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Be Careful What You Wish For — or a Practical Lesson in the Law of Attraction

I learned some important things during my recent trip to North Carolina –the truth of the law of attraction (also understood as the power of positive/negative thinking) and the veracity of the premise that you learn who you are and what is important to you in an emergency. This latter can be understood as “When you are in a squeeze, what is deep inside you comes out.”

Now, I found out in a serious car accident some years ago, that when I am squeezed, I am apparently full, not of wisdom or depth of spiritual understanding, but of punch lines.

This recent trip taught me that if you precede every vacation for years on end with a marathon of Chevy Chase vacation movies, you will inevitably get some degree of  Griswoldian adventures. Ergo, the law of attraction in action.

Scott and I went to North Carolina to see two of my children and their families and exult in the fall foliage. Growing up in south Mississippi, I didn’t really get seasons–just swelter with a few days of freeze thrown in for variety. I remember once welcoming what I considered fall color only to be told by a good friend, “Phyllis, brown is not a color; it is just dead.” So for years I have been wanting to be where there is an actual fall. I moved from Mississippi, but only went further south into Alabama. Now, Fairhope, Ala. is a wonderful place, but fall there only means you tripped on the sidewalk.

So back to this vacation. We planned for October so we could glory in nature– and also take advantage of my composer son’s home studio to record The Trouble with Grits as an audio book. Michael and his family live in a charming old farm house in the heart of tobacco country, complete with a tobacco drying barn out back. It has interesting architecture and the personality and eccentricities of a historic structure. One of those original, eccentric features is a brass doorknob on the bathroom door with a unique locking system.

The first day of my visit, my son and daughter-in-law had to work, so I planned to visit Pages book store in Mt. Airy and take them more copies of the book. When I woke up, I made my way blearily to said bathroom, but when trying to make my exit, the charming knob just turned fruitlessly to the left, to the right, back to the left. It wasn’t locked, but neither was it willing to open. I surveyed my terrain. Okay, there was a window I could climb out if necessary. I opened the blinds and looked out. The window opened into the garage, which was a long way down on this historic structure. If I managed to jump down onto the cement, I would likely break or sprain something and not only still be trapped but be in pain to go with it. I looked around again. There was a toilet and there was water, both good things. The kids weren’t expected back before 7 or so that evening, so I began thinking food. Toothpaste was about the only thing on the menu, so I figured a water fast wouldn’t hurt me a bit.

I tried the door again. Nope, still eccentric. Assessing my options calmly again, I took what I considered reasonable action. I banged on the door frantically and yelled, “I am trapped in the bathroom. Anybody home?” After the third round of banging and yelling, Gizmo, their Jack Russell terrier came to my aid and began barking. On my sixth round, Gizmo’s third, I heard creaking on the stairs. Michael had not left yet–hallelujah!!!–and Gizmo’s barking had awakened him. Salvation! However, the doorknobs – and the doors—of bygone eras are very substantial and neither would budge. The screws were on the inside and the only tool I had was a toothbrush. However, there was still the window, and Michael managed to get a screwdriver through the window, enabling me to loosen the knob enough that he could forcibly remove it. Voila! When I came out of the bathroom, heady with my freedom, I noticed a note by the door, apparently taped there early in the morning by my daughter-in-law. “The bathroom doorknob is being finicky.” it read. “Please just pull the door to the jamb and don’t close it completely. Otherwise, you might get trapped in there!”

I made my ablutions and went off to Mt. Airy to fulfill my plan for the day, which included eating at the iconic Snappy Lunch made famous both by Andy Griffith’s references to it as the place to eat in Mayberry, and by their pork chop sandwich. Seated in Snappy Lunch, I learned that without the pancake batter coating, the deep frying, the bun, and any other possible wheat offenders (to which I have an intolerance), the famous pork chop sandwich deconstructs into a pork cutlet with cole slaw. But, at least I could mark it off the bucket list. No matter, there was still the glorious foliage in the mountains, although the Piedmont area was till surprisingly green. I drove north. I did not find color, but I did drive right into hairpin curves, fog, and heavy rain. At Fancy Gap, I gave it up, turned around, and went back to Pfafftown to read a book on my iPad and enjoy the rainy cool day on the porch.

The next day, Michel got the recording equipment set and sent me up to start the audiobook. I–who have been longing for pens and stationery rather than email, and landline phones with answering machines instead of cell phones and texts – was given a crash course in mute this, unarm that, set this track, now unmute, arm, and start recording. If you mess up, stop do it over, or delete if you hate the whole thing. Right! I will remember that. I finally got the first chapter exactly how I wanted it. The second chapter didn’t go so well, so I decided to delete. The delete worked just as it was supposed to, except that I deleted the perfect first chapter instead of the faulty second. An optimist, I didn’t let it upset me. I just went back and did it all over. About halfway into the fifth chapter, with my voice beginning to hoarsen, the power went out. Michael, the hurricane not Michael my son, had come to join us. I went downstairs and Michael, my son not Michael the hurricane, said, “Did you save it at all?” Save? Nobody ever said anything about save.

Again that law of attraction went into action. For two days, I got to experience life without cell phones, computers, or those pesky old electric lights. When the battery ran out on the iPad, I borrowed a paperback and read until it got too dark to see the words by candlelight. Then we turned to actual conversation, with much reminiscing and laughter. Dinner morphed from a baked chicken dish to burgers and hotdogs on the grill. Bedtime came early, but a good time was had by all.

After Michael, the hurricane not Michael my son, moved on out of the way, it was apparent there was no fall foliage as yet and time had run out on my opportunity to record. Everywhere I went I heard people talking about all the unaccustomed green in mid October. A few disgruntled serious leaf lookers were complaining to management at hotels and RV parks about the disappointment and demanding their money back. I figured that complaint should be addressed to God, and I, for one, did not want to be around when that happened. Remember the Israelites?

There was still no electricity, so we booked a very nice hotel in downtown Winston-Salem. Formerly the RJ Reynolds building, The Klimpton is a beautiful building with a delightful mix of décor. We had a lovely dinner and a glass of wine, then retired to rest up for the next part of our trip. The bed was luxurious, which translated to too soft for my spine, so I awoke often, the last time about 7 a.m., to hear an alarm going off, followed by, “Attention. Attention. An emergency has been reported in this building. Please stop operations and follow evacuation routes outside the building. Do not use elevators.” They might as well have prefaced the announcement with, “Griswolds, listen up.”

I am pleased to say that we did not panic. Neither, apparently did anyone else. We got dressed and grabbed essentials. This is where the premise of understanding what is really important to you comes in. Outside on the sidewalk, I looked around and saw a woman with a great deal of jewelry on and carrying a large purse. One man had taken the time to pack a suitcase. I saw someone with their computer bag. What did I grab? The paperback book I had started at Michael’s. I could do without my suitcase, my cell phone, and even my computer, but I HAD to know how the story ended. I am apparently not terribly deep, but at least it is easy to make me happy.

Granny Get your Gun

Now, I’ve never been an activist. I am somewhat apolitical, or at least laissez faire. I live by the Paul Simon credo: “I get all the news I need from the weather report.” Don’t be haters. There is room in this world for Simonites.

But my point is that all of that has changed. I have now taken up not only a cause, but arms to defend that cause. “Freedom of the press?” you may ask, since I have a journalism background. Nah, that will work itself out. Freedom of speech, since I am a communications major and a writer? Nope, I hear plenty of free speech going on. The right to bear arms? Well, yes, but only incidental to my main cause.

I was on the front porch this morning in the first rays of sunlight, actively fighting for the rights of birds to enjoy their feeders and their supply of gourmet, species-specific seeds unmolested by marauding bands of rogue squirrels. There are oak trees in the yard with a billion acorns, for heaven’s sake. The lawless rodents have no need to go seed rustling. It’s pure greed and a lack of regard for their fellow  – ah – phylum mates. It really comes down to a class war, kinda like the Clantons and the Cowboy Gang against innocent ranchers and townsfolk. On the battleground of my little Fairhope habitat, the Sciuridae Family has become the enemy.

So that is why I was on the porch in my PJs in the dim pre-dawn light, wild-eyed and tousle-headed, armed only with random shoes for throwing at the gang leader. I do have a BB gun somewhere, but no ammunition, and I have packed up most of my belongings for an impending move. What I DID have at hand was a collection of shoes taken off at the front door, and the first cobbled missile hurled from the porch sent Curly Bill Sciuridae scrambling up the nearest oak.

After seven more forays toward the feeders, all defeated with footwear, the Sciuridaes had turned back and an array of blue jays, cardinals, and chickadees were breakfasting peacefully on black-oil sunflower seeds and such. I had regathered my ammunition and had a cup of fresh-ground coffee in my hand. I brought my laptop out so I could work and still remain vigilant. I didn’t dare take time out for a shower, so I was still garbed in nightwear with my hair sticking up on one side and plastered down on the other. Peace reigned in my world, though, so I was content.

My attention turned from the birds to the young school children who were now making their way from the neighboring cul-de-sacs toward the bus stop near my house. I smiled and waved at the ones familiar to me, and at the parents who accompanied the youngest ones. Totally distracted by the morning ritual, I failed to see Curly Bill and Johnny Ringo sneaking in from the leafy cover of the overhead canopy. I sighed happily, then turned my head to gaze on my little flock, and there they were. The Sciuridae ring leaders were perched on top of the feeder nearest me, stuffing their nasty, greedy, furry little cheeks and staring at me in total defiance.

In my recovery of the shoes, I had discovered a cache of magnolia pods, and I quickly catapulted one of these toward the outlaws. They fled and I chased them from my yard to the neighboring trees. Maybe I was bleary eyed from doing battle before coffee, but I would almost swear Curly Bill had a red bandana tied around his hind leg. “Run, you lily livered gray coated fiends. RUN!” I yelled. Caught up in the moment, I continued, “Tell all the other curs the law’s comin’! You tell ‘em I’M coming… and hell’s coming with me, you hear?” Then I nodded to the startled young man who was hastily moving his four small children to the other side of the road and hurried inside to unpack a big box of shoes.

 

 

Euripides and Me

“It is a good thing to be rich and a good thing to be strong, but it is a better thing to be loved by many friends.” Euripides

Old Euri, if I may be so familiar, was very wise. My riches have not yet arrived, and right now I am not very strong, what with all the falling around outdoors, but I have a wonderful circle of family and friends. And that is true wealth and a source of strength. Not a single relation or friend has ducked down to avoid being called upon. Rather, all have jumped out to offer meals, errands, dog walking —even a couple of shots of good whiskey.

My sister Wanda and her husband, Bryan, have taken me in and are caring for me while I get over surgery and until I can stand one my own one foot. My daughter and her fiancé have been here helping whenever they can, seeing that I have what I need, and trying to help Wanda and Bryan with things they have to neglect in the name of health, mine and their own. My granddaughters are ready to take shifts to come help me when I get back home —slated for today or tomorrow, in my mind anyway. My children who live too far to physically help, call and check on me.

And my friends? Elise came over yesterday to fetch and carry, armed with reading glasses with tiny lights in them –who knew? – and coloring books. Fun day! Nancy, who knows first-hand what this is all about, plans to ferry me to doctor appointments, despite the fact that she is in the midst of her own health crisis. Sheila offered to come walk my nine-month-old German shepherd puppy, Bruno. Ashton plans to come and keep me company on lunch breaks when she can.

Writers Group friends Jule, Joe, Ken, Vicki, Bob, and Ron all offered to help in various ways: shopping, food, company, and encouragement. Joe alleviated any fears of having to crawl to the cracker box for sustenance by offering to do grocery shopping – or at least bring a wheelbarrow to roll me to the cracker box. Vicki also offered to shop –maybe keeping the cracker box full, so the wheelbarrow trip will not end in disappointment. Jule, coming on 97 years young, sent a sweet card with her sympathies for my predicament and an offer to run my errands for me. She is my role model.

I haven’t named everyone who has been front and center to let me know they care, but I am grateful to all of you and feel very fortunate indeed.

And, Ron, I am off the pain meds and ready for those shots. Just disguise them as Irish coffee if you don’t mind.

Turnip Juice

So, Friday night I got out of my recliner at 11 o’clock to take the dog out for one last walk before bed. I have a fenced yard, and I usually just open the back door for this purpose, but my dog has an affinity for mud puddles, and on this particular Friday night puddles were abundant. Bruno, a nine-month-old German shepherd doesn’t drink out of puddles, or step daintily over, around, or even in them. He digs until they are as thickly muddy as possible, then he pounces, paddles, slaps, and jumps in the puddle until he has sandy, icky mud dripping from his muzzle, underbelly, tail, and most of his body. The very top of his back, MAY be a mud-free zone, but the rest of his hairy carcass bears more resemblance to the back yard, than to a dog.

Ergo, the leash walks when it is or has recently been raining. I put on the leash, grabbed the umbrella, slid my feet into flip flops and stepped out into the downpour. With the second step, my left foot went flying down the steps along with the umbrella, while the right foot, the leash, and the dog tried to stay put. I landed sitting at the bottom of the steps with the umbrella in the yard and the rain beating on my head. I stayed there, stunned, for a few moments then realized the right foot had followed, though more slowly and forcefully, and was resting two steps above with the leg twisted back at an angle it hasn’t seen in 40 years. The dog, however, had not moved and seemed confused by this new mode of exit.

My first thought was, “Now what?” and my second was to reflect with kindness and a hint of longing on the Life Alert commercials. I could send Bruno for help, but even if he could be counted on to run the mile to my sister’s house, bark at the door, then announce, “Timmy’s in the Well,” he couldn’t unlatch my back gate. So, with adrenaline and willpower, I got up and back into the house, where I took off the leash –the potty walk forgotten –and kind of thump-drag, thump-dragged my way back to the recliner. Bruno, seeing this unusual ambulation, decided it was some kind of new chase game and he was ready to play. I made it to the chair, punctuating my slow progress with, “No, Bruno, leave it. Stop, Bruno, I am not playing. Lie down, Bruno.” Once I plunked back in the chair, Bruno seemed to grasp the gravity of the situation and exerted amazing bladder –and everything else—control and lay quietly on the floor while I pondered my situation.

My injuries did not warrant a 911 call, and as it was 11:30 by now and still raining heavily, I didn’t want to ask family or friends to get out in the night, plus I was hoping I had gotten away with abrasions and contusions (sounds more impressive that scrapes and bruises). My foot was red and mottled, my ankle hurt all the way around, my leg hurt all the way up to my knee and my knee wouldn’t bend without prohibitive pain. I thought about using an icepack, but where to begin? So, I just sat there until I mustered up the courage to put Bruno in his crate and Hashimotoed (or Igored –yes, master) down the hall to bed.

I awoke at 4:30 Saturday morning and quickly gave up on the idea of a simple sprain, thump-dragged to the kitchen and made coffee, then, fortified, took a shower and got dressed. Then I sat down to wait until a decent hour to call someone to take me to Thomas Hospital for X-rays. My sister, Wanda, was the first one to answer so we went to the ER, where I was told I had broken the fibula, the smaller leg bone. With a morphine shot under my belt and a bottle of hydrocodon at hand, I settled into a recliner at Wanda’s and tried to watch television. I am not sure of the programming, but the commercials penetrated my fog and a plethora of attorneys kept asking if I had had an accident and urging me to call quickly to get the compensation I deserved. I agreed I was injured, but I couldn’t figure out what compensation I deserved or from whom I deserved it.

I fell out the back steps, so maybe I should sue the lumber mill that produced the materials the steps were made with, or the carpenter who built them, or the contractor – maybe even the people for whom the house was built. But then I realized that the wooden steps were not an issue in and of themselves. It was the rain. I thought about calling the Weather Channel to task, but realized that forecasting the weather was not really causative. I didn’t think anything good could come of suing God, so I moved on. It was the dog’s fault I went out the wooden steps in the rain, but Bruno didn’t own anything but kibble and a squeaky toy. Thinking further, I realized that Bruno would have been thrilled to go out in the rain—and mud—without me, so that brought me to the breeder. Aha! She bred – and sold to me – a dog with an affinity for mud puddles, laying the groundwork for this whole fiasco.

Dog breeding is not a lucrative profession, so what could I hope to gain? Punitive damages? You can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip, they say. At best I might come out with turnip juice–a litter of eight or ten more mud-happy little furballs who would want to go out in the rain. Still the televised attorneys pleaded with me to get what I deserved. Not wanting to leave anything to chance, I watched both Perry Mason andMatlock to observe procedure. I looked up voir dire and habeus corpus and, just in case it came up in court, accident.

I read the definition of accident: “an unfortunate incident that happens unexpectedly and unintentionally; an event that happens by chance or that is without apparent or deliberate cause. Unintentional, not deliberate. Sanity returned –maybe the morphine wore off. What compensation did I deserve for flying out the back door on a flip flop? None. So I turned off the television and tried reading. Even with no lawsuit looming, Bruno did offer a settlement. He brought me his squeaky toy.

Converted

I was converted by a 14-year-old.

For years, I was deeply, stubbornly entrenched in my dogma. I refused to hear pleas to just examine things from a different perspective. My sisters, a daughter-in-law, and many of my friends had already seen that there were paths other than the one I held on to so fiercely. Oh, I would nod pleasantly and appear to listen, but inside I was stone deaf to anything that went against my beliefs.

Then, slowly, the musings of my granddaughter began to penetrate. “I’m going to go there,” she would say enthusiastically, “when I’m in college and make my own decisions.” I heard the statement, but I shut down immediately. What does a 14-year-old know about anything? I thought dismissively.

But then I kept hearing her talking about the choices available, the reasoning behind her decision, and I really began to listen. What she said made sense. I had been indoctrinated and had never even attempted to look beyond what I had been told for years. But if she was right, there was a better way. A rational choice not based on emotion or habit or even loyalty.

It just kept eating at the edge of conscious thought. I may have been wrong all these years. I may have been blinded by decades of repetition and ritual.

Then today, on some impulse from who knows where, I turned my car into the parking lot of the place she espoused. I can just go inside, I thought. That’s not a commitment. Not even an admission that I might be wrong.

Within moments of entering the doors, I knew that what I thought of as devotion was nothing more than an ignorant need to hold on to the familiar, a reluctance to change. I accepted the truth then and there.

I will tell her of my conversion. “Ashleigh,” I will say. “You are right. I have searched it out for myself and I can see that I was holding on to what I had been hearing since childhood without ever trying to find Truth. Thank you for opening my eyes.”

What my newly opened eyes beheld, just as she had said, was aisle after aisle, shelf after shelf, filled with cans, boxes, bottles, and packages all marked “$1.” I picked up a box of this, a can of that, a tube of something else. All one dollar each. Then I really broke free. I picked up a . . . . a generic.

When I got home, I put away my purchases, 20 items for twenty dollars. I felt so light, so unencumbered. Only one final test remained. I opened and tasted the generic. Free. Free at last.

So, I am a convert. No longer a slave to the idea that only name brands will do. And even name brands don’t have to be expensive. Ashleigh doesn’t have to wait until she leaves home and goes to college to exercise her faith. I will take her with me in regular attendance to that basilica of financial liberty – the Dollar Tree.

A Woman’s Gotta do. . .

I hate to have to do it, but it has become apparent that I am going to have to take an issue before the Court.

I was wrestling with the decision this morning – to sue or not to sue – when a commercial interrupted the morning news. Just the fact that I was watching the news at all is portentous. I usually get all the news I need on the weather report, as the Paul Simon song says. Anyway, in the midst of this internal battle, a commercial came on. Apparently, if you watch an advertisement for some new drug that touts its efficacy in lessening a health issue and decide to try that pharmaceutical wonder — even after listening to two seconds of efficacy proclamation and two minutes of possible and/or likely side effects — and if you further actually experience one of those side effects, you may be entitled to significant financial compensation. It was like a sign.

So, I am going to have to sue my granddaughter. Not for something so innocuous as listed side effects. No, this is far more insidious. We are talking reckless endangerment. Contributing to the health delinquency of an elder. Cruel and unusual temptation. Need I go on?

While, clearly, the child is at fault, I wouldn’t be so unfair as to place an unmanageable burden on her or her family. I will allow her to make restitution in weekly payments. The kid gets an allowance after all. And she has no bills. She can afford to fork out the coins to pay for my stairclimber/treadmill to undo the damage she enabled.

In a way, I am doing her a favor. She will learn to put her money to use to help someone instead of egocentrically throwing it away at garage sales for toys or books that will just have to be sorted through and disposed of at some point. Plus, she won’t have decisions to make. She will know exactly how her money will be used.

And it isn’t like it will last forever. I mean I am not seeking punitive damages for my pain and suffering. I figure by the time she is old enough to go out and get a job, she will have paid off her debt to society at large and to me in particular. And she will have a slimmer, trimmer grandmother and will know that, even though she contributed to the problem, she was also instrumental in the solution.

The basic premise is this: she sold Girl Scout cookies. I bought them, then I ate them. She had to know when she offered them to me that this was the likely outcome.

It’s like that poor woman who sued because she spilled hot coffee on herself. The purveyors of the coffee knew it was hot. They advertised it that way. Hot, fresh coffee. They should have figured that one day someone was going to spill the hot beverage. So they should have served the hot coffee kind of cold to prevent harm. Of course, it would have tasted nasty and they wouldn’t have sold much and they might have lost a bunch of money and gone out of business, eliminating countless jobs across the nation, but they wouldn’t have caused bodily harm.

Or what about that prisoner who sued because his peanut butter was creamy, not crunchy. The warden should have figured that serving only creamy peanut butter would someday offend somebody. They wouldn’t make crunchy, after all, if some people didn’t prefer it. So the thing to have done, I guess, was not to have served peanut butter at all. Or hot coffee.

That opens up the question of what do you serve in a prison? If it’s oatmeal, might there not be some grits lovers who take exception? Would you not trample all over the rights of a prisoner who likes bean soup if you serve up chicken noodle? It could get a little dicey planning the menu, but hey, if you open up a prison, you have to know going in that you might be playing host to some discriminating incarcerates who don’t take kindly to being served the wrong peanut butter.

So, the point is, the girl let herself in for this law suit when she not only began selling Girl Scout cookies, she willingly, knowingly – with malice aforethought? –offered them to me. One look at me should have told her it was risky business. Just a little bit of introspection should have warned her that harm could be done here. Obviously, I have no discipline or I would still be pencil thin with muscles instead of fat lumps. And equally obviously, Girl Scout cookies are really, really good. She had already sold hundreds of boxes before she paraded them in front of me.

So let’s review the facts. She is almost eight years old and smart – clearly she has reached the age of accountability; she is well aware that Girl Scout cookies are yummy; she made the cookies available to me, when it was readily apparent that I 1) should not be eating yummy sugary calorie laden things, and 2) I have no more restraint than a bull elk in mating season. The thighs alone should have given her pause.

I rest my case.

Procrastination: A Sin or an Art Form?

A friend, Nancy, came over for dinner the other night and talk came around to writing. She said she had heard that procrastination was a major thing for writers. I told her about a famous writer who used to go into his study, lock the door, and lie down on his couch with the typewriter on the floor nearby. Whenever he would hear his wife coming down the hall, he would reach down and type nonsense furiously until her footsteps passed on by. Then he would return to contemplating the cosmos or whatever he was doing, until a deadline forced him to produce. Nancy asked who it was and for the life of me I couldn’t remember.

This morning I decided to see if I could Google it and find out. But what do you Google? I tried “writer who lay on couch and pretended to type when wife passed.” I got some very interesting results, but nothing that pertained to writer procrastination.

So I tried “writers and procrastination.” Did you know that Graham Greene, the English playwright and novelist, waited for a sign from above before he would start working on a piece? He needed to see a certain combination of numbers by accident in order to write the first word. It is said he would stay by the side of the road looking at license plates and waiting for the number to appear.

I also found a list of 50 things a writer can do to avoid getting started (writeitsideways.com/50-procrastination-techniques-for-aspiring-writers/). I have listed here my personal favorites:

  • Check your email
  • Answer your email
  • Moderate your blog comments.
  • Re-organize your documents folder
  • Read up on debut author advances
  • List things to buy when your $100,000,000,000,000 advance comes through
  • Browse famous writing rejection letters
  • Research headshot photographers
  • Research latest hairstyles for your headshot
  • Practice poses in the mirror for your headshot
  • Comment on agent/editor/author blogs hoping to get noticed
  • Write a blog post on procrastination techniques
  • Research potential agents for your novel (before it’s written)
  • Make a cup of coffee
  • Clean your coffee maker with vinegar (because your coffee is starting to taste funky)
  • While waiting for your coffee maker to air-out, test every cafe in a 20-block radius for which is the most writerly (Fairhope’s Latte Da for me)
  • Prepare a pre-writing snack
  • Eat the pre-writing snack whilst still in kitchen
  • Prepare a post-writing snack
  • Eat the post-writing snack early (it was looking a bit soggy)
  • Clean your keyboard–especially the crumbs in all those little grooves

While that was an inspiring diversion, I was still no closer to finding the elusive writer/procrastinator. So I Googled “elusive writer procrastinator.”

I found that one of my favorite writers, Charles Dickens, said, “Procrastination in the thief of time. Collar him.” Obviously he was not the culprit. Then I saw that another favorite writer, Mark Twain, said, “Never put off till tomorrow what may be done day after tomorrow just as well.” A sentiment with which Oscar Wilde was in wholehearted agreement. Douglas Adams agreed, saying, “I love deadlines, I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”

This is fascinating stuff. In an article from The Atlantic, entitled, “Why Writers Are the Worst Procrastinators: The psychological origins of waiting (… and waiting, and waiting) to work,” Megan McArdle said it’s a fear of being “unmasked as the incompetent you ‘really’ are.” This actually has a clinical name: impostor syndrome. Apparently writers, as a group – there are always exceptions – think they are really, really good and their writing should be an instant success. Until it is time for the ink to meet the paper. Then they think they are hacks pretending to be writers and the moment someone reads something they’ve actually written, they will be found out. So they sharpen all the pencils instead. The only thing that supersedes the fear of being found out is the fear of doing nothing. McArdle puts it this way, “Most writers manage to get by because, as the deadline creeps closer, their fears of turning in nothing eventually surpasses (sic) their fears of turning in something terrible.” Thus we have the writer on the couch slapping random typewriter keys. . . until the deadline looms and he produces brilliant prose. Only I still don’t know who he was.

But I can’t spend any more time on this. What I am actually supposed to be doing is working on a chapter in a book on which I am collaborating. We have a deadline fast approaching. Oooh! Maybe I should Google deadline. Before I do that, I think I’ll build a fire. I write better in the rocking chair in front of the fire. But, first, the fireplace needs cleaning out.

Failing to plan is. . . blah, blah, blah

Actually it was not failure to plan that thrust me into the middle of sheep pastures in a foreign country with no car, no telephone, no cell, and no Internet. The hard truth is, plan A failed. I had no plan B.

If you recall, when last we spoke I was in a pub in Dublin raising a pint to the approach of my 60th birthday. Well, in truth I wrote that blog before I left town and set it to publish on my regular blog day. As it unfolded, on Friday the 26th I was actually in a bed and breakfast in Dublin gnawing on Atkins bars and swilling tap water.

You may also recall that I was toying with the idea of going back to a kinder, gentler day of less technology. Be careful what you ask for.

As I alluded to last time, I’ve been talking about going to Ireland for years, then decided to just do it. I told a friend I was going and she said, “Not without me, you’re not.” So we found a flight and set about trying to figure out where to stay and how to get from point A to point B in a foreign country with narrow little roads and people who drive on the wrong side. My travel buddy had a brainstorm and arranged for her son-in-law’s brother to come over from England and drive us around. I quit twitching almost immediately.

An Internet search yielded a charming little cottage in Cashel, County Tipperary, “A quaint town situated ideally for touring southwestern Ireland.” I reserved it. The day of departure arrived and our driver called to say there was a family emergency and he had to cancel. The twitching resumed, but we pushed trepidation aside and agreed we would just go and then take time in Dublin to make arrangements for the rest of the trip.

I will make this part of a very long story short and say that we soon learned that: 1) it is not so easy to understand train and bus schedules in Ireland, 2) not far means the average athletic 20-year-old can make it on foot, and 3) never, ever listen to anyone who advises you to leave your cell phone at home to prevent international phone charges.

(Let me digress and tell you of a bright idea I had last June when I decided to do some traveling alone for the first time in my life and set out for Midlothian, Va., by way of Enterprise, Ala. and Winston-Salem, N.C. After a series of minor misadventures, I decided there should be some sort of how-to manual so that other senior female single unseasoned travelers could learn from the mistakes of others. I would do a travel blog, I thought, and call it, “Old Broad on Tour.” While I did not start it then, now seems an opportune time to begin. Rule number one: Make a plan, research to make sure the plan is viable, then have a backup plan and a backup to the backup. Rule number two: Take a cell phone everywhere when you travel.)

Back to Ireland. After leaving Dublin, with no backup and no cell, I, the Old Broad (Ob for short), and the Other Old Broad (Oob) found ourselves sitting on a wooden bench at a train platform in the Irish countryside with no stationmaster on duty and only one or two other passengers milling about. The landlord of our cottage in the quaint town of Cashel was not waiting to pick us up at the station as we expected. Through a miscommunication of some kind in our emails — sent whenever we had Wi-Fi for the iPads — he thought we had it “all sorted out” and had no need of his services. Oob did a quick study on how to use a pay phone with Euros and too many numbers and called him. We were instructed to take a taxi (something we had been told NOT to do by our travel advisor) and he would meet us at the cottage.

Handing over the address to the taxi driver, we soon learned that our cottage was not actually in the quaint town of Cashel, it was “not far” from Cashel in a picturesque sheep-farming community called Dualla. Metropolitan Dualla boasts a pub and a church. And sheep. Our kindly landlord met us at the cottage, listened to our tales of woe and drove us to Cashel for groceries, telling us to email him about going into town on Monday.

This was Saturday night. We discussed the idea of renting a car, then decided neither of us was brave enough to take on driving. We decided we should contact our families to let them know we were alive, but found there was no Internet. There was also no land-line phone. We couldn’t call home; we couldn’t email the landlord; we couldn’t even call a forbidden taxi. On the bright side, we had food, and the Atkins bars stayed packed away for emergency purposes.

Sunday was spent enjoying the beauty of the sheep fields and horse pastures, walking through the garden behind the cottage, eating a home cooked meal and conjecturing what our children were thinking happened to us and how the inevitable episode about us on A&E would play out.

On Monday, my birthday, the landlord came by wondering why he hadn’t heard from us. No Internet, we pointed out. Didn’t we bring iPads, he asked. Those require Wi-Fi, we explained. “Oh, right,” he said cheerfully. “My wife is always tellin’ me I need to be getting’ Wi-Fi out here.”

A sweeter man you’d never meet, and he cheerfully drove us to Thurles to a shopping mall, as Oob said she wasn’t spending another day without a cell phone. With the little packet of communication magic in her purse, we were suddenly at peace and allowed the landlord to drop us off in Cashel, the “quaint town situated ideally for touring southwestern Ireland,” where we explored the shops and the Rock of Cashel and a private, self-styled “museum,” before finding the Brian Boru restaurant for my birthday dinner, where I did indeed lift a pint of Bulmer’s in honor of the day.

My Resignation (To be Continued)

KNOW ALL MEN BY THESE PRESENTS:

I, Phyllis Pittman, herewith tender and proffer my resignation as Keeper of the World. 

You may ask what exactly does being Keeper of the World entail? Well, I will enlighten you. It means that if a bird falls to the ground, you somehow feel responsible (not compassion, responsibility) for picking it up, restoring it to health, and building a nest for it, while it sits on a branch watching your labor and eating a big bowl of fresh worms (that you dug up for it).

Now this may closely resemble God’s job, except that He figures any self-respecting bird will build its own nest and capture its own worms. This realization is one of the reasons I finally decided to officially resign.

I know that I alluded to my resignation in recent writings. I really thought I had stepped down. But then I saw this Need. It was not my place to meet the Need; not my job to meet the Need; it was not even requested or expected by anyone that I meet the Need. But I was, after all, until recently the KOW (now that is an unfortunate acronym). So I stepped in. Kind of like a guest appearance.

Quickly realizing that I had overextended myself, I began to stress. My anxiety increased when I saw that my intervention actually created a hardship for the person I was trying to help. Now what to do? If I tried to extricate myself from the middle of other people’s business, the first person would be better off, but another party would be negatively affected. Why didn’t I just listen, nod, and sympathize and leave them to work it out for themselves? Because I have been the KOW for so long, trying to quit cold turkey did not work. Apparently, I need KOW Anonymous. Some form of accountability for quitting and staying clean. Thus, my official abdication.

Everything to do with the Need worked out, but that was the last act in my capacity as KOW. As mother, daughter, sister, and friend, I will be glad to assist my loved ones in any way that is both reasonable and requested. I will not, however, feel that I and I alone must solve everyone’s scheduling conflicts, budgetary issues, childrearing questions (that no one actually asked me), or social life. Yes, grandchildren, take that long sigh of relief. I will listen and be there for you, but I will not presume that I must solve all your problems or even tell you how to go about it.

What will life be like as a civilian? I don’t know. I’ve only been among the ranks of the enlisted for one day. I did, however, manage to only listen when my daughter was telling me about a problem she had. I was caring and concerned, but I did not run out and rearrange both my life and hers to see that everything was taken care of. It was very freeing for me. I just kept repeating, “Not my job. Not my job.” I think she was chanting it with me, but it sounded strangely like, “Oh, thank God. Oh, thank God.”

KOW No More

For anyone who missed my last post, I officially resigned as KOW (Keeper of the World). As I am no longer the KOW, I thought I’d update you on how that’s going.

On the second day free from the responsibility of all humankind — and much of the animal kingdom — I found I had some time to think about my own life. A landmark birthday was coming up and with my preoccupation with keeping all creation happy, I had pushed aside the niggling thoughts of age, retirement, personal goals, and dreams. With massive amounts of brain space now freed to devote to my own business, all those points came rushing in. What happened to those dreams I had when I was 20, 30, or even 40? What about all that adventure I had yearned for over the years, but was too busy with the day-to-day to go for?

I sat back and realized nothing in the world was stopping me, except me. I have recently been pondering the god of technology, and to paraphrase: the god giveth and the god taketh away. Technology giveth access to information, instant communication, and boundless entertainment. Technology taketh away privacy, solitude, and muscle mass. I wondered what it would be like to go back to a simpler time. So I turned off the electricity.

I then felt around for the lighter by the fireplace, lit a candle, and hunted for the emergency oil for the antique oil lamp on the mantle. I found it, filled the lamp, and lit it. I admire Abraham Lincoln. It’s hard to read by the light of an oil lamp and I imagine a fireplace wouldn’t be much better. I was getting hungry. No problem. I had cooked turnip green soup in the crockpot and it was still piping hot. What would happen when it cooled down, though? And what about breakfast? Should I plan to build a fire in the fire pit and cook eggs in a cast iron pan? Like Scarlett O’Hara, I decided to think about that tomorrow.

After I ate my soup in the ambiance of the flickering oil lamp, I returned to my book. The eye strain made me sleepy and I gave it up. So THIS is why they went to bed with the chickens, I thought. It was too dark to do anything else.

I slept well, as my bedroom had no blue or amber glow emanating from the television, cable box, and clock radio. All was unplugged. When I awoke before first light, I had no clue what time it was so I just got up. I stumbled into the kitchen, lit the candle, and debated the merits of coffee in a sauce pan over the fire pit. I plugged in the coffee pot. Once it was going, I got out the cream and a cup, drank a glass of water and looked out the window. Still pitch black. Then I happened to catch the clock on the stove (too hard to unplug). Four a.m. That might be great if I had a cow to milk, but as it was, it was just too early. But I was awake, so I made the best of it and got to work an hour early, where I dried my hair and put on makeup in a bathroom with electricity. My commitment, such as it was, did not exceed the boundaries of my own home.

After work, I went home and automatically turned on the air conditioner. When I realized I had again violated my back-to-basics ideal, I felt a brief qualm, but since I didn’t plug in the television or the microwave, I figure it balanced out. You don’t bite off pioneer life all in one big gulp. Then I sat down to think some more about what was ahead in the next phase of my life.

I had always wanted to ride a horse on the Appalachian Trail, camping along the way. I’m pretty sure that’s not going to happen. So what could I do to break away and have an adventure? I could sell my house, buy a camper, and be a nomad. But my day job as a mild mannered office coordinator is not conducive to nomad life, so how would I be able to afford the gas or the campground fees? I marked nomad off the list. Besides, I’ll be able to travel after I sell the great American novel. Right?

My contemplation turned to where I hoped to go in my life, which led to where I came from, all the way back to the earliest ancestors I had been able to trace. Then the perfect idea came to me. I could do something radical for my next-decade birthday. I could explore my ancestry and fill the need for adventure all in one fell swoop. (What the heck is a fell swoop?) I could go to Ireland, meet Sullivans and McCraws, and let my genetic memory bask in total recall.

But what would my family think? What would they like to do to celebrate my birthday? IThen I remembered it was not my job to please the world, only to be loving and considerate. So now, it is three days before my birthday and I am sitting in a pub in Dublin, Ireland. As I raise my glass of cider, I realize that living my own life did not cause even one little bird to go hungry. To all you potential KOWs out there, let it go. It’s not your job. Sláinte.