It’s February, and my mind is on matters of love and motivation.
I may be single, but I adore experiencing second-hand love.
Here are two of my favorite Valentine’s reads.
One is from my friend Ginni Simpson on being in the moment with her husband.
The second is my blog post about my dear brother Danny and his wife Joan.
I told myself that my New Year’s resolution to get rid of cable TV would be key to increasing my writing time.
It was not.
Instead, I’ve filled my time by enjoying more sleep, and have done a lot more reading. But recently, I’ve started putting myself on restriction, and not allowing book or movie time to happen until I’ve written a set amount of words. It’s motivated me to make baby steps during a time of year when I’d rather crawl under the electric blanket after work than open my laptop and keep plugging away.
Here are a few of my recent favorite rewards.
They Shall Not Grow Old- a must-see documentary that renovated 100 year-old film footage from WWI and carefully gave it sight and sound.
The Old Man and the Gun
Inheritance by Dani Shapiro (memoir).
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine (fiction) by Gail Honeyman.
You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero (nonfiction, self-help). As much as I don’t love the title, it’s a fabulous read for reframing self-talk and changing attitudes about money, body image, and living life larger.
Entertainment-wise, my greatest find has been finding the series, The Marvelous Mrs. Maizel on Amazon Prime.
My book events are picking up again. Tonight I get to spend time with a set of dynamic, now retired social workers I was mentored by twenty-plus years ago when I was a child abuse investigator.
Who says writing doesn’t pay?
How about you? What’s keeping you motivated this time of year?
Thank you for sharing your time with me. And if you have friends in the San Jose, California area, please let them know I’ll be doing a book event there at Recycle Book Store on March 20th at 7PM.
Have you ever noticed that when you set out to take a positive action, you’re given a doubly positive reward?
A couple of weeks ago, when I saw my maternal cousin’s Facebook post about her fitness coaching business being offered online, I jumped at the chance. I’ve been meaning to do more strength training to get stronger. And though we’ve been Facebook friends for a long time, I’ve met my cousin Kerstin in person only twice. She lives in the south. I live in Alaska. Meeting online with her regularly sounded like a great way to muscle up and strengthen our connection.
Who knew that this one effort would lead me to a long-estranged
uncle I’d been hoping to meet?
Much of my family is splintered, especially on my mom’s side. Her other siblings died, and I’d looked for this brother of hers without success. And yet here my cousin recently gotten in touch with him. My uncle told my cousin that he and his wife were doing their own search for family and had actually found and read my book!
I was floored. Soon, I was emailing back and forth with my uncle’s wife, who gave me a swath of pictures from the early 1900’s, and page after page of wonderfully told stories that my grandmother left behind as a legacy. It gave a whole lot of context about all of the different issues my grandmother had been contending with as she raised her children, often by herself, which couldn’t have made life easy for her children.
There are few things as important to me as putting all the
pieces together of my jigsaw-puzzle family together, or at least, as many as
possible. Each connection makes me feel
more grounded, more alive.
I’d set out to build muscle, and was linked to more of my foundation.
What a hopeful beginning to this new year!
I hope yours is off to a good start as well.
Thank you for joining me.
If you’re interested in an online fitness coach, please meet my cousin here. She’s the cheerleader you need in the privacy of your own home.
It’s that time of year where we make promises of
transformation that are too easily abandoned by the middle of the month.
I typically make a small list in a few categories, but this year I’m making different commitments.
Last year, I ran my legs off. If someone asked for a
volunteer, I raised my hand. If a friend wanted to go to a dreadful performance
of this or that, I said yes. Between too much work with the summer job and my
fulltime job, over-volunteering and writing (and getting a number of essays
published in various blogs and magazines and making bits of new book progress)
I was left cranky and tired. And bewildered as to how I got so busy (and so cranky
I knew I was in rough shape when my eye doctor hinted at
giving me a referral to a psychiatrist.
So I’m ready for a new chapter.
I have a goal list still, but in addition to looking like a To Do List, it includes a To Don’t List.
I’m letting go of a few things, even good things and fun things. I’ve adopted author Marie Kondo’s way of thinking about clutter as a way to think about activities. If the extra activity or invitation doesn’t bring me joy, I’m saying no to it.
For example, I volunteered in a civic group filled with delightful women. I wanted out pretty early on, but kept talking myself in to continuing. I left last week. It was like taking off a girdle and breathing deeply. Then I cut my cable television. Finally. After talking about it for years. No more reality television or news channels or even Twilight Zone on the SciFi network. Just podcasts or audiobooks or the radio now. I’m saying no to invitations to social gatherings that don’t thrill me.
I like my home. I love being at home with my cats and my thoughts and my laptop after a very long work day. Leaving home is a sacrifice that I need to want to make. And as much as I enjoyed the camaraderie of working in tourism last summer, I won’t do it again while working full-time at my day job. I don’t have the energy.
But I’ve found some fun new resolutions, or To Do’s this
I enrolled in a Spanish class which has gone pretty poorly thus far. I took a salt water aerobics class right by my work for the first time, and loved it. I have an appointment to meet with a virtual personal trainer this weekend (who happens to be a cousin!). And I’ll be a grants administrator for the local writer’s guild, a very short-term commitment.
I was inspired by Zenhabits blog about The Rule of the Edge. I want to keep pushing myself toward growth, but for me, that means getting comfortable doing and being less. Leaving myself open for other surprises.
I also loved the Write-Minded podcasthabout selfishness as it relates to writing and prioritizing completion of essays or books in order that there will be works of writing to share.
Sometimes what we don’t do is as important as what we commit to. I’m looking forward to less commitments and more room for fun and writing and even sleep this year.
I was firm in my decision to delay a solo travel adventure since I’d financed long-awaited kitchen renovations. Yet solo travel, outside of bringing me joy and growth, is the subject of future writing projects. But I told myself that it was too time consuming, too expensive, too much work to squeeze in to 2018. I could do it the next year.
But losing a few close friends this year was a terrific reminder that the future is never certain. It inspired me to unclench my tight fists and spend over $1,500 on a round trip ticket to South America. Uruguay and Argentina, to be more specific. I’d start in Uruguay. A week or more after arriving there, I would take the ferry over to Buenos Aires, Argentina and enjoy the sites, and then wander back to Uruguay before returning home. In all, I’d be away from Alaska for three weeks. A long break from snow and work reorganization and routines and and all things familiar. Just me and my hostel(s).
People. Always the people. Plus walking often ten miles a day, thanking God that although I may be lost, I still had the capacity to move without pain, and found generous people who helped point me in the right direction.
Uruguay is a small and more affluent country. I felt safer walking the streets there than I do at home. Three million people, twelve million cows, according to our walking tour guide. From the beautiful museums in Montevideo to the beaches of LaPaloma and Punta del Este and Colonia del Sacramento, I saw more of it than I had originally hoped, hopping busses, wondering if I could understand Spanish well enough to know when to exit, and intermittently staying with a wonderful friend I’d met on an author Facebook group years before who let me use her casita as a home base. I appreciated that from the first day, our conversations were effortless and authentic, and I made a mental to list of things she’d suggested that I wanted to pursue.
Argentina was a little more challenging. Since I stayed in
Buenos Aires exclusively, my love of the sights and the history was tempered
with the noise and the crowds. And witnessing an attempted kidnapping. But I’ll
write more of that in a later essay for publication.
What I adored about shared housing was never knowing who I’d
be in a room with. One morning-we were delegates from Israel, China, New Zealand,
and America, sitting up in our beds, comparing and contrasting lives in our
home countries as though we were representatives from the United Nations.
Respectful yet real conversations that inspired more reading, more thinking, future
Next continent- Antarctica. If you know of a way I can do it on budget, please let me know!
I find solo travel to be scary, lonely, and unsure. And
character building, resilience increasing, and a stress reducer, at least once
I return home.
Happy New Year to you. I hope you give yourself permission to
do something you’ve always wanted to do.
My return from South America was promptly eclipsed by the massive November 30th earthquake here in Alaska.
I’d landed in Los Angeles from a brief layover in Peru when I turned on my phone to find a flood of texts. The first was from my youngest daughter, giving me a heads up that something “big” had happened. Many others were check-ins from family and friends.
While I felt a little guilty for not being in Alaska when it happened, and a splash jealous for missing the experience, it’s been a fascinating event to witness through the eyes of others.
I’d never been through a natural disaster, so returning home from a 3 week-long trip just hours afterward was memorable. While we Alaskans are accustomed to our fair share of earthquakes and aftershocks, this one was a doozy at 7.0.
Supermarkets ran low on food and water. Electricity was out in much of the city when I returned. So was cell phone service. Some roads and schools were destroyed. Yet no one died, a great tribute to careful city planning and building codes in Anchorage. There weren’t reports of opportunistic thefts.
A few things stuck with me.
Each person’s reaction to the same event was unique.
This reminded me of the birth order conversation I often had during my book tour.
If a family of four was home together in the same room during the quake, their reactions varied widely, from getting under a table, crying and shaking, or running outside. Their ability to deal with the trauma long afterward was as varied as their responses, often due to their age and role in the family, past experiences, genetic makeup, and other traits and quirks.
Pets were/are and are as impacted by the earthquake as their humans.
Many dogs and cats ran away from home shortly after the big shake. They lost control of their bowels, and some continue to have problems. A doggy daycare staff member told me more dogs have to wear anxiety jackets, and have a compromised immune system from the stress, developing kennel cough at a higher rate. And a friend’s 15 year-old bird died soon after the quake, not due to injury, but due to strain.
Only the worst images were replayed by the media and were then shared in social media, though many people experienced no damage to their belongings or homes.
Don’t get me wrong; there was a lot of damage done. Most everyone I know sustained loss of belongings due to the earthquake.
Yet it reminds me how scared we become after watching news images, whether it’s on television or the social media shares. Perhaps it’s about an American tourist who died overseas. Or an image of violence, played and shared, over and over. We become fearful and wary.
We might forget to mention who all emerged safely from this earthquake, who all helped one another, and how grateful we are that no one died as a direct result of such a seismic quake.
After I called my daughter from Los Angeles, and she told me that she and her sister were fine, as were my pets, I wondered about my newly renovated kitchen. Twenty-three years of ugly had been replaced by beauty just before I left on my trip, and I had been over the moon about it. But I knew what a complete jerk I’d be for asking about it long distance.
My plane landed in Anchorage several hours after the shake, and I hailed a taxi. My driver was an African immigrant, small yet loud, and hidden under his oversized red wool hat with a pompom on top. On the way home, he told me about how it was for him, a relatively new citizen, to be jarred awake from a deep sleep. How he ran outside and fell to the ground, and how he calmed himself, realizing there was nothing he could do to control the outcome.
“We can replace things,” he told me,” We cannot replace peoples.”
It was just the message I needed to hear.
I opened the door to my place, and looked at each room, saving my new kitchen for last. And though it appeared someone held a raucous party on the second floor and left the mess afterward, my kitchen, my long-awaited kitchen, was undisturbed.
I am truly thankful.
I’ve heard a number of people say they wanted to leave state after this earthquake. It came without warning. The aftershocks still continue. It was too much to deal with.
But for me, showing up just after to witness the inspiring recovery efforts, Alaska still feels like a soft place to land.
Susan has written two memoirs, and authored and edited numerous children’s books with her husband, author Doug DuBosque.
In addition to writing award-winning books, Susan has lived in several countries and ran a thriving publishing business with her husband for more than two decades. After all that, plenty of writers would have been content to retire. Yet when Susan spoke to me about her latest writing passion–screenwriting–her radiant energy was infectious.
I´m pleased to have Susan as my guest this week.
What led you to screenwriting?
My heart led me to screenwriting. I´ve always enjoyed the theatre and films; even turned two of my books for children into stage plays with original music; songs I had written and by collaborating with an elementary school music teacher. Great fun! A thrill to see the productions performed on stages in schools and at a community college in Oregon.
Describe how the screenwriting process differs from writing books.
Screenwriting is a different art form using different set formats. It´s a challenge and exciting to learn new ways to express my imagination with words in a community which encourages writers to think outside the book box; to SHOW and not TELL.
I receive advice, again and again, to write more books. The more the merrier for fans and followers. When I dreaded “making time” to write, I knew I needed something different to stay excited about creative writing. Script writing is fun, feels as if I am playing with words as I imagine the scenes they fit into.
A book or a film originate in the writer’s imagination first. Once the writer writes her version on paper, the script begins a new life when others involved in the production process; the editor, the director, the producer, the cameraman, etc share how they imagine it.
Like magic, the final creation becomes a dance shaped by the keen observation of others from different angles.
How do you engage with a writing community from your home office in Uruguay?
In today’s internet world, it’s easy. I belong to several online screenwriting groups and attend online workshops where I can share ideas and pitch my projects.
What takeaway do you have for other writers who face burnout?
Ask yourself what makes you tick, what makes you happy and move forward to a new adventure.
What are you working on now?
At the moment, I’m turning my book Good Morning Diego Garcia into a screen script and into a mini-series for television. Hopefully BBC. I will do the same with my first memoir, The Lullaby Illusion. I’m also writing a TV series set in a jazz club in Germany where expats gathered to make new friends in their new homeland.
I’m about to leave for South America in a few days. By myself. It will be continent 6/7 for me, and I’m nearing my goal of finishing the research for a travel memoir and companion guide book for older, non-wealthy women who want to get out of their comfort zone and see the world on their terms.
I’m frightened of flying. I won’t know the language, despite my efforts to learn. And I’ll be on a clenched budget, especially since I just got my kitchen renovated.
But there is something truly humbling about leaving for a new adventure.
As soon as I fasten my seatbelt, I nearly always start to cry. Partly because I’m exhausted from my work and because I’m excited and scared, I’m flooded with thoughts of friends and loved ones who’d wanted to travel more but didn’t get the chance. Early deaths or bad circumstances. And yet, here I go. And I take none of it for granted.
I’ve worked really hard to engineer a future for myself, one that looked unlikely early on. In my struggle to attempt control over my environment, I’ve become an over-anxious control freak.
Nothing crushes the false sense of control like travel. And traveling to someone else’s country, playing in their playground without officially having been invited, it’s clear that I have little influence or control. Feeling small and powerless can be exhilarating.
So away I go. Far from responsibility of house and home,away from the security friends and family,away from social media and television. I hope to meet new friends see some animals and sights. I hope I get lots of exercise and sleep. And on Thanksgiving, I will see with a new lens how grateful I am for all that I have waiting for me right here at home.
There are many reasons an abused partner may choose to remain in their relationship. Faith and ties to their faith community factor in for many.
I’m honored to have author Linda M. Kurth sharing from her experience and upcoming memoir.
Crazymaking: A form of psychological attack on somebody by offering contradictory alternatives and criticizing the person for choosing. -www.yourdictionary.com
“Your husband is a crazymaker,” Susan, my new counselor declared.
Susan was one of several counselors Jim and I had seen during the last half of our twenty-five year marriage. Yet none of it seemed to get to the root of our problem. Jim was a “good Christian.” He was a good provider. He was smart and had a great sense of humor. His hugs were legendary. Yet I was dying inside, and my prayers had not changed our dynamic.
Susan had listened as I told her how Jim promised to change over and over again, and yet hadn’t. “I’m having difficulty believing him anymore,” I said. “He tells me one thing one day, then the opposite the next. When I try calling him on this stuff, he always denies giving me a double message.”
Susan sighed. “I believe Jim’s personality type will try every trick in the book to avoid taking responsibility for sabotaging your marriage. His type is good at keeping the opposing party off guard. I’m not optimistic he’ll own up to his behavior.”
I felt a mixture of relief and what? Resistance? Disbelief? I’m the kind of person who rips a band-aid off, but part of me wanted to cling to hope. Acknowledging that my husband was not going to change meant I’d either have to resign myself to being hurt again and again by his emotionally abusive passive-aggressive behavior. Or, I’d have to leave. I hated both options.
The thought of leaving left a churning in my stomach and a tightening in my chest. I was fifty-five and hadn’t supported myself in years. When I tried to visualize my future alone, the picture was dismal. Besides, as a Christian, I worried that divorcing was not part of God’s plan for me.
During this time, my husband accepted a new job that was near my home town. I agreed to move with him and engage in counseling one last time. Jim found Norma, a conservative Christian counselor, but we made no progress. I saw clearly I had only one choice if I was to survive emotionally.
“I’d like to discuss divorce,” I told Norma, my voice shaking.
“We don’t talk about divorce,” she replied, and then proceeded to talk about it. She quoted the Bible in Matthew 19 verse 9, in which Jesus said, “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
“If you divorce Jim, Satan wins,” Norma explained.
Heat rose in me. I blurted out my truth. “Satan has already won. Jim may not have been physically unfaithful to me but he’s been emotionally unfaithful. He’s unrepentant, and I’ve lost all hope for reconciliation.”
Norma shook her head with sadness. “You’ll be making a huge mistake if you leave the covering and protection of your husband.”
I almost laughed. I certainly had not been feeling my husband’s “protection.”
That night, I threw myself on the Lord’s mercy and discerned his permission to leave.
As I struggled to regain my sense of equilibrium, I was met with a dichotomy of responses from the Christian community. I received a scathing letter from a Christian friend of my husband, condemning me for choosing divorce. For the same reason I was turned away from a church I had considered joining. On the other hand, my former church embraced me when I went back to visit, even providing me with a divorce ceremony. Best of all, I was welcomed by a new church that had a large singles ministry. There, I met many other singles, many of whom became my friends and support during my recovery.
Since that heartbreak time, God has blessed me in many ways. I bought a townhouse in which I felt secure. Eventually, I met a wonderful man while ballroom dancing. We’ve been married for fifteen good years.
I’ve recently completed a memoir, tentatively titled God, the Devil, and Divorce: A Love Story from which I’ve drawn material for this article. (I hope to see the memoir published soon.) I have a blog, “Help and Healing for Divorced Christians,” where I offer what I’ve learned about going through and surviving divorce, and where I encourage churches to welcome divorced people with love and grace. I pray both the book and blog will help people achieve a happier divorce recovery experience.
Linda Kurth is offering advice, “Ten Steps for a More Joyful Life after Divorce,” to subscribers of her blog. Click here for the link to download.
Would you like the chance to win a set of compelling memoirs about domestic violence? For the month of October, 2018, enter here to win!
As I prep for a few book events, including a FaceTime conversation with a Florida book group,
The question I get asked the most is always How are the girls now?
And just after that, Do your daughters mind you writing and talking about them?
They’re fair questions with dynamic answers.
At the moment, both my grown daughters live in the same city as me. Neither have married. Neither have children. Neither appear interested in getting married or having children.
My oldest daughter, recently back in Alaska after a year in Mexico, is presently taking seven classes at the local university to finish her degree in psychology. I don’t know what kind of work she’ll go in to, but I’m so proud that she will have options, thanks to her hard work.
Life has been incredibly challenging for her, not simply because she was a child-witness of domestic violence or because she and her sister spent two years living in hiding in Greece. She manages anxiety and significant mental health problems that threaten her quality of life. This has been compounded by losing a shocking number friends to early deaths.
Still, she persists. She has a long-term relationship, adores her pets, and even at times when she’s shut off from other, she remains in close contact with her sister and me.
My youngest daughter finished college some years ago and works in finance. She too has a long-term relationship. She is athletic and busy, volunteering in the community and on a board of directors. She has a thriving dog-walking, pet-sitting business on the side. While her sister’s emotional wounds were deep from being the oldest child who shouldered adult responsibility early, my youngest has had medical leftover concerns.
Some of the resiliency factors after the kidnapping were having stable housing and kind neighbors, good schools, involved family friends, access to community mental health providers, team sports, and knowing they had family-far away-that loved them dearly. And their pets were a healing balm that reduced their stress levels every day.
All things considered, my daughters are doing exceptionally well. Funny and feisty, lovers of hiking and Greek food and good people, and able to incorporate old traumas into their lives while embracing new joys.
I’m sure at times they mind the invasion of privacy of having a mom who’s a writer, but they’ve not said so. I’ve tried to minimize it by not using their names in essays and in local talks.
More often, they sincerely appreciate that people care to ask about how they are.
When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”—Fred Rogers
“Do you remember me?” came the message from Greece this week from a man I hadn’t heard from in more than 20 years. “…You were here (in Greece) for your daughters.”
And the heaviness of the days before began to gently lift.
Two weeks earlier, I’d seen the movie Searching about a kidnapped girl. (Mothers of abducted children would be wise to avoid such movies, but I gravitate toward them.) As I left the theater and turned my phone on, I read that little girl in the neighboring community of Kotzebue, Alaska had disappeared.
Over the next week, the local news reported the growing search. The family’s reaction to their missing girl. And the support that flooded in from all over the state, evidenced by food shipments for the search crew, Facebook shares, and volunteer searchers.
“I want to thank them so much for doing the walks, like we’ve been doing here, and them getting us prayers and hope still,” Barr (the father) said. “I can’t imagine anything else, I have a loss of words of how many people around the state, as well as Lower 48, that are 100 percent behind us.”
And on September 14th, when the body of young Ashley Barr was found in a remote area and the man associated with her death arrested, again her family gave thanks to all who helped find her.
In 1995, I made my first trip to Greece from Alaska to bring home my kidnapped daughters. I was crushed when I couldn’t bring the girls home, not realizing that all the wonderful helpers I met in Greece would be critical in our eventual reunification. Like my friend Poppy and her group of young lawyer friends in her theater group.
The following year, I returned to Greece, but was stationed in a different city this time. There would be no easy resolution. Court hearings and private investigators and even police were involved. And at one point, my daughters’ father contacted my lawyers in Greece and promised I could visit the girls. And then cancelled the visit. Then he called and set up a visit last-minute, so long as I could find people to supervise the visit.
Who on earth did I know in Greece who would give up their Sunday to supervise a visit an hour’s drive away? It was sure to be emotional, unpleasant, and potentially unsafe for them.
I called on two of the Greek friends I’d made the year before, who immediately pushed their own weekend plans aside and took a long bus ride with me to a nearby village to give me the chance to see my daughters.
Days after, I was arrested in Athens when leaving with my daughters for Alaska, and these friends offered shelter, support, even legal consultation should I need it.
Eventually, I left Greece with my daughters in a hurry, losing contact with a few of the many heroes who made it possible.
And now it’s September 2018. My daughters are grown. And I get this lovely message from my old friend, who gave up law to become a pianist in Greece.
A second glance at the news showed little Ashley’s father dispensing hugs in a receiving line of friends and strangers who’d gathered at the airport.
There are no words to make such an unimaginable tragedy better. No silver lining to make it go away. But I am convinced that this family’s ability to lean in to the community support and find their helpers will propel them on the journey toward healing.
For information on preventing or addressing child kidnapping, contact 1-800-THELOST.
To aid the family of Ashley Johnson-Barr, a GoFundMe has been established.