Do I have the right to IMAGINE you?

I wish I could speak with ironclad certainty about the right of fiction writers to portray anyone, from any culture, in any way we wish. In her opening address at the Brisbane Writers Festival, Lionel Shriver, a celebrated U.S. author, adamantly took that stance. Her argument appeared sound: the genre is fiction, therefore it’s made up, imaginary, and nobody should take offense.

I’ve pored over her speech and studied the uproar of commentary it incited. Do you remember the movie, Fargo, now a television series by the same name? The Coen Brothers created the film and billed it as a true story. Here was a movie about my state, my peeps, getting rave reviews. I couldn’t wait.

I’d heard it called scathing social satire, but that didn’t prepare me for the film’s insulting portrayal of people, dare I say it, like me. I couldn’t separate myself from the exaggerated Scandinavian backwoods brogue littered with you betcha, golly,and gee whiz. But the problem went beyond a personal affront. People all over the world watched it and formed an opinion of Minnesota, a state of hicks who talk funny and are a little stupid, but really, really, nice. Nobody sat beside them saying, “This is a farce, a parody, people there aren’t like that, seriously they’re not!” It was cultural appropriation at its box-office best.

We can’t help ourselves. We believe what we read, see, and hear in the media. If we don’t swallow it whole, there’s an impression left in our mental data banks that sticks.

So I had a problem when Ms. Shriver, from a position of white American privilege, told the rest of the world in so many words: Shame on you for feeling marginalized. This is fiction. It isn’t about you, it’s about the author’s freedom to IMAGINE you.

Is she right?

Don’t we all love story? What if the freedom to imagine and create is censored, given walls, boundaries, taboos?

I didn’t like my group being portrayed in an unflattering way. Who does? And yet I’m a creative writer and imagining is what I do. I invent unsavory characters as well as quirky, funny, bumbling, brilliant, and dull ones. I visualize them in skin: tanned, pale, olive, sallow, wrinkled, white, brown. I identify them ethnically, socially, culturally, and by their own, unique voice. I give them place and purpose and bring them to life. It’s never my intent to ridicule or malign others. But have I unwittingly done that by creating people who are nothing like me?

How I love getting lost in a book that someone else has imagined, living with those characters in their reality while momentarily escaping my own. And how I love to create story, allowing my normally serious mind to come out and play, to run with abandon waving my magic wand as my dreamed-up people populate the pages and live and breathe before my eyes.

It’s scary when I extrapolate the issues of cultural appropriation in fiction to various possible outcomes. What if we were banned from writing anything but what we have personally experienced? Memoir would be off limits unless the only character was me. As soon as I introduced another person, an ex-husband, mother-in-law, one of my children, and shined my prejudices upon them, whether in a positive or negative light, zap! Guilty!

The fact that literary festivals are springing up all over the world, and writers are being introduced cross-culturally to a degree never before possible, brings issues of sensitivity to the forefront. Years ago, when authors wrote for a small segment of the population: those who could afford to buy books and also knew how to read, this was a moot point. But now that events bring writers and readers together world-wide, and literacy rates are increasing, those who have been portrayed in ways that don’t ring true to what they believe about themselves, are speaking out.

I get an uneasy feeling in my gut when the word censorship is bandied about. As a writer I come down solidly on the uncensored side of the debate. As a human being who identifies with a specific place and a distinct heritage, I’m torn. Cultural appropriation is a valid issue and one that won’t resolve anytime soon. Pandora’s Box has been flung open and as we say in Minnesota, who knows where the chickens will come home to roost.

How does this strike you?
Have we gone over-the-top with cultural appropriation, politically correct, sensitivity issues? Or have we barely scratched the surface of a necessary heightened awareness of The Other. Please share your thoughts.


Judgment: an act of UnLove

My phone bleeped shortly after breakfast. A strange message lit up the screen. You’re invited to get together tonight at 7:00 to talk about love. The text was from my neighbor who often hosts impromptu drinks at sunset, or gatherings to hear live music in her garden. Just about any excuse is good enough for a party and since our houses share a property line, I’m usually included. But a get-together to talk about love wasn’t her usual modus.

I’d LOVE to come! I responded.

I LOVE your answer! She messaged back.

I’m an early bird and 7 p.m. is late for me to set out to party. So after a stroll to the local grocery for crackers and black pepper cheese dip to contribute to the evening, I took a two-hour nap. I wanted to be sharp for a discussion on such a profound topic as love.

The group was a combination of familiar folks and some new faces. My neighbor collects friends as easily as corners collect dust. Her outgoing persona is a magnet for visitors passing though our touristy Bali town. That night I was introduced to a fiery Indonesian woman from Jakarta, a dainty, elfin creature from Singapore, and a leggy, sultry, model-quality blonde from Estonia. Well established regulars, one from England and one from Italy, rounded out the European presence and there were two of us from the U.S. We were an eclectic group, the best kind, and I anticipated hearing a variety of contradicting viewpoints.

As we sipped wine, nibbling cucumber sticks and tropical fruit kabobs in a preliminary ritual for the business to come, I imagined a scene in Paris in the 1940’s, an intimate setting in the home of Gertrude Stein. Gathered around her would be the brilliant writers of the day, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Sinclair Lewis. Even legendary painter, Pablo Picasso put in an appearance at her salons to dissect subjects of interest in what I presume were scintillating conversations that became more animated and potentially heated as the wine flowed and the evening waned.

My wistful journey to the past was reined in when our hostess cleared her throat. She began with a reading from Plato and was followed by the Italian who had studied with Osho. She shared a sampling of his liberated teachings on love. We were in illustrious company as the wisdom of these venerable philosophers washed over us. I mean, really? What can you say after the greats have weighed in?

It so happened we had plenty to say. Opinions, like Cupid’s arrows, flew from one side of the room to the other. The Jakartan woman was raised Muslim under traditional expectations that with or without love, she would marry. She’s thirty, not married, and her family has stopped nagging, but she feels their disapproval. Love of music was discussed, how for some it’s a meditation that transcends all thought and leads to ecstasy. Familial love vs. love of friends, love for children, grandchildren, the freedom of loving without the cage of marriage, we touched on all of it.

After an hour or so, the theme worn out and threadbare, we strayed. “What do you think the world will look like in thirty years?” our hostess asked. It took only a moment to shift gears and we plunged headlong into seething controversy. Some believed technology would escalate exponentially and our problems would be solved. But the leggy blonde was the most vehement of all. With a tentative command of English, her second language, she explained why a blindingly rapid ascent was impossible. I half-listened with mild amusement wondering why this animated model-type was expounding with such confidence. My mind was busy collecting thoughts for my next argument when she dropped the bomb.“I used to build robots,” she said. The room went dead silent and our mouths dropped open with a collective gasp. She continued unaware that her credibility had just undergone a seismic shift.

The discussion dwindled after that and one-by-one we took our leave. Before my thoughts turned off and curled into sleep I recalled the Muslim daughter, criticized for her choice not to marry without love. I envisioned the Estonian beauty, how she’d had very little to say until the conversation veered into her scientific comfort zone. I’d questioned her intelligence, even though as a young woman I’d battled the dumb blonde stereotype and felt wrongly judged. Looking back I’m embarrassed and ashamed at how sexist and dismissive I was based solely on her looks.

We came together to talk about love and I was guilty of one of the least loving acts of all: judgment.


The Momentum of Intention and the Healing Power of Ritual

P1110803Today I did something I’ve never done. It felt important to remember Dad in a special way on Fathers Day. In America that falls on Sunday, June 19th.

When the idea dawned to assemble mementos, the 19th was still two days away. As I went about the normal routine ideas floated to consciousness: Dad loved to play Texas Mean! I’ll find the game and set it up. What were his favorite foods? He liked hot stuff, chilies! And raisin pie, and, oh! Flowers!

I fell asleep anticipating Fathers Day morning but awakened at 2:04 a.m. Where was that photo of him that I brought back with me from the States? As I was scouring my brain trying to place it I fell asleep only to awaken again at 4:18. His purple heart and dog tags! Those must be displayed, and pictures of our family…I dropped back into sleep. At 6:00 a sunrise befitting the magnitude of the day summoned me. I scrambled out of bed for the camera and captured a stunning sky.

Still in pajamas, I set about looking for his photo. It wasn’t in any of the expected places, but in the process of the hunt I found others. Perfect! While unearthing the Texas Mean game from its place in the cupboard a collection of old calendars caught my eye. Inserted between March and April, 2015, was my handsome Dad on his wedding day. Beside it was the program from his funeral. Did I want that reminder? It took a few minutes to sort through how I felt. Then one line caught me eye: Died January 29, 2016. Yes, his death was a fact of his life.

As I assembled the keepsakes, a carved Buddha head on the wall just above the display felt off. The eyes, locked into an unwavering stare, didn’t fit. In my scarf drawer was a black loosely-woven shawl. I draped it over Buddha’s head so just the shadow of a face could be seen. That was the missing piece. It represented the veil of sadness and loss that today I’m allowing myself to feel. Then the tears came.

A time-out to shower and dress restored my composure. Barefoot, I walked outside, down the stairs, and into the garden breathing the moisture and aromas of breakfast being cooked. I sensed Dad’s presence with me. He loved gardens! Damp and cool underfoot, a slow amble around the perimeter produced yellow, purple, and hot pink blooms. I’d just added two green chilies to the mix when Ketut appeared.

“Ya, good morning. What are you doing?”

“I’m preparing a ceremony for my father.”

His face lit up. “One years, same as Hindu?”

“No, it’s six months since he died. But in America this is a special day for fathers.”

“I will bring offering,” he said. A few minutes later he returned with two palm leaf creations filled with the appropriate grains of rice, flowers, and mossy bits that appear everywhere on ceremonial days in Bali. I asked if it was okay to put raisins, the chilies, and a sweet biscuit on top. He assured me that this is how it should be.

All in readiness, I lit a candle and incense.

The raspy voice of Johnny Cash came to life on the computer: I Walk the Line. It was a song we loved to sing. While it played I made coffee, one for Dad, one for me, and we had our time together.

Underlying the sadness was intense joy filled with loving energy both his and mine. From the moment of intention, my subconscious mind had spun the story. When it was time to bring the idea to fruition, all the needed elements were there for creating an altar of memories.

Ritual is healing. I’ve heard that but I didn’t really understand. Now I get it. It can’t just be a concept. It has to be performed. I’m grateful that I took the time, made the effort, and followed the subtle promptings of my heart.

Happy Fathers Day, Dad, and all my love…always…


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A Fathers Day Farewell

Sherry and Dad on guitarDad died in January. It’s my first Father’s Day in sixty-six years without him. I don’t know how to be with that truth. He was the most important person in my life. I was alone with him, holding his hand, when he took his final breath.

The last years weren’t easy for him. I was glad when he shed the troubles of his worn out body and escaped to wherever kind, hard-working, beloved men go. His presence hasn’t left me. He’s the blue butterfly that flutters around the bougainvillea and threads in and out of my house. We commune in a language free of words.

But when I saw an ad for Father’s Day, my heart lurched with pain, searing, immediate, deep. I was bereft knowing that this year I would not scan Amazon for a book with pictures of Norway, or stories about boyhood in the Midwest to send to him. When Dad stopped reading I knew his life-force was weak. He loved to read. When he was no longer interested in food, I mentally prepared for the inevitable. When the message reached me that he was failing, I took the next plane.

How will I navigate Father’s Day without him? I need a plan, a ritual, something that will not allow the day to pass like any other day. Perhaps….

…I’ll gather flowers. Dad loved them and taught me their names: bloodroot, honeysuckle, clover, buttercup, lady slipper, goldenrod, and many more. I followed his footsteps through fields of alfalfa bordered by marshy swamps as he pointed them out. None of those exist in this tropical climate, but Dad won’t care if it’s frangipani and heliconia instead.

I’ll listen to some old Johnny Cash tunes, maybe strum a few lines of Down in the Valley. Dad loved to sing and play guitar and he taught me the chords. We spent hundreds of hours playing and singing together.

And because this is Bali and offerings are an integral part of every-day life, I’ll prepare one for the ancestral spirit that is now my Dad. It will have raisins, chocolate-covered cherries, and the hottest chilies I can find. He’s the only Norwegian I’ve known who popped them in his mouth like candy, grinned with sweat beading on his brow, and asked for more.

Then I’ll play the video Jessa made with the song she sang at the funeral while her partner, Dan, accompanied her on Dad’s old guitar and I’ll cry. Of course I will. There have only been a few tears so far, but I’m ready. They’re stored up behind my eyes like a pressure in my skull that reaches all the way to my heart. And it will be the first time in many years that I’ll be with my Dad on Father’s Day.

Background song: Fall Down as the Rain written by Joe Crookston. Guitar by Dan Gaustad and vocals by Jessa Walters and Dan Gaustad.

The Crabby Old Lady Syndrome

Mild panic grips me when children visit. My house isn’t fragile, but little ones have a way of ferreting out exactly what I don’t want them to find and desiring it. If parents hesitate to say no, I’m left in the awkward position of either allowing the treasure to be handled or becoming The Crabby Old Lady.

Don’t get me wrong, I have colored markers and reams of paper. When my girls were little those would have kept them enthralled for hours. There’s also a covered cup with dice inside that can be rattled, or opened to explore the contents. Dice. Right. That’s about the extent of my toy collection. Balls roll off the edge of my living room and drop two floors to the garden. Can’t have balls. Everything requires storage space. There’s not an extra inch of that.

Dad always said, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” So when Ketut and Komang brought three-year-old Nengah to visit me yesterday, it was time for creativity overdrive. I remembered a collection of empty yogurt containers that substitute for the non-existent Tupperware here. My guests watched with curiosity while I assembled the bottoms with the matching tops and stacked them, one by one, higher and higher. In less than a nanosecond we were embroiled in a wild game of build the tower and knock it down. Everyone within miles heard Nengah’s shrieks…and mine!

I don’t remember when I’ve had so much fun. Later, alone in the happy aftermath, I waxed reflective. It struck me as ironic how the richness of life seems to multiply with simplicity. True happiness requires so little.

To Risk Being Disturbed and Changed




From A Morning Offering
by John O’Donohue

May my mind come alive today
To the invisible geography
That invites me to new frontiers,
To break the dead shell of yesterdays,
To risk being disturbed and changed.
May I have the courage today
To live the life that I would love,
To postpone my dream no longer
But do at last what I came here for
And waste my heart on fears no more.



Bali, steeped in ritual, alive equally to the seen and the unseen, demands offerings.

I came here to ‘break the dead shell of yesterdays’. I had no idea what lay ahead for me but I wanted a life that I would love and I had a shadowy dream of what that might look like.

I noticed the offerings first. How quaint, I thought. How pretty. Weeks later in a small village I saw others that were not lovely. They held dark, partially burned objects. Women in trance danced beside them, swaying, eyes closed. An involuntary shudder rippled head to toe. In an instant it was clear that I was living on the face of things, lost in the romance of paradise while another reality roiled and churned just out of sight.

It’s that Bali I’ve grown to love. I’m still smitten with the enchantments of her beautiful face, but I’m no longer naive. The Balinese devote hours every day making prayers and offerings to spirits both dark and benign. This, they believe, maintains balance between the worlds. Since they operate in both realms simultaneously, that balance is essential. Unlike Western consciousness grounded in the seen, Bali-mind is equally at home with the physical earth and the spirits at play here.

I’ve been ‘disturbed and changed’ by the tremendous power of this island. People ask me, Do you believe all that? And I answer, How can I not? I’ve experienced her transforming fire first hand and I’ve watched as others fall prey to her spell. A friend commented recently that Bali is a karmic accelerator. That’s a piece of it, but it’s much more. If you stay any length of time you’ll see. Bali intensifies character good or bad, manifests intention, spawns creativity, and rearranges beliefs. If you merge with her flow she’ll nurture you. But if you cross her, beware. You’ve no idea what demons you’ve summoned!




Who stole my time?

sun capturedI didn’t come to Bali to recreate a life of frantic busy-ness. That’s what I left behind, a frazzled, strung out, head spinning schedule that fried me to a snarling crisp! I’ve done well to maintain peace, my cherished sacred idleness, until now.

It changed abruptly after the last trip back to the States, the catalyst that shot me into this altered state. Where did all these friends come from? How did I make so many promises? I didn’t join a new group or link arms with a cause, but maybe there’s a different kind of magic at the four year mark. Maybe until then I was still a tourist, a visitor who may not be committed to the long haul. Perhaps now I emanate a more settled energy that attracts responsibilities like ants to sugar.

This kind of frenzy used to make me feel alive. I needed the chaos, the structure. Over-commitment was my comfortable familiar. Then I moved to Bali where I knew no one. As years drifted by I’d taken my blissful solitude for granted. I was unaware of the subtle shift slithering in under the radar. The first month I thought, After such and such, things will slow down. The second month came and it was as though I’d hit the accelerator instead of the brake.

I’ve got to get them back, the week-long stretches of unassigned leisure. In my body there’s a gnawing resistance to the calendar squares with writing on them. They’re all activities and people I enjoy but taken together it’s overload. My nervous system is tuned to Bali’s rubber time, a phenomena that defies explanation but cannot be denied. It’s lackadaisical in nature, capricious, and gives the illusion of eternity melting, expanding, turning inside-out and looping back upon itself until there are no days, weeks, months or years, just one long continuum of lifetime after lifetime.

Without spacious hours to gaze into the distance and think of nothing, confusion sets in and the panic alarm goes off. Why have I fallen back into this? What forces, inner and outer, have propelled me headlong into an old, unwanted behavior?

I don’t know the answer, but the question calls for a serious stint of discovery writing. I want to oust the slumbering ghosts that have awakened and come out to wreak havoc with my peace!





Three Strengths – One You Don’t Want


You’re so strong! How many times have I heard that throughout my 66 years? But it’s true.

I have physical strength –

Emotional stamina –

And willpower –

Muscular arms and legs, probably earned from early years lifting hay bales and running through farm fields doing all the tomboy things I loved, still ripple under loosening skin. And by sheer force of will, I’ve maintained my weight and continue a regimen of daily exercise.

But looking back, emotional stamina was a double-edged sword. On the positive side, it kept me sane when my world, at various times, sank into the abyss. But the dark underbelly of that strength hindered me from moving out of difficult places. I knew I could manage extreme mental anguish so I did. Rather than change what I was doing, make different choices, I stayed and endured far too long.

Both pride and fear played a role. I proudly maintained a placid surface when inside chaos raged. I was complimented on my calm demeanor by co-workers, even complete strangers. My ego, undernourished as it was, feasted on those crumbs of praise and preferred the safety of known misery and a well-studied façade, to the terror of change.

There’s a high price for being strong. It took many years to realize that the same emotional resilience that enabled me to withstand destructive situations without losing my mind, could also be mustered to chart a healthier course. It’s the same muscle, but the more I practiced releasing it instead of gripping tight and hanging on, the more space opened to other possibilities.

Most people reach a transition point. The timing is different but the catalyst is the same. It’s the moment we grasp the concept of mortality, the uncomfortable truth that we’ve reached a place closer to the end than to the beginning. For many it ignites a mid-life crises. For others, depression. But for me it prompted the question: Is that all there is? And my answer: It better not be! The thought jolted me out of apathy. I became more afraid of staying the same, marking time waiting to die, than I was of change.

Beware of the strength that keeps you hanging on, stuck in an unlived life. Does your jaw clench, your neck stiffen, the space between your shoulder blades ache? Do you breathe shallow in the top of your chest while your stomach constricts? Ask yourself, What do I want more than this? What’s the worst that could happen if I just let go? let go



Monster Porridge and the Cloud-Watching Cook

Bali’s climate creates luxurious, grandiloquent clouds, guaranteed to entice the most hardened sidewalk gazer to cast her eyes upward. Today is a cloud-watching day. A day for dreaming, imagining, writing…and cooking?

Cloud-watching days, for me, outnumber cooking days 2000 to 1. It’s rare that I stick my fingers in that soup since both Ketut and Wayan, after a few polite attempts in the past, have declined to eat anything I make. They’ve kindly offered to share with me whatever they prepare for themselves. Both are accomplished kitchen magicians and I bow with gratitude to their superior talents and gobble up whatever appears in front of me.

But for breakfast I’m on my own. It’s my choice. I like to go softly into morning and a steaming plate of spicy omelette appearing at some ungodly hour before my palette has connected with my brain is just wrong.

So I make it myself, and for an otherwise creative person, my breakfast isn’t. I’ve eaten a quarter of a papaya with Bali kopi every morning for the past four years. Somehow I manage to open the fruit, extract seeds, peel and cut into bite-sized chunks with perfect results every time.

But besides clouds, the vast selection of exotic imported foods in the local supermarkets also fascinates me. Spice traders seeking cinnamon and chocolate, passed through Bali and brought with them strange and wonderful things from their own lands. The world has shrunk considerably since then and odd bits of it wind up on the grocery shelves. It’s a favorite pastime of mine to stroll and observe, not only the regional wonders but also the latest foreign arrivals, avoiding the meat case at all costs. Raw flesh and random body parts, waxy yellow chicken feet interspersed with bug-eyed, gelatinous sea creatures guarantees night frights later on.

This time, though, I was on a mission: I craved granola. That taste treat isn’t native to Bali but I found it and the price tag made me wince. It was the equivalent of $10 U.S. for a tiny bag that might stretch to 1 1/2 servings. The raisins, dates, cashews, and almonds, scattered among plump grains roasted to a mouth-watering golden, stared at me through the cellophane bag. My entire grocery bill for a month comes to about that. Granted my shopping list doesn’t include the nuts and berries in the little package. It features produce from area farms, fresh, mostly green, and when Wayan and Ketut have worked their spells, yummy!

P1110401I turned to walk away and the word Monster caught my eye. What was a monster doing in the cereal aisle? Moving to inspect, I found an uncooked, five grain product sans the extra goodies, made in Australia and offered for a respectable price.

I flipped the bag over and scanned the cooking instructions. They seemed manageable: add 2 cups water and boil 5 minutes. The list of proteins, fats, blah blah blah was acceptable, and unlike similar porridges, this one contained a bare .3 grams of sugar. Sold!

P1110403I couldn’t wait to make my first batch. Memories of cold Minnesota mornings, sitting down to a bowl of hot oatmeal mixed with sauteed bananas, apples, and cinnamon topped with a dollop of yogurt made me drool. There was fresh Cheese Works yogurt in my fridge and I imagined the taste of hot cereal with the creamy cool of dairy and drooled some more.

This story has a happy ending. I didn’t burn it. It turned out well. But it had not one iota of flavor. Zip. None. The plain yogurt added an essence of sour milk. My taste buds registered a complaint. Not happy. They had imagined something quite different.

The next morning my eyes landed on a container of mango juice, no sugar added, in the ice box. Hmmm. What if…? So I did. I substituted one cup mango juice for one of the two cups of water, mixed in the tasteless grains and boiled. The steam rising from the pan hung in the humid air, fruity and rich.


I dished up a healthy portion and took a bite: the moment of truth. It was textured and sweet on the tongue. A faint lacing of mango cut the tang of yogurt but still left a surprised wake-up tartness. Perfect! About that time Ketut walked in.

“Wat you make?” he asked and eyed the dish suspiciously.

“Porridge from Australia with yogurt! Here, try!”

To my astonishment he accepted a spoon full. The moment the yogurt touched his tongue his eyes popped wide, a grimace unlike anything that has crossed his placid countenance previously, warped his face. With a strangled gurgle he mumbled something Balinese that sounded like, “OH MY GOD YOU’VE POISONED ME!” and dashed out.

My reputation is secure. And after all, I don’t want anyone getting the mistaken idea that I can cook.  I much prefer watching clouds.



Clever Squirrel’s 8 Steps to Stop Repeating Destructive Patterns

Smart people sometimes do not-so-clever things. We know who we are. After all, we’re bright, right? We’ve already figured out that we’ve hit the repeat button a few too many times with less than satisfying results. Maybe we’re in the wrong job, and then we’re in another wrong job, relationship, town, group. Maybe we have toxic friends. Whatever it is, it saps our energy and keeps us from living healthy, fulfilling lives.

I did all of those listed above over and over again for many years. It took the perspective of time, distance, self-reflection, and therapy to recognize the tendencies, and even more time, distance, self-reflection and therapy to change. But here’s what I’ve learned:

  1. Awareness – First we have to see, and admit to, the problem
  2. Desire –  Then we must passionately want change
  3. Help – We must seek out sources of support, self-help books, therapists
  4. Trigger – And uncover the deeper issues that prompt the behavior
  5. Courage –  Then we need to be brave enough to revise our responses
  6. Practice –  And commit to making different choices
  7. Forgive – We must show kindness to ourselves when we slip backward
  8. Transform – The goal is to become a whole, happy person

Easy, no. Possible, yes.

There’s a catch. Most of the patterns that run our lives are written in the subconscious. That’s why, in the case of relationships for instance, what appears on the surface to be a radical new choice becomes the same problem with a different face. Have you been there? Doesn’t it feel like betrayal? Have you ever said: And I thought this time I had it right!

Some things we can change. Others are embedded in our DNA so indelibly that nothing short of complete abstinence will suffice. It’s recognizing those addictions that is the most challenging, and I’m not talking about alcohol or drugs. We can be addicted to shopping, to overwork, to google, gaming, gambling, to love.

After therapy I was convinced I could recognize the devil in the bushes and avoid making the same mistakes. Wrong. I stumbled right back into misery. But that was the wake-up call I needed. For stubborn issues, or lets call them what they are, addictions, number six on the list becomes: Abstain.

Hard truth. But accepting the truth, no matter how hard, and making those adjustments to my behavior gave me freedom. For me it was love. I believe in love. I’ve always believed in love. But time and again my programming attracted mates with patterns that were mutually destructive.

After five marriages and five divorces, I am committed to a single life. I don’t trust myself to ‘get it right’ and I don’t want to put me, or anyone else through that heartache again. But the decision has allowed me freedoms I wouldn’t have experienced as a partnered woman. It has forced me to self-actualize, something we were really into in the 60’s and 70’s when Maslow’s, Hierarchy of Needs, was all the rage. Self-actualization was at the pinnacle of the pyramid. When all other needs were met, a person was poised to achieve her full potential.

I haven’t given up on love, but I’ve redirected it. My life oozes with loving, healthy connections, none of which are romantic. (Romance is a bit of an illusion anyway, isn’t it? Smoke and mirrors? Hormones? Chemicals? It feels so good until it doesn’t.) Instead of pouring all that energy into someone else, I’ve gotten to know who I am, what I want, and what I need to thrive, and I give myself that.

indexThere’s an Indonesian proverb that I’ve claimed as my own. Sepandai-pandai tupai melompat kadang-kadang jatuh juga. It means: The clever jumping squirrel also sometimes falls down. Or paraphrased further: Everyone makes mistakes. And we do. But the really clever squirrel figures out how not to make the same ones over and over again.


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