Category Archives: Learning & Growth

Siblings without Rivalry

sibs april 2017

When we were growing up we had a 1978 Chevy Impala station wagon. It was pale yellow, huge, had rear wheel drive, and felt like sailing a boat over the road. We – my parents, brother, two sisters, and I – took many family road trips in it across the western United States. Those of us riding in the “way back” (the third row seat that faced backwards) often got carsick. There was no official nickname for the car, but I called it The Beast. I think at some point we all learned to drive in it. It was one of the first things, aside from going to church every Sunday and having the same wacky parents, that my siblings and I all experienced together.

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I am the eldest of four children raised in a strict (yes, Mom, it was) Catholic home. My brother is two years younger than I am, and my sisters are eight and ten years younger. I helped take care of them when they were little – changed their diapers, rocked them, carried them around like baby dolls.

When I was fourteen, something happened on our mom’s side of the family. We didn’t understand it (in fact I don’t think we do even now), but ultimately our mom and our aunt stopped communicating, and we couldn’t see our four cousins anymore. It was a very sad thing, and I don’t even recall how it was explained to us then. Our mom taught us to love and care for each other. But that family rift, which lasted over two decades, taught us, perhaps subconsciously: We didn’t ever want that to happen to us.

Fast forward to my late twenties: By then my sisters were away at college, I was a single mom of two little boys, our brother lived 700 miles away, and we would all email each other and talk about our very different lives. One sister was studying forestry and living abroad in Mexico, the other one was studying sociology and video production in Portland, Oregon. I had recently gone through a painful divorce and both of my sons had special needs. My brother was living in Los Angeles sharing an apartment with our dad (our parents divorced at the same time I did). There was no texting (and I don’t think any of us had cell phones yet), so email was a good way to keep in touch. I printed and saved a lot of them.

Throughout our adulthood it’s unfortunately seldom that all four of us can be together at once, and we treasure those times. At some point we discovered that we all love wine and travel (probably because of spending many summer vacations in The Beast). Some of our favorite reunions involve wine tasting and talking about our latest trips. Two of us live in southern Oregon and the other two in Los Angeles. We get together whenever we can – baby showers, river rafting trips, graduations, weddings, our mother’s 60th birthday, and our father’s funeral. Good and bad, we are there for each other.

We all went down our own paths as far as religion and politics are concerned; somehow those issues usually don’t come up the few times we’re able to visit. We not only respect our differences (including careers and personalities), we embrace them because they are part of these individuals we love and cherish and couldn’t imagine not having in our lives. There is no passive-aggressive communication, no jealousy, no disparaging remarks. We might laugh a little about our shortcomings, or in mild exasperation – and concern – wonder why someone isn’t doing what we would do if we were in that situation. But from that sad family rift we learned to appreciate each other for who we are and to hold on no matter what.

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Our father’s funeral was six years ago, and our mother and aunt both attended. At one point our aunt approached her and I don’t know what was said, but a moment later they were embracing and crying. I choked back a sob as I realized that through his death our father had reunited our family. We see our aunt, uncle, and cousins as often as we can, making up for lost time. And our mom and her sister have never been closer.

The Most Important Things I’ve Learned

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There was the typical amount of squabbling in any big-sister/little-brother relationship. Most of the time we were close; occasionally somebody did something to somebody else and somebody else threatened to tell on somebody. At one point, around ages 5 and 7, an egregious deed was brought to the attention of our father, who was most likely preoccupied with recording himself chanting in Old Church Slavonic. Disturbed and irritated at the interruption, he still managed to give us a quick life lesson. In an exasperated tone he said, “If someone tells you that you’ve wronged them in some way, you need to say, ‘I’m in the wrong. I’m sorry.’” That was all we remembered of the concise lecture. But learning the value of a sincere apology has stayed with us throughout our lives.

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Most people can’t put their finger on the one most important thing they’ve learned in their lives. I think that’s because there are different things at different points in our lives that are equally important: learning to read, learning to cook, learning to drive, for example. The most important things you’ve learned don’t have to be profound, and they can be viewed different ways without decreasing their value: to do (swim), to be (courageous), to think (I can do this).

Some of the things that top my list: to keep trying (but know how to let go when it’s time), to apologize sincerely, to forgive, to be grateful for everything (good or bad), to never take my loved ones for granted, to not let an opportunity pass me by. And something else I’ve learned that might not stand out for others: self-awareness. When I might be going manic, I’ve learned that if I notice the symptoms early on I can take some emergency medication to halt the process, to keep myself from feeling the relentless, agonizing churning and saying or doing things I might regret. This self-awareness is not an innate characteristic I’ve had; it’s one of the most important things I’ve learned.

Life is about the choices you make. That’s another big lesson I’ve learned in life, and one that I’ve tried to teach my boys. But unfortunately I think it’s one of those things you have to learn by doing, by making the not-so-good choices that bring about this realization. That’s why it’s a lesson, and often hard-won. Perhaps the most important things we learn in life are those that change the course of it – or help us get through it.

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At age 14, three days after seeing his newborn cousin for the first time, my autistic son asked:

“How old will he be when he learns to laugh?”

Lessons Learned on a Cruise

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  1. Pace yourself with the food and alcohol intake. Seriously.
  2. The pillows are actually very comfortable.
  3. There are some really funny cruise ship comedians!
  4. Don’t pay to have internet access.
  5. You will gain a new perspective on your life.

I just got back from my first cruise and loved.every.minute.of.it. That could have something to do with the fact that it was my honeymoon, but even so. Loved it.

The endless buffet and sit-down dinners (most of the food was surprisingly good), the cocktails, the sun and the wind, the warm saltwater pool, the glass elevators going up and down seven stories, the hallway artwork, the towel animals, the balcony off our room, the soft-but-supportive pillows, the sleeping in until 10:30, the sunsets (obviously we didn’t catch the sunrises), the stand-up comedy club, the goofy piano bar, the hot stone couple’s massage, the hammocks, the quiet and relaxing adults-only deck of the ship, the underwater sea trek excursion in Grand Cayman, everything about Grand Cayman, shutting off my phone and not going online for the entire 7-day cruise.

On the afternoon of the last day, as I struggled to accept the harsh truth that I would soon be returning to reality, I took a walk by myself around the ship to look for a quiet spot in which to contemplate my life. This was perhaps a tall order for a cruise ship.

But I found a surprisingly unoccupied hammock on the adults-only deck where I listened to the wind while periodically pushing off the floor with my feet to swing myself. As I lay there, I thought about how stress-free the past week had been not having to answer phone calls and texts or look at the calendar or go online to check on things or be on Facebook. I could, if I’d wanted to, but I loved having a good solid week of wireless time.

What could I do to retain that “wireless” feeling after returning home? Being that I want to continue working in my same field (I didn’t have a flash of insight about quitting my job and living off the grid), there was nothing to be done about the phone, and I was okay with that. I don’t spend nearly as much time on it as other people. But I knew that something about my life had to change if I wanted to take some of the cruise mentality home with me.

I thought about what causes the most stress in my life and how I could alter that. I couldn’t eliminate it entirely, but I could take small steps to contain it and make it more manageable. I committed to taking those steps and thought of a simple plan of when and how to do so.

Then I thought about the second-most stressful thing in my life and did the same. And the third. I stopped there because anything more than that would create more stress. Then I dozed in the hammock for a while, hearing the warm, tropical wind and the muffled sounds of people enjoying their last day of the cruise – kids squealing on the waterslide, adults laughing in the hot tubs – all with realities to get back to.

I’ve been home two weeks now, and it was rough getting back into the swing of things. But I do feel that my contemplative hammock time will prove to be effective. I’ve enacted some of the small steps I intended to, and although nothing has really changed yet I feel somewhat relieved that I’ve done that, that I’ve followed through with my little plan. Sometimes a sense of accomplishment is a stress relief in and of itself.

And I’ll go on as many cruises as it takes to figure that out.

[Image credit: cruise ship art in the hallways of Carnival Dream]

Things I Learned from Divorce

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Seventeen years ago this month, my divorce was finalized. I think more than anything else that’s happened in my life, all these years later, being divorced makes me feel like a failure. (The only thing that comes close is losing my house, which happened four years ago. But that’s another story.)

Typically in the western world it takes two people to want to get married, but it takes only one person to want to get divorced. And although I’m sure it’s hard enough on the person who wanted to do it, to the person on the receiving end it can be devastating. I could wax poetic about the feelings of betrayal when infidelity is involved. And when your parents are going through a divorce at the same time you are, it’s a whole different kind of miserable. You certainly can’t lean on them for support.

Even so, I thought I did everything right – I didn’t bad-mouth my ex in front of my kids. I thought we didn’t need to have child support court-ordered because my ex would send it every month and not “forget.” I tried to be friends with him after it was a done deal. I tried to be magnanimous about it, and I ended up feeling like a fool.

But you can’t get everything right. It’s divorce, after all. If everything were right, you wouldn’t be doing it in the first place. Here, then, are the Top 10 Things I Learned from Divorce:

10. Don’t think if you’re nice and civil in front of the kids they won’t know something’s wrong. They will, even if they’re little.

9. Don’t take for granted that your spouse will always be your spouse if you don’t make it a point to frequently tell him or her how much you appreciate them. They deserve the best from you.

8. Don’t assume because you look pretty good no one would ever cheat on you. Let me tell you, it’s a rude awakening.

7. Don’t beat yourself up when you realize your role in why things went downhill. It might not justify the other person’s role in the demise of your marriage, but that factor is not worth your focus. Learn from it and move on.

6. Don’t be a martyr. Ask for help, especially if you have special needs kids.

5. Do prepare your kids. If they have special needs or they’re not able to understand when you explain things verbally, tell them visually. Neither of my kids could talk at the time, one was/is autistic, and auditory processing was very difficult for both of them. I bought a book called Mom’s House, Dad’s House that had a cover with two separate (but whole) houses on it and a tree in the middle. It helped the boys visually make sense of what was happening. There was still a lot of anxiety, of course, but at least they had something to go on.

4. Do take the high road, but don’t be a doormat. Protect yourself emotionally. Value yourself.

3. Do communicate. Just because you’re not “fighting” doesn’t mean everything’s great. Be proactive.

2. Do see your spouse as the most important person in your life. Yes, even more than your kids. It’s impossible to have a great marriage without that. This is not a justification to neglect your kids and not nurture your relationship with them. Parenting is a gift and a sacred calling, and our children deserve our full presence in their lives. But you have to put your spouse first. I didn’t, and I should have. This is one of the most important things I learned from divorce.

1. Love is not all you need. It takes so much more than love to create, nurture, and sustain a good, fulfilling marriage. Love is why you do it, but it’s not always how.

The Middle Ground of Middle Age

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It was my birthday. After class, I changed my clothes and drove to the large chain drugstore where I worked. I went to the back area where the employee lockers were and stowed my purse and jacket and walked back to the time clock to clock in. In the hallway I was greeted by my boss, a middle-aged woman with short curly brown hair and oval glasses, dressed in the same gray smock uniform as me. She stood there, her shoulders hunched as always, and stated, “It’s your birthday! How old are you?” Twenty-two, I said. “Aw, you’re still a baby!” I felt deflated. Every day after that I wondered how old you have to be to garner some respect. I’m still wondering.

*

All my life I’ve never minded getting older. In fact, at certain points in time I actually looked forward to it, and not just when waiting to be able to drive a car or buy a bottle of wine. After 21, what age is there to look forward to? At age 25 you can rent a car (which, being a traveler, was important to me). And at some unspecified advanced age you “get” to retire (of course in recent years I became painfully aware that this does not happen automatically).

There was that saying – “Don’t trust anyone over 30” – coined by activist Jack Weinberg in 1964. Someone posed that “over the hill” referred to age 40. When I was 5 my grandmother was 58 – and I thought she was really old. Now we hear “50 is the new 30!” and such. I think we Gen-Xers are staring into the face of middle age and wondering what the hell happened. Some of us in our 40s are starting our second of the two careers we’re predicted to have in our lives. We need glasses. We get hot flashes. We have to be careful of our backs.

I’ve never been bothered by birthdays, but in turning 45 this month, I realize that in the last couple of years my body is not what it used to be. And that bothers me. Not the numbers of the years, but how they make me feel physically. I could “grow old gracefully.” I could “not go gentle into that good night.” But what I want to do, what might take me a while to figure out how to do, is to find the middle ground. To be devil-may-care but graceful, too. To embrace but not resign. To finally garner some respect, and to live life in such a way that I can.

*

It’s my birthday. I have a busy day at work and then go cook dinner for my 21-year-old autistic son, who lives in a supported living apartment. I have dinner with him every Wednesday. The only years he has ever observed my birthday were when someone else facilitated it. But tonight when I arrive, he opens the door and wishes me a Happy Birthday. Then in his deep monotone voice he says, “I got a surprise for after dinner.” He opens up his freezer and shows me a half gallon of ice cream. It’s Tillamook, an Oregon coast brand from a town famous for its creamery. And the flavor Nigel chose was Birthday Cake. Ignoring the lump in my throat, I thank him and tell him how thoughtful it is of him. A part of me wonders if someone reminded him, but if so, no matter. He went to the grocery store, he bought the special ice cream with his own money, and the fact that he did it is better than any birthday gift I could ever hope for.

[Image credit: Relatably.com]

What Becomes of Six and a Half Pounds

N 2121 years ago I held this guy in my arms for the first time and was paralyzed by the thought of how much my life would change, having no idea that it would change even more than I had thought it could. This guy, who was 6 ½ pounds, would set my life on an uncharted course and lead me to a place completely different from where I thought I would go, from where I had planned to go. (Where was that? Oh, yeah. An editing job in New York.) My career evolved into something I would have never considered, and I couldn’t feel more fulfilled.

Today marks 21 years of this guy leaving his mark on the world, on me, on our family. 21 years of trying to figure him out, wondering what would happen next, what I needed to do. 21 years of keeping up with him – and trying to keep my sanity. 21 years of wanting to “give him back to the circus” (as my grandmother would say). And 21 years of loving him.

Last year he turned 20 (I know that probably didn’t need to be pointed out, but stay with me), and the whole two-decade milestone was cool, but something’s different about 21. For many parents of kids with special needs, it’s when their kids no longer attend a public school transition program. (Nigel refused to attend high school longer than his peers, but when you’re voted by your senior class as Most Likely to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse, high school’s not really on your radar.) Anyway (thanks for staying with me), turning 21 is not always about drinking (because when you have autism, epilepsy, and bipolar – and take meds to treat them – any amount of drinking is ill-advised, with emphasis on ill).

But turning 21 is about adulthood. For the last five years I’ve written on my websites about Nigel’s “transition to adulthood.” And – my God – we’re here. This is what adulthood looks like for my son. Yes, he will continue to grow and evolve as everyone, regardless of abilities or disorders, does. But for right now, I look at this young man who has come into his own, I look at the hurdles he has faced, the mountains, and what he still contends with every day to navigate this world, and I marvel at him. I marvel at his tenacity, evident in infancy, his adventurous spirit, his creativity, his insightful musings and comments, his wit (have you read the Nigelisms?), and his steadfastness as he envisions his dream of having a career in filmmaking.

Twenty-one. I went out to dinner at Red Lobster with my dad and my grandma. I moved to a different state (for the third time). I changed my college major (also, I believe, for the third time). That was 21 for me. For Nigel: dinner at a gourmet burger joint with his family. Later in the year, maybe getting his GED. Maybe working at Home Depot and starting to save for film school. Adulthood on his own terms. Making his way in a world from which he constantly needed relief, but in which he always desperately wanted to be.

Happy 21st Birthday, Nigel. It’s all you.

The Journey: My Parenting Milestones

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I looked up “top parenting milestones” online, since with Aidan’s high school graduation this month I’ve made it to what I consider one of the biggest, and the first three pages of the search engine lists milestones for new parents. Baby milestones, like first time sitting up or cutting a tooth, most of which are now in the backs of our minds for those of us with teens and young adults. The only baby milestones that stand out for me are when they started walking and talking. And when you have kids with special needs, those milestones and others may be delayed – or they might not happen at all.

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Both of my boys were walking a month before their first birthdays. The talking milestone took a lot longer to achieve and involved some intensive therapy, but it happened. So did toilet training (although also delayed). I would have celebrated the day the word playdate was retired, if I’d ever had to use it. Alas, many of our milestones were different. I have a friend who threw a huge party when her 10-year-old son was finally toilet trained (and I know others who aren’t and may never be). I celebrated Nigel’s first unprompted thank you – which occurred at age 15. So, things like that.

I think, special needs or not, we all have our own parenting milestones that we celebrate. What’s a big deal for me might not be for someone else, and vice versa. Here are mine (those I have reached, in addition to those mentioned above), in order of importance (not chronological):

• Moving into a supported living apartment (way sooner than I thought would be possible! Yes!!)
• Getting haircuts and going into a restaurant or grocery store without a sensory meltdown that involved shrieking, bolting, or writhing on the ground (it took a very, very long time, and I still don’t take it for granted)
• Learning to read and write (one guy had a hard time with reading, the other with writing)
• Graduating from high school (almost didn’t make it)
• Flying on a plane alone (wow!)
• Learning to make their own simple breakfast so I could sleep in on weekends (thank God)
• First time home alone (without setting things on fire – yeah, that happened)
• Taking their own showers (I think all three of us were excited about this)
• Learning to ride a bike (one guy took a lot longer)
• Going to prom (well, one did)
• Me noticing their leg hair growing in (yeah, I’m a mom of boys)
• When they started shaving (one even cuts his own hair now!)
• No longer having to bake/bring treats for class parties or facilitate the signing and addressing of Valentine cards (so glad that was only elementary school)

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There will be more down the road, more things to marvel at and celebrate. For now, having both the boys out of high school is huge to me. It hasn’t hit me yet that, as a long-term single parent, I’ve actually made it. Who am I now? Where do I go from here? For the past 21 years my identity has been Mom. Of course, I always will be Mom, and that is a gift I treasure. But what can I now focus on that I couldn’t for the past 21 years? I’m not the person I was; I don’t even remember that young woman. It’s like going to your hometown decades later and not recognizing it. You know you’re in the right place, but everything’s different. My young adult sense of self cannot – and probably should not! – be reclaimed. So, I have the opportunity to reinvent many aspects of myself, and I’m excited about that, but also comtemplative. It’s a welcome change, but it feels odd, and somehow sudden, like being in a monsoon for hours and then all at once it’s over. I’ve still got the new graduate at home for a few more months, but life with him is different now, and although positive, it will take some getting used to. I’m happy though. I’ve waited a long time for this, and I’m finally here. Bring on the empty nest!

[Image credit: Therapies for Kids]

Looking for Closure, Part 2

[If you have not read Part 1 of this post, I encourage you to do so as it provides the background story as to why I would be seeking closure on a mountain.]

For the second time in fifteen years, I was stuck on this mountain as the sun was going down. And then it set. The forest was completely dark, the trail was no longer visible, and there was another mile to go before getting back to the parking lot.

*

It’s amazing how long trauma can affect us, and in what ways. The memory of the event dictates our behavior, even if we’re not thinking about the event at that moment, and even in different circumstances.

At the age of 28, I had climbed a local 9-and-a-half-thousand-foot mountain alone.  I stayed too long at the summit, and got lost and mildly injured on the way back down. Relieved to finally find my way back to the trail, I then came across two men who chased me as I ran the remaining two miles back to the trailhead where my car was parked. I had narrowly escaped what would have been an assault or worse.

That was fifteen years ago. Not only have I not hiked or climbed alone, I find myself locking my doors immediately upon getting into my car. I get nervous when people walk closely behind me.  If I am alone outdoors when the sun sets, the experience still crops up in the back of my mind.

But it’s a beautiful mountain, and after ten years I decided that I wanted to climb it again, with someone else of course. Nigel had wanted to climb it too, and for two years my boyfriend and I had talked about climbing it. A couple of months ago, we finally did.

It was a warm early fall day, and I wore shorts anticipating that I would get hot while hiking. The three of us hit the trailhead a little bit later than we intended to, but we kept up a good pace. Nigel enjoyed listening for Bigfoot noises and potential signs of its presence. As we climbed a little higher, I was dismayed to discover that I was not getting hotter. I was getting colder, my legs were exposed, and I had only worn a light long sleeved shirt over a tank top. I came to the place where, all those years ago, I had rejoined the trail after being lost, where the men began chasing me. I felt no closure, only a sense of unease.

Still about an hour from the summit, we got off the trail (which is not clearly marked). My boyfriend was not feeling well and decided to wait for us as I continued on with Nigel, who insisted that he had to finish (“I must conquer this nemesis”). Soon the summit was shrouded in clouds, and it was getting late. We needed to turn back. Nigel vehemently resisted, and I explained to him that sometimes you have to “give up your summit” for weather and safety reasons. It took me at least twenty minutes to convince him.

We couldn’t find my boyfriend, of course, after going back and forth and spending about 45 minutes looking and calling for him. Finally I decided that we needed to head back down, and if he wasn’t at the car when we got there, I would call Search and Rescue.

He thought to leave our cloth bag at some point on the trail, and I found it, relieved that he was on the trail ahead of us. By the time we caught up to him, the sun was going down, and I was numb with cold.

We began jogging along the trail, trying to get as far as we could before we were in complete darkness, which came soon enough. Fortunately, my boyfriend and Nigel both had their cell phones, and we used one for light until its battery ran out, and then used the other. But the phone lights were dim, and it was very difficult not to trip over rocks, which we did several times, causing injuries.

We could tell we were nearing the parking lot, but then we came to an intersection with another trail and because it was dark we accidentally got on that trail, which led us south of the parking lot, out to the highway. We began walking along the highway to get back to the turn-off for the mountain’s trailhead, which we finally found in the darkness.

For the second time in my life, I got into my car, shaking, and drove off. I vowed that it would be the last.

*

I had wanted to climb the mountain again in an effort to find some closure for the terrifying, traumatic experience that had happened fifteen years ago. There is some emotional need for closure, especially when we feel we have been wronged in some way. We try to revisit the place or the person responsible, hoping to resolve the violation or distress that we still feel. But sometimes, there is no closure to be had. Sometimes the whys go unanswered and the fears aren’t conquered. And we must continue on, the passage of time our only easement.

(image credit: Harvest Ministry Teams)

Looking for Closure, Part 1

I scramble over boulders, some the size of small cars. My legs slip in between them; I twist my ankles. Trying to hurry, I trip multiple times and scrape my shins, knees, and hands. My backpack, now empty of food and water, slides around my back each time I pitch forward. I climb lower, entering the treeline, and make a futile attempt to use my cell phone one more time. I can’t stay on this mountain; the sun’s going down behind it. If I stumble into the trees and keep heading east, I should run into the trail again. But what if I don’t?

*

Mt. McLoughlin, a nine-and-a-half thousand foot lava cone in the Cascade range and the Sky Lakes Wilderness, is about 45 miles from where I live. Being the amateur mountaineer I like to think that I am, I invite two friends to climb it with me. And when they call me, after I’m all ready to go, and tell me they won’t be able to make it, I decide to go anyway. Alone. Because I had planned to do it today, and I’ve wanted to do it ever since I moved here ten years ago. So I grab my backpack, already packed with water, a tuna sandwich, an apple, and granola bars. I get in my car and drive to the trailhead by myself. Because I’m under thirty and I tend to think that’s not a bad idea.

The last mile of the hike is a little strenuous, but I summit with about ten other people. I go to the front edge of it and gaze at the view of the Rogue Valley and beyond, all the way to majestic Mt. Shasta. McLoughlin itself is beautiful, almost a perfect cone shape, and I figure it’s the ideal place to do some journaling. When finished with my lunch, I pull out my notebook and get started.

After a while I realize I should probably head down. I look around and discover that I am the last person up here. I go back to where I think the trail is and can’t find it.  Hmm. I could have sworn it was on the back side. I decide to start down where I think the trail should be; I’ll probably find it soon enough.

It’s slow going as I pick my way down the steep rocky slope. I try to quicken my pace but don’t seem to be getting anywhere. I don’t recognize anything. I refuse to believe that I’m lost and continue scrambling over the boulders, descending the mountain as fast as I can.

Finally I have to admit to myself that I am nowhere near the trail. I am lost, and the sun is setting. The Sky Lakes Wilderness, a sea of trees, stretches before me. I can see a lake in the distance. All is quiet except for my rapidly beating heart.

I head east hoping to connect with the trail at some point. Even after I enter the treeline the large volcanic rocks still surround me, along with fallen trees. It takes forever to climb over and around them. My entire body is sore, and I am trying to remain calm as the light continues to fade.

After what could be a mile of boulders and trees, I hear talking. I see someone sitting on a rock along the side of the trail. I’ve made it! My idea of heading east worked! I climb over the last section of boulders and greet the two guys hanging out there. You get lost? one of them asks. Yeah, I was over that way quite a bit. I’m so glad I made it back to the trail.

I look at them then. They both appear to be in their late thirties. Strangely, neither one has a backpack. They look at me. A synapse fires in my brain, my heart skips a beat, and in a millisecond, I know without even thinking the words. They were waiting for me.

The “fight” part of Fight or Flight is not an option. I turn and immediately break into a full-out run. I don’t feel my rubbery legs and sore feet. I do not feel tired as I push my already battered body into a sprint for the next two miles back to the trailhead. But I don’t think about how long it is, or the fact that it’s getting dark, or whether or not I still have my backpack on. All I know is that I hear two sets of footfalls behind me, and I am running for my life.

At some point I think that I hear only one set still behind me, but it feels like the guy is breathing down my neck. From somewhere deep within myself I find my last reserve and take longer, faster strides. I keep going, propelled by adrenaline and the goal of outrunning my pursuer.

After some time, I think the only footfalls I hear are my own, pounding in my ear. I do not look back but continue on, slowing down a little to keep myself from vomiting. Finally I make it back to the parking lot and notice that there are only two cars in it – mine, and a beat-up brown sedan parked in the far corner of the lot. I look back at the trail and see no one. Fortunately I still have my backpack, and my keys are in it. Shaking uncontrollably, I get into my car and drive off. About a mile down the road, I choke back sobs, not daring to think of what my fate might have been.

*

We hear news stories about people being lost in a forest or on a mountain.  Sometimes we think how scary that must be. And sometimes we find out just how scary it really is.

 

Action Is More Powerful Than Motivation

Nike’s “Just Do It” slogan was coined in 1988 at an advertising agency meeting. The founder of Wieden+Kennedy agency credits the inspiration for the slogan to the last words of Gary Gilmore (an American criminal who gained international notoriety for demanding the execution of his death sentence for two murders he committed).

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I have been a writer for most of my life. I loved the books my parents read to me as a young child, and I decided that I would write my own. At the age of five, I wrote and self-published (long before CreateSpace) my first book. I bound it and created a cardboard cover for it. It was a story about Snoopy and Charlie Brown going to the zoo, and I still have it. (These days, my sons tell me, it would be considered Fan Fiction.) Throughout grade school I wrote poetry and more stories, including a series of books about a mouse with a pink hat and her friends. In sixth grade, with the help of my parents, I self-published a novella, and wrote more poetry, short stories, and another novella in high school. I wrote my first novel as my capstone project my senior year of college.

Then real life happened, my sons were born, and I didn’t write much while raising them primarily by myself. I got back to writing when, out of desperation for information about autism in the teen years, I began writing TeenAustim.com. And several years ago, I wrote and self-published Slip, for which both my sons provided inspiration. Since then, I have been working on Enough to Go Around, which is in the editing process and should be published early next year.

But Enough to Go Around has been in the editing process for well over a year. In fact, the first draft was written during NaNoWriMo in 2008 – six years ago! I could come up with plenty of reasons why it was on the back burner so long; you can read about some of them here.

I had always been motivated to write this story. When I was eleven years old, I interviewed my father’s parents, who emigrated from Czechoslovakia almost a hundred years ago. They told amazing stories, and I knew even then that someday I would write a book about them. In 2007 I took a trip with my father and sister to Slovakia to do research for the novel. So why, if I was so motivated, has it been sitting for so long?

About three weeks ago, I was home on a Saturday and actually found myself with a little free time. And, without any thought, without any argument that I should be doing something else, I just picked it up and started working on it. Several hours later, I was still working on it and didn’t want to stop. I just did it, and that motivated me to do more. I could have spent the day cleaning the house (God, it needed it), I could have spent the day out wine tasting or relaxing (God, I deserved it), but I just sat down and turned on the computer, not thinking about the other things I “should” be doing. I picked up the printed manuscript with all my notes on it, and just did it.

My point in this post is that, yes, you have to have motivation to want to do something. You want it, you can visualize it, you can feel it within your grasp. Motivation comes first, that’s an undeniable truth. But without action, whatever you are motivated to do will sit there on the back burner. It becomes a “when” thing – when I’m finished with this work project I’ll do it, when the house is clean, when the holidays are over with, when my office is organized, when the kids are out of school, when I get back into a routine and can schedule it. There will always be a when. But taking action puts the whens on the back burner. And then we can do that thing we were always motivated to do but somehow didn’t.

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It makes perfect sense that an athletic shoe company would adopt “Just Do It” as their slogan. Not “Just Be Motivated.” Not “Just Try to Fit It In.” They chose something that is more powerful than motivation – they chose action. Works for me.