspired by them!

That’s why I’m not listening to the critical voices anymore, because think of the most critical people you know, those who are never satisfied, those who can always find even the smallest imperfection and shine a magnifying spotlight on it. Aren’t those also the most miserable people you know? Aren’t the most self-righteous also the least righteous?Image result for monuments to critics quotes

No one likes the critic. There’s nothing noble in criticism. Never has been. I’m beginning to suspect the most critical people are also those who never attempt to do anything themselves, so that they never are subjected to critics like themselves. Perhaps it’s jealousy that drives them to pick at others, or immense insecurity. Or fear of their own failure.

Criticism doesn’t bring joy. It doesn’t bring improvement. It doesn’t fix anything, either.

But appreciating someone’s efforts does. Identifying and acknowledging their successes. Learning from what they’ve learned. Rejoicing in their excellence, and taking from it that nudge to make something more excellent yourself—there, THERE is joy!

This world and people who make stuff in it are fantastic. Once we quit criticizing every potentially offensive item, we’ll discover what an amazing place we live in.

(And if you can’t, I’ll simply quit listening to you.)

Mahrree’s heart sank to her knees as she watched the three darling girls who she loved so much do their best, their eyes darting over to her as they read their lines, anxious for her approval, and likely fearing her criticism.

They had done their best. Who was Mahrree to point out anything else?

~Book 6, Flight of the Wounded Falcon, coming May 2017

book 6 teaser Critics

(*Totally unrelated to anything here, but an epiphany I had the other day–for those who have read my books, Perrin Shin is about 20% Dwayne Johnson. The other parts of him are Yun-Fat Chow, Colin Firth, Manu Bennett, and my husband, the cute man there in the corner.)Dave smiling

You don’t have to agree with me for us to be friends

I was 19 and terrified to realize that my supervisor for the summer was an openly gay man. It was the late 1980s, and I was from a sheltered community where “such people” were rare. Realizing that me, Molly Mormon, would have to interact with Flamboyant Paul made me think I’d made a mistake in taking that mall job on the east coast.

My suspicions were confirmed when I met my coworkers who immediately jumped in with predictable knocks on my religion when they heard I was from Utah. The fact that I didn’t join in on their drinking party as we unloaded the new freight didn’t help much. I was an easy target. My work environment was initially very uncomfortable, but since it was for only three months, I decided to grit my teeth and bear it.

I frequently noticed Paul watching me, and only much later did I realize that he must have understood what it felt like to be the object of scorn. One afternoon, when the store was quiet and I was dutifully putting away stock while Paul sat at the register with paperwork, he suddenly blurted, “Dogs!”

I looked up, surprised.

“Do you like dogs?” Paul asked.

Confused by the random question, I said, “I grew up with a small, white mutt named Fluffy.”

“Tell me about it.”

“We had him since I was a toddler. When I moved away to college, he’d grown very old and smelly and was going blind. He wandered off shortly after I left. My mom was devastated and my parents searched everywhere, but no one ever saw him again. As if when I left, he knew he should die.”

When I saw how aghast Paul was, I wondered why I’d chosen to relate such a depressing story.

But then Paul burst out with, “That is the SADDEST dog story I’ve ever heard! But I LOVE IT! I love sad dog stories! Ok, I’ve got one—listen to this!” And he went on to relate an even sadder dog story. I have no idea what it was anymore, but I found myself smiling and sniffling at the same time.

I realized Paul had been looking for something to talk about with the quiet, awkward Mormon girl who worked in his store, and finally we connected on dogs.

He told me all about the Great Dane puppy he and his boyfriend were raising, and we spent the whole afternoon talking dogs.

The next day I hesitantly mentioned, “Right now, I have a fish tank.”

Paul clapped his hands and said, “And WE want to get a fish tank! Tell me all about yours!”

For the rest of the summer we chatted every day, and when I left, I hugged Paul with genuine tears in my eyes while Paul sobbed, because we had become friends.

Paul demonstrated that I can still be friends with someone even if I don’t agree with their beliefs or behavior. Our relationship was based on what we had in common, and after three months, that was quite a lot.

About ten years later I was teaching a college writing class where the main project was a 15-page persuasive research paper. I had a very cocky and confident student who I’ll call Doug. I brought articles to class to analyze different points of view, and Doug made it point to quiz me on what leanings I had toward the issues, then launched in to argue against me. While I found him rather boorish, he certainly did liven up the class.

Soon he was meeting with me after class to dig deeper into a certain issue which I suspected was for his paper. He even took notes about my position. Sure enough, when he turned in the project, the little stinker had taken a position the polar opposite of mine. In fact, he argued against me, point-by-point.

When I handed back the papers a few weeks later, cocky Doug appeared worried, for once. He hastily thumbed to the last page, looked at his grade, and gasped.

His peers, who had been reading through his drafts—and warning him, too, about not directly writing against me—leaned over to see his grade. They, too, gasped, and one of them said, because Doug was speechless, “You gave him a 98%? But he argued against you!” (He had a few grammar issues, after all, to warrant losing a few points.)

“I know,” I said, “and marvelously, too. He almost persuaded me to his line of thinking.”

When Doug finally looked up at me, he was grinning. “I thought you’d hate it!”

“I did,” I told him, grinning back. “Because you made such darned good arguments.”

When the semester ended a couple days later, he gave me a quick hug as thanks, and we parted as friends with mutual respect. We didn’t have to agree with each other to appreciate each other.

Over the years I’ve discovered different kinds of people who I appreciate. For example, I’d never become Amish, but I wholly admire the life they live and how they remain mostly untouched by the outside world. I don’t want to convert to Judaism, but I deeply respect their culture, tenacity, and temerity. While I’ll never be a Muslim, I’ve gained greater understanding for them, primarily through chatting with a sweet Muslim family at a university dinner, and discovering how much we had in common.

I have many friends who, while not of my faith, still show support for what we do. On occasion I post pictures and stories about my children who are serving as LDS missionaries, and among those who comment kindly and like the posts are Lutherans, Baptists, and even a “recuperating atheist.” None of them are likely to join my church, but they’re happy to see the experiences of my children, as I am to see the successes of theirs.

We call this kind of appreciation and behavior “civility.” 

And despite what the news and social media would have us believe, it’s still a widely-held virtue, at least among many people I am blessed to associate with.

I have acquaintances who put up with my quirks and ideas without agreeing with them. One friend, who knows I’m trying to go vegetarian, delights in telling me how much meat she consumed that week. It’s friendly teasing, and I barb her back because we know we are safe with each other; we respect each other’s differences.

If I insisted that the only friends I’d have would be those who believed as I do in every last thing, I’d have no friends. I wouldn’t even be married, because there are number of issues on which my husband and I will never agree. Still, we manage around those, as we have for twenty-eight years, roll our eyes at each on occasion, then simply move on to one of many other things wherein we do agree.

No one in my family has precisely the same views on politics, music, literature, food, or education as I do. Yet still I love and appreciate all of them.

Indeed, if we all believed the same about everything, we’d be instantly bored with each other.

We need each other’s differences to challenge us, open us, expand us, and make us take second and third looks at what we thought we knew. We really don’t want homogeneity; we really need variety!

I’ve noticed that people tend to get fixated on rightness and wrongness. It’s been my experience that for a few key issues, usually dealing with life and death and personal agency, there are clear rights and wrongs.

But for the millions of other things we can bicker about, it really doesn’t matter. (I’ve heard people argue vehemently if cookies should be crunchy or chewy, of all stupid things.)*

Many dissimilar approaches can all be “right.” For example, what the “right” dress or music or meal may be for my adult daughters will not be the “right” one for me.

And I think there are times when all of us may be “wrong,” so what does “rightness” matter except to make more enemies in an argument where no winners can exist?

Civility doesn’t worry about who’s right. Civility chooses to exist despite its surroundings.

civility

My gay friend Paul never approached the topic of religion, nor did I approach the nature of his sexuality, except to ask where he found such a gorgeous man who could have been cast as Superman. We avoided the topics we knew might cause a rift, because we wanted to be friends.

Friendships can form even between people who spent an entire semester debating opposites sides, because of mutual respect for the other’s opinions. It’s been nearly 20 years, but I still think fondly of Doug.

I refuse to believe these incidents, or that civility itself, are from a past era, because I still see civility occurring among thoughtful, intelligent people all around me. Civility does not ...mean the mere outward gentleness of speech cultivated for the occasion, but an inborn gentleness and desire to do the opponent good. - Mahatma Gandhi

I see acts of kindness despite idiosyncrasies, and patience with others’ peculiarities. I frequently witness joy in differences. And if you want to be my friend even though I’ve got some strange ideas, I’d love to be friends with you, as long as you promise to keep me on my toes.

Let’s make civility fashionable again.

*Chewy.

“When people govern themselves honestly, there’s little need for mediation. ”
~Book 5, Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti

Book 6 Teaser–The one thing those in power fear

 

book-6-teaserthose-with-power-threatened

I’ve been trying to find examples where this isn’t the case lately, but . . . nope.

Perhaps the biggest threat to institutions are those folks who actually spend five minutes thinking about the issues. Most people just deliver a knee-jerk reaction (emphasis on the “jerk”) concerning any issue–racing to protest, to complain, to throw a fit–without actually analyzing why they are.

In my inconsequential opinion, every political side has become extremist and sensational, leaving what (I hope) is the majority of us watching the swirling all around us, waiting for a break in the action so we can make a collective run for it.

It’s those who ponder and think, who don’t jump to conclusions or accept the scandal of the day as doctrine, who will (hopefully) eventually change the world.

Or escape it.