Monthly Archives: November 2016

Bullets and Sticky Notes

I am a master of bulleted lists. My last boss and co-workers totally agreed. Charlie, my writing partner, also concurs. So do my children — and everyone else who has ever worked or lived with me.

Some would call me the Bullet Queen. That works for me. It’s how my brain works. It’s how I organize my life.

My lists work best on graph paper — it keeps the bullets aligned. I was totally excited when I discovered graph-paper sticky notes at Office Depot. I bought an entire stack. In addition, I have a sticky note dispenser on my desk, one on the kitchen counter, and another by the bathroom sink. These notes contain their own bulleted lists, lest I forget anything I need to do. On my desk, the repository for most of my lists, sticky notes pile upon sticky notes. A few migrate to my car’s dashboard.

Yes, I admit it, I’m an inveterate list-maker.

Recently I was re-introduced to the sticky note feature on my computer. I had known about it years ago, but it had somehow slipped into oblivion. Another moment of great excitement! I immediately filled my screen with varied note colors, and added a title to each one: Now, Christmas, Oregon trip, Writing, Garden, Movies. Then I took the pile of sticky notes on my desk and transferred the information to my screen.  Awesome. Totally awesome!! I created my own bullets so the lists worked for me. I can add and delete items without ever rewriting anything.

Everything I need to remember or do or plan is all on my screen, organized in a way that works for me.  Life feels so much simpler — and my desk is clear.

My questions for this Tuesday are . . .

What small things are a hassle in your life?

What can you do to eliminate the hassle, to make your life easier?

Sometimes the solution is as simple as a new app, a new feature, a new tool, that will improve your life. It’s worth the search and discussion to find a solution.

The elimination of small hassles frees up time and energy for more creative endeavors.

I’m not suggesting you reorganize your entire life, just get rid of one small hassle at a time. One can make all the difference.

Until next Tuesday . . .





Chaos happens.

Things go out of control. Sometimes at home. Sometimes at work. Sometimes in an organization. Sometimes with our children — or spouse — or extended family. Sometimes at church. Sometimes in government.

Chaos doesn’t usually happen on all fronts at the same time. That in itself is reason for gratitude.

For much of my life, the chaos reigned either at work or at home. And over weeks and months it shifted from one place to another, with an unpredictable schedule.

What I know about myself is that I can deal with chaos in one area of my life, but not in multiple places simultaneously. Chaos in all arenas causes me to throw up my hands, and say, “What’s the point? There’s nothing I can do!” With that said, I’ve given myself permission to sit down and let things continue to spin out of control and I don’t have to lift a finger. “Not my fault,” I say. “Someone else can fix it.”

Though it’s one way to deal with life’s messiness, it’s not my method of choice. I have a time-tested strategy for dealing with the chaoticness (yes, I just made up that word):

  1. Assess first: what exactly is “out of control?” I may feel like everything has gone crazy, but the truth is it’s generally just a couple of things — not my whole world.
  2. Name the items that are beyond my specific influence or control. Set those things aside; there is nothing I can do about them.
  3. Identify things in the situation that I can influence or control. This becomes my point of focus and action.

Case in point: years ago, when I had been grousing around about the messiness of our house, one of my  nearly-adult children said, “Mom, you think the whole house is a mess when the kitchen bar has stuff on it!”

“No, I don’t!” I argued.

“Yes, you do!” came the accusation.

I had to ponder those words. Turns out the statement was totally true. You see, I considered that counter, which separated the kitchen from the living room, to be my personal space and when other people put stuff there (out of convenience or laziness), they robbed me of my space. And when I don’t have my space, I’m not pleasant to live with. My anger and frustration weren’t really about the entire house — just about one counter. Once I understood that, the chaos was whittled down to it’s real size and could be easily fixed.

When things get messy in relationships — which I really can’t fix — I look for things that are within my control. Often it’s restoring order in my physical space — my desk, my kitchen, my files, my closet, my garage. You see, spending my energy on what I can control, changes my perspective from victim to strength. From “woe is me” to “yes, I can.” Attitude adjustment often accompanies my work.

Focusing on things I can do, resets the balance of my world.

And resetting the balance changes my perspective. Even the chaos doesn’t seem so big any more.

Until next Tuesday . . .

Strange Writers

We writers carry things around in our heads, in the midst of other seemingly  normal activities. We notice tiny things like how the wind turns a leaf on a fall day. We make up stories about café strangers. We ponder plots and techniques for moving our story along. When we’re together we talk about how to get our words on paper and the routine and discipline of writing.

In the midst of those lunch discussions, words sometimes fall onto the table — words we’ve run across in our reading, words we want to incorporate into our usage, words that are used incorrectly in newspapers and on signs.

And so it was last week when Charlie and I met for our regular writing session.  “Anonomical,” she said, in the midst of a subject I can no longer recall. Her look changed from regular to quizzical.

“Anonomical?” I asked, trying to figure out what she meant. “I don’t think that’s a word.”

“Anonomical,” she said again. Her tongue was somehow betraying her brain, but she was powerless to get the two in sync.

“Do you mean anatomical?” I suggested, trying to solve the word riddle.

“That’s it!” she said. Her faced relaxed. We shared a good laugh.

“You’re not supposed to do this,” I reminded her. “I’m the queen of made-up words. You told me so yourself. Remember?”

When I got home I pulled Webster off my shelf. A-n-o-. . .

Anode, anodize, anodyne, anoint, anole, anomalous, anomaly, anomi, anon, anonym, anonymity, anonymous, anopheles, anorak, anorectic, anorexia, anorexigenic, anorthite, anorthosite, anosmia, another, anovulatory, anoxemia, anoxia.

Perhaps I wasn’t spelling it right. I look under a-n-a-n-. . .

anandamide, anapest, anaphase, anaphor, anaphora, anaphoric, anaphrodisiac, anaphylactic, anaphylaxis, anaplasia, anaplasmosis, anarch, anarchic, anarchism, anarchist, anarchy, anasarca, anastigmat, anastomose, anastrophe, anat, anatase, anathema, antomise, anatomize, anatomy, anatropous.

Sure enough, anonomical is not a word. But it should be. It rolled off Charlie’s tongue without so much as a slipped vowel.

So what might ananomical mean, now that we have it?cropped-DSC00341.jpg

  • the physical state of unidentity
  • having no distinguishing, structural characteristics
  • without characteristics
  • unable to be sorted, categorized or classified by structure, genetics, or function

In my world, new words appear by accident — never with planning or forethought. A slip of a tongue, a mixed metaphor, scrambled syllables, misconnected brain neurons — who knows what happens in the split of a second.

But now that we have a new word, it will continue to creep into our conversations.

Someday, Webster will catch up with us.

Until next Tuesday . . .

The Gamble

Four women went into a casino: two gamblers, two non-gamblers. We were mid-point in our vacation and the casino was a fun place to spend a tropical evening.

Earlier the gamblers had educated me about Black Jack — their game of choice. “You want your cards to add up to twenty-one, without going over,” I was told, “and you want to beat the dealer. Aces count either one or eleven.”

I had already decided to gamble that evening — though I’d never tried it before. My smallest bill was $50 — more money than I was willing to lose. Before trading it for chips I made sure I could cash in any unused chips.  “Yes, you can.”

With ten $5 chips in hand, I watched a few rounds — just to make sure I understood the game. Black Jack is a fast play. Cards flip out quickly; decisions are made even more quickly. At least that’s how it felt. Though the dealer announced the card total after each hit, I didn’t add quite that fast in my head. I wanted the whole scene to slow down to my mental speed.

The gamblers won and lost a few rounds. I watched their chips dwindle slowly. Sitting next to them was a man with many, many, many $25 chips, also dwindling.

The dealer won more often than the players. But I know that’s how it is — gambling always favors the house. At least that’s what I’ve always heard.

I held my chips tightly, still not willing to put even one on the table. Still not willing to take any cards. At the next round I held up my hand to the dealer and shook my head. “Still watching.”

We non-gamblers moved to another table. Perhaps the players were winning more often there. Perhaps I might give this game a try.

Couldn’t do it. Just couldn’t do it. I wasn’t willing to part with my money so quickly. Perhaps if I was assured of an occasional win, I might. It was a big perhaps.

We left after an hour. The financial status of the non-gamblers was intact: nothing ventured, nothing gained. The gamblers didn’t fare so well.

On the return to our hotel, my pondering began. At the evening’s start I had every intention of gambling and was willing to give the game $20. In hindsight I wanted to know what happened along the way. Why had I changed my mind?

Here’s the deal (pun intended): The game is totally random — always. Each player has one rule: for example, take a hit if your cards are below 17, don’t take a hit if they’re 17 or above. But beyond my rule of play, there’s nothing I can do to play the game better, to tip the odds in my favor, or to win more often.

And here’s what I learned: I’m not willing to bet money in hopes of winning when the results are always random. I prefer to commit to games and pursuits where, with time and practice, I can improve. Not only in games, where my improved skills will help me win more often, but also in other pursuits (music, cooking, photography, gardening) where results are based on my learning and practice.

Winning isn’t everything. Getting better is.

Until next Tuesday . . .



I recently attended the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee. The fall weather was glorious and crisp — the kind of days that call you to hike the mountains and eat apples right off the trees. Sturdy shoes and flannel shirts, scarves and hats were the order of the day.

The tellers, more than 25 of them, were a diverse bunch: men, women, young, not so young, varied backgrounds and mixed ethnicities, and talents beyond simple story telling.

I heard nearly all of the tellers during the three days.  Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Tim Lowry told stories of the South Carolina Gullah culture. After setting the scene in an old plantation house, his voice drifted into the Gullah dialect. At first I wasn’t sure what happened and he didn’t stop to explain. He just kept going, assuming we were with him — and we were. I didn’t get every word, but I caught the humor. Listening carefully is a good thing.
  • Motoko gave us the world of Japanese Christmas with her younger brother, Santa Claus, her parents, and the Buddhist priest. She paused several times to sing a Christmas carol; we knew her tune but not her Japanese words. I was so mesmerized by her story and culture and song, I couldn’t recall the English stanzas I’d known my entire life.
  • Ingrid Nixon told Hansel and Gretel, one of Grimm’s fairytales, but with a twist — we heard the witch’s perspective on the children, the parents, and the entire situation. What a change to a story we thought we knew.
  • Clare Muireann Murphy shared a fable of Middle Eastern origin about a baker and a baby and a king. She mixed and kneaded the bread like she’d been the baker all her life. Her steps across the empty stage magically transported us from house to castle to bakeshop.
  • Katie Liesener, a freelance journalist, told a gripping tale of an eccentric man who collected found objects. I think the story was true, that she really interviewed the man several times herself, but I don’t know for sure. What I do know is that I was with her in that apartment full of boxes and dust and smells. I knew her discomfort.

Though their stories have begun to fade, I’m holding on to their language — words honed and crafted until they were exactly right. Nothing was there that didn’t belong. The stage was bare. They had no gimmicks, no instruments, no costumes, no props. Their voices and body language were their only tools. And their pacing was impeccable. They dropped words and phrases into silence spaces and let them sit until we picked them up.

Simple. Sparse. Minimalist.

Perhaps that’s how I can best hear your story.

Perhaps that’s how you can best hear my story.

Let’s not rush to fill the silence.

Let’s speak our words . . . and then wait for another soul to hear them.

Until next Tuesday . . .