Home For the Holdidays, Part III: Geocaching

I’ve been curious about geocaching for a long time, but until recently it was mostly a theoretical interest. A few weeks ago it ocurred to me that DFW might have more to offer geocachers than Anza did, so I checked it out and sure enough, the whole Metroplex is teeming with caches. During the week before the kids and I left to spend Winter Break in California, we went searching for four nearby geocaches. We only found one of them. Since I don’t have a real gps unit, I just use an app on my iPad that pinpoints the location of the cache; unfortunately my iPad only connects to the Net via wi-fi, so it can’t always pinpoint my location with much accuracy when I’m out and about. If I’m looking for a cache in the woods, for example, the app can’t really tell me where I am beyond just guiding me to the right general patch of trees.

When I mentioned my interest and troubles on Facebook, a couple of my California friends who are active geocachers offered to take me around their own stomping grounds and show me some tips and tricks for finding caches. I happily agreed.

Brief tangent: by the time I got to California the Saturn was overdue for an oil change, and it had also developed an unsettling steering wheel shudder whenever I used the brakes. So two days after Christmas I took it to my regular mechanic in Temecula to have it looked at. I got there bright and early, but they were already having a busy day, so all they could tell me is that my car would most likely be ready to pick up by the time they closed at five. I left them to it and walked the three miles to the Temec library, where I settled in to work on my book.

I had only been there for an hour or two when I got a text from my friends, asking if I felt like going on a geocaching adventure/tutorial. Whoot!

They drove up from Rancho Cucamonga to pick me up. They had never done any geocaching in the Temecula area, so we decided to search out a few local caches until my car was ready and then head back to Rancho Cucamonga for the advanced class. In their basic geocaching tutorial I learned about lamppost caches and “boogers” and magnetic “stickers” and the ubiquitous popularity of ammunition boxes and Altoid tins. Somewhere in there the mechanic called to tell me that my car was suffering from a case of warped rotors and that they couldn’t get to the repairs until the next morning. So I left the Saturn in Temec, rode back to Rancho Cucamonga with my friends and embarked on a geocaching adventure extrordinaire.

Without revealing any actual locations, here are a few of my favorite caches:





There was a trackable in the gauge, so I brought it back to Texas to place in a local cache.





The weather has been cold and dreary since I got back to Texas, but the kids and I managed to go on one small geocaching run the day after we got back. We found two out of three that time, using the tricks I learned in California. As soon as it warms up I’m looking forward to devoting more time to it.

More California pics to come!

Categories: books, Christmas, Friends, Geocaching, Life, Travel | Leave a comment

The Power of Art

Neil Gaiman recently made a fantastic speech about why we read and why we write. I love to see these kinds of articles from my favorite authors, because they all essentially boil down to the same message: we read because it helps us to understand the world we live in and to envision a better kind of world. We write because we want to share what we’ve learned and to help other people along their journeys just like all those other authors helped us. We read because it changes us for the better, and we write because we want to pay it forward.

Here is an observation I have made about writers and other artists who have overcome personal hardships to become happy and successful: they want other people to be happy and successful too, but they understand that the path to happiness and success is an effortful and often grueling journey. They urge you to remember the lessons you have learned along the way, because to forget is to risk repeating your mistakes. They share the bits of wisdom that they have accumulated on their own journeys, because that’s what writers and artists do. Sharing what we’ve learned is a huge part of what drives us to create.

One of the first things that happened when my marriage ended five years ago was that I found some new (to me) blogs and started following them closely. They were mostly written by people who were struggling through personal hardships of one kind or another and trying to make sense of their experience. Reading their words of humor and rage and sorrow and joy helped me tremendously on my own journey. They made me feel less alone and offered new insights into my own experiences. Those bloggers made a positive difference in my life. They were a big part of my healing process. Most of them I don’t follow much anymore, just because my life and theirs have all changed over the years and their experiences don’t speak to my particular issues anymore. But I’m grateful that they’ve taken the time to share their journeys, and I know that their words still help a lot of people every day.

Most of the followers of my own blog are writers or artists of some kind, so I want to bring up something that for some reason is rarely addressed in “the value of self-expression through art and literature” essays.

No matter how large or small your audience is, there are always people who want to silence you. If you’re a writer or an artist who works from personal experience, you know the people I’m talking about. When you write or paint or sing about a hardship that taught you something they get angry, not about your ordeal but at you for talking about it. They usually couch their censorship in dishonest phrases: “Just let it go,” “move on already,” “that was the past, forget about it already” and so on, as if sharing what you’ve learned — as if fulfilling one of the most basic functions of being an artist — somehow means that you’re stuck in the past and unable to move forward. But like I said, it’s dishonest, because that’s not really what they’re angry about.

Happy, successful people never tell you to forget the past, because they know that remembering the lessons it taught is your best resource for wisdom, creativity and good judgement. And they never tell you to stop writing about it (or painting about it, or singing about it), because they know that the world becomes a better place one heartfelt insight at a time. If your art doesn’t speak to their interests they don’t make it a part of their lives, but it would probably never occur to them to tell you to stop making it. Censorship is the natural enemy of creativity and personal growth, and most artists intuitively understand that. Those people who are telling you to “Shut up and get over it” are not interested it your well-being. They operate within the system of dysfunction: they are either exploiters who don’t want your art to empower their victims, or they are exploitees who have become so entrenched in their victimhood that being encouraged to break free and take control of their own lives feels threatening and hostile. (Or, in rare cases, they have never experienced true hardship and don’t understand how healing and growth work. Don’t envy them; when their turn inevitably comes they are tragically unprepared. If they’re fortunate, they will discover the value and power of art when they’re reaching for a lifeline on the way down.)

So this message is for everyone out there who creates art as a way to work through difficult experiences or to share what they’ve learned with others: don’t listen to the people who try to convince you that the “healthy” way to deal with your experience is to pretend it never happened. Their intent is the opposite of their words. They don’t want success stories or the sharing of lessons. Censorship breeds ignorance, and ignorance makes people gullible and easy to manipulate. There’s a reason why art and censorship are natural enemies.

So keep telling your stories and keep making your art. The people who try to convince you that it’s unhealthy are putting their own unhealth on display. (And don’t try to silence them, of course. It’s important for people to learn to recognize dysfunction when they are exposed to it. By all means, call them on it if you’re so inclined, but remember that censorship of all kinds creates more victims than it protects.)

Somewhere out there is someone who needs to hear your story. Go tell it loud and clear.

Categories: Artwork, books, Fiction | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

At Year’s End

My poor neglected blog. I see that the last time I posted here was in August, and here we are on the last day of December. I can’t use the excuse that nothing’s been happening, because 2012 has pretty much consisted of one life-changing event after another. In fact, so many wonderful and terrible things have happened this year that I almost failed to notice when a lifelong dream quietly came true a few weeks ago.

In my defense, I’ve been a bit distracted. Let’s look at the scorecard, shall we?

In 2012 I wrote the complete outline and about 90% of the first draft of what I hope will become my first published novel. It’s going to be amazing once it’s polished up.

In 2012 I lost a cherished friend of 24 years. That was…difficult.

In 2012 I finally realized that trying to keep the peace by endlessly accommodating my ex-husband’s escalating demands was not only futile, but actively counterproductive. It only made him see me as weak, an easy target for bullying. 2012 was the year I stood my ground.

In 2012 hate and violence were brought to my doorstep, presumably to teach me a lesson about standing my ground. If that was their intention, it backfired.

In 2012 I realized there’s not much that scares me anymore.

In 2012 some other important things happened that I’m either not comfortable talking about on my blog, or that I’m not at liberty to post here.

So you can see why it almost slipped past me unnoticed, this small but significant accomplishment.

But yesterday it hit me: I am now a paid writer. It’s not the way I’d always planned, and one unfortunate tradeoff is that my novel has been moved to a back burner as I write informative articles, product descriptions, how-to guides and so on. But people are giving me money to conjure words in my head and write them down, and that is momentous. I can now officially call myself a writer, and not feel like a fraud. I am paying bills with money that I earned writing down words. People, that is one big fat checkmark on my shortlist of life goals.

So farewell, 2012. You were not always kind nor gentle, but I have emerged from your flames a stronger, braver and wiser person. And I have emerged A Writer. For real.

Happy New Year, everyone. Here’s hoping 2013 brings us all a few more granted wishes and a little less of the other stuff.

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Everything But Money, Part VII: The Modern Woman’s Dilemma, Continued

This is an excerpt from “Everything But Money” by Sam Levenson.

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V
Part VI

** ** **

The easy answer is to proclaim that woman’s mission in life is to be a mother. Most women want to be mothers, but they were also trained for many other professions. Is is possible to be a good chemist and a good mother? Can a mother be in two places at the same time? What about the needs of the children? And what about the country’s need for talent of all kinds? If women were intended by nature to be mothers, why does nature also endow them with intellectual gifts equal to those of the men? And what right have men to ask their mates to deny their talents and devote themselves to housekeeping?

Some people have suggested that a woman should get a full education, then marry, raise her children, and after about ten years, go back to her career. The children would then be taken care of by some member of the family, or a maid. The chances of resuming her career after ten years, however, are not very good.

Perhaps the husbands of such women should stay home and raise the children. The husband as breadwinner is only a convention based on the assumption that he is the stronger of the two. In this age of technology we don’t need strong people; we need skilled people.

Perhaps there should be all-day schools that would take care of the children from 7am to 6pm.

Perhaps women should postpone going to college until after their children are old enough to be looked after by others.

Perhaps those college girls who feel very intensely about a life devoted to science or the arts should be encouraged not to get married at all.

At any rate, we have worked ourselves into a situation we did not anticipate when we proclaimed liberty and justice for all and built an educational system to promote it. Perhaps we did not truly believe that woman could become the equal of man. Well, she is, and, in many instances, superior. Man had better find a just way of giving her her due.

There are many fine mothers who want to stay at home but are forced by economic necessity to neglect their children and go out to work. Society should subsidize these women adequately and keep them at home. We cannot have Papa on the night shift and Mama on the day shift, leaving kids to shift for themselves.

There are also many mothers who use work as an excuse to get away from the responsibilities of home. They rationalize themselves into a job that will provide the “luxuries” they claim the children need. Most children would rather have the mother at home than any “luxury.” A key to the house is not a substitute for the welcome of a mother at the door. Unwarranted mother absenteeism is an unhealthy condition in the house.I am not talking about leaving the children with Grandma or some other competent and devoted person while the parents grab a few hours or days together. I do refer to chronic neglect in so-called “rich” homes where children of educated parents are being raised by semiliterate strangers. It does not make sense for an intelligent mother, presumably aware of the emotional, aesthetic, spiritual and physical needs of children to turn hers over to the care of a housekeeper. One of the most revealing comments was made by a youngster who, when his mother said, “Don’t tell me what to do. I know how to bring up children,” replied, “You do? Were you once a maid, Mom?”

** ** **

It’s unfortunate that in the half-century since this book was published, we seem to be no closer to resolving these issues. In many ways we’ve lost ground: instead of working together for a mutually beneficial solution, resentment and hostility seem to be mounting on all sides.

One thing I do take exception to is Mr. Levenson’s question, “If women were intended by nature to be mothers, why does nature also endow them with intellectual gifts equal to those of the men?” Is he suggesting that parenting isn’t an intellectual pursuit? That intelligence and wisdom and knowledge are wasted resources in the upbringing of the next generation of humanity? I don’t think that’s true AT ALL. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Another thing I’d like to add is that the father can make or break a mother’s sense of fulfillment and contentment in her role as homemaker. In my opinion, any man who gets his wife pregnant and then abandons her to her domestic fate while heedlessly continuing to enjoy freedom and recreation without her has earned himself a spot in the Special Hell. If both husband and wife aren’t ready to shift their priorities to accommodate the needs of children, then they should not become parents. Period. It’s not like the world is underpopulated, or needs more neglected children.

I could rant almost indefinitely on the subject, but this post is already too long. I’d enjoy hearing other people’s perspectives, though.

Categories: books, Family, kids, Life, Love, Marriage, School | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Everything But Money Part VI: The Modern Woman’s Dilemma

This is an excerpt from “Everything But Money” by Sam Levenson.

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V

** ** **

For the college graduate, male, the world today offers great opportunities. For the college graduate, female, there are almost equal opportunities, and more than equal agonies. The problem becomes more acute each year as more and more women attempt to combine careers with matrimony only to find out that the problems of home and children fall to her. What happens to the right to self-fulfillment, which is as much hers as her husband’s? She was promised the world. She is a free, thinking, educated, emancipated woman, with a message to deliver. She is different from her mother, whose world was limited to the home. She is at home in the arts, music, literature, science and philosophy. She is, in fact, at home everywhere but at home. At the age of twenty-one, holding a diploma full of career promises in one hand and a marriage license full of romantic promises in the other, she is carried over the threshold — into the kitchen. This is the true “commencement.”

For a year or two everything works out fine for the young couple. They are both working. He picks up the newspaper; she picks up the TV dinner. There are quick fun meals, rich desserts, much talk about their respective jobs, and much honeymooning. This is the college dream come true.

Then comes the baby, and with it the explosion of the equal-rights principle. Motherhood is the one career for which she has had virtually no training. While the possibility of such an eventuality was vaguely mentioned in college, it was just one of those remote bridges to be crossed if and when she got to it.

She is now trapped at home. He is out in the free world. She becomes jealous of his freedom. He comes home at 6pm to greet this prematurely old young lady, her dark hair highlighted with farina sprinkles, a strong-smelling kid on her arm, and anything but a Mona Lisa smile on her lips. She thinks, four years in college for this? He takes one look at her and he thinks, Oh, boy. What I married! and politely kisses her between the smudges. If she can afford full-time help she becomes jealous of the child’s natural affection for the mother-substitute. The child, naturally, has learned to love the hand that feeds it. The mother is afraid of losing the love of her child. She wants to be a mother. She also wants to have a career. Grandma had a saying about this dichotomy: “You can’t sit at two weddings with one fanny.”

Her job is more difficult than her husband’s. He has the greatest “out” in the world. He is making a living for the family. He can leave the scene of the crime every morning with the approval of the whole world. She cannot. She would trade places with him gladly, but she makes a noble attempt at homemaking, a career which, she hopes, will eventually provide the same satisfactions as the chemistry laboratory.

She gets down to the business of being an “enlightened” mother, of fulfilling the multiple roles expected of her: wife, mistress, and delightful companion in the evening: and, with the rising sun, chauffeur, shopper, interior decorator, crabgrass puller, den mother, PTA-er, bazaar chairlady. She appears to herself as a cubist painting of a mother and child: two heads, four eyes, three ears, four bosoms, one baby, mandolins, pots, pans, microscopes, diplomas and the death mask of a college girl.

Meanwhile, back at the lab, there’s her husband, the all-American boy, whose unmarried secretary looks like his wife used to. She’s pretty and young and calm. No kid has vomited onto her typewriter, and she has the freedom, time and availability that his wife has sacrificed — in the service of his home.

The frightened wife picks up the challenge. She’s got to look and behave like a seductive secretary. She colors her hair, lowers her neckline, heightens her heels, shortens her dresses, lengthens her eyelashes to re-entice her husband, whose sense is coming out with his hair. He thinks he has remained handsome, irresistible, the eternal Don Juan. The wife knows he’s behaving like an idiot, but she mercifully keeps the news from him.

The conflict in the mind and heart of the college-educated married woman is only one more aspect of the problem of individual fulfillment of one’s greatest gifts. To deny selfhood to a woman because she is married and a mother leads to profound unhappiness, a nagging sense of “might have been,” and too often a resentment against the husband and children who lured her away from her true mission in life. The tortuous division of loyalties inflicted upon this woman by our ambiguous promises of equality of opportunity for both sexes leads many women to the psychiatrist.

** ** **

More on this subject tomorrow.

Categories: books, Family, kids, Life, Love, Marriage | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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