Category Archives: Uncategorized

It’s Not About the Fridge

Nicole’s daughter wrote this guest post.

January 2014: I was working a maximum of 12 hours a week on minimum wage trying to stay afloat while I waited to start a new (full-time) job, and was picking out a new refrigerator with my grandparents.

Just five months prior, I had left my apartment, a good job making decent – i.e. “better” – money, and a two-year unhealthy relationship behind, in North Carolina. I had spent six years in Jacksonville after being stationed at Camp Lejeune while in the Marine Corps and had no desire to return home to California.

At some point in those six years, my grandparents’ second home had been burglarized and had suffered rain damage and mold; the 20-something year old refrigerator had suffered as well. So when I moved in in August 2013, we began looking for a replacement.

My grandparents found an 18.2 cubic feet fridge for a good price. When we looked at the floor model, I felt it was too big for just me and kept trying to convince them to look at another one – they didn’t oblige. Since they were paying for it, I didn’t argue much.

A few weeks after the fridge was set up, I returned from my mom’s house, three hours away, with some furniture she had given me. My grandparents came to the house to help me unload my truck. At some point, my grandpa began to lecture me about not putting my water pitcher in the fridge. He mentioned that it may not have fit in the old model, but this one was large enough, and scoffed that I had previously wanted a smaller fridge. I felt the tears, and there was no way to stop them; I ran outside hysterically crying and plopped down on my porch steps. My grandpa went to his truck, and I returned inside with my grandma.

I apologized for crying and explained that seeing the large fridge so empty just reminded me that I was alone.

“It’s not about the fridge, honey,” she said. “And you’re not alone. You have your animals, you have your friends, and you’re about to start a wonderful new job!”

She was right.

I was crying for uncertainty, I was crying for the end of a relationship that I didn’t think I should mourn because of its status; I was starting a new life and a new chapter, but I had held all of those emotions in.

March 2017: I stopped at the grocery store after work – that place I started three years ago with my new fridge – and I recalled this memory as I was trying to figure out where to put the hamburger. I laughed with the door wide open as I wondered if it’s time for a bigger fridge. But “it’s not really about the fridge.”

Introductions and Apologies: Family of Origin, Meet Family of Choice

Whereupon responses to a meme get me up at 2 A.M. to say things that have long been on my mind.

It started with this meme that I posted on that big social media site:

Which generated the following comments (and my internal responses):

Father Of My Daughter (FOMD): How about we ban them both?

(Um, NO.)

Father Of My 7-year-old Grandson (FOMG): Both can be considered terrorist. The worse part is the Democrats like both.

(What. The. Actual…?)

My Very Good Friend (MVGF): Nicole, do you know this ignorant twerp? Oh, sorry…was that a personal attack?! My bad.

(Aw, shit, Joe.)

FOMG: Oh you’re such a mean person Joey. Makes me want to cry like Chucky Schumer.

FOMD: Nicole do u know this ignorant fucktard joe?

(Well, that escalated quickly. Perhaps I’ll go to bed early and figure out how I want to respond while I sleep.)

And, indeed, I woke up a little after midnight with this unfolding in my mind, which it continued to do for two more hours, until I got up and gave in. So, onto those introductions.

FOMD, FOMG, meet MVGF, also known as a member of my family of choice. Why is he My Very Good Friend? Because he cares very much about things like basic human dignity, social justice and human rights, including accessible health care for all. To my chagrin, he did lead into the comment stream with a personal attack, but I dare say that this is something being modeled several times a day by the foul leader of our torn country—who keeps getting passes to do so! Incidentally, MVGF is also pretty hip to our Constitution. If you look real hard, you’ll see that freedom of speech and the press, and freedom from religious persecution are kind of a big deal where the law of the land is concerned, as are the checks and balances designed to keep rogue individuals from taking them away. But I digress…

MVGF, meet FOMD. He had something to do with that awesome young woman you know, the redhead who looks kind of like me. When he met me, I was a rabid conservative with a strong Bohemian streak that mystified my rabidly conservative parents. (I am ashamed to admit that I voted against Obama the first time, and kept silent when my dad said inane things like, “He’s a halfwit who can’t even talk without a teleprompter.” And much worse things.) Still, FOMD and I remain connected on that social media site because, despite our differences, we have remained civil and are both invested in seeing our daughter grow up and navigate the world.

MVGF, meet FOMG. He and his wife adopted the son of aforementioned daughter, when she was a 20-year-old Marine who knew she was not equipped to raise a child. There is no doubt that they love him dearly, and provide for him well.

FOMG, given some special needs, I am always perplexed to see you decrying the Affordable Care Act and the like. And I marvel that you would support someone so base, and wonder whether you think your president is the kind of man you hope your son turns out to be, or whether you’d be comfortable leaving your wife alone with this man. I also wonder what you’d think if someone else were in charge and signed an executive order banning all Christians because Fred Phelps.

Now, I am going to turn the lens back on myself, say more about my bigoted upbringing. and make some apologies.

A year or two ago, my cousin M posted pictures, on that social media site I keep mentioning, of herself and friends at a winery a few miles from my house. I was hurt, because I had not seen her since I moved away from Southern California, in 1991, and even after I noticed that she was practically in my back yard, and I offered to meet her somewhere for coffee, she said she didn’t have time to see me. A few months ago, I mentioned the memory to my dad, and this conversation ensued:

Dad: Well, she doesn’t like me, so maybe she has extended that to you.

Me: Why do you say she doesn’t like you?

Dad: Because she thinks I’m a bigot.

Me: *crickets* and dumbfounded stare (You ARE a bigot!)

Dad: I’m not a bigot. I just hate Mexicans. *belly laugh*

To fully appreciate the depth of the vulgarity of this statement, readers need to know that my cousins (my dad’s sister’s three daughters) are all half Mexican.

I continued to stare at him, silently, with my mouth agape, and then I went into the bathroom and sobbed. It has haunted me ever since.

M and C and L, if you are reading this, I want you to know how truly sorry I am for any times in your life that my dad tried to make you or your mother feel less than with his ugliness, or any times that I might have been blindly complicit in same.

I also want to apologize to my other cousin M, who bore the distinction of being the lesbian until I came out a decade ago. It doesn’t matter that I didn’t even come out to myself until I was 30, because I could still hear the derision and bigotry, but said nothing to call him out on it, except maybe, “Yeah? So what?”

What I have said to my dad, several times in recent years, is, “This isn’t what you taught me! You taught me that kindness matters!” It is, and it isn’t. He did, and he didn’t.

Kindness does matter. So does speaking up about injustice, and fighting hate, and those who would promote it. Which brings me back to this:

Drafting

pezone2We spent Saturday afternoon in Davis, because it is worth the 45 mile drive for a bowl of soup and the F.M.L. cocktail from Red 88 Noodle Bar. Davis became a place I go, in 2007, the first year I attended the annual California Conference for the Advancement of Ceramic Art (CCACA), an event hosted by the John Natsoulas Center for the Arts.

After lunch, as we walked through the Natsoulas gallery, I was captivated by some surrealist paintings. I asked an employee who the artist was, and when she began to gush about Avery Palmer, I was full of envy, for artists everywhere who are doing what they love, and for the art collectors who promote them. I mumbled something to my wife about how nice it would be to be a patron of the arts, forgetting, until I began writing this post, that I had pronounced myself just that the day I purchased the piece pictured here, at the 2013 CCACA.

"Take me home!"
“Take me home!”

The odd little figure, created by Humboldt State University student Clarissa Pezone, called to me, much like the incense burner had the previous day. I even used the words “visceral response” when I explained the purchase to my wife and stepdaughter. (Incidentally, Humboldt State produces a lot of talented artists, including the aforementioned Palmer.)

Envy without action has nothing to do with waking up famous. If envy itself catapulted the envier into the experience of the envied, it would be nothing more than drafting off another’s fame. It is not the 10,000-plus hours of hard work that make us wistful, it is the results of that work. When the green-eyed monster shows up, as it did for me in the gallery, we envy the having done, not the doing. Grammatically speaking, we long to exist in the present perfect tense, “I have created,” instead of the present, “I create.” According to the Write Place at St. Cloud State University:

Present tense expresses an unchanging, repeated, or reoccurring action or situation that exists only now. It can also represent a widespread truth.

Alas, as the ubiquitous they say, there is no time like the present.

Allowing your present tense to represent your widespread truth is the way to wake up famous. And, like breathing, it is a practice.

So tell me: How do you practice?

 

Incense(d)

incensedMy wife bought me this cat in Japantown tonight, because I rushed to the shop window, pointed, and said, “That one!”

The figurine evoked a visceral response in me that seemed excessive, even if it did remind me of our cat, Sydney. And it turned out to be an incense burner.

I am allergic to incense.

For weeks, my emotions have been simmering over a flame stoked by fear and doubt, diagnostics and diagnoses, and today, I felt a steady rage that I could barely contain. I have been unwilling to speak it, afraid to let it interfere with my  professional responsibilities, worried that I will break and be unable to reassemble the pieces. And then, in its strange and poetic way, the universe handed me this little gift of a Sydney-shaped incense burner, so that I could bring myself to say:

I am incensed.

And sometimes there isn’t any sense to be made, no real resolution to whatever it is we are handed. Thus I begin 2015 with but one resolution: to remember that numbness is no better than pain.

Convergence, Synchronicity, or Boomwalla?

convergenceMerriam-Webster defines convergence as “the act of moving toward union or uniformity, especially: coordinated movement of the two eyes so that the image of a single point is formed on corresponding retinal areas,” and “the merging of distinct technologies, industries, or devices into a unified whole.”

Dictionary.com calls synchronicity “an apparently meaningful coincidence in time of two or more similar or identical events that are causally unrelated.”

While I was mulling over this post, trying to decide which of the two terms was more applicable to my recent experience, my friend Tom Fiffer posted this on Facebook:

missing

 

In 1997, artist Clark Whittington repurposed an old cigarette vending machine to sell his photographs, thus giving birth to the first Art-o-mat. Today, more than 90 machines dispense the miniature works of hundreds of artists worldwide, in venues ranging from a coffee shop in Boise, Idaho, to the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C.

According to the Art-o-mat web site:

Artists in Cellophane (A.I.C.), the sponsoring organization of Art-o-mat, is based on the concept of taking art and “repackaging” it to make it part of our daily lives. The mission of A.I.C. is to encourage art consumption by combining the worlds of art and commerce in an innovative form.

I first learned of Art-o-mat about a decade ago, but I had never seen the real thing until I accompanied photographer Suzin Porter to RayKo Photo Center, in San Francisco, where she picked up the flash that she used when she took the picture above. I might have squealed when I saw the machine, and then I rushed to the counter to buy the $5 token needed to acquire my first mystery art. After much deliberation, I selected a piece by Andy Mathis, whose business-card-size placard showed watercolors of animals.

I opened my cellophane-wrapped treasure to find a varnished print of a cat entitled Maybelline, complete with a tiny display “easel” fashioned from the business card of “Andy Mathis, Veterinarian/Watercolor Artist.” I was both delighted and intrigued.

"Maybelline." Varnished print by Andy Mathis.
“Maybelline.” Varnished print by Andy Mathis.

Visiting Andy’s web site reminded me that when we say, “I’d love to (write, paint, play guitar), but I just don’t have the time,” it is a big, fat lie.

You see, Andy didn’t retire and take up painting—he took a class and started painting shortly after finishing veterinary school! And he just kept painting—and marketing. Many of the proceeds from his sales support animal charities, and he does targeted fundraising to help treat specific animals.

And he blogs.

I emailed Andy to thank him for his artwork and learned that he had been questioning the value of his time-consuming commitment to create work for Art-o-mat. He was very gracious and said that hearing from me made it seem more worthwhile. He also sent me this picture of the real Maybelline and her cohort, Leon, two “hospital cats” he spared from certain fate.

Photo courtesy of Andy Mathis.
Photo courtesy of Andy Mathis.

If our collective experiences call us to assign varying degrees of meaning to events, what is the magic number? How many things need to be “in our dots” before we connect them and call them meaningful? Does the fact that I wanted to be a veterinarian from about age 5 until shortly before I graduated from high school make it any more interesting than the simple fact that a woman from Napa, California, bought a picture painted by a veterinarian from Elberton, Georgia, from a repurposed cigarette machine in San Francisco?

Convergence, synchronicity, or boomwalla?

Ah, yes: it’s life!

Branch Out

Joshua_tree_1I am fascinated by Joshua trees. Some grow in a single column, some have a few twisted branches that make their silhouettes resemble people in unusual poses, and others are truly majestic, with dozens of branches reaching out in all directions. Whenever I cross the Mojave desert in the evening, I see them as spirits of the desert, waiting to strike a new pose the moment I look away.

Last year, I asked a man at a cactus shop why there is such a vast difference in the trees. He told me that each time a tree is injured, it splits, growing two branches from the injured point. The bigger the tree, the more it has been wounded.

Our wounds contribute to our growth in much the same way. Painful experiences are the opportunities that foster our development, provided we don’t cling to the pain itself. There is a big difference between, “Look what I’ve been through,” and, “Look what I’ve become!”

Branch out. Bless those things that split you in two and force you to grow. The more arms you have reaching for the stars, the greater your chance of catching them.

Discover Who You Really Are

illuminationIn mid-August, I attended a life-changing workshop. In just five days, I changed my eating habits, discovered what it feels like to be truly aware of my body, had a direct experience of being one with everything, and owned up to my having had one foot out the door of my relationship since it began. I also learned what it means to be fully present in each moment; the downside is that it has been a challenge to hold onto thoughts long enough to write about them, hence the big blogging hiatus.

Then again, had I written about my experience within a day or two of my return, how credible would my testimonial be? In 2007, I attended a three-day financial-mindset-improvement workshop where I acquired useful information. For at least three days after it ended, I claimed to be “transformed.” Except, not so much.

The key to change is something so simple and close to us that we fail to notice it. In fact, it’s with us all the time, but we can’t see it until we look into the right kind of mirror: the face of another.

Maybe you’ve heard it said that others are just mirrors of ourselves. Maybe you believe it. I had said it, myself, and believed it.

And then I experienced it. Completely.

Now, my wish is that every person on the planet could attend the Illumination Intensive or a similar workshop with a teacher who has trained with WarriorSage.

The work is done in dyads, wherein two people alternate between being the speaking partner and the listening partner. The speaking partner responds to, “Tell me who you are,” or another prompt, and the listening partner says, “Thank you,” (and ONLY “Thank you,”) when he or she has heard and understood the response. Dyads are confidential and consist of new partners every time, and each is approached as though it were the first, because each one truly is a new experience.

Every time I thought, “I couldn’t possibly have anything in common with that person,” I was humbled. Without exception, every person who sat before me presented a reflection of myself. And, I had the unique privilege of being witness to the full range of others’ emotions, from elation to grief, and sharing my own.

The staff created an amazingly safe space to “go deep,” and the love in the room was palpable. To ensure that everyone has an intensely personal experience, couples who attend the workshop are encouraged to steer clear of each other throughout the process, and they are not allowed to room together. My partner and I agreed to alternate between sides of the room each day and scarcely made eye contact until the last evening, when I said I realized I’d had one foot out the door, forever, and it was received with a simple, “Thank you.”

I don’t think I’ve ever been “all in” before. It’s pretty nice.

In the interest of full disclosure, I will receive EXACTLY NOTHING if you sign up for the Illumination Intensive or any other WarriorSage event. I am not an affiliate. Not yet, anyway. I intend to attend more events, and I would love to become a trainer someday, but for now, I am merely somebody whose has been rocked to the core of her being.

I hope you will treat yourself to this amazing experience. After you do, please come back and tell me who you are.

Be Excellent: Know When to Go Off-Script

In Goodnight Opus, the children’s book by Berkeley Breathed, the Bloom County penguin becomes bored with Granny’s nightly recitation of Goodnight Moon. When Granny falls asleep reading to him, Opus departs the text.

Departing the text takes him from the mundane to the magical. We can all learn something about excellence from Opus.

It is impossible to provide first-rate service to everyone if you are unwilling to depart the text. Call center and help desk staffers, read: if you are not brave enough to depart the script from time to time, you will ultimately irritate more people than you help.

A recent call to the DSL support line of a telephone and telegraph company in America went something like this:

CALLER
My modem isn’t working. It had been dropping me offline frequently, and now it won’t connect at all.

TECH SUPPORT
If the power light on your modem is red, it means the modem isn’t working.

CALLER
The power light has been red since I got it, even when it was working.

TECH SUPPORT
If the power light is red, the modem won’t work.

CALLER
The modem worked for a few months, and the power light was always red.

TECH SUPPORT
The modem won’t work if the power light is red.

CALLER
This is the second modem I’ve gotten from you. The power light on the first one was always red, too, even when it worked.

TECH SUPPORT
A red power light means the modem isn’t working.

After a few more rounds about the color of the light, the caller hung up in frustration and tried the “redial” approach to customer service. “Maybe if I get someone else on the phone…”

Similarly, a customer in a department store flagged down an employee to ask if they carried a particular product. After answering all of her questions with a string of I-don’t-knows, the employee pointed to a red phone and said, “You can call customer service.” Her response: “And if I call customer service, are they going to send you?”

Repeating a script that isn’t helping a client is no different than saying, “I don’t know,” ad nauseum. By adding just five simple words, you can open the door for stellar customer service: “I don’t know, but I will find out.” Then, proceed to find out, and keep your client in the loop.

Quality begets quality. When you strive for excellence in all that you do, others will take note, as Granny does at the end of Goodnight Opus. Upon finding her napping with a very satisfied look on her face, Opus believes that she, too, has “departed the text.”

What does going “off-script” mean to you? Are you willing to do it?