Riding Shotgun with The Asphalt Warrior

Hey ya’ll – I’m handing over the blog to my friend Mark Stevens, publisher of the late, great Gary Reilly’s Asphalt Warrior series (as well as Gary’s other phenomenal books.) Pickup at Union Station, Gary’s newest book hits shelves on June 19th and  I invited Mark to drop by and talk a little about the ways Gary’s work has influenced and inspired him.

Enjoy.

pickup at union station gary reilly

Rule #1: Never get involved.

Riding Shotgun with the Asphalt Warrior

By Mark Stevens

Murph makes me laugh. Always has—and always will.

From the moment my late pal Gary Reilly handed me one of his “Murph” manuscripts, I knew I was sinking into a different world.

Do you know that feeling?

On the first page of a book, that little wave of excitement you feel? You hear a voice. You get—really get—a fully developed attitude.

Herewith the first paragraph of The Asphalt Warrior:

I was first in line at the cab stand outside the Hilton Hotel in downtown Denver when a nervous man in his thirties hopped into the backseat of my taxi. I was immediately annoyed because the man hadn’t come out of the hotel. He was what I call a “pedestrian” and pedestrians rarely want to go to Denver International Airport. I don’t know who they were, but I love the masters of inconvenience who thought up DIA. They placed it twenty-five miles northeast of town.

Easy, chatty, self-deprecating. And how much do we learn about Murph in a few quick strokes?

This is the voice of Murph, a.k.a. Brendan Murphy—The Asphalt Warrior. That paragraph was the beginning, seven books ago.

Here’s the deal, here’s the hook:

Murph will make you think about ….

Practically everything.

Murph notices everything. He thinks about everything. He has a comment on … everything.

Murph slows the world down into micro-moments. He wonders so much about what motivates him to do anything that he has to wonder and ponder about all the others rushing around him tick, too. He understands his needs. In the race of “one-upping” your fellow man, Murph gladly opts for “one-downing” him. He is a master at keeping his life simple. At least, the basics of life—his foundation.

He works hard to minimize his income, to only earn a certain amount of money each day, each week. Just enough. He only seeks to cover basic expenses—rent, food. The laundromat.

Murph relishes free time like nobody you’ve ever met. Of course, he’s supposed to be writing a best-selling novel with his free time, but that only leads us to other warts-and-all True Confessions about that struggle. He’s got a steamer trunk full of unpublished novels and wonders (as Gary did) why others succeed while he fails. “I have read a lot of how-to books trying to find out what the ‘trick’ to writing novels is,” muses Murph. “It took me ten years to learn that the trick is getting paid.”

Murph is the direct opposite of an unreliable narrator. His routine thought process is to-the-bone exposure of how he would prefer his life—and the world—to function.

And he sees that world, quite literally, pass through his back seat. He sees every passenger as his ticket to free time.

Murph is tantalized by free time. Ideally, he has a mini “Spring Break” every week. As long as the money comes in just right and as long as, well, he doesn’t get involved in the lives of his fares.

After all, he’s vowed to never get involved. He knows the risks, understands that getting involved means complications, and if Murph hates anything, it’s complications.

And yet, he has heart.

Humanity.

He goes undercover to a hippie commune to search for a pair of missing girls last seen at Red Rocks. He inadvertently gives a ride to a bank robber—and must deal with the fallout. He reaches out to an odd man with strange stories who appears to be leaving him cryptic notes on five dollar bills. He has played marriage counselor and career counselor. He’s hung on the back end of a south-bound train and he’s been grilled by the cops so many times he knows the detectives by name. At every turn, Murph tries to do the right thing on behalf of his fellow human beings.

Murph knows he’s supposed to keep to himself. Yet Murph knows himself well enough to know that, when the moment comes, he won’t have a choice. He has a true desire to make matters whole. Having tampered with the world’s big course of events, he wants to make amends so he can tiptoe away, unnoticed.

Despite all his snarky feelings about humanity and the crazy organizations where he made it a mission to avoid work (The U.S. Army, his former employer, “Dyna-Plex”), Murph ultimately can’t help but do the right thing.

There are many great novels about being alone—pursuing quests and chasing the dream. Cervantes. Melville. Wharton. Proust. Salinger. On and on. Man vs. Society. Man vs. The Rules. Man Finding Himself (DeFoe).

Murph, in fact, is a bit of Robinson Crusoe—alone in his own world and finding ways to patch things together. (It’s no wonder Murph’s favorite television show is “Gilligan’s Island.”)

The key to Murph, and where the laughs reside, is in his keen self-awareness. He understands his delusions and psychological tics. He embraces his against-the-grain approach to life and he works very hard to keep it intact.

Yet being spotted as a fraud—being noticed at all—drives Murph’s war with identity issues. Cab driving, he claims, is the perfect job for someone who wants to remain anonymous (and being anonymous is his holy grail).

He likes being by himself. He likes doing as little as possible but that doesn’t mean he’s slothful (say, like Oblomov in the Russian novel by Ivan Goncharov). We see Murph take charge over and over again. At crunch time, he’s all action.

I can imagine college term papers analyzing Murph as compared and contrasted to Ignatius Jacque Reilly (“A Confederacy of Dunces”) but again I’d assert that Murph is more action-oriented when the time comes; he’s also not as much of slob as either Oblomov or Ignatius Reilly. Murph may know he’s deluded, but he is upfront about those delusions—and relishes them.

In fact, about the only element of his character that he doesn’t explain is why he feels compelled to break one of his solemn vows, to never get involved in the lives of his passengers.

Over and over, he lets us sneak up right to the dark places inside and then chases us away with a laugh.

“I had lived most of my adult life with the belief that everybody could see right through me. Also my teenage years, as well as my child years. Authority figures had something to do with this. Also my vivid imagination. Case in point: a bathroom mirror with a towel draped over it, but I don’t want to talk about that.”

He may not want to face himself in the mirror, but Murph knows himself very, very well. And in knowing himself, he is able to shed remarkably fresh light on everything around him, making us see our own world in a whole new way.

Gary Reilly’s newest book, Pickup at Union Station arrives June 19th – preorder your copy now!

Hey – this is Bree, just a quick note, I’m currently reading Pickup at Union Station and you can follow along on twitter at #PickupReilly and join the conversation!
I’ll be posting my review as soon as I finish later this week!

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A Matter of Heart

“Death is what happens when your dream ends.”

Who are you? What makes you, you? What is your “one thing,”  the thing that defines you and sets you apart from everyone else? What’s the aspect of you that you absolutely could not live without? What is the thing that gets you out of bed in the morning (I mean, besides hungry children, pets or spouses…) What drives you, motivates you, challenges you and makes you want to push yourself to be better?

What’s the one thing that makes you happy, that sustains you and holds you and keeps you afloat when everything else is falling apart?

Now – what would you do if that one thing was taken away?

amy fellner dominy matter of heart

Would you die for a chance to live your dream?

A Matter of Heart by Amy Fellner Dominy dives deep into ideas of identity and the things we think define us and make us who we are. It challenges us to look inside ourselves for our One Thing, and then look even deeper to see what’s driving that, and then look deeper still…

Abby is a swimmer. Not in the sense that she likes to swim in the summer and splash around in the pool with her friends – she is a swimmer on her way to Olympic gold. She wakes, eats, breathes, sleeps and lives swimming. It’s who she is as much as what she does. Swimming is her one thing, her only thing. It defines her, drives her, pushes her – it owns her.

“I’m fearless in the pool. I’m strong. It’s the only place that I am.”

Until one day… Just before the qualifying meet that she is sure will see her swim into Olympic history, she learns that she can never race again, her heart cannot survive another sprint down the lap lane. Diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, she feels like her heart has betrayed her.

“The Abby I was meant to be is dead. And in her place? Who’s left?”

We watch Abby as she cycles through the 5 stages of grief.

Denial – Clearly she has been misdiagnosed, “It only happened the one time because I let myself get dehydrated.” All she needs is a little rest. She’ll be fine. A second opinion will clear everything up. Her heart is fine.

“I’m Abby Lipman. I’m special… I’ve got talent and drive and heart. I don’t know how to be broken.”

Anger – This is bullshit. It has to be. Nothing is going to take away her dream. And… What about her boyfriend, they were a perfect match, the fittest, blessed by Darwin Himself… “How can we belong to anyone else? No one is fast enough to keep up.” But now that Abby isn’t fast enough to keep up either, will Connor leave her behind? Is she really going to lose EVERYTHING because of her stupid, traitor heart?
“My heart has screwed up everything else. It’s not going to screw this up too.”

Bargaining – It’s okay. She’ll quit taking the medicine that keeps her heart beating steady and strong – but not nearly fast enough to win a race, and she’ll go back to training. All she has to do is win this one race, just this one and she’ll be able to prove to everyone that she’s not really sick.

“I’m not big on praying, but God and I talk sometimes. It never made sense that I should ask God for something that I could work to get on my own. Even now, I’m not asking him for favors so much as explaining how it’s going to be.

Depression – As Abby waits to get the all important second opinion, her depression and anxiety grow. She can’t swim, not fast, not like she wants to, until the doctors clear her. She knows they will, but in the meantime…

“I lay a hand over my heart. It’s beating quiet and regular and slow. Beta-blockers. They’re saving me and killing me at the same time.”

She used to wake up in order to swim, eat so she could swim, keep her grades up so she could swim, lived the straight and narrow so she could swim, went to bed early so she could swim. Everything she did, she did so she could swim. And now… What’s the point of any of it?

“It’s not that I’m losing hope. It’s that I’m losing myself.”

Acceptance – Abby finally comes to terms with her condition, but not in the way you might think. I don’t want to spoil anything here, so I’ll just leave this little tease, “I’m not going to lie to myself. Yes, it’s a risk. Life is full of risk.”

A Matter of Heart explores a lot of topics – not just the idea of identity and what makes us special – and what we do, how we continue if that thing is threatened or taken from us – how do we redefine ourselves when we lose our very core, our center?

It also examines romance and love and relationships, from dating to friends to family and how far we’ll go to get and keep love. How twisted we all sometimes get in trying to live up to other people’s expectations of us, and how deeply we internalize those expectations, making them our own. It explores the topics of first love and fate and destiny and how big it all feels the first time we really, truly fall for someone – and what happens when you go to lean on that love and discover it’s not strong enough to hold you up in your moment of need.

This book also explores second chances and new beginnings. “Why can’t dreams be like people? Why can’t you get a second chance at those, too?” and the ways our dreams carry us through our toughest times and push us to keep going, to survive, even after we think we’ve lost everything that makes life worth living, even after we’ve lost the dream itself.

Just a friendly warning – I finished reading this book while sitting in a public place, bawling my eyes out, desperately searching for a tissue. No one offered me one, they all just scooted a little further away from me on the bench. It’s okay though, I eventually found one in my bag.

This book took me through such a roller coaster of feelings. I really felt connected to Abby. I remember those struggles with identity, and while I never had mine so directly challenged, I think it’s something we can all identify with. We’ve all had our dreams tested, some of us are still being challenged to rise above the obstacles we think are standing in the way of our happiness, our One Thing.

Abby shows us that while death might be what happens when our dreams end, rebirth is waiting if we can only be brave enough to dream again.

A Matter of Heart is available now at all your favorite book sellers. I highly recommend getting your copy now!

 

 

 

 

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Symptoms of Success, Welcome to the Club

Trigger Warning – Gendered violence, sexual assault, rape, threats, harassment.

 

I’ve only ever gotten one death threat because of this blog.

For the most part, even on those few posts that have gone viral and have traveled around the world and picked up a few of you on the way, people have generally been civil here. Or at least non-threatening. I rarely have to take out The Mallet.

And that is a HUGE relief.

This threat happened a long time ago, I barely even remember what it was about – just that I annoyed someone and they felt that threatening me with death was an acceptable response.

I remember the first fellow blogger I told said something like, “Welcome to the club. You must be getting an audience.” Then she told me her stories.

That is the most common response when I talk to other women who are active online. Nearly every one of them has a story of violent threats, many of them have stories of people actually attempting to carry out those threats.

Almost every woman I know who is successful online must accept not just daily, but hourly, minutely, near constant threats of violence including rape threats, death threats and threats against their families depending on her level of success.

“Welcome to the club.”

This creates a reality where almost every woman I know who is present and successful online must pay a very specific price for that – the price of peace of mind. It is a reality that silences many voices, some of them before they even dare to speak.

Many successful women I know have gone so far as to hire someone to read their mentions and the comments on their posts and delete, report and block violent messages. It is a full-time job. One that if the woman herself were to do it would take away all the time she had to produce new work, not to mention the emotional and psychological toll it would take.

When they raise their voices about this they are often told to grow a thicker skin. Or they are told to ignore the trolls. Or they are told they are overreacting – it’s just the internet. No one is really going to hurt them… Or they are told that by talking about it they are “feeding the trolls” and encouraging more abuse.

Even after they are doxxed (Which means someone posts all of their personal information including home and work addresses, real names, phone numbers, email addresses, social security numbers, passwords, etc.) and laid bare, even after someone is caught driving to their house with weapons and a stated intent to kill them – they are told to calm down, relax, it’s just the internet – grow a thicker skin. Even after the threats escalate enough to get the FBI and other law enforcement agencies involved. “Stop whining. You’re blowing it out of proportion. It’s just twitter…”

There is no winning.

There is no escape.

There is no acceptable, allowable response other than to ignore it and move on – or just quit. It’s amazing how often women are told to quit what they love if they can’t take the abuse.

As if violence is the price we must all pay for the freedom to work, to socialize, to succeed…

“Calm down, it happens to everyone.”

But it doesn’t happen to everyone. It happens to very specific types of people – vocal women – especially vocal women of color, gay people, trans* people, in other words, it happens primarily to people who are not male and cisgendered and straight and white.

I haven’t waded into this for many reasons, but today I realized that there is a commonality between this and something I experienced as a teenager and young woman beginning to make my way in the world. Something super fucked up and totally not okay.

It’s the acceptance of the idea that violence is the price women (and gay people and trans* people who don’t want to live in closets) must pay for success, for inclusion, for the right to exist. Worse, there is an idea that perhaps beyond being a price to be paid violence might actually be a symbol of success, a sign that you have made it to the next level.

“Welcome to the club.”

I remember the first time I was sexually assaulted. I was in a foreign country as an exchange student and an older man who was supposed to be taking care of me while my host parent was on vacation groped me and kissed me – while his wife was one room away! He knew I was alone and isolated and had no one to call and he took advantage of that. Eventually his actions combined with other circumstances forced me to return home early. It screwed me up pretty bad, and set the stage for how I would deal with future assaults.

I remember telling my sister about what happened. I remember her hugging me and saying something along the lines of, “Welcome to the club. It sucks, but it happens to all of us.” Then she told me her story.

This was my introduction to being a teenager, this was how I crossed the line from kid to teen, from “innocent” to “worldly” and “experienced.”

I was no longer a little girl. I was part of a new group. This act of violence somehow made me mature in a way that having boyfriends, traveling to foreign countries, having a job and taking other steps toward adulthood had not.

At the same time, this new maturity came with its own code of silence. I was assured by everyone I spoke to in those first few days back that no one wanted to hear about what had happened, no one wanted to know the real reason I was home early, no one wanted to validate my feeling that I had been punished for this man’s crime – it made them uncomfortable, they couldn’t help, they couldn’t change it, so why not just focus on the good stuff that had happened – no matter that for me, focusing on the good things meant focusing on what I had lost, what this man had taken from me – the opportunity to live in a foreign country and build my independence and confidence – the chance to grow my new friendships and finish the new courses I was taking. The chance to pursue a dream.

What I heard time and time again was, “Welcome to the club, it happens, move on. Don’t talk about it, if you talk about it, then it defines you. If you acknowledge it, you are weak.”

And so I moved on – but I moved on thinking that this type of violence was normal, and while not exactly acceptable, it was to be expected and that there was nothing I or anyone else could, or would, do about it because it made people uncomfortable.

“Welcome to the club.”

When I type it out that way, it becomes somehow much less surprising that I was raped on my 18th birthday.

Not because I asked for it, or deserved it, or should have seen it coming, or because I wasn’t strong enough – though I have been told all of those things, and told myself all of those things a bajillion times – but because like so many women I had learned to accept a certain level of violence as the price I must pay for existing.

There were warning signs – those warning signs were the reason I went to break up with my boyfriend that night. I saw the violence in him and had experienced enough of it to know that it was escalating. To know that it was reaching a dangerous plateau, one that I did not want to reach. Unfortunately I hadn’t read the literature yet that discusses time and time and time again that THE MOST DANGEROUS moment in an abusive relationship is when the victim tries to leave.

A couple of years after I was raped, I wrote a poem about it, trying to process what had happened, and why I still hadn’t been able to get all the way over it. In the poem there’s a stanza,

I’ll never forget
the night I became an adult
was the night you made me a woman.

Think about that for a minute.

That was how I processed my rape – that that act of violence, of having my basic humanity denied and taken from me – THAT was what made me a woman!

“Welcome to the club.”

It wasn’t a badge of honor in any way. It was a badge of shame. But at the same time, it was a rite of passage – a common one, and I eventually came to accept it as such. (Looking back now as an adult and as a mother – there are simply no words for how fucked up that is. I cannot imagine my daughters accepting rape as the price of admission to womanhood – but we have a hard fight ahead of us if we’re going to change this culture in time for them.)

I remember telling my college roommate about it one night, after another terrifying phone call from my rapist turned stalker left me shaking.

“Welcome to the club,” she said, “at least it wasn’t as bad as what happened to me.” And then she told me her story.

Nearly every woman I have ever opened up to about any of my experiences has come back with one of her own.

“Welcome to the club.”

And while we all know that this violence isn’t acceptable, isn’t okay, isn’t deserved or asked for… We have also all on various levels come to terms with its existence. We have all in some way come to accept that it is inevitable, that there is nothing we can do about it but pick up the pieces and move on. We have learned to see it as some sort of sick rite of passage that takes us to the next level of womanhood.

And that is truly distressing, because there are new generations of girls and boys being brought up into the culture we are creating – and we must, all of us, work to create a culture where violence is not the price anyone must pay for simply existing, where sexual violence and gendered violence aren’t the ways we “level up.”

And yet…

This same mentality, that violence is the cost of, perhaps even the measure of, success if you are female has taken over the internet. Being harassed and threatened until you feel so unsafe that you leave your home, or quit your job  (or are fired from your job because your harassers are causing a disturbance to the company), or go dark, or… This is the new rite of passage.

It’s not a badge of honor, it is not a status anyone covets – but at the same time… There is this idea that you must be making progress, you must be doing something right, you must be successful – or they wouldn’t try so hard to push you back down.

I see this mentality taking its toll – there are voices going dark, there are women disappearing from public life, there are people being chased out of their homes and jobs and careers and leaving their passions because daily, hourly, minutely threats of violence are simply more than they can carry – and quite frankly, that is more than we should be asking anyone to carry in order to do their job or exist in public spaces.

Violence, or the threat of violence is not an acceptable rite of passage. Not here, not anywhere.

And if you think that online threats are small potatoes, or there are bigger problems we should be dealing with first, or that this is a first world problem – let me be the one to tell you, you are wrong.

Violence does not exist in isolation, it exists on a continuum. If you wonder why so many women take online threats more seriously than many men think we should – it’s because most of us have been on the receiving end of actual violence, we have already lived through that, we know how it feels to have those threats carried out – and we’d like to not have to go through it again.

We’d like to not have to remember and relive and reprocess that violence every day.

These threats that people see as jokes, or banter, or a rebuttal to an opinion (really, a threat of rape is an acceptable rebuttal to, “that shirt is tacky.” Are you sure?) exist in a context of routine, physical violence against women. Street harassment that so many people see as “a compliment” exists inside the context of routine, physical assaults against women.

We cannot separate the words from the potential reality because all too many of us have LIVED the reality of violence. We do not have a sense of humor about this because we are still healing from the last physical assault. We are still recovering from the last threat that became reality in a flash too fast for us to run from.

We have to treat all threats as real threats – because enough of them have been.

You might know you’re just joking – we do not, and we cannot take that chance with our safety. No one should be asking us to.

I am so very appreciative of the many women right now who are taking a stand, from the victims of Gamer Gate to Ashley Judd and saying, enough, this is NOT acceptable, this is not okay, this is not a fair price to pay for being female with an opinion and the “audacity” to express it in public.

I am even more appreciative of the men who have come out to say, “Enough, this is not acceptable.” because the violence is largely coming from men, and it will take the courage of other men standing up and saying “enough” to make them listen.

Men who threaten and carry out violence against women tend not to be the type who listen when women ask them to stop! They tend to be the type of men who defer only to other men, which is why we need more men willing to take this seriously, willing to stand up and say, this is not what masculinity looks like, this is not what manhood looks like, violence is not an acceptable way to get what you want.

We must, all of us with the power to do so, move forward together on this. We must stop welcoming people to the club and start helping each other burn this club to the ground. It’s a terrible club and I don’t want the next generation to have to join us here. I don’t want the next generation to grow up believing violence is normal or to be expected – because once we learn to expect it, we come to accept it.

And violence is not an acceptable price to pay for existing.

If women must take responsibility for what they say and do in public, then shouldn’t people who attack them also be asked to take responsibility for those attacks?

Not everyone who is threatened with violence has the voice and the resources and the power to call it out, fight back and bring it to the attention of people with the power to shut it down. But for those of us who do – we should. We should be standing up for all of the victims of violence who are powerless against their abusers. We should not be tolerating threats online, or in person. We should not be tolerating violence directed toward ourselves or others.

We should not be brushing off violent threats as jokes, or banter or rebuttals. Threats of violence exist to silence opposition, not to brighten anyone’s day. Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from dissent, but it shouldn’t mean that we have to accept violence in order to be heard.

I am taking my inspiration from the women and men who are using their voice and their power to say, “No more.” and joining them.

“Welcome to the club.”

And in one of those fortuitous moments of synchronicity, just as I was about to hit publish on this post, this video from Anita Sarkeesian popped up in my feed.

 

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Filed under Naive idealism, Of Course I'm a Feminist

A Crisis of Confidence

Hey ya’ll it’s been a while.

Some of that was a conscious choice, and some of it came from a bout of deep ennui, and then that became a weird, sticky inertia.

I got stuck, in other words.

It’s been a busy year and looking back I’m totally laughing at myself and asking all of you, everyone who cares about me, to please check in with me over the winter holidays because I clearly need help that time of year.

Two years ago, over the winter holidays, I decided it would be a really good idea to start a new business. So, I did. Right after the holiday madness passed I started Kitchen Bravada, a personal chef service wherein I go to other people’s homes and cook amazing food for them.

It was awesome! I loved it. I still do. But… I haven’t had the time to invest in it that it deserves because I not only did not close down Think Banned Thoughts editing services (Why would I? I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE that business and my clients and that job!), but this past year over the winter holidays I decided it would be a really good idea for me to get a j-o-b, you know one of those things where you go work for someone else and they pay you and you maybe have some regular hours, or at least some semi-regular contact with other people and you get out of the house to work and so people take you more seriously or something… Yeah, I got one of those. Right in the middle of the holidays. Because clearly, sanity is not my super power.

I took a part-time job as a Chef Instructor at Sur La Table in Boulder – and it was great, and fun. And then, about 2 months into the job I got a promotion to Culinary Lead, which is just a nice way of saying that along with being a part-time chef instructor, I am also a part-time office wench.

It’s great, I love it. I love the teaching side of it, bringing people into the kitchen and showing them how much fun it is to make good food, and helping them get over any fears they have about different cooking techniques or spices or flavors or whatever. And I totally dig the office stuff too. I like managing the numbers and taking care of staff and making sure we have the supplies and tools we need to succeed.

Meanwhile, I am still trying to run two businesses, raise my family and find quality time to spend with my hubby. (Hi hubby! *waves & blows kisses*)

Something had to give, and that thing became blogging – and reading for pleasure – and taking hikes and bike rides – and…

And then yesterday I had a day off, my first full, real day off in a while it seems. And… It was TERRIBLE!

I had a to-do list 7 miles long and this LOUD nagging voice in the back of my head telling me to just shut up, relax and enjoy my one freaking day.

The responsible me kept arguing that if I just checked a few things off The List, I’d feel better and be able to relax, and the side of me that knew how much I needed a day off kept getting frustrated and yelling things like, “RELAX GODDAMNIT! ENJOY THE FUCKING MOMENT. OR ELSE!!” Which was significantly less helpful than you might think.

Eventually I decided to take the dogs for a hike because that felt like checking something off the list AND relaxing goddamnit all at the same time.

Up to the mountains we went.

Where there was still 4 feet of snow waiting to greet us.

I don’t have snow shoes. Or cross-country skis (I had a bad experience). And cold has never been a thing that relaxes me.

Back down the mountain we went.

The dogs got sad. And car sick. It was anti-epic.

But… I did have nearly two hours of quiet (minus the dog whining) forced “relaxation.”

I came home, checked a couple more things off the list and finally, with half an hour left on the Day Off Clock before kids came home and I had to put on my Mom cape and make dinner and finish The List, I went downstairs, snuggled under a blanket with my fluffiest cat and read my book.

And now, today, in the grim, grey light of a spring storm, I finally realize what’s really been going on.

I mean, aside from me trying to ride four horses with one ass…

I’m having a wee crisis of confidence. I have allowed doubt to creep in and slowly wheedle itself into my brain stem. The voices of, “It doesn’t matter.” and “You can’t change anything anyway, so why try?” and “No one is listening.” and “You’re a fake and a phony and a fraud.” (Yes, I know that’s all redundant, but that’s how these voices work…) I’ve allowed them to stop not just my fingers from moving across the keyboard, but also allowed them to stop the thoughts from fully forming in my brain.

There are so very many things that are going on that not only deserve, but require comment – and not just from me, but from all of us – and I haven’t been doing my part. I put the torch down, and I walked away.

I told myself I was just taking a little time off for some self-care – and that’s valid. We all need to do that from time to time, but the truth that smacked me in the face yesterday is that I wasn’t taking care of myself at all, I was avoiding myself. I was avoiding the world. I was allowing this:

to be the end of the conversation.

Sure, every single time I look up, read the news, or check in on social media right now, this is how I feel – it all seems… horrible. And hopeless. And ugly.

BUT… Remember what happens next? The avengers all work together to finish destroying the city, I mean, the enemy and they save the freaking day.

They don’t just hang up their hats and go grab the last shawarma before the city falls to ruin and the world gets taken over by weird aliens – no, they stand their ground and fight. And then shawarma after.

I’m not saying I’m a super hero. I’m just a random woman with a blog, but sometimes that’s all it takes to create a spark that catches fire and inspires change. But I let my spark go dark.

I listened to the mustn’ts, I listened to the don’ts. I listened to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles and won’ts. I listened to the never haves, the not good enoughs and the nos. But I should have listened to Shel Silverstein, because anything can happen. Anything can be.

As Mark Stevens‘ wise character, Colin says, “Possible covers a lot of ground.”

I’ve got 45 minutes on the clock every morning. It’s my time and I’ve been squandering it, just like I squandered my day off worrying about doing things for other people when what I needed was to get out of my own way and work for myself.

So, today, I’m back on track. I’m clearing some room. And I’m reminding myself that all the darkness in the world cannot put out the light of one small candle.

I am that candle.

You are that candle.

Together… We can light up the world and keep the darkness at bay.

be the light.

Be the light you wish to have in the world.

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Trapline – Caught in the Net

Some books need to sink in a little before you can fully appreciate them.

I finished Mark Steven’s new book Trapline about a month ago and I’ve been meaning to review it ever since, but time kept getting away from me. I’m kind of glad it did, because this a book that ages well. It’s a book with enough twists and turns and subtle nuances that letting it breathe in the back of your mind for a while helps you see the deeper brilliance of it.

trapline by mark stevens

Guaranteed to snare you.

Many books in the mystery genre, at least for me, are fun, quick, entertaining reads that I enjoy and then put down and rarely think of again. But Trapline is different. Trapline has staying power. And the author, Mark Stevens, is the reason.

On the surface, Trapline is a perfect genre book, combining mystery with the New West and bringing them both up to date.

Trapline is the third book in Mark’s Allison Coil mystery series. In case you’re new here or somehow skipped over my gushing review of Marks’ 2nd book, Buried by the Roan, let me introduce you to Allison Coil, “this intriguing woman from the wilderness, who might have been bred from some magical concoction of tree bark and horse sweat.” She’s a backwoods hunting guide, offering her services to hunters of all shapes and sizes, even those who, “looked like they expected to hunt and hike or camp grit-free.” She’s very no-nonsense, get the job done type of gal. She embodies that old west sense of right and wrong, good and bad – there is very little room for grey in her life.

Trapline opens with a half-corpse found by Allison Coil’s first no-grit hunting party of the season. It looks like a mountain lion kill, though, “Tact suggested that you didn’t utter the deduction out loud unless you were prone to yelling ‘fire’ in a crowded theater.”

The more Allison ponders the scene, the less it feels right to her, though she can’t put her finger on why. Perhaps it’s just wishful thinking, because a mountain lion with a taste for humans would shut down hunting season faster than a city slicker tourist could yell yee-haw.

Meanwhile, down in town someone attempts to assassinate a U.S. Senate candidate after his big pro-immigration reform speech, partially delivered in perfect Spanish.

Allison is called in to consult and try to figure out where the shot could have come from, and who might have done it.

The two scenes don’t seem to have anything in common, but before long there’s no escaping that something darker is happening in Allison’s beloved Flat Tops.

Part of Mark Steven’s brilliance rests in his ability to hook us within those first few pages. He sticks his readers at the top of the roller coaster with just enough of a view to see that it’s going to be a fast-paced, twisty, turny ride – but we also know he’s not showing us the full scope.

As Allison ponders the first murder scene she asks her hunting companion and lover, Colin, “So you think it’s possible?”

He replies, “Hungry lions happen, stray hikers happen, and possible covers a lot of ground.”

It does indeed. This is the first real hint that there is more at play than meets the eye.

As Mark takes us deeper into the world of Glenwood Springs and the Flat Tops, we begin to see and feel the tensions pulling at this small town. Immigrants are coming in and getting jobs. For the business owners hiring them, they’re a godsend, accepting jobs that no one else was applying for and doing them well. To others in the area, they are criminals – thieves, takers, moochers, pouring through the “tortilla curtain” in a “brown tide” of drugs and crime, stealing jobs from hardworking Americans and living on government handouts.

The tensions run deep and the fault lines are beginning to show. A candidate for U.S. Senate is just one casualty, but is the corpse from the woods another?

While Allison explores the woods looking for clues and trying to get prepared for the onset of hunting season, a reporter continues to investigate the assassination attempt in town. The dual investigations begin to collide as Allison’s friend is threatened for hiring immigrants, and one of her employees disappears only to turn up with a story almost too incredible to believe, if the evidence wasn’t right there in front of them.

Immigration isn’t the only factor at work. The private prison complex is always hungry for new bodies to fill the beds and meet the quotas. Someone has to find bodies to lock up. And some bodies are easier to disappear than others.

By showing us how the issue of immigration is aggravated and complicated by the existence of private prisons, and the lengths people will go to to keep those prisons full, Mark invites us to re-examine everything we thought we knew about the battle over immigration and immigrant rights.

The book takes a darker turn as Allison’s backwoods investigation stumbles on a group of men who aren’t hunting immigrants for the private prison bounty, they’re hunting them for sport.

Within the pages of this fast paced mystery, Mark Stevens manages to show us just how few steps it takes for humanity to be stripped from “others” and how the very act of “othering” is the first slippery step down that very dangerous slope.

When Buried by the Roan came out, reviewers hailed Mark Stevens as the Carl Hiaasen of the west, and while that same environmental love runs through Trapline, I think this is the book that pulls Mark out of Hiaasen’s shadow and allows us to see Mark as so much more than just another enviro-thriller writer.

Mark is a writer whose deep love of humanity comes through on every page, in every character description, in every interaction and choice made on the page. He’s a writer not afraid to show us our ugly sides, if only so we can see for ourselves that we can do better.

If you want to dive deeper into the world of Allison Coil, you can follow her on Facebook or stalk Mark on twitter. In the meantime, get Trapline, it’s guaranteed to snare you!

Also – Keep your eyes open for Mark’s new book, Lake of Fire, hitting shelves this September!!

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Good, good, good

This post is for my grandfather, Ervin Ott, who just turned 86 and who reminds me, every time we talk that life is, at its core, Good, good, good…

Happy belated birthday, grandpa. I hope you get your wish.

grandpa and his girls

Grandpa Ott getting ready to raise a little hell with his great granddaughters

 

My grandfather was never a man of many words. He was a man made of long silences and gentle stillness. He spoke when he needed to, but he never went on. It was as if the Great Depression had trained him to ration his words the way his family had once rationed food and cloth, as though if he used too many words, he might one day run out.

And then, one day, he did.

It was a cold, winter night. Snow covered everything for miles around my grandparent’s cabin. My grandfather went out to get more wood for the fire. No one noticed that it was taking longer than usual. He was prone to going walk-about or simply sitting out on the porch to silently gaze at the stars and trees and animals that wandered by.

Eventually my grandmother heard the scratching at the door, scratching that wouldn’t stop.

When she opened it, she saw my grandfather, lying on the ground, near frozen.

When the paramedics came, they told her that he had suffered a major stroke. The only thing that had saved him was the extreme cold, it had slowed the process down and, with luck, he would not lose all of his functionality.

My grandfather, never a man of many words, returned to us with what we thought was only one.

“Good.” Usually said in a long string, “Good, good, good…”

good life with a great grandgirl

How can this be anything but good?

It was how he answered questions, how he expressed his mood, how he asked for more, or less…

“Good, good, good…”

grandpa and his great grandgirl

Not sure who has who, but either way, it’s all good.

When I called and told him how his great granddaughters were doing in school or with their new hobbies, I could hear the smile shining through his “good, good, good…”

When I told him about struggles or challenges, his tone would change and I would know that, “Good, good, good…” really meant, “Enough, enough, enough…” not to me, but to the world, “Enough, leave my granddaughter be…”

And then, after months of “Good, good, good” we learned that he had saved a few more words, a few choice words. Someone hurt his wife and he was there in a flash, “Shit, piss, goddamn it all!” he roared.

Once things were back to normal, and his wife was okay, everything was “Good, good, good…” again.

He still keeps those other words, for the rare moments when everything is wrong, but most days, everything is, “Good, good, good…”

When he heard his daughter was returning to the USA after more than a decade away it was, “Good, good, good…”

When he got another great granddaughter, she was, “Good, good, good…”

When his wife passed, without him there to hold her hand, he still said it was “Good, good, good…” with tears streaming down his face.

grandma great granddaughter

Grandma and her great grandgirlgoyel

Marriages, funerals, births, illnesses, business successes and failures, political shenanigans, it’s all, “Good, good, good…”

My grandfather, never a man of many words, held on to just a few. And now he sits, like a wise laughing Buddha and reminds us that most days, most things, even when they seem challenging and hard and ugly, deep down, are actually “Good, good, good…”

I think about the words I use, the words I choose and I think about my grandfather, never a man of many words, and how in that moment when his world began to go black, the word he grabbed, the word he held onto, the word he chose to be his life raft was, “Good.”

It reminds me to take a moment to see the world through his eyes, to focus not on the suffering he experienced, or the hardships he faced, but on all the good that came from it. Sure there’s still the occasional Shit, Piss, Goddamn moment, but day after day, month after month, the Good, good, goods far outweigh the shit and the piss.

In the end, joy wins.

In the end, St. Francis of Assisi was right, “All the darkness in the world cannot put out the light of one small candle.”

In the end, it isn’t the shit and the piss that matter, but the good, good, good that we make from it.

looking for good in all the right places

Ready to experience all the good!

(This post was inspired by my mom, who reminded me how remarkable it was that “Good” was the one word my grandfather chose to describe his world. And by my friend, the insanely talented artist, Bryce Widom who has begun claiming 15 minutes a day to free-sketch without agenda. This post is the result of my Bryce inspired 15 minutes of free-writing this morning.)

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Filed under Naive idealism, Things that work

Musings on the purpose of life.

I suppose I should start by asking if life even has a purpose before I dive into what that purpose might be.

And the truth is – I don’t really think life does have a purpose. I think it’s totally random and ultimately meaningless in the REALLY BIG PICTURE scale.

But… We don’t live life on that scale, we live life in the here and now – and here and now, everything we do has meaning, and consequences. In the here and now, we are all struggling to define ourselves, to make our mark, to create our legacies, to mean something.

On that level – yes, our lives have purpose.

The hitch is that, we have to create that purpose, because there is no god, no deity, no greater power doing that work for us. We are here, what we do with that is up to us.

the meaning of life

What does your life mean?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and talking around it in various circles. I’ve heard some interesting things.

My dad made a statement recently that there is far more suffering in the world than joy because joy is fleeting while suffering tends to last.

Both my husband and I took issue with that – and yes, we’re privileged white folk living in middle class America, so our level of suffering is pretty low – but even still, I’ve done quite a bit of traveling, I spent my 21st birthday not out at the bars drinking until I puked, but in a refugee camp on the Thai/Burma border and in that place where I thought I should see only despair, what I mostly saw was joy – joy in playing a game of cane ball, joy in friendship, joy in the little day-to-day things, like shoes that fit and food on the plate, that my middle-class American upbringing has made me blind to…

joy in a refugee camp thirst aid

Unbridled joy in a refugee camp

I think from the outside we see much more suffering than is really there in the world.

Suffering makes headlines, suffering fills the news reels, suffering – far more even than sex – sells.

This is not to say that suffering doesn’t exist, or that we don’t need to worry about refugee kids, or starving families, or injustice because look – those kids are smiling, it is simply acknowledging that despite all of the suffering – joy can be found nearly everywhere we look.

I’ve heard from another group of friends that our purpose here is to accumulate goods, property, material wealth… And that strikes me as odd because when I look at the suffering in the world, most of it is caused by this pursuit.

First, there is the obvious – that in order to accumulate material wealth we have to take it from someone else. Sometimes we trade fairly, sometimes we steal it, often we try to make our theft look like fair trade. Those acts of theft leave suffering in their wake.

Also, in order to accumulate material wealth, we have to take the materials from the earth – and it’s not usually a pretty process. There’s a lot of destruction that goes into our need to have a constantly growing economy based on consumption. That environmental destruction and degradation creates additional suffering.

Last, there is the suffering of the pursuers for whom there will never be enough, because someone else will always appear to have more. The constant striving and never fully achieving “enough” creates another layer of suffering.

Then last night, I was talking with my husband who is feeling pressure to decide “what he wants to be when he grows up” and is sick and tired of the idea that our careers should define us, and that we have to base who we are on what we do to make money to accumulate things.

He pointed out that when he dies and his life flashes before his eyes, he doubts he’s going to be taking a tally of the shit he acquired.

Much more likely, he will see the faces of the people he affected for good or ill.

If there is any judgement coming, it will be based, not on how much crap he owns or how much money he made, but on whether he made life better or worse for the people around him.

If there is a legacy to be left, it won’t be in a pile of material goods, but in the stories people tell and the memories they share of him.

And when he dies, and those images flash before him, and those judgements are passed – he wants to be remembered for the smiles he shared, the smiles he helped create, the good moments he helped others enjoy.

When his life is weighed, he wants the joy he created to outweigh the suffering.

And I had my Ah-ha!

Because he’s right.

At the end of the day, at the end of my life, what I want to be remembered for and measured by is not how much stuff I hoarded – I am not a Viking trying to buy my way in to Valhalla with my accumulated mountain of useless baubles – but how many lives I touched and by how well I followed the campsite rule of leaving each day better than I found it.

It’s one of the things I like most about my new job, 90% of it revolves around making people smile, giving them 2 hours of joy as well as the skills they need to take it home and do it again. Am I changing the world? Perhaps not, but I’m shaping moments, and moments, like pennies, add up.

I can’t tell you what your purpose is, but I can say that I believe that if we all focused more on what we were doing to make our corners of the world better for the people we interact with and better for our communities, instead of focusing on how much material crap we had – the world would be a better place, not just for the people around us – but for ourselves too.

If we focused on making sure everyone had enough, instead of worrying about how we were going to get more… The world would be a better place.

MLK the purpose of life

What are you sharing with the world?

The Buddhists have long taught that striving is the source of suffering, and I believe that to be true.

We forget, so often, here in the whirlwind busyness of the West, that most of us have plenty, more than plenty. We get so busy striving and counting and hoarding that we forget to even appreciate what we have, and more, we forget that often the best way to appreciate something is to share it.

I have enough, I have more than enough, so this year I am going to focus on sharing more and hoarding less and the only thing I am going to strive for is more smiles.

I wish you all the feeling of plenty in the coming year.

 

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Filed under Naive idealism, Of Course I'm a Feminist, Things that work