Bittersweet Fall

It’s that bittersweet time of year when summer gives way to fall.  K.C. and I always take a couple of days off from work to prepare the house, our gardens and the meadow for the long Maine winter.  It’s a sweet time of year because the farmer’s markets are busting with the best of the year’s harvest.  Tomatoes, kale, onions, parsnips, winter squash, apples, you name it.  I’m a foodie, and it’s paradise for me to shop the markets and fairs this time of year.

The weather in Maine during the early fall is simply delicious.  The days are warm, the humidity low and the nights are crisp.  The leaves of the trees that stand guard around our meadow turn a myriad of mind blowing colors from lime green, blazing reds to fiery yellows.  When the sun rises over the lake in the morning, the rays blend in with the red of the maples casting a hypnotic glow through the windows of our bedroom.  I scoot closer to KC snuggling up with her under a layer of blankets keeping us warm with the windows still open at night.

Preparing the meadow for winter is no easy task.  But, it always has been a necessary labor of love.  Mother Nature likes change and if left to her own devices, our meadow would soon become a forest.  All of the critters, who use it, including us, prefer this little patch of early successional habitat that is so rare in New England.  So, each year I map out areas that need cutting and those that should be left alone until the next year in order to maintain diversity.  In the flat areas free of big rocks, I cut the bushes, seedlings and grasses taller than me with my brush hog.  The hillier rocky sections have to be done by hand with the weed-wacker or clippers.  The soil in the vegetable garden has to be turned over and the perennials trimmed back.  Let’s just say that a couple of day’s worth of this winter preparation is the equivalent to a whole week’s worth of my usual exercise.  I’m pleasantly exhausted afterward, except for the ache in my back.

KC will don her chaps, helmet and steel toed boots so that she can cut a couple of trees worth of firewood.  She’ll drag them out of the woods with the tractor and cut and split them with the log splitter.  While she does that, I’ll stack last year’s seasoned wood underneath the covering of the porch for the winter’s supply of firewood.

Once the wood is stacked, we store the canoes and kayaks and prepare the dock for removal from the water.  The day is still not finished once the sun goes down.  The evenings are for preparing the bounty of our garden and fruit trees for winter storage.  On a cold January day I’ll be reminded how worth the effort was when I make a pot of chili using stewed tomatoes from our garden and have a dessert of baked pears from our orchard.

There’s a short window of time to accomplish so much, but each year we manage.  We have to, because time marches on no matter what.  Just like summer gives way to fall, fall will give way to winter.  Before we know it, the ground will be frozen and covered in snow.  The days will be short, and I’ll work hard not to let the darkness breed melancholy.  The bitter part of fall for me is that it’s the prelude to winter.  Winter isn’t my favorite time of year.  But, I try to view it from Mother Nature’s perspective.  It’s a time to hunker down and recalibrate.  To rest the body and soul.  To find balance.

So, as I sit here in my sunroom overlooking the freshly cut meadow as the day fades into night, I’m imagining a cold winter’s day after a couple of hours cross country skiing over pure white snow under the kind of deep blue sky that only happens in winter.  KC will build a fire in the wood stove while I make us a hearty stew from vegetables we grew with our own hands during the warm days of summer.  We’ll sit together in the warmth of our home and be grateful for all of our blessings.  Including, the time to reflect and recalibrate that only winter can bring.  Peace.

What would Laura ask?

In keeping with my previous blogs about good health, stress management is a key component and is the subject of my blog this morning.  I’ve been open about the fact that anxiety and depression are part of my biology.  It took a long time to accept, and come to understand that it’s a physical ailment that needs to be treated just like any other disease, injury or condition in order to feel better.  Unfortunately, because of societal and my own internalized negative stigmas about mental health, I resisted admitting for far too long that I needed some help.  The good news is that I finally did get help, and my life has completely changed for the better in more ways than I ever could’ve predicted.  That’s why I don’t hesitate to admit or talk about the issue in the hope that it might help someone else who is suffering under the weight of such awful feelings.  The truth is that anxiety and depression get under the skin of all of us at some point in our lives whether because of biology or circumstance.

Regardless of the cause, many of the tools that I learned during my therapy are useful for managing stress no matter who you are.  One of them I call “what would Laura ask.”  Laura is my therapist.  She taught me how to drill down to the root of what is really driving how I feel in a given circumstance.  I admit that the process can often be difficult and frustrating, but so worth it.  I was good at hiding and denying so many things that in reality drove who I was and how I thought.  I also let unnecessary worries rule my life.  By going through the therapy process, I had to be completely honest and meticulous at really examining my life and motives, including the good and the not so good.  I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.  I learned to free myself from negative emotions and motivations and now walk a whole lot lighter through the world.  That doesn’t mean that I no longer feel anxiety and depression.  There are still times that it creeps up the back of my neck and presses in on my heart.  The difference now is that I know how to recognize, manage and get past it in order to let my happiness hold the prominent place in my life.

By way of example, here is how the process works.  As an attorney, I often find myself in an environment that is geared toward winning and losing.  Everyday can easily become a contest between rivals.  Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines contest as “a struggle for superiority or victory.”  For me personally, such a view of the world easily becomes very toxic.  I don’t like being at odds with people. I have no problem advocating for ideas and those who need defending, but that’s different than going after a person’s throat or climbing onto their back in order to gain the edge or win.  It’s against my grain, and I won’t do it.  Plus, no one ever wins all of the time.  Therefore, if one hangs their hat on always having to win or be the best, they are setting themselves up for certain failure.  Plus, it alienates one from all of those awesome people in the world who have so much to share.

Recently, I’ve been involved in a very contentious matter at work that started to get the better of me.  I was feeling anxious and cranky.  I noticed the physical manifestations of stress.  My muscles were tight, I clenched my jaw until it was sore and my breathing was shallow.  I big part of dealing with stress requires recognizing it before it gets out of hand.  These clues were all I needed to get my act together.

Once I noticed these feelings, I said to myself, “what would Laura ask?”  She would ask a series of questions that would get at the heart of what were the range of emotions that I was feeling, what was driving those emotions, whether they were warranted and what exactly did I want.  The analogy that I would use to describe the process is one in which she gave me a small shovel and each question represented digging deep down into the layers of my soul one scoopful at a time, until I discovered the truth.  It’s like a meticulous archeological dig.  One has to take great care in finding those many truths that drive us.  Personal grown comes in discovering, acknowledging and deciding what to keep and what to throw away once we find them.  And, admitting the truth about our negative motivations.  By going through the process, I realized that I am not happy viewing the world as a contest under any circumstance.  I have no desire to be in a position to say that I’m better or superior than anyone else.  What drives me is ensuring that I’ve done the best job possible of telling the truth of my client’s side of the story.  In the end, the chips will fall where they fall, and I don’t have to feel bad or inferior if my side doesn’t prevail.  I only have to feel bad if I let myself become someone I don’t want to be in the process.  It’s my choice.  Such a realization is so freeing.  The stress peeled away and I was me again.  I relaxed and found my smile.  Not just any smile, but the one that comes from the inside out.

So, my bit of advice is this.  The next time you’re feeling stressed, sad or whatever.  Be honest with yourself and drill down as to why that is and whether it’s even warranted.  If you can understand what’s driving your feelings and motivations, you can start to do something about them. Be who you want to be regardless of whether you win or get called the “best.”  What does that even mean in the grand scheme of things?  I’d rather be known as decent and kind. That makes me happy.

And as always, never be afraid or ashamed to ask for help if
you get stuck.  Notwithstanding my biology, I am a truly deeply happy person with so many people, things and experiences to be grateful for in this life.  I love being alive.  Asking for help allowed me to find and know this truth.   I wish you lots of good health and many smiles from the inside out.  Peace.

The “Pale Blue Dot.”

I posted the other day on Facebook about wanting to be inspired.  Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines inspiration as “the action or power of moving the intellect or emotions.”  The thought came to me as I watched the video clips and pictures on the anniversary of September 11, followed by the news of the violence bubbling over in the Middle East after a U.S. Embassy was stormed in Libya.  I needed to be inspired because some days it’s all so depressing the things we human beings are capable of doing to one another and the planet.

Listening to NPR this afternoon, I found the inspiration I needed in a discussion of the spacecraft, Voyager I.   http://www.npr.org/2012/09/05/160609488/after-35-years-voyager-nears-edge-of-solar-system.  In 1977, two spacecraft were launched that would travel the solar system taking pictures and recordings along the way.  One of those space craft, the Voyager I, is currently at the edge of our solar system after 35 years of travel, and is poised to move out into the great beyond.  In addition to cameras and recording devices, on board is a phonograph made of gold.  The directions for playing it are inscribed on its surface.  It contains sounds and images from our planet and its many cultures.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voyager_Golden_Record.  Listening to the examples of the greetings and expressions of good will from all of the people around the globe to anyone whom might find it was a stark reminder that we are all part of one human race.  It brought me to tears.  If some other life does find it, the message will be that we were a diverse, yet singular human race sharing the tiniest planet offering our good will as one.

There’s a famous photograph taken by Voyager I when it was about 3.7 billion miles from earth.  Carl Sagan coined it the “Pale Blue Dot.”  If you want to be inspired and reminded of just how much we are all in this life together from one end of the globe to the other, listen to what he has to say about our earth.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p86BPM1GV8M.

I don’t know what the answers are to how we ever stop the endless bloodshed, divisiveness, anger and hatred.  Unfortunately, pettiness, thirst for power, greed, and the ability to be just plain be nasty are in the genes.  What gives me hope is that we are also so much more.  Human beings can be kind, giving, hardworking, hopeful, responsible, artistic, scientific, spiritual, honest and willing to share.  I’ll never forget in the aftermath of September 11 how it felt when people across the planet came together in their grief.  The whole world mourned as one that day.  It didn’t matter what one’s nationality, religion or cultural was.  We stood together against the terribleness of that day.  Unfortunately, we dropped the ball again.  We need to pick it back up and never stop trying to find our better selves and insist the same from our leaders and fellow human beings.  Notwithstanding our diversity, we are one human race and we have only this tiny, beautiful and remarkable “Pale Blue Dot” to share.  Hopefully, someday in peace

 

 

 

Whether on the page or under the covers, the best sex is honest, authentic and unrestrained.

On the subject of writing or reading sex scenes, I’ve said before that I prefer those that are less graphic and leave more to the imagination.  Recently, I’ve had to reexamine that notion as it applies to my writing.  There are lots of things that I hope to accomplish with writing, one of them is to always improve.  Part of that requires having an open mind about change and being willing to stretch my boundaries.  It doesn’t mean not being true to myself, but rather, continuing to discover all of my hidden truths.  I firmly believe that one’s best writing comes from a place of honesty.  Unfortunately, circumstances of life often leave our truths buried by any number of negative emotions or misperceptions.

I’ve been working very hard on my next novel, Step into the Wind. A smart woman raised the possibility that in writing sex scenes I was holding back because I was being shy about them.  Out of respect for her, and my desire to improve my writing every step of the way, I took a step back and evaluated the possibility as honestly as I could.  She was right.

The first thing I reminded myself of is that I am romance writer.  While I intend to always try to tap into the difficult issues that lesbians face in the everyday real world, at the end of the day, romance is a key component to the stories that I’ve written and hope to continue to write.  Good sex is part of good romance.  So why not write about it in a more honest way?

The next question I addressed was whether I was holding back because of who might read my work.  Sticking with the goal of being honest, I had to answer “yes.”  There are two older straight women in my life who I adore.  One is ninety-two and the other eight-four.  They are like mothers to me and I have the utmost respect and love for them.  Their support of me over the years has been unflinching, and they’ve both read my first novel, My Soldier Too.  The idea of writing a particularly graphic sex scene knowing that they will read it, made me nervous to think about.  But, here’s the thing.  I’m not writing romance for them, I’m writing it for lesbians who enjoy romance.  The truth is, I know deep down that they’ll love me even if I write something they don’t understand or are comfortable with.  They’ve already proven that to me by accepting and supporting my relationship with KC all of the many years that I’ve known them.  Maybe I wasn’t giving them credit where credit is due.

The last question I toyed with was whether my hesitation had more to do with my own prudishness than anything else.  It’s funny the things one discovers when looking into a mirror with eyes wide open.  What I saw was indeed a shy girl only willing to put a toe into the water rather than diving right in, so to speak.  The realization I came to is that whatever I write will always be better if I let it come from a place deep inside that is authentic and unrestrained.  That rule isn’t only for writing, but whatever we do in life, sex included.  Whether on the page or under the covers, the best sex is that which is honest, authentic and unrestrained.

So, I sat down, took off my shy-girl-hat, and rewrote the sex scenes in my next novel.  I let the words loose without restraint.  Phew, that was fun, and definitely better than the first draft.  I love those opportunities in life to learn something about myself that lets me live freer and more honest than before.  Peace.