A flat tire changed me

Sunday, August 23rd, 2009

It’s Sunday. A good day to express gratitude if you take a traditional approach to these things. Actually, I take time every day to be grateful. It is part of my spiritual practice.

I have a lot to be grateful for this week. For one, I started a new job at the beginning of the week. In a job market that has more than 12% unemployment, it’s no small thing. That the job is actually a good fit for my skills and something I’m interested in is even better. As if that is not enough, the company culture, the benefits and not least of all, my boss and fellow employees, are all wonderful. I’m exceedingly grateful for this job.

But beyond that, and all of the friends and family who populate my life, I want to express gratitude for the California Highway Patrol who stopped when he saw I had a flat tire last Monday night. I had pulled over on a difficult stretch of the Interstate through the Sierra Nevadas where I could not even get out of the car to look at the tire. He reassured me and stayed behind my car until the tow truck arrived an hour later to change the tire. He said it was no big deal: he was just doing his job.

I don’t know about you, but most of the time I see the highway patrol, I get nervous. Why that should be, I don’t know. I rarely exceed the speed limit by more than 5 miles an hour, and I have a valid drivers license, car insurance and registration. I’m not a criminal. But for some reason, cops have made me nervous since I was a kid. Maybe it has something to do with my parents’ admonition when I was young that “if you’re bad, the policeman will come and take you away.” That was pretty scary for a little kid. I guess the fear stuck. So much of what we hear as children dominates our belief system for the rest of our lives. It makes it impossible for us to listen to reason sometimes.

Maybe this blog is about fear more than gratitude, but I think it’s about how an act of common decency can go a long way to change deep-seated limiting beliefs. Actually, it’s just about how silly some of those fears are. We all have them.

Because of the unfortunate incident of a flat tire, I have an altered, and more balanced perspective of something I’ve feared my whole life. Wouldn’t it be great if all of us could have an opportunity to examine our fears and find them unsubstantiated long enough to experience a different viewpoint?

If nothing else, it’s Sunday. Think about it.

When is nature not theatrical enough?

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

Yosemite is practically in my backyard since I moved west in 2004;  so yesterday, with no advance planning at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, my friend and I drove the 2 1/2 hours to get there, and I saw Yosemite for the first time in my 57 years. Years of exposure to Ansel Adams’ stunning black and white photos and Sierra Club calendars did nothing to diminish my joy and delight at actually being in one of nature’s finest temples. I am ready to return in a heartbeat, so please don’t take what I’m about to say as a put down of nature’s majesty. I’m a huge fan. I’m just curious about how constant exposure to movies, TV, Internet and other media affect our real life experiences of those same things.

On the drive home, we decided to take a longer route through a narrow mountain pass. At midnight, we were still negotiating hairpin turns and trying to avoid a) hitting deer which were roaming all over the one-lane road, or b) plunging over steep inclines to our certain death. The thought of stopping to stretch our legs in the thick of what could only be described as the “forest primeval” (or “prime evil” depending on how many slasher movies you’ve seen), filled me with visions of chainsaw toting, hockey-masked killers or giant grizzly bears lurking behind every tree.

When we finally did stop to use a campground latrine, the only thing looming was silence and the milky way so resplendent you couldn’t count the stars. Can you believe it was something of a let-down? My pooling adrenaline was left unsatisfied!

I recall as we drove on and on and on through miles of towering trees (reminiscent of Hollywood or Broadway fairy tale sets) that in the headlights, those trees looked too pristine, too perfect to be real. The deer were too placid, the night too peaceful without a menacing soundtrack.

I hate to think after my nearly six decades of exposure to movies, theater and TV that life doesn’t imitate art well enough! I really don’t want to believe that what was millions of years in the making isn’t thrilling enough for those of us who have witnessed feats of technology in the last few years to make one’s head spin.

I keep remembering those trees lit by our headlights as we drove through the night and how I wondered whether they were real enough.

One sentence at a time

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

Shaking off the shackles of writer’s block (as any writer knows) is not easy, but I’ve learned that anything worth doing is rarely as easy as it seems when you start out. Occasionally, just starting out is the difficult part.

I decided to use the strategy my own coach, Scott Lewis, taught me when I first complained to him that I wanted to write–knew I could write–if only I knew how to get myself to do it. He asked me to commit to two minutes of writing a day and report back to him the following week.

Two minutes of writing a day? “Are you kidding?” I thought. “Anyone can do that!” I took the challenge. The first night I stared at the computer blankly. What to write? Being one of those people who takes her commitments very seriously, I looked around my room and decided whatever my eye landed on at the moment would be good enough to morph into the opening, and probably closing, sentence. (After all, two minutes isn’t much time to write more than a couple of sentences.) From the second night, I was writing for 10 minutes, and after that, I was pounding the keyboard in oblivion for two hours, not two minutes, a night.

I wrote my way out of my block the last couple of days by just sitting down and writing the next sentence, and then another. I figured if I didn’t like the direction it went, I’d be revising it sooner or later anyway.

It worked. That and a little help from some tunes of my favorite divas of ’80s dance music–Tina Turner and The Pointer Sisters. Why not? I left my plucky boomer protagonist, Chicken Cacciatore, in a quandry about pole dancing in public. All she really needed was some inspiration!

How hate manifests when we’re afraid

Sunday, December 7th, 2008

My niece witnessed an older woman in the supermarket checkout line deliberately turning a magazine to hide the cover photo of President-elect Obama. The woman who flipped the magazine around said nothing to explain her strange behavior. Was it a silent protest against a Democrat winning the election? An African-American?

I found this story very disturbing: there are undoubtedly many more people secretly harboring resentment over the results of our recent Presidential election. What happens when you can’t talk about feelings, when you are afraid your feelings are unpopular or put you in danger? Some of us have known that fear for the past eight years. Now we have the opportunity to once again speak freely, but how comfortable can we really feel expressing ourselves when there are plenty of people like the woman in the checkout line getting angrier in silence day by day?

The story of the lady in the checkout line was disturbing, yes. It reminded me that I, you, we — all of us need to examine our fears. Don’t silence them so they grow insidiously. Give them a voice and listen to how ridiculous our own fears sound. Then give them up, lest they destroy us all.