Maria’s Musings & Advice: A Pep Talk for a Bored Worker

Dear Maria,

I need a pep talk about work.

I am a writer at a university. The work flow is feast or famine. I’ve hit the famine phase of the cycle. I don’t do well with boredom. What little work I do have I can’t find the motivation to do because once it’s done, then what?

I need this job and am determined to achieve the tuition benefit for my daughter, so leaving the job isn’t an option I’m willing to consider.

Sincerely,

Uninspired on the Job

Dear Uninspired on the Job,

You’re not alone. Here’s a quote from a wise job-hunting, career-finding guru:

“There is a vast world of work out there in this country, where at least 111 million people are employed in this country alone–many of whom are bored out of their minds. All day long. Not for nothing is their motto TGIF — ‘Thank God It’s Friday.’ They live for the weekends, when they can go do what they really want to do.” ― Richard Nelson Bolles

His “What Color is Your Parachute?” series is my go-to reference for career advice. He updates it annually; check it out for great inspiration, especially his section on “Finding Your Mission in Life”. In your current position, you say your work is boring, versus describing it as soul-sucking or demeaning. Sadly, it only take a few drinks to hear these complaints from some folks. It also sounds like you are feeling pretty engaged in your work when there’s plenty to do, but the boredom comes during the slow times. So, in the meantime…

Here’s your pep talk:

You are beautiful. You are talented. You bring great gifts to this organization which will help it succeed. You are bright and inquisitive. You strive to improve your lot in life. Good for you! Your work environment shows your success. Our ancestors labored to provide higher education for us. With that education, you’ve crafted a career and lifestyle that allows you to identify yourself as a writer, as well as extend the gifts of past generations on to the next. Keep it up! Your work is so important in today’s world. The world needs strong, thoughtful, sensitive wordsmiths to communicate ideas and create connection with others. Don’t approach any project as “Just-a Project”: just a press release, just a thank you note, just a cover letter, just an article, just a report, just an email. In every instance, putting pen to paper or fingers to the keyboard initiates an opportunity for two or more people to connect. Your work is, at its deepest level, a sacred trust. (If you believe in prayer and angels, you might invite Archangel Gabriel, the patron saint of communicators, to be with you in your projects.) Do you write for pleasure? If not, get started. Put on your novelist glasses and observe the quirks in your coworkers, and the inherit ridiculousness of the institution. Consider your office work as a writer’s strength-training and maintenance program. It keeps your skills sharp. Work-writing and home-writing can feed each other. Find something to be grateful for in every moment: the feel of your favorite pen in your hand, the music in your headset, a warm cup of coffee, the coworker who makes you laugh. Your work world is a great resource for the “other” work, which happens on the weekends, as Bolles says, when we get to do what we really want to do. Hang in there. The feast will return. Savor the famine and its hidden gifts.

Some other strategies:

  • Get away from your desk at least once a day. Don’t eat your lunch there, either! Eat healthy foods to avoid that sleepy, sluggish feeling.
  • In every office, there are projects that are important, but not urgent, so they drift to the back burner or the bottom of the To-Do List. Keep track of new ideas and projects like these to tackle during downtime. Make a brief proposal to your boss to complete these projects, including a plan for implementation. This shows initiative and creativity, and may evolve into opportunities for more engaging work. Also, higher education is changing in dramatic ways. In the coming years, the organization, and your work, may change significantly. Make yourself indispensable by making the most of your downtime.
  • Keep an eye out for positions of interest in other departments. You may be able to change jobs within the institution.

Tuition for your child is a great benefit. Welcome to adult-ing. There is a sweet satisfaction that comes when one’s purpose in life shifts from providing for oneself to creating opportunities for our children. But, it doesn’t mean you must sacrifice your own fulfillment along the way. A parent with a meaningful career is a great role model for a child. Show them how it’s done!

Unwritten is one song on a playlist I compiled as inspiration for writers. Maybe you’d like to add some of these songs to your workday selections! (Click the link, or visit YouTube and search “Haven Playlist” with my name.)

Dear Readers: In a quandary? Life got you down? Need some perspective? If you’d like to submit a question, click here. I look forward to hearing from you, or “for a friend.” Please add your thoughts, and suggestions in the comments section, below. 

Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. The opinions or views expressed in this column are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist.  This column, its author, and the publisher are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice in any given situation. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and clarity, and all comments are moderated.

Maria’s Musings & Advice: Is This My Big Break?

Terrifying and amazingDear Maria,

I have an opportunity to make a career change. I have been in administration and marketing for most of my career. I am not too far from retirement, but still want and need to work for several more years. I have an opportunity to get involved with an artist’s studio, leading classes, conducting workshops, and also doing art I love. I’m kinda scared. This would be a big change for me, and even though I love the work I would be doing, I feel intimidated by all I need to learn. I feel like I should be a real expert before I become a teacher. What would you do if you were in my place?

Signed,

Is This My Big Break?

Dear Is This My Big Break,

Do it.

This is something you’ve wanted to do for a long time. You’ve put in your time in a structured, reasonable, safe work environment. You have pursued your art in your spare time. If you can swing this from a financial standpoint, do it! Whoever is offering you this opportunity has seen your work, and is confident you are up to the job. Trust them.

Creating art is tricky. We put so much of ourselves into our efforts, we wonder if anybody else could ever love and appreciate our work as much as we do. Then, the funny thing is, when they do, we push away the compliment and can’t believe it could be true. But it is. This person recognizes something in you, and wants to help bring it into the world.

Here’s one way this happened for me. My husband and I saw U2 in concert in 2001, just a few months after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. We’d never seen them live. I can now tell you: Bono is one of the most charismatic performers I have ever seen. My husband said: “This isn’t a rock concert; this is a spiritual experience.” (Read Steve Braden’s take on the concert. He got it.) During the show, my heart full, I asked myself (and it’s always wise to pay attention to what you ask yourself), “What can I do with this?” The still voice within answered: “Write.” From that moment on, nurturing and developing my writing became a priority. Later, I confessed to a wise friend, “I’m drawn to Bono, but not in a romantic sense.” He replied, “What is awakened in him, is awakening in you.”

On a creative, spiritual, emotional, intuitive, however-you-want-to-describe-it level, my experience at the concert summoned my inner writer/artist. Perhaps you’ve had a similar encounter. There is a creative connection between you and this person who has affirmed your art and talent. They showed up at the perfect time to midwife your work.

And we need it! Our culture is rife with mistrust and misinformation. This darkness breeds fear. There is, however, a counterbalance of artistic expression and creativity on the rise. I’m surrounded by people who feel called to create. This movement is blessed. Our nation needs to be reminded of the “better angels of our nature” as Abraham Lincoln said. Beauty lifts us. Your creative efforts are not selfish, but a public service!

no time to think smallElizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic is all about “creative living beyond fear.” Creativity invites us into the unknown, so fear is a natural response. Fear protects us from harm, but it can also immobilize us. Elizabeth Gilbert suggests that we view fear as a companion on the creative journey. Fear gets to come along for the ride, but it doesn’t get to drive, read the map, fiddle with the radio, etc. “Above all else,” she tells her “dear old familiar friend [fear], you are absolutely forbidden to drive. Then we head off together—me and creativity and fear side by side by side forever—advancing once more into the terrifying but marvelous terrain of unknown outcome.” Dig into her book for directive permission to make this change.

If you expect to be fearless in this creative endeavor, cut it out. Courage is fear that has said its prayers. That might be where you are. Say your prayers, and walk into your new life. We’ll thank you for it.

courage-is-fear-that-has-said-its-prayers-dorothy-bernard-53-20-85

Dear Readers: In a quandary? Life got you down? Need some perspective? If you’d like to submit a question, click here. I look forward to hearing from you, or “for a friend.” Please add your thoughts, and suggestions in the comments section, below. 

Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. The opinions or views expressed in this column are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist.  This column, its author, and the publisher are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice in any given situation. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and clarity, and all comments are moderated.

Maria’s Musings & Advice: Sustenance for The Holidays

br-mickey-mcgrath-on-thanksDear Maria,

I write a weekly advice column on my blog. It’s published on Thursdays, and on Fridays it goes out to my readers via email and on social media. This week, I missed my deadline because of Thanksgiving and other work commitments. Have I blown it with my readers? Do you think they will forgive me?

Signed,

Thinking They’re Thinking the Worst

 

Dear Thinking,

Stop that! Of course, your readers forgive you. There’s nothing to forgive, really! Every week, you have a forum to share your support and views on many topics. Be grateful for your readers, and the wisdom they’ve shared in response.

Here’s an idea: How about sending them a quick list of things you’ve read, seen, or heard that are sustaining you as the holiday season begins?

Dear Maria,

Couldn’t have said it better myself. 😉

Arrival: The new movie starring Amy Adams as a linguist hired by NASA to translate messages received from visitors from another world. Notice I didn’t say “aliens”.  The movie raises pertinent questions regarding communications between cultures (and planets), how time works, and the intersection of our personal and professional lives. Amy Adams soft-spoken, powerful performance gives us a hero who doesn’t need violent weapons to make her point.

We Gather Together: or How to Have a Happy Thanksgiving 2016: Laura Munson, a mentor and friend, has written a warm and hopeful post about loving the people in your life whom you don’t see eye-to-eye with politically. She drills down to the heart of what matters at our gatherings, and encourages us to focus on the love. Keeping it real, as she always does.

Jon Batiste: The Late Show with Stephen Colbert’s music director and leader of his band, Stay Human, is love expressed in every note. I’m grateful Colbert brings Jon’s music to a national audience on a nightly basis.

His beautiful rendition of The Beatles’ Blackbird, performed on the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ performance on the Ed Sullivan Show (in the same theater that is now home to The Late Show), is a gentle call to arms and a lovely reminiscence of the moment a dream takes hold of the heart. Check out his new Christmas album. It’s destined to be my Christmas ’16 soundtrack. Along with…

Amy Grant’s Tennessee Christmas: The music on this Cd feels so cozy. We’re fireside with a woman who loves Christmas—a wise and warm Amy, seasoned by the season, and by life. The music is at turns intimate, melancholy, and comforting. All the things Christmas seems to be. Read the rest of my review here.

Christmas in The Kitchen with Mitzi McDonald and Keltic Reign: A warm and wonderful family holiday show now in its twelfth year. (Hmmm, 12 Days of Christmas, perhaps? A magic number.) Steve and I got a preview on the night before Thanksgiving with Mitzi and friends performing God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen for strings and piano. Glorious, good tidings of comfort and joy. Something like this:

Upside Down Apple Pecan Pie: I’m not an accomplished cook, but I can follow a recipe and handy video guide. This dish was our Thanksgiving dessert, and people seemed to enjoy it (or maybe they were being kind). Well, I liked it, and it filled the house with wonderful smells (after I remembered the cookie sheet under the pie pan). A perfect combination of my husband’s favorite (apple) and mine (pecan). I was excited to have followed through on a recipe I’d saved for someday. And TJ’s Pecan Pie filling is delish!

Garden Glow: Christmas lights delight my inner wee one. And, my mother-mind hears my little 2-year-old daughter exclaim “Yites!” whenever I see them. This lively and charming display at the Missouri Botanical Garden will warm your heart, baby, even in the cold outside.

GCB 08 coverThou Shalt Give Thanks: In The Year of Living Biblically, author AJ Jacobs gained many insights during the year he sought to “follow the Bible as literally as possible.” AJ created some personal commandments as a result of his experiment. The first: Thou Shalt Give Thanks. AJ learned the power and importance of “giving thanks for the 100 things that go right everyday, rather than focusing on the few things that don’t.”

This lesson is echoed in Prepare Your Heart for a Great Christmas.  The reflections begin on Thanksgiving, and carry us through the Feast of the Epiphany in January. Daily inspiration to help you stay sane this holiday season!

What’s helping you this holiday season? What music, movies, books, reads, traditions, displays, etc. are sustaining you? Comment below! More inspiration to come in future columns. Stay tuned!

Dear Readers: In a quandary? Life got you down? Need some perspective? If you’d like to submit a question, click here. I look forward to hearing from you, or “for a friend.” Please add your thoughts, and suggestions in the comments section, below. 

Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. The opinions or views expressed in this column are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist.  This column, its author, and the publisher are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice in any given situation. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and clarity, and all comments are moderated.

Maria’s Musings & Advice: Too Tired

change-memeDear Maria,

I just started a new job, and I feel so overwhelmed. I’m so tired when I come home at night. I have some projects I started, like needlework and beading, and I don’t have any more time to do them. I don’t know when I’ll get to them again. I just can’t seem to get my energy up to work on them. You’re a writer. Do you have any suggestions for how I can take care of my creative life?

Signed,

Need More Hours in the Day

Dear Need More Hours in the Day,

You don’t mention how long you’ve been at this new job? If it’s less than 6 months, please give yourself a break. Starting a new job is a big transition. You’re working hard showing up in a new place, meeting different people, getting to know their personalities, and the systems of communication and authority in the office. All that before you even get down to work! No wonder you are so tired at night. I suggest you give yourself a window on your creative pursuits until at least the 6-month mark. Your mind and body are attending to lower levels on the hierarchy of needs. As your rest and strength return, you’ll have more energy to give to your creative life. Try not to feel guilty for hitting pause on those projects.

Julia Cameron writes in The Artist’s Way that we fantasize that there is such a thing as “good creative time,” in which time is abundant for us to “frolic in creatively.” The truth is, “no such bolts of limitless time exist for most of us. Our days are chopped into segments, and if we are to be creative we must learn to use the limited time we have.”

I’ve discovered, when I do carve out that precious time, I have more energy and I’m more productive. What began as something I didn’t have time for becomes the essential activity to do meet the tasks of the day. If I’m honest with myself I know I can carve out a few minutes every day to nurture my creative self. I bet some days are better than others for you. Move with the energy you have, on any given day. It will change from day to day.

Once you have your bearings at your new job, you can revisit Julia Cameron’s observation. She invites us to look for the creative opportunities within the circumstances of our lives. No matter where we are, if we have an eye toward creativity and seeking inspiration, we will find it. So, perhaps there are ways your new job environment can give your creative spirit a boost, even if it’s not directly related to your specific needlework or beading. It might be through taking a walk or listening to music on your break. I highly recommend her book. She champions artists of every kind—and we are all artists—no matter what activity pays the bills.

 

 

Dear Maria,

I’d love to be a writer, but real life gets in the way. I have been writing for quite a while. I have been published online and have a blog, but between my day job and the kids, I don’t publish as often as I should. I need to contribute an income to my family, but when I get stressed, I can’t focus on writing. Advice? How to balance reality of paying bills while pursuing my real interest?

Signed,
Fit to Print

Dear Fit,

All writers share your dilemma!

fb_img_1439261821251The most important thing about writing is to keep writing. It’s easy to set it aside to focus on “more important” things, like taking care of the family. We think we’ll write better if we’re not so stressed. The truth is, writing is part of the process of life. It needs to be a priority and to be attended to on a regular basis. Find a slot of time every day to write, and then fiercely protect that time. You may need to get up a little earlier or stay up later, but the personal gratification will more than compensate.

Next, keep submitting material anywhere you can get published. Being a writer in the internet era is very tough because so much content is free. We end up giving away way more stuff than we would have in the old days of publications with paid advertising. That model has been smashed by the internet…note the decline in newspapers.  Here’s one writer’s take on the situation.The good news is that you can communicate directly with your readers. You might try this site: http://www.freedomwithwriting.com/ for paid writing opportunities.

Building your writing gig takes time, and you need some income in the near term. Perhaps part-time opportunities, like substitute teaching, a librarian, or in the field of an avocation, like at a craft store or book store or restaurant could provide some income without full time hours? Many a writer has worked other jobs while pursuing their craft. The key is to keep at it. My best successes have come through steady attention to my work. When I get discouraged and hide from the world, I lose what momentum I had. Hang in there, and good luck!

Dear Readers: In a quandary? Life got you down? Need some perspective? If you’d like to submit a question, click here. I look forward to hearing from you, or “for a friend.” Please add your thoughts, and suggestions in the comments section, below. 

Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. The opinions or views expressed in this column are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist.  This column, its author, and the publisher are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice in any given situation. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and clarity, and all comments are moderated.

Review: Amy Grant’s New Christmas CD “Tennessee Christmas”

amy-grantFrom the first notes of Amy Grant’s new Christmas music CD, Tennessee Christmas, it feels so cozy. We’re fireside with a woman who loves the Christmas season so much, she’s dedicated (now) 5 albums of her extensive discography to it. Most years, she’s on tour right up until Christmas week making spirits bright. Tennessee Christmas is her first holiday CD in 20 years, and it brings us a wise and warm Amy, seasoned by the season, and by life. The music is at turns intimate, melancholy, and comforting. All the things Christmas seems to be.

The title track is Amy’s cover of her own tune. She’s not the young woman we heard on her first CD, anticipating holiday magic. She’s more the dear mom, aunt, or friend who tells you, “Oh, don’t get me anything. Just being with you is enough.” From there, Amy affirms that presence, and not presents, are what this holy-day is about. “To Be Together”, “Christmas for You and Me”, and her duet with husband Vince Gill, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” summon family, friends, and lovers to the feast.

Nestled in the mix is “Another Merry Christmas”, a somewhat painful reminder that not everyone has a place to belong on that day. Amy avoids the easy sentiments of songs like “Deck the Halls” and digs into the sad underpinnings of Christmas. Her heart is true in this ballad—a heart who’s learned there is healing in the tears. It calls us to set an extra place at the table. Amy’s manager, Jennifer Cooke, wrote about this powerful song for the Washington Post.

Jennifer’s column also confronts the “It’s not Christian enough” judgement this CD has received. I expected this response, as the CD is 7 tracks in before we hear a traditional, Jesus-centered song. Her earlier Christmas CDs featured several covers of traditional hymns and classic carols. This one is by far her bravest, most intimate collection. Throughout, Amy explores the bittersweet experience of a “Melancholy Christmas” in “December”. Rather than turning from her faith, however, her musings are best viewed through the lens of it. This is a woman whose known heartache and loss, and still found joy and laughter. We grieve our losses, but new life comes. Easter always follows Good Friday.

To balance these sentiments, Amy lightens the mood with “White Christmas”, “Still Can’t Sleep”, and “Christmas Don’t Be Late”. Yet, even this Alvin and the Chipmunks cover has strains of melancholy through it. All the tracks have a rich, almost jazzy feel, like a trio in a smoky bar, delivered by musicians who’ve earned the right to sing the blues. The upbeat tunes reassure us that one of our favorite balladeers of Christmas hasn’t lost the magic: “I feel like I’m 8 years old inside/I still can’t sleep on Christmas Eve,” she croons.

“Music has always been a part of our family Christmas,” Amy says, introducing “O Come, All Ye Faithful”, and reminiscing about her dad. “Thank you so much for letting our family Christmas be a part of yours,” she says, with her loved ones gathered ‘round the fire, I bet. Right back at ‘cha, Amy.

Maria’s Musings & Advice: The Creative Life

Dear Maria,

I am an aspiring writer. I’ve been at it for several years with moderate success. My question is about what to do when people ask me about my work. For example, my husband and I stephen-king-about-writing-quote-hd-wallpaper-1920x1080-7017were at dinner with some friends last week. One of them asked me about my latest project, and when I told him, his response was, “There aren’t very many people making money at that.” My feelings were really hurt. I’ve thought about that conversation over and over, and each time I replay it I have a snappy comeback. But, really, at the time I was so stunned I muttered something about “giving it a try anyway” and then changed the subject.

What do you suggest in these situations? This isn’t the first time someone has shot down an idea. I’m getting tired of being bruised when I should be among supportive friends or family. What would you do?

Signed,

Dear Sir or Madam, Will You Read my Book?

Oh, Dear Dear,

I wonder how qualified your friend was to offer a take on the potential revenue to be realized from your project? There seems to be an epidemic of people who offer opinions about topics they know nothing about these days. Big sigh.

I’m sorry your feelings were hurt by your friend’s response. Artists—and you are an artist—are subjected to this kind of comment all the time. It’s hard for people to imagine making money at what they judge to not be a “real job.” You describe your status as a writer as a “moderate success,” so I take it that your pursuit of this vocation has earned some income, but hasn’t resulted in a financial windfall. That’s been my experience, too. There are writers making good money doing what they love. So, my question is: Why can’t it be you? Or me?

no time to think smallThat same question would be my response to your friend. Like you, though, I’m not sure I could have pulled it out in the moment. My suggestion to you in handling these situations is this: don’t let yourself get in these situations. Be very selective about the people with whom you share your ideas. Your inspirations are precious: treat them that way. Some people don’t get what a writer does, and when we try to explain, it’s just too hard to get their heads around. Walk into a bookstore, and you see the tangible results of the process. Talk about it while you’re in process, and they shake their heads, wondering, “How will you make money at that?”

The money question is one of the quickest ways ideas get shot down. Artists must balance necessary income and pursuing their craft. Ideally, the two are one and the same, or at least there’s overlap. If that’s not the case right now, it’s a worthy goal. As you have pursued your writing career, and had some success, you’ve met people who think your work is great, and get what you are doing. Hang with those people, and with people who are doing the work you aspire to do. Their energy will encourage you, especially when you’re feeling low, or have an idea that’s just emerging, and still in a vulnerable stage.

quote-it-ain-t-bragging-if-you-can-do-it-dizzy-dean-7-49-72So, the next time someone asks about your work, tell them, “It’s great! I enjoy my projects, and the people I’m working with. How’s your work going?” Then, look at the person intently. If they probe further about your work, go back to a recent success and celebrate a fait accompli. Radiate the confidence you feel when you’re at your best in your work. My dad used to quote Dizzy Dean, the great Cardinals pitcher: “It ain’t bragging if ya done it.” (The quote has been edited for this meme, but I like the first one better. It sounds more like a man who’d say he “slud into second.”) Read on for some inspiration from Ol’ Blue Eyes. Good luck with your work!

A song for recovering creatives: I’ve Got [the Muse] Under My Skin

Julia Cameron nurtures and shoves Recovering Creatives out of the nest in her seminal work, The Artist’s Way. This Frank Sinatra standard celebrates the internal tug-of-war the Creative has with the Muse: pulling between expression and safety. Let’s ride along and see who wins. The whole trip takes about three and a half minutes.

The song’s opening beat is the recovering Creative trudging through life. The Creative sighs:

I’ve got you under my skin

And to whom is she singing? It’s the Muse, reviving artistic desire that the Creative deserted miles ago. Perhaps she has dipped back into the gift: a few words scrawled on the back of a napkin; a doodle in the margin of a legal pad; the music cranked when no one else is home. The Creative walks her familiar path, but is restless now. She’s indulged the Muse enough times to know she’d:

Sacrifice anything come what might for the sake of having you near

But there’s that warning voice, the Inner Critic, the tapes of parents, teachers, and employers and others that play a soundtrack of discouragement. They tell her the dream is not realistic, not worth pursuing, and slap down her fledgling aspirations with one stroke of the pen, or one side-eye glance:

Don’t you know little fool, you never can win – wake up to reality

But the Muse protests:

Each time I do just the thought of you makes me stop before I begin

As the Creative concedes:

I’ve got you deep in the heart of me
So deep in my heart that you’re really a part of me
I’ve got you under my skin

Flashback to the recording studio, January 1956, and biographer James Kaplan’s Sinatra: The Chairman. The Voice swaggered into this session knowing exactly what he was looking for from the state-of-the-art musicians assembled. He’d presented this song to his arranger, the brilliant Nelson Riddle, just hours before. Sinatra told him: “I want a long crescendo.”

Up all night working on the arrangement, Riddle received a standing ovation from the orchestra after the song’s first run through. Sinatra usually captured the recording he wanted in 5 or so takes, but this night was different. This one went eleven, twelve, thirteen takes—“some of them would have been false starts, only seconds long, but some went on longer until Frank raised a hand, shaking his head, stopping the music, and telling the band and the control booth what had to change,” wrote Kaplan. “Then take twenty-two.”

The first verse, bridge and chorus end, and the harrumphing base rhythm builds. The interlude builds to a show-stopping trombone solo—the voice of the Muse itself, sputtering, shining, stretching into fullness, released from the confines of common sense like a genie from a bottle. Kindred spirits of brass and strings swell in support. The trombone tucks back in as Sinatra vamps for the Creative, dismissing the nay-sayers with a flick of jazzy arrogance. He sings “as easily and bell-clearly as if he had just stepped out of the shower and taken it into his mind to do a little Cole Porter,” wrote Kaplan. Trombone soloist Milt Bernhart later recalled how Sinatra “knew something special was happening” in this session.

The long crescendo complete, the Creative returns to the familiar, syncopated rhythm that started the song. Same notes, made new. Recovery goes on. Under her skin. Over the top.

 

Dear Readers,

In a quandary? Life got you down? Need some perspective? If you’d like to submit a question, click here. Let’s hear from you, or “for a friend.” Please add your thoughts, and suggestions in the comments section, below. 

Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. The opinions or views expressed in this column are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist.  This column, its author, and the publisher are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice in any given situation. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and clarity, and all comments are moderated.

Maria’s Musings and Advice: Volume 1, fourth edition

Candle treeDear Readers,

In a quandary? Life got you down? Need some perspective? Check this out: My new advice column! I’ll answer questions every week,* so if you’d like to ask a question, click here. I look forward to hearing from you, or “for a friend.” Please add your thoughts, and suggestions in the comments section, below. 

 

Dear Maria,

My husband has been estranged from his family for many years. He had been physically and mentally abused and his parents were never remorseful and continued living a destructive lifestyle after my husband made the break from them. His life greatly improved after the break and he has no regrets. Recently, his father’s health declined, and 2 days prior to his passing my husband had a conversation on the phone with him. My husband felt good about how things were discussed and was at peace with his father. We debated whether or not to attend the funeral, and wound up going. At the funeral home while my husband stood by his father’s casket, his aunt (by marriage) approached him and said, “Not as easy as you thought it would be, huh?” My husband and I were shocked to hear her say such a thing and made no reply.

Later, after the burial, we were at his parent’s home with relatives. Once again this aunt went to my husband, and this time said, “I hope you’ll make peace with your mother now.” My husband said nothing. She had semi-cornered him in the kitchen. Of course the aunt doesn’t know all the details of my husband’s horrific upbringing, but she is aware of some of it. One would think she would have kept her mouth shut. This was so out of line and hurtful to my husband. He’d been through so much in his youth and implying it was up to him to make peace was just wrong and meddlesome.
We talked about this several times, and we wish we had an appropriate response instead of being dumbstruck. Should we just keep quiet? Or should we tell the aunt how hurtful her comments were? It just feels wrong somehow to let her get away with this.

Signed,
Not Ready to Turn the Other Cheek

Dear Not Ready,

A wise woman once said: “There are some games where the only way to win is to not play.” I am so happy your husband got out of an abusive home, found a loving and loyal wife, and created a happy life. He made a wise choice to walk away from a game where the rules always changed and the deck was stacked against him. He has emerged clear-headed and healthy.

Which is more than can be said for the aunt. Your husband’s response was the best: to not take the bait and engage in another round of the dysfunctional family game. She may feel she was protecting or defending her sister (or sister-in-law), but all she did was treat a grown man like a vulnerable child: holding him responsible for trespasses that were not his fault, and expecting him to make nice with an abusive parent. It’s amazing the extremes to which people will go to excuse or defend a loved one’s offensive behavior. Look at it this way: Her actions are more evidence of a sick family system. They confirm your husband’s choices to protect himself from it.

As to your question about contacting the aunt: I advise against it. I don’t think it would do much good, nor bring a resolution that would be satisfying for you. She chose very public spaces, teeming with emotion, to speak to your husband. That suggests she’s not interested in reconciliation; she’s interested in drama. I am deeply impressed by your husband’s courage to talk with his father before he passed. That was an essential conversation. Talking with the aunt is not.

Best revengeThese scenarios, unfortunately, end up on an endless loop in our minds. We find the brilliant retort only later, when we’re driving home or drifting off to sleep. Better to disengage from this toxic person rather than allow more of that junk in your world. If you saw this woman on a regular basis, maybe it’d be worth a shot at a conversation. As it stands, I say let her have her petty victory, and you and your husband celebrate the old saying, “The best revenge is a life well-lived.”
In time, you may find it in your heart to offer some good thoughts or prayers for the woman. When you do, your resentment will subside. That’s the best outcome of all—when toxic people no longer take up our precious head space. Contemplate these lyrics:

And then dance to this version:

 

 

Special re-post for Mother’s Day (Week):

IMAG2559Advice from my mom, Mary Catherine Rodgers. Last year, my mother moved from her home, and while sorting out her papers, we found this gem from 1951. She was a new mom at the time. Thanks, Mom, for finding a few moments between bottles and diaper changes to pen these sage words:

My Child and the Future

The skeptic today offers, “Why children – what future do they have?”

By the very fact that there are children and that I am concerned about the future of my child, is assurance enough that life holds rich promise in the days ahead.

In the routine of performing the mechanics of living, feeding and clothing, growing little bodies I am apt to forget the inner child that daily matures at my side.

One day I as a parent will abruptly realize that this human being is a product of my very life. It is important that I take time out to decide just what my responsibility is to our child. With the weighty thought of this obligation comes to mind the familiar quotation: “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle…Rules the World.”

What do I sincerely want for my child?
How can I best prepare him for the business of living?
Riches, success, esteem in the world…are these goals the top priorities for my child?

Daily, wealthy men take their own lives, revered men lose favor with a fickle world and professional men abuse their highly specialized and costly education. These then are clearly not my answer. Who could dictate the future of a child?

Rather I would hope I could instill in my child concrete stepping stones or guideposts to direct him along any path of life he may choose. These would be fundamental concepts that would serve as a basis for wise decisions toward a happy and purposeful life.

The seriousness of living, the joy and inner satisfaction of accomplishment are fruits of knowledge that will give substance to his existence. I would hope to establish an atmosphere of good living in his own home as a standard of his comparison of people he will encounter throughout his life.

Essentially, I must teach him to be honest with himself and make his greatest judgment a strict accounting to himself. The mental, physical and the spiritual must be coordinated to form the complete man. In an ever changing, unstable world, these principles will remain constant.

Then when logic in a chaotic world has a hallow ring, when reason and counsel seem futile, I must teach him to pray.

How else could I encourage his reach…..to exceed his grasp?

With God’s help, I will instill in my child these intangible qualities found so necessary but often lacking in his all too human parents. These profound truths will be the unseen hand that will guide my child to his future….full….with his highest potential and promise.

Mary Catherine McDonough Rodgers – 1951

(My thanks to my brother, Mark Rodgers, for transcribing Mom’s essay.)

Send in your question for next week’s column!

*Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. Use of this column is not intended to replace or substitute for any professional, financial, medical, legal, or other professional advice. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist. The opinions or views expressed in this column are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional. This column, its author, and the publisher are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice in any given situation. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and clarity, and all comments are moderated.

MichMash Podcast

Share laughs and stories with my friend Mich Hancock and I on her wonderful podcast, MichMash! We talk writing, parenting, creativity, and life. Listen in!

How Writing Fiction is Like Being a Mom

Writing, it has been said, is like giving birth. A man must have come up with that. I’ve been a mom for over 20 years, and an aspiring author for half that time, and I can tell you: Writing and publishing demand a different skill set than labor and delivery. As I’ve nurtured my little creations along, however, I discovered at least a dozen things that mothering and writing fiction have in common: Read on…

I’ve Got [the Muse] Under My Skin

A song for recovering creatives:

Julia Cameron nurtures and shoves Recovering Creatives out of the nest in her seminal work, The Artist’s Way. This Frank Sinatra standard celebrates the internal tug-of-war the Creative has with the Muse: pulling between expression and safety. Let’s ride along and see who wins. The whole trip takes about three and a half minutes.
The song’s opening beat is the recovering Creative trudging through life. The Creative sighs:

I’ve got you under my skin

And to whom is she singing? It’s the Muse, reviving artistic desire that the Creative deserted miles ago. Perhaps she has dipped back into the gift: a few words scrawled on the back of a napkin; a doodle in the margin of a legal pad; the music cranked when no one else is home. The Creative walks her familiar path, but is restless now. She’s indulged the Muse enough times to know she’d:

Sacrifice anything come what might for the sake of having you near

But there’s that warning voice, the Inner Critic, the tapes of parents, teachers, and employers and others that play a soundtrack of discouragement. They tell her the dream is not realistic, not worth pursuing, and slap down her fledgling aspirations with one stroke of the pen, or one side-eye glance:

Don’t you know little fool, you never can win – wake up to reality

But the Muse protests:

Each time I do just the thought of you makes me stop before I begin

As the Creative concedes:

I’ve got you deep in the heart of me
So deep in my heart that you’re really a part of me
I’ve got you under my skin

Flashback to the recording studio, January 1956, and biographer James Kaplan’s Sinatra: The Chairman. The Voice swaggered into this session knowing exactly what he was looking for from the state-of-the-art musicians assembled. He’d presented this song to his arranger, the brilliant Nelson Riddle, just hours before. Sinatra told him: “I want a long crescendo.”

Up all night working on the arrangement, Riddle received a standing ovation from the orchestra after the song’s first run through. Sinatra usually captured the recording he wanted in 5 or so takes, but this night was different. This one went eleven, twelve, thirteen takes—“some of them would have been false starts, only seconds long, but some went on longer until Frank raised a hand, shaking his head, stopping the music, and telling the band and the control booth what had to change,” wrote Kaplan. “Then take twenty-two.”

The first verse, bridge and chorus end, and the harrumphing base rhythm builds. The interlude builds to a show-stopping trombone solo—the voice of the Muse itself, sputtering, shining, stretching into fullness, released from the confines of common sense like a genie from a bottle. Kindred spirits of brass and strings swell in support. The trombone tucks back in as Sinatra vamps for the Creative, dismissing the nay-sayers with a flick of jazzy arrogance. He sings “as easily and bell-clearly as if he had just stepped out of the shower and taken it into his mind to do a little Cole Porter,” wrote Kaplan. Trombone soloist Milt Bernhart later recalled how Sinatra “knew something special was happening” in this session.

The long crescendo complete, the Creative returns to the familiar, syncopated rhythm that started the song. Same notes, made new. Recovery goes on. Under her skin. Over the top.