The 11th Commandment

Nearly every weekend, my husband and I, travel north to our cabin. Invariably we encounter rude drivers in traffic, or as my husband so eloquently puts it, “Assholes.” It is confounding to me that ordinary folks like us with families, morals, and manners, can get into our cars and turn into despots the minute the engine starts. What is that? Is it the anonymity of an automobile that allows people to act rude in traffic? Something akin to social media where typically nice people say mean things about others, even their friends. I call it cowardice.

For instance, we were driving along highway 61 which borders the North Shore. The highway is two lane but there is a passing lane along the way which offers relief if you’re behind someone traveling at 50mph in a 55mph zone, especially if that someone is a camper truck towing a boat. So we pulled out into the passing lane and accelerated past the truck. The truck, in turn, accelerated. Now we’re both speeding neck and neck at 70mph as if we’re in a race. What is the point of that exercise? If the truck wanted to go faster, say the speed limit, why didn’t he do that in the first place? This is the stuff of road rage. I’m sure if we were to get out of our cars at the same gas station and come face to face with each other, he’d most likely smile and open the door to the store for me. That is if he had no idea I was in the car with that guy who just flicked him off.

This is an issue that cannot be solved by traffic laws, this is a moral issue. And I have a solution, that is an 11th commandment:

Thou Shalt Not Drive Like An Asshole

As you know in Moses’ time there were no cars, the average person traveled by foot. There was no need for the 11th commandment, but now there is, and the need is great. Write to your local archdiocese and let’s get this petition started!

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Seagull Chicks

My husband and I have a cabin on Lake Superior. We always enjoy watching the many moods of the lake and the antics of the sea birds, but the the thing we live for is our 11′ dinghy. Every weekend, weather permitting, we take the dinghy out on Superior. Last weekend was no exception. We filled a cooler (of course, nonalcoholic beverages, for all you water patrol readers…) and headed out to explore the rocky cliffs from the water. Leaving the marina the water depth plunges to 50′, but even at that depth the boulders sitting on the bottom are visible. As we neared the cliffs the tips of submerged boulders rise up out of the water like giant icebergs. Orange and sea-green lichen cover the cliff side, darkening where water bleeds from the rock.

So there we are drinks in hand (nonalcoholic) reveling in this miracle of nature, when a kayak passed by our boat. We thought nothing of it since there were many kayaks out that day, but as the kayaker paddled up the shore, sea gulls began to swoop down upon the kayak. We were curious and revved up our engine (a whopping 25 horse power) to follow the kayak. That’s when I spotted the problem. A baby sea gull was swimming out in the water, alone. The nest was 30′ up on the cliff. Its parent’s desperate calls went unheeded. Just wait until its a teenager, I thought. The tiny fuzzy grey fledgling ignoring the harried calls of its parents, continued to swim away. I set my drink (nonalcoholic) in the cooler and rolled up my sleeves. “Let’s go rescue the baby,” I said full of bravado and (nonalcoholic) drinks. The plan was to scoop up the baby and place it on the rocky outcropping at the bottom of the cliff, surely the parents could tend to it there.

We didn’t get far before the momma and papa were dive bombing us. But we were courageous, we would save the baby, what’s a little gull poop to folks inebriated with nonalcoholic drinks? Then several more gulls joined in the fun. We were pelted with poop, I flopped to the floor of the dinghy. The last thing I saw before covering my head with my jacket was a seagull, beak ready to strike, orange feet splayed. My husband, resembling a Jackson Pollack painting, batted at the gull with an oar and we quickly sped away as fast as our little engine could take us.

Once back at the cabin, I went on the internet to research sea gull behavior. As it turns out, baby sea gulls fall out of the nest (or jump) quite often. The parents watch for predators from the nest, if any bird of prey (or stupid humans) interfere with it, they will attack, and their friends will join in the pursuit. Supposedly the baby finds an area of safety and the parents will care for it there, until such time, three months or so, it can fend for itself.

I didn’t sleep well that night worrying about that little fuzzy chick, but I won’t try it again. Lesson learned by this human fledgling.

Father’s Day

My Dad died nine years ago, surviving numerous strokes and a few heart attacks, he managed to live to eighty years old. He came of age during The Great Depression and WWII. I believe there is a generational attitude shared by the vets of WWII. I saw it in my father and many of his compatriots. And that attitude goes something like this: I’m going to work hard to afford things my parent’s could never dream of. I will consume as much good food and cold beer as often as I like, and smoke cigarettes like there’s no tomorrow. Don’t even bother talking about exercise, I did that in boot camp. My children will listen to me or there will be hell to pay.

So what is it this fun-loving, hard-working man passed onto me? Perspective.

My Dad was an optimist; he rarely worried and always found something in the drama of the day to laugh about. Most of life’s events and situations were sorted into two categories: whatnot or bullshit. Whatnot consisted mostly of other people’s issues, and therefore not worth his attention. Bullshit was reserved for deceit and politics, (frequently the same thing), and only served to piss him off and therefore really not worthy of his attention. Situations that captured his attention involved love. Love got his attention. Love deserved his tears and time. The rest was just whatnot or bullshit.

Perspective. What we pay attention to shapes our lives.

Bright Spark

I have four children. Three of which I gave birth to in the usual manner, the first, our oldest, was delivered to me through my heart. She is my step-daughter.

Becoming a step-parent is a fairly common experience, but I found there was very little help navigating this often rocky terrain. I was lucky enough to come into B’s life when she was a toddler, and even though I was inexperienced with children and therefore painfully naive, she taught me how to parent. B was my learning ground and the lesson was love. This beautiful, engaging little tot loved me.

Her mother and I danced around each other. She wasn’t exactly thrilled about my place in B’s life, but in time, I believe, she came to see the value in it. Or maybe she just got over it and moved on. When B was a child we had the obligatory pick up and drop off sites. While we discussed the weekend’s events and future schedules, B reacted to the energy rocketing between us with agitation. Our bright spark was shining her light on our darkness.

I’m often asked about raising B in terms of discipline. After all, isn’t this her parent’s arena? Again, I took my cues from B: love and the occasion for discipline will naturally unfold. Her enthusiasm and infectious joy taught me to embrace her fully as my own. Love doesn’t have limitations.

I’ve had the opportunity to share B’s life and watch her become a beautiful young woman, and I am humbled by the experience. I try to always remember her lessons: the immediacy of what’s happening right now, enthusiasm for the odd detail often overlooked, joy for the sake of joy, an open spirit when engaging new acquaintances, love is the answer, the only answer we need.

Our bright spark infected all of us with her light.

The Breath of Death

The other night I had an amazing dream. My husband and I traveled to Australia. Once there we discovered that wild animals roamed free and were harmless to us and each other. We then realized that everyone we knew was also there and they were getting along. Friends and family of ours who’ve had long held resentments were hugging and laughing–in fact the air was filled with their laughter. I thought, wow, Australia is a great place to visit! On top of all this camaraderie I noticed dinosaurs–T-Rex to be exact (don’t you just love dreams!). The visible breath emitting from these beasts had an unusual effect, it filled people with euphoria. Along with this was the knowledge that the breath would eventually end their lives. Everyone seemed to get this and nobody cared. There wasn’t one person who wanted to leave Australia, including me.

I know this is an unusual take on the afterlife, even for a dream. But the premise has stayed with me, so much so that it has compelled me to re-think my relationships. What if these issues we carry around are nothing more than opportunities for growth? And what if the people in our lives love us enough to collide with us, thereby making us aware of our particular issues? It’s almost as if we’re play-acting and the script goes something like this: I’m going to offend/hurt you in some particular way that gets at the heart of your issue. You in turn are going to be angry and maybe never speak to me again. I love you enough to risk your wrath. How often do we view our issues as opportunities for growth?

I can’t get the image out of my head of two dear people in my life, embracing and laughing in my dream. These same two people were at one time close friends and now will not even speak to each other. Truly a missed opportunity.

Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is coming up and I’ve been thinking about my mom. She is eighty-six years old and living in a memory care facility. Old age is an enigma. In our youth-centric society we are ill-prepared for the changes brought on by age. And yet, aging is a natural phenomenon–if we are lucky enough to live to a ripe old age, we will experience it.

The most surprising thing or me about my mother’s decline is her reticence. When I was growing up–she was formidable. As Queen of the household she ruled my siblings as her minions. Since she worked full time, we were responsible for the chores; cleaning, laundry, ironing (don’t get me started here, to this day I can’t look at an iron), and we cooked every dinner. By the time I was eight, I could run a household. But that was then and this is now; now she’s a quiet, amiable little old lady. Maybe this is nature’s way of passing the torch, or maybe it was all too exhausting to keep up. Whatever the reason for her shift, I’m still caught off guard when I visit her.

When I was writing my first book, Magel’s Daughter, I worried my mother would think she was the model for Magel. The truth is my mother’s issues aren’t nearly as entertaining as Magel’s. Of course writers draw from experience; my mother did keep jars of tonsils and adenoids in the fridge, but they weren’t too shocking stocked next to the jars of pickled herring and chicken livers. Magel’s freezer was also very similar to my mother’s; the top tier of wedding cakes, boxes of teeth, rulepolse, sylte, blood sausage, lutefisk, lefse, Christmas cookies (just in case), enough food to feed the family for a year (you never know). And her closets were overflowing with used bags, wrapping paper, bows, every card ever written to her (eighty-six years of cards!) Christmas decorations dating back to her childhood. When we moved her out of the house it took three months to clean it out. She was not happy about losing her treasure; she knew where it all was and exactly how much of it she had.

Needless to say, it was hard to see this Queen and her treasure reduced to a space the size of a dorm room. There’s a life lesson in there for all of us. For myself, I am not a hoarder like my mother, but I do have a penchant for little dogs. How many could I fit onto a 10X12 space? Ooooo…that’s going to be ruff.

Turbo Talking

I recently spent a week with my girlfriends–the BFF’s. We are all blessed with terrific husbands who encourage our trips, in fact, they downright insist. Isn’t that thoughtful? Or maybe they really just want some peace and quiet. Not that our wonderful men don’t enjoy a lively conversation or the odd philosophical discourse, its simply that my BFF’s and I yearn for periodic bouts of turbo talking, and our guys are more than happy to oblige our collective need.

For us talking is a sport, and typical of any sport, there are a few rules and strategies to employ. The goal is to maintain the floor, if you are in possession and then lose the floor, it may be hours or days before another opportunity arises. The number one strategy is to talk fast, telling your story quickly with as few breaths as possible, and then to segue into the next story before  another BFF responds. If she does respond its important to talk over her– louder and faster. This all takes practice. Now my BFF’s are competitive and determined to win back the floor, so as it happens quite often, I lose it. In order to win it back, I use another strategy that involves interrupting the talker with alcohol refills. I leave the talker’s glass to the last, and once all the other glasses are filled, I move in on the talker and ask if she wants a refill, this puts her off her game. Standing over her gives me physical advantage. While filling her glass, I spin off her story with one of my own–big points. With consistent training you too can master Turbo Talking, then you’ll be ready to tackle the Iron Tongue.

The Iron Tongue takes talking to a whole new level since it involves activity. To ease into the technique, start with dinner out. We like to frequent restaurants that have conversation pits since there’s no annoying interference from a table. Body language in the form of dramatic gesturing is encouraged and admired. Once this is mastered you may be ready for more vigorous activity like floating in the water while drinking. There we were my BFF’s and I, paddling around on our air mattresses, drinks in hand, while I held forth. After a period of uninterrupted talking, I noticed the current had taken us far from shore, it threw me off and I lost my place. One of my BFF’s, valiantly threw back her drink, plopped in the water and swam us all back to shore talking nonstop. I love that woman! What an athlete!

The next day we were kayaking, which presents a whole different set of challenges. Shouting is necessary and dangerous since its easier to lose one’s voice and that would be disastrous in the middle of the trip with three days to go. One of my BFF’s paired off with another BFF which is a huge ploy to gain the floor. I was forced to resort to inducing fear to keep everyone close. I hollered out, “Shark!” Everyone gathered in close craning their necks, then looked at me expectantly.  I shrugged and started talking. Win Win.

My Mother-In-Law

I know all the jokes and cliches about mothers-in-law, but my MIL is different. She is an exceptional woman that I’ve had the privilege to know all these years. To have a connection with your MIL may seem like an unusual sentiment, on the other hand isn’t it also biblical: wasn’t it Ruth who said to her MIL, Naomi, “Where you go I will go, where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people.”

My MIL is 93. Her mind is sharp, and her health, excellent. A few years ago she suffered a botched hip surgery, which left her with drop foot. However, this impediment has not slowed her down; she may not be able to walk without a cane but she continues to ride a bicycle and kayak. Her boundless curiosity in regard to human nature and the wonders of the natural world, enhance her vibrancy. She is a gifted artist and musician. She also sews her own clothes–this amazes me since I can’t sew a button on without help.

The other evening, my MIL and I had dinner. Our conversation rambled from one weighty subject to another. I had trouble keeping up. We touched on our respective childhoods: mine–troubled, hers, nothing but fond memories. This led to a discussion about an article in a magazine she had read written by Brene Brown, whom I happen to admire. “Well,” my MIL said, “I think all this talk about shame and guilt is dumb.” Now I don’t know anyone who doesn’t carry around some burden of shame and guilt, hereafter identified as s&g, (not to be confused with s&m.) She has no such burden. I don’t want you to think she’s gone through life unscathed–no one ever does that! She may have had an idyllic childhood but she also has had her share of disappointments and misery.

I continued to babble on about the s&g in my life. Geez–I could fill a book. (I think I did that). She listened attentively to my drivel, then sat back, and said, “I don’t have any problems.” I felt like George Bush, full of shock and awe. Who doesn’t have problems? For days after this conversation I stewed over this pronouncement, and I came to this realization: I don’t have any problems either. Really, do any of us?

I’m looking at my life differently now. I want to age gracefully just like my MIL;  take care of my body, stay curious, and let go of the past.  Where she has gone, I will go…

Magical Realism

The focus of my writing is: what’s under the rock. I have uncovered treasure under the rock; treasure that is at once beautiful and ugly, and without exception, humorous. I am drawn to the creepy places, maybe it’s the absurdity I find there. To bring these things to the light requires a little magic. Magic in the form of touching the unknown and the unknowable. This is accessible to all of us since that magic lies in our collective human consciousness. For instance, a character who suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder, touches her unknowable through hallucinations. Some of you have met her, Karin Olina, in Magel’s Daughter, my first novel.

Her mother, Magel is the matriarch of psychosis, thus giving rise to her daughter’s lunacy. This is fertile ground for magical realism. While the story is set in reality, the characters come from a long line of Norwegian witches, which allows for unbridled mayhem. Karin hallucinates, seeing and hearing her dead grandmothers, the preceding matriarchs, who then become characters in the novel. Karin walks down a dark path, gathering tools for survival. Her specialty tool is the spell of sex.

In Magel’s Ghost, the sequel to Magel’s Daughter, Karin’s hallucinatory gathering expands, now including her mother and her mentor, Sylvia. The hallucinatory ghosts take possession of distinct areas of her mind, assisting her in honing her skills of seduction in order to further her quest for power in the art community of Minneapolis. Her victims are the son, father, and grandfather of a wealthy family. Karin becomes the fantasy and lover to all three men. The unknowable becomes known.

Magical realism allows the reader to delve into mysteries otherwise off limits. Aren’t we all haunted by the comments and actions of family members dead or alive? And along the way, haven’t we gathered our own special tools to survive? I think so, and wouldn’t it feel good to dig it out from under the rock and have a good laugh?

Problem Solved

Last week my husband and I were on vacation in Grand Cayman. We were having a wonderful time relaxing in the sunshine by day and enjoying the quiet of star studded nights. Until the people next door arrived. There we were having a glass of wine on the dock at sunset when a cargo van pulled up in the neighboring driveway. We watched in horror as the house filled with young men–college kids, we later found out. Within minutes the stereo was booming, “What is that?” I said. “Yela Wolf,” my husband told me. “Yellow Wolf?” I said. “No, Yela Wolf.” With that the whooping began. We had no idea that people still whooped, wasn’t that an eighties trend? Then the drinking games started; a whistle blow for every shot. As if some sort of mating call had been sent, kayaks overflowing with young women began to arrive at their dock, answering their whoops. The women immediately had drinks in hand and were queuing up for the game.  We had to do something.

My husband and I walked over to the neighbor’s dressed in our under armor. The kids were gathered around the pool, drinking. Heads turned and the whooping stopped as we stepped toward the pool. We removed our Depends and dentures and threw them into the pool. They retreated into the house. We then went back to our house and cranked up the Marantz receiver and blared our Bose 901’s. We played John Denver ‘Thank God I’m a Country Boy’, and sang harmony. The Carpenters followed with, ‘We’ve Only Just Begun’.  We had them retching. Then we went in for the kill. We blared Lobo, ‘Me and You and a Dog named Boo’. The last we saw of them, the van was pulling out of the driveway.

We saw, we conquered, we kicked their ass!