WILL OUR LIFE VALUES EVER TURN TOPSY-TURVEY?

            Can a modern American achieve true, long-lasting happiness without using material goods like money and possessions to define success? As a friend of mine from Prague asked, “Why do Americans think they NEED 80 flavors of toothpaste?”

            Or are we all simply fat capitalist pigs as Marx seemed to indicate?

            Not I. I discovered quite by accident that I’m a minimalist. A friend was asking me if I planned to attend a massive jewelry sale sponsored by a group we both belonged to. I envisioned room after room, table after table, of glittering, shiny, baubles designed to spotlight my aging throat and mature figure with their wrinkles, spots and flab, and shuddered. Probably the last activity that attracted me would be tracking down pieces of useless jewelry. And to spend money and time on such a quest? Impossible.

            “No,” I answered. “I’m a minimalist. I don’t need any jewelry.”

            Why the term leaped to my mind, I have no idea. But somehow I must have been absorbing the expression through pop culture because it fit with my existing values and approach to life. Since then I’ve realized that I’m not alone in embracing the attitude. Minimalism has been around in art, music and decorating for decades, to indicate a stripped down, perhaps stark, approach to self-expression, but is more recent as a description of lifestyle. Before the trend, of course, many religions valued it, using “simple” as part of their definition. Simple food, simple clothing, simple belongings. Quakers, the Amish and Mennonites, Buddhists and others set their sights on values instead of money, consumerism, and material status.

            Minimalism as a way of life focuses on living with less. This includes less financial burdens for its practitioners, such as debt and unnecessary expenses. Minimalists, not than I know any except myself, support shedding excess stuff and valuing experiences rather than worldly possessions. It’s a method to rid yourself of life’s excess to focus on intangible valuable qualities to bring happiness, fulfillment, and freedom.

            In typical American fashion, people now are rushing to expand on, define, advocate and criticism minimalism. The Los Angeles Times reported the average American household has 300,000 items. (I wonder what they counted as an item? Was a package of toilet paper counted as one or eight? A set of dishes one or 16?) Then someone tossed out one-hundred objects as the ideal amount for a minimalist.

            Funny to me that many articles about minimalism stress how much money you’ll save. Seems contradictory—you want to care less about unessentials like money in order to concentrate on destressing, building relationships, working on your personal interests.

            In the final tally, these points are irrelevant to me. I have a handy reason to avoid wasting my time on shopping and a defensible strategy for cleaning out my closets and cupboards. Would you like some recycled books or one of the six bottles of cologne I received at the holidays?

AN UNEXPECTED HOLIDAY LESSON

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!” ― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

            What was true for Charles Dickens, at least in his fiction, suits me, too. However, the lessons learned about honoring the Christmas spirit aren’t always what one might expect.

            From childhood the creative me yearned to make the world sparklier, more beautiful. I was a sucker for the holiday. I even cried at certain carols. This was in the spirit of covering up the ugliness, whether it was man’s inhumanity to man, tragedies in nature and life, or litter on the streets. However, this desire wasn’t accompanied by good taste. An early example of my lack of discrimination came in the seventh grade. As second-eldest in a family of six children, I decided to show my leadership, involve the little kids, and decorate the house in one fell swoop. I searched the house for craft materials. Unfortunately, they’d all been destroyed in the constant whirlwind of little, curious fingers that probed, snatched and ruined everything they touched.

            As I toured the house’s three stories, I happened upon a bathroom. My mother, showing the same dearth of good taste as I possessed, had stocked it with green toilet tissue. Remember those days, when toilet tissue and paper hankies came in a multitude of pastels? Green was a holiday color I knew, and we possessed a multitude of rolls.

            I opened a new roll and proceeded to weave festoons of green toilet tissue around the living room walls. I was convinced I was initiating a new high in holiday atmosphere. Yes, the little kids helped me. Imagine if you can, four walls covered in pale green loops distinctly of paper that belonged by the lavatory.

            When my mother returned home, she was able to control her moans of dismay. She simply told me to remove my “decorations,” that toilet paper wasn’t appropriate for my purpose.

            This was, perhaps, my first lesson in marketing:  the concept of buyer personas. Experts advise you know your market before you jump in and design a logo, packaging or displays. I’m sure my mother envisioned her neighbors evaluating my festoons and gossiping about how our family obviously lacked home decorating sense. Or were so hard up we had to use anything to hand.

            At the time, I didn’t understand her attitude. Since then I’ve learned of an assortment of supplies I can use for decorating, and only very very rarely do I use toilet tissue. As I’ve aged, I’ve set my standards higher because it comes neither in true red and green, nor sparkles, so I use other options. However, t.p. is always handy if I get maudlin and cry.

 

Guest blog: Author LM Spangler

Guest Blog: Author LM Spangler

(Spangler is an author with my new publisher Totally Entwined)

From a young age, I remember burying my nose in a book,  a love that my mother and father passed onto my brother and myself. From my passion for reading sprang my love of writing. My mind is so often full of story ideas from the wildly paranormal to contemporary. I have notebooks lying about with story outlines and character descriptions. A song or TV show can spark an idea which circles my mind until I put the idea on paper.

When I’m not writing, I enjoy spending time with my family, burying my nose in a book, and watching a vast variety of television shows from crime dramas to 1970’s game shows. I even dabble in crafting. My favorite craft would be jewelry making. Nothing like creating wearable art.I’m also a graphic artist. You can see my works of art at www.designsbl.wordpress.com.

I live close to the Maryland border in South Central Pennsylvania. My husband is wonderfully supportive of me in all aspects of my life. I have a son who is currently serving our country in the U.S. Navy. My daughter is still in school. I’m blessed to have the three of them in my life.

Buy Links:

Totally Bound: https://www.totallybound.com/book/follow-your-heart

Books 2 Read Universal Buy link: https://books2read.com/u/m2ryJO

Blurb:

She left love behind, but he followed his heart…and her.

Paige Havalland left her career as an attorney in her father’s law firm and the older man she loved for small lake-town living. She thinks love is something she can never have because of her new career. Then Ben shows up at her bed and breakfast, throwing all her preconceived notions about love and life topsy-turvy.

Benjamin Beckett has a plan for a future in the small town of Riverbend, Pennsylvania. The possibility of a new law office and being with the woman he loves calls him from the hustle and bustle of big city living. He’s sure he can reignite the fiery passion he and Paige shared two years before but convincing her that they can overcome her notions about their relationship will be a different story.

This is Paige’s one shot at true happiness. Will she push Ben away or follow her heart to have the life of her dreams?

Excerpt:

“You can’t leave,” he objected.

I sighed. “Why does it matter so much?”

“You know you mean a lot to me, Paige.” Benjamin ‘Ben’ Beckett ran his hand through his silver-toned hair.

“My body is important to you, nothing more than that. My father left me their old house in Riverbend. I’m going to turn it into a bed and breakfast. This law shit has never been for me, I’m not lawyer material.” I faced the window.

The sun had begun to hide behind the horizon, painting the sky in shades of pink, purple, orange and blue. The end-of-the-workday whiskey I sipped burned a path down my throat into my empty stomach.

Ben grabbed me, spun me around and deposited my ass onto my desk.

“What the ……?” I sputtered.

He pulled my skirt up my thighs and stepped between my legs.

I opened my mouth to object to the rough handling but stopped when our gazes collided. Heat smoldered deep in the depths of his blue eyes. “Look,” I said finally. “We had a lot of fun with each other, a lot of great sex. But you knew that was all it could ever be…just sex.”

Who was I kidding? I’d been head over heels in love with the man for three years, but we could never be more than what we were. I wasn’t lawyer material. I never would be. Staying on with the company after my father had passed wasn’t in the cards and I’d known for the last two and a half years that I wouldn’t stay here.

The blue of his eyes deepened in color, something I couldn’t read reflecting back at me.

“Yes. Come to my place tonight,” I murmured between kisses.

Stepping back, he allowed me to slide off the desk and readjust my skirt.

“See you later,” I said over my shoulder.

Author LM Spangler

 

 

Read All About It: Books and Travel

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Jean Dubuffet sculpture in Chicago

Mark Twain wrote: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.”

When I travel, I like to remind myself of the interesting people and stories from those locations. Recently I visited Chicago and while trotting around, head craned to look up far beyond my normal range of vision at the dozens of buildings scraping the sky, made a mental list of famous writers associated with the city. Carl Sandburg, Upton Sinclair, Ernest Hemingway, Sandra Cisneros, Gwendolyn Brooks, among others. I’ve read something from most of these. But reality doesn’t always match my imagination. It’s disconcerting to have an image in my mind about what a setting looks like, then run smack dab into reality. Hint: I saw few broad shoulders in Chicago despite what Sandburg claims.

Should I blush to admit the author I first associated with Chicago was Veronica Roth of the spec fiction book and movie Divergent fame? This dystopian novel, set in an undated future in Chicago, is sprinkled with landmarks that exist now and, one assumes, in that time to come. Somehow for me, it’s easier to envision something set in the future than the present or past. I’m constantly cross-checking details in books from those other times to see if they agree with my knowledge about them. “Lincoln Street wasn’t one-way in the 40s,” I’ll think, or “Two loaves of bread only cost twenty-five cents in the early 60s,” editing the writer as I read along. Believe me, this isn’t an entertaining way to absorb a a novel.

Roth’s book features a Chicago with a dry waterbed, the outlines of which I spotted during my river tour. It boasts the large Ferris wheel the characters in the book climbed, and slings a zip line down what I believe is the Willis Tower. Numerous warehouses, basements, streets and even the L or El, the elevated train, are part and parcel of the action. Seeing these was like spotting an old friend.

My trip brought to mind lots of other writers I’d love to revisit. I also discovered a small treasure, the American Writers Museum on North Michigan Avenue. Activities encouraged me to write a few lines and learn a whole lot about various writers, including Bob Dylan. But the benefits of travel to Chicago went far beyond writers. I love that the lake and shore are so visible. Denver has nothing approaching the division between land and water. I rediscovered Jean Dubuffet, a French artist whose immense white and black sculpture enlivens the James R. Thompson Center.  

I returned home even more convinced of the truth of Twain’s lines. It may take some effort and money to travel, but the return on the investment is priceless.

 

THE BELL CURVE OF A HUMAN’S DEVELOPMENT, or What Goes Up, Must Come Down

            As I age and begin to realize my body isn’t responding the way it used to, I remember an article I read years ago. Humans tend to lose skills in the reverse order that they gain them. In other words, we usually know how to drink liquids at birth, then we learn to smile, then we’re able to sit without support, followed by reaching and grabbing, eating soft food, grasping, standing, crawling, walking, talking, bladder control, and so on down the line.

            From what I’ve observed of friends and family, this generally holds true. Of course not everyone loses skills over the same time period. Some start with a slooooow decline that gains speed over the years. A good friend of mine entered the shadowy forest of Alzheimer’s, and wandering like a lost chlld, got more and more confused and incapable of making decisions. Finally, at the end, she was drooling and sitting in a wheelchair like a baby in a stroller. Not a nice experience for her or her family.

            Others, like my mother, delayed the onset of miasma until 18 months before her demise. Still others, like my mother-in-law, are incapacitated by a serious disease but retain their mental faculties until near the very end.

            I have learned, to my regret, that individuals don’t have much control over the process. Talk to a group of people under, say, the age of 50, and they’ll deliver mini-lectures about maintaining fitness regimes, lowering cholesterol, ordering physical tests, the value of green (or ginger or Chamomile  or Peppermint  or Hibiscus or Echinacea, ad nausem), and the miracles of marijuana. Even eating dirt, called geophagy, has its advocates.

            With the typical American attitude that anything can be changed or improved, younger folks think the aging process can be controlled, apparently as easily as poverty or war can be wiped out. My suspicion is that people at this stage simply focus on a fitness activity to keep their minds away from the Grim Reaper at their elbows. Ooops. Wrong. I run into many on the 65+ side of the age scale who seem to believe that denial they’re old will ward off aging.

            For purposes of predictions about health and physical condition, I find the good old Bell Curve comes closest to explaining how humans age. At the beginning of life, we gain skills in a certain order over a period of time. At the other end, we lose skills in a certain order over a period of time.

            Take balance. If you have a young child in your vicinity, you’ll note over the months that balance is continually practiced. Once he pulls himself to his feet, he takes a few shuffling steps. Then he holds out his arms to remain erect, conquers independent walking, then to running and leaping. I recently saw a small child using a heavy rock in each fist to help her maintain balance.

            Watch an aging adult. You’ll see the same process in reverse. Within the last several years, I’ve lost the ability to do decent jumping jacks. I only noticed when I failed. Most of us are familiar with the subsequent downslope.  From walking, to using a cane, to hauling out the walker, finally to the wheelchair.

            Other examples I’ve noticed of aging reversal includes skin. A baby’s is soft and delicate. So, too an oldster’s. Hair—a baby’s frequently is wispy and fine. An older adult’s, mine in this case, is returning to this state and even is thinning back to its original toddler’s thickness. Many of us start losing our patience, our ability to delay gratification, our desire to try certain foods (think of toddlers who refuse veggies). As children, we gained height. As seniors we lose inches. And don’t even talk about teeth!

            When it comes to higher faculties, a sizeable percentage of the elderly regress in this area, too. When someone complains to me that her aging parent won’t accept reasonable explanations for lost items or missing medications, but instead accuse those around them of theft or abuse, I point out that the older parent is now mentally at the stage of a two-year-old, having regressed on the downslope. No one can reason with a two-year-old, so don’t expect to be able to do it with a 92-year-old.

            A caveat: the slope of both the up and down sides of a bell curve may be extended or compressed. The angle of the curve differs for each person. Getting old is just as challenging a process as growing up. No matter where you are on the age spectrum, understanding the Bell Curve of aging may help you tolerate yourself and others.