Category Archives: Life

Let me tell you about my Mom

Dad didn’t understand why I needed a new dress. He said I already had a perfectly good one that I had only worn once. I tried to explain that I couldn’t wear a prom dress in a beauty pageant, but I could see his eyes glaze over. I had lost him. Thankfully Mom came to the rescue and bought me the dusty rose colored gown that would allow me to blend in to the crowd of big-haired hopefuls in the 1983 Miss EHS contest. Mom understood, just like she did when I absolutely had to have an Op-brand t-shirt for beach day. Dad thought $10 was excessive for a t-shirt. In all fairness, it was (back then). But I explained to Mom that “everyone would be wearing one” and that I would be left out. I wore that red Op shirt for years.

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Doesn’t look like much, but it was a big deal back then.

Suffice it to say, Mom understood much more than I gave her credit for when I was growing up. The tougher of the two parents, she was the one holding me accountable when I didn’t do my chores, calling me out on poor decisions and waiting for me when I stumbled home too late from a date. Like most mother-daughter relationships, we had some tricky years when I stubbornly refused her sage advice. Over time, however, we cultivated a more balanced relationship. I would learn my lessons the hard way, as most of us do, while she continued to toss out warnings that I ignored. I began to realize that her actions were based in love. Even today, in my 50’s, she still drops hints that soundly vaguely parental, and she still worries about me. That will never stop, and that is a good thing. It means she cares. If life has shown me anything, it is how difficult parenting can be, and how rare when it is done well. She did it well.

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A fave pic of Mom, sassy and savvy.

In the 90’s, Mom and I traveled a bit, taking road trips to Maine (with an accidental excursion to Canada) and New Orleans. She and I share a sense of adventure and learning new things, and I credit her for my open-mindedness, as well as my appreciation for people from all walks of life. I came to realize that I could ask her just about anything (except for technology or sports) and she would have an intelligent answer. She was my Google before Google was invented, and I often find myself telling people who ask me for advice, “I’m not sure about that. Let me call my Mom, and I’ll let you know.” As a retired social worker and avid reader, her grasp of a wide range of topics never ceases to amaze.

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Traveling together in the 90’s

One of her many topics of particular expertise has always been money. Dad (like me) tended to err on the side of short-term, low-discipline financial choices, and Mom had to hold the family together. Budgeting, saving, scrimping and investing all became her strengths by necessity. I recall family meetings in the 70’s when we were told we were going to have to hunker down for a bit and cut some corners. I also recall in 2007, she told me that she was pulling all of her retirement money out of the stock market because she was concerned about the relationship between the dollar and the yen. Her financial adviser thought she was crazy, and then everything bottomed out. It was then I realized the full extent of her financial savvy, telling people that if my Mom told me to invest in dog poop, I would sign up on the spot.

While I never did develop her financial skills, I do credit her for my love of reading and passion for service to others. She took us to the library often as kids, leaving us to explore and encouraging us to bring home our prize finds. When a family in need came into her radar, she would send us to our rooms for clothes and toys to donate, and we would ride with her to the home of the recipient family, where we could meet and play with the kids who would later wear our hand-me-downs in their school photos. Those moments stay with me, and I am grateful for the perspective I gained from what was not only insightful parenting, but also leading by example. When I think about the successful parts of my life, and the good things about how I turned out as a person, I know without reservation that the credit for those traits goes to my Mom.

Today my Mom is 80 years old. She still mows her own grass, walks twice a day, makes kind gestures to others and reads voraciously. While the pandemic prohibits us from throwing her a proper birthday party, as evidenced by our socially distant front-yard photo shoot, we look forward to the day when we can celebrate this special day for a smart, caring, savvy, strong Mom. Like always, she understands.

 

 

List Obsession

 

If I walked up to my 24-year old self and revealed that in 30 years, I would be obsessed with making lists, my youth reply would have been, “Did I get a brain injury somewhere along the way?” As far back as I can remember, I sought experiences for superficial reasons, especially if they would translate into stories I could tell to impress people. This (admittedly) selfish focus meant that I immersed myself in a chaotic world that stressed ego over character. Somewhere along the journey, that focus flipped upside-down.

What is vitally important to me now is order and kindness. Organization, neatness, routine, structure, service-all words that would have sent me running for the hills in the last few decades-I crave in a way I could have never predicted. I am not sure when the shift occurred; perhaps I morphed  gradually through the years after being married to a kind and selfless person like Kevin. I certainly was keenly more aware of the transformation in the months following our mutual job loss, and the recent pandemic likely contributed. After the massive life changes and extra quiet time, some self-refection and enhanced order was inevitable. And for me, order means making lists.

My new job as the administrative assistant to the director of the Georgia Cancer Center has locked in this list-making trend for good. Dr. Cortes is adamant about a high level of meticulousness and is accustomed to an exact process in his daily work. This trait is reasonable and expected of a successful Doctor and Scientist, and one that aligns with the environment I was seeking for myself when I made a career change. Any culture shock in the transition between the car business and the world of academic health care pursuits, while difficult, have been truly been suited to the new paradigm of my life.

My brain now works completely in terms of lists. As I work, I follow a checklist of activities I want to perform daily, even if I am only make small, incremental progress. The beauty of my day is that I am likely to be undertaking many different tasks from one moment to the next, but in a way that is ensconced in order. I methodically transition among tasks, documenting progress along the way, an obvious shift from the environment I cultivated in my past career, one I often compared to a juggling act, with plates crashing around me.

In addition to not wanting to forget a step in my day, I admit I also just enjoy the feeling of marking my progress on a list. A hugely daunting day, broken down into easy manageable chunks, becomes a pleasurable flow of one small victory to the next. I have daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, priority, pending, long-term lists and spreadsheets. I make lists for each day, lists for days off, weekend lists, grocery lists, lists of people I need to meet and lists of people I want to stay in touch with (a particularly important list right now).

Friends and family might not appreciate knowing that they are also part of a master list, but I would hope they see it as I do-that I care enough to want to make sure I don’t miss them in my ongoing communication. I strive to not let too much time pass without texting hello or letting them know I appreciate them or seeing how they are doing. When holidays approach, I am looking at the list constantly, making sure that everyone receives a small acknowledgement from me (including my friends at various businesses like the dry cleaners).

Finally, I enjoy thinking of my lists of favorite things. When I hear a song in my car, I consider including it on one of my many playlists. When I watch a movie that blows me away, I consider adding it to my preferred flicks. These lists are dynamic, subtly changing over time, but the core of them stays strong. Casablanca will always stay on the list of Angela’s fave films, Rick Springfield will always be considered one of the top musicians, David Sedaris is a permanent entry in my collection of treasured writers. Some others may fall off, join or re-join through the years, but for now, I have curated what I consider to be a Masterpiece List of Lists, and offer them here as much to have them documented for myself as for sharing with others. I am not sticking to just 10 anymore,  either. If I want to have 11 or 12 favorite songs, then so be it.  I consider them to be a significant statement about myself: as John Cusack says in High Fidelity: “What really matters is what you like, not what you are like…books, records, films..these things matter.” Yes, they do. And for that, as well as many other quotable lines and intelligent performances, Mr. John Cusack has made it into one of my lists.

You will notice in my list of favorite books, The Checklist Manifesto by Dr. Atul Gawande. I reference this book often, and did even before working for a healthcare provider. Dr. Gawande presents a compelling case for checklists at work, explaining that while our egos don’t like to think that we need a list for work that we do every day, our brains need that safety net, especially when the stakes are high. Pilots who have been flying planes for years can still get careless and omit an essential pre-flight procedure. Surgeons performing a repair they have done countless times can easily skip a life-saving protocol. Our brains spin too fast, our egos distract us, and we do not always operate on all cylinders…the opportunities for error are endless. The one cure for these errors is the checklist.

If I have a favorite list in all these lists, however, it is the last one-my list of most important quotes. My current focus quote is by Ram Dass: ” I would like my life to be a statement of love and compassion-and where it isn’t, that’s where my work lies.” I suspect the shift from random adventures to thoughtful order is one of shifting priorities and general maturity. With clarity, I see the pages of my life’s story shift as I look back and realize the impact of my actions on others, and become less proud of my past and more hopeful for the chance to make amends and build character, seeking compassion for others and finding joy in kind gestures.

Let me know some of your favorite lists-do we share anything in common? The root of compassion is finding common ground and an easy place to start is finding things we all love the most. I would love to hear yours, and I here offer mine. Perhaps my 24-year old self should have learned to appreciate lists before madly chasing grand adventure. In the words of Gretchin Rubin: “Outer order contributes to inner calm”.

List of Favorite Movies

  1. Casablanca
  2. Shakespeare in Love
  3. A Little Chaos
  4. Beauty and the Beast (Disney version)
  5. XXX
  6. Moulin Rouge
  7. Darjeeling Ltd
  8. High Fidelity
  9. The Invention of Lying
  10. Grosse Pointe Blank
  11. The Longest Week
  12. Mulan
  13. Now, Voyager
  14. Truman Show
  15. Pleasantville

Favorite Songs

  1. Show Must Go On by Queen
  2. Show Must Go On (Moulin Rouge Soundtrack)
  3. Life is Beautiful by Sixx AM
  4. It’s My Life (ballad version) by Bon Jovi
  5. Northside by Tim Brantley
  6. Hold On To Your Dream by Rick Springfield
  7. 50 Ways to Say Goodbye by Train
  8. And So I Pray by Jem
  9. I’m Not Ok by My Chemical Romance
  10. Still Got the Blues by Gary Moore
  11. A Song for You by Ray Charles
  12. Comfortable by John Mayer
  13. Sonata in G Minor by Tom Barabas
  14. American Tune by Paul Simon
  15. Song for the Road by David Ford

Favorite Places to spend money

  1. Target
  2. Clinique
  3. Publix
  4. Hallmark
  5. Michael’s
  6. Stein Mart
  7. Dillard’s
  8. Art on Broad
  9. Book Tavern
  10. Barnes and Noble

Favorite Causes

  1. Miller Theater
  2. Georgia Cancer Center
  3. Golden Harvest Food Bank
  4. Augusta Symphony
  5. Leadership Augusta
  6. Child Enrichment
  7. Leukemia Lymphoma Society
  8. Friends of Augusta Animal Services
  9. Salvation Army
  10. Safehomes
  11. Heritage Academy

Favorite Writers

  1. David Sedaris
  2. Will Schwalbe
  3. Fr. Gregory Boyle
  4. Adam Grant
  5. DH Lawrence
  6. Atul Gawande
  7. Russell Brand
  8. Elizabeth Gilbert
  9. Joan Didion
  10. Anais Nin

Favorite Bands

  1. Queen
  2. Sixx AM
  3. Linkin Park
  4. Bon Jovi
  5. REM
  6. Matchbox Twenty
  7. Edison Project
  8. Styx
  9. Journey
  10. No Doubt

Favorite Singers

  1. Rick Springfield
  2. Jem
  3. George Michael
  4. Russ Taff
  5. John Mayer
  6. Stevie Wonder
  7. Tim Brantley
  8. David Ford
  9. David Owen
  10. Sade
  11. Edith Piaf
  12. Gary Moore
  13. Johnny Cash
  14. Babyface

Favorite Hotels

  1. Charleston Place
  2. Chateau Elan
  3. Margaritaville Nashville
  4. Vendue Charleston
  5. Hermitage Nashville
  6. Proximity Greensboro NC
  7. Ritz Lodge Lake Oconee
  8. Studio 154 Nashville
  9. Shamrock Ocala
  10. Four Seasons Whistler

Favorite Foods to Eat

  1. Cinnabon
  2. Shells and Cheese
  3. Takosushi Kevin’s Roll
  4. Guacamole and Chips from Caesar at Poblano’s
  5. Fluff (mine)
  6. Pancakes (mine)
  7. French Toast
  8. Lefse (Dad)
  9. Egg Breakfast Food (Mom)
  10. Lasagne
  11. Birthday cake

Favorite Books

  1. Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
  2. Tattoos on the Heart by Fr. Gregory Boyle
  3. 10% Happier by Dan Harris
  4. Books for Living by Will Schwalbe
  5. Selected Poetry of Rilke, trans. Stephen Mitchell
  6. Everybody Always by Bob Goff
  7. Everything that Remains by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus
  8. Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb
  9. Naked by David Sedaris
  10. Give and Take by Adam Grant
  11. Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande

Favorite Songwriters

  1. Rick Springfield
  2. David Ford
  3. Paul Simon
  4. Richard Marx
  5. Billy Joel
  6. Jon Bon Jovi
  7. Elton John/Bernie Taupin
  8. Mike Shinoda
  9. Tim Brantley
  10. George Michael
  11. John Mayer
  12. Lyle Lovett

Favorite Actors/Actresses:

  1. Jason Bateman
  2. John Cusack
  3. Jane Fonda
  4. Judi Dench
  5. Morgan Freeman
  6. Emma Thompson
  7. Jim Carrey
  8. Nicole Kidman
  9. Ewan McGregor
  10. Renee Zellweger
  11. Adam Driver
  12. Adrian Brody
  13. Mark Ruffalo

Favorite Quotes:

  1. Choose being kind over being right, and you will be right every time. -Richard Carlson
  2. I would like my life to be a statement of love and compassion-and where it isn’t, that’s where my work lies. -Ram Dass.
  3. May your choices reflect your hopes not your fears. -Nelson Mandela
  4. Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness. -Martin Luther King Jr.
  5. The one who plants trees, knowing that he will never sit in their shade, has at least started to understand the meaning of life. -Rabindranath Tagore
  6. Don’t just ask whether you are proud of what you’ve achieved. Ask whether you’re proud of how you achieved it. -Adam Grant
  7. It takes grace to remain kind in cruel situations. -Unknown
  8. The past from intensity to greatness passes through sacrifice.-Kassner
  9. Perhaps everything terrible is something in its deepest being something that needs our love. -Rilke
  10. The more simple we are, the more complete we become. -Auguste Rodin
  11. The objective of cleaning is not just to clean but to feel happiness within that environment- Marie Kondo
  12. The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, honorable, compassionate, to have made a difference. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Freefall 2019

Ten years ago, to fulfill a goal from my bucket list, I allowed myself to be strapped to a robust young man in a tiny airplane climbing steadily in the sky. We watched as the plane door opened, and together we stepped beneath the wings, pausing only for a moment before flinging ourselves into a loud rush of wind. Although the step out onto a microscopic ledge was a harrowing moment, the contrast of exhilaration and sereneness surrounding the release of the parachute sticks with me the most. I have been thinking about this tandem jump in recent days with a forlorn pensiveness, creating an internal narrative in a quest for inner peace following my resignation from Jim Hudson Lexus.

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It is both undesirable and inappropriate to explain the reasons for my departure after an intense 16-year tenure; suffice it to say that they are as complicated as they are depressing. To discuss the reasons would be similar to navigating small talk with well-wishers about the sudden divorce of a seemingly happy couple: way too personal and serving no constructive purpose. I can say this, however: I fought for what I believed was right, and I take ownership of the outcome. In addition to my own departure, the battle culminated in a loss of many valued team members, including two of my dear friends and front-line comrades, as well as my husband. In these situations, where there is a good deal of “agreeing to disagree”, nobody wins, in the end.  Although supremely confident that the store and all departing employees will thrive, I reserve the right to spew optimistic PR clichés while mourning something I have long considered to be my life’s purpose and passion. As I write this, two weeks later, I still feel as though I am free-falling in the air, scrambling for the parachute cord.

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In the heat of the battle, I did not hesitate at all, despite a kind offer to “take a few days and think about it”. I replied that the only required deliberation was to negotiate the transition details. I then promptly stepped onto the microscopic ledge of the metaphorical skyscraper of my career and jumped, with no parachute beyond the comfort of knowing I was not alone. In the days which followed, despite the ensuing tears and a sinking nausea deep in my belly, I also experienced the calm resolve of knowing I made the right decision for myself and my family. An inevitable peaceful floating into the unknown will be a metaphor made more acute with the phrase “I will let you know where I land”, exchanged with friends constantly throughout each day.

I think back to the person I was when I came to the dealership in 2003. Financially, I was in a sad place, living in an apartment with no heat and possessing such a low credit score that I suspect it might have been a negative number. Mr. Hudson had to guarantee my first car note with Lexus Financial. While my financial transformation over the years is certainly a source of pride, my greatest accomplishment is one of personal growth. In the past 16 years, I fine-tuned skills which lend credibility to another of my oft-used current phrases: I truly am a better person for having the honor of working for this incredible organization. I have mastered the art of the apology, I am a meticulous organizer, and I take immense pride in my efforts to be a blessing to customers and colleagues. I understand the value of processes, am a stickler for personal responsibility for mistakes, and have made strides in stress-management (a tough one in the car business). I may have even developed a small sense of humor, but time will tell if the laughter was just my co-workers being polite.

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I am filled with profound gratitude that my team leaders allowed me to engage in so many exciting projects, many of which were my own creations. They empowered me to do what I felt was best for the dealership and the community, and supported me without question. The credit for my personal growth goes to this level of unwavering mutual trust over many years. I can endorse the integrity of this organization and the leaders in the beautiful new facility on Washington Road, and I can also take responsibility for much of that which went awry. In the coming years, I will work on other areas of personal growth still needing attention, not the least of which is a borderline pathological need to help everyone and fix everything. During my tenure, I gradually took on increased responsibilities, so that by the time I left, I was involved in every inch of this 56,000 square foot building, as well as each member of the team within the modern glass walls. Nobody asked me to do this, I just kept adding plates and integrated them into the juggling act which was already tenuous leading up to our move. It was inevitable that some plates would drop, wires would cross and exhaustion would settle in like an unwelcome relative.

One of my PR clichés is calling my next unknown job “a new adventure”. In this adventure, whatever it might be, I will bring my same work ethic, initiative, organization, passion for customer service and ability to work with little supervision. What I will not bring is my proclivity to take on duties outside of my purview because I assume that nobody else can do them with my same level of care. I will share the blessed burden of service with my equally capable team mates, communicating when my juggling act has reached full capacity, and learning to enjoy whatever new terrain awaits me in my safe landing place. In the meantime, I will be floating, more gently, pledging to stay in contact with the many friends I made in the Lexus family and Augusta community, and if I ever find myself in the position again where I need to make such a bold leap of faith from a precarious ledge, I will be wiser for the experience and quicker to find the parachute.

What People Think

One of our customers, I’ll call him Mark, aggressively insisted that we give him free car washes, even after we discontinued the program. When he purchased a new vehicle today, we asked him if he wanted to include a maintenance plan. He declined, stating that he doesn’t do his service with us, he just takes the free washes.

I would be mortified to demand such special privileges, especially if my loyalty to the company was mediocre. Unlike Mark, I have an acute awareness of what other people might think about me. Mark is more worried about getting a deal for himself; I am more concerned with doing the right thing for the relationship. If it occurs to him that we might be expressing our disappointment after he leaves, it certainly doesn’t seem to matter. I, on the other hand, am so sensitive to what people might say when I walk away, that I have a lifetime of unnecessary purchases to show for it.

People always tell you that you shouldn’t care what others think about you, and for certain circumstances, that is absolutely true. You have to be authentic and let the chips fall where they may when you are following your heart. Yet, when I look back on the significant successes of my life, I realize that they were strongly driven by the opposite motivation. The truly cool things about me grew out of a carefully cultivated garden called What People Think. Marketing people might call it building your personal brand, others might label it nurturing your reputation. Brought down to the lowest denominator, you might even call it good ole fashioned giving a shit. Whatever you call it, it is a skill like any other, and it includes knowing when to put it into play.

Twenty years ago, I suffered from many of the common maladies of youth: procrastination, laziness, selfishness, sloppiness. My main priority was my appearance. I spent an obscene amount of time on my hair and makeup, and fished for compliments in the same way a flower leans toward the sun to maximize exposure to light. I wanted to be the nice person who was also attractive. That was about the extent of my garden. What people thought about my looks was such a big deal, that even if I was exhausted or broke, I would find a way to make sure I was polished and shiny when the moment called for it.

Over time, I starting caring about other aspects of my brand, as well. Worrying about what my co-workers would say inspired me to be punctual, work hard and not take the last cupcake. Concern for what the server would think pushed me to be a heavy tipper and not send anything back. Caring about my friends meant showing an interest in their hobbies and listening more than talking. Awareness of the people around me precluded me from overindulging in cocktails. Wanting Kevin to think of me as a good spouse inspired me to be neat and organized around the house.

As I get older, I care much less about appearance-related opinions and much more about ones pertaining to my character. I think about my legacy and the kinds of things I would want to be known for after I am gone. If descriptors such as hardworking, kind and thoughtful are batted around at my funeral, I will be happy with that. Over time, the motivation of caring about the opinions of others has evolved into caring about people in general. Recently I embraced a personal mission statement that simply states -Be a blessing to someone today. I still care what they think about me, but more than that, I care how they feel. Now that is a garden worth nurturing.

Minimalist Wannabe

Like most Americans, I tend to shop or eat when I am blue. I realize that I have too many blessings to give in to melancholy-based habits with any regularity, but I confess that I have indulged enough to proclaim the unoriginal and ubiquitous New Year’s resolutions: lose weight and spend less. I would like to add two more resolutions which are extremely compatible with these goals: own less and simplify.

These last two objectives surfaced after watching a Netflix documentary about the Minimalists. Minimalist documentary Seeing this film about Joshua Fields Milburn and Ryan Nicodemus at the start of a new year is fortuitous, because they offer such a compelling message about how our addiction to possessions creates more stress than happiness. Thus my newfound and overwhelming need to participate in some major purging. Keep life simple, baby, I say to myself, and appreciate each moment instead of trying to fill your sadness with a swiss cake roll and a new piece of art.

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BT supports my decision, as long as I don’t force her to donate any cat toys

 

I neither want nor expect to reach the level of extreme extrication that Joshua and Ryan accomplished. I read somewhere that Joshua sliced 90% of his material possessions over 8 months. Seeing Joshua’s lone folding chair in an empty living room takes care of most of that temptation. Hearing that he only owns one pair of jeans kills the rest. (Those poor jeans will surely wear out from being washed every night?) Overall, however, the concept resonates with me, because I get a small high from donating superfluous items in my life, and I understand the Feng Shui behind less clutter. So that amazing feeling, augmented with the knowledge gained from the documentary, and I’m a madwoman on a different kind of binge-purge.

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One of my newly stripped closets. Don’t be too impressed, however. There are 6 closets in my house.

 

A couple of things will keep me in check, most of them centered around the fact that I am married to someone who is a keeper in more ways than one. Not only do I want to keep him, he wants to keep his stuff, and he has a lot of it. His reluctance to let go of material possessions is not an issue for our marraige, because we are 2 people in a 2,100 square foot house. The house itself is quite tidy, and as proof, I offer this question posed by Kevin’s home health nurse after his hip-replacement: “So, who’s the neat freak?” As someone who lived single and sloppy for most of her adult life,  this inquiry made me extremely happy.

So Kevin’s stuff is safe from my new proclivity (mostly!) and I have been happily filling bags and boxes to donate. Items which seem too nice to take to Goodwill get shipped to my sister Lisa in Colorado, who has a little Ebay business. I’m on my second box of unwanted goodies for her consideration. She is instructed to keep or sell or donate at her discretion, and she sends me a report of how much she earns from my life’s leftovers, which is fun to read. She keeps the profits (since she does all the work) and I get the joy of knowing that someone in another country is really enjoying my 10 year old silk scarf. Other popular items, many of which ironically are sold to people back here in Augusta, Georgia, include books I know I will not read more than once, and dress up jewelry from last year’s Christmas party.

I often get carried away with whatever my current hobby might be, so there is no telling how far I will travel down the Minimalist road. My last wild hair was a Pinterest-inspired obsession with gift-wrapping, a creative outlet I enjoyed over the holiday. Since I have an entire room filled with gift-wrap supplies, this new hobby is a bit at odds with the minimalist lifestyle. Not sure how that will work out, but I’m not worried about it.

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example of super cute gift wrap supplies I feel compelled to keep

 

If I stay on my current minimizing trajectory the same way I embraced the gift wrap project, Kevin will be sitting in his lonely Lazyboy chair in a spartan room with nothing on the walls. Fear not, my friends, for I assure you that I do possess the ability to ascertain which items have appropriate sentimental value and which ones were just bad purchase decisions. The other saving grace, of course, is my short attention span. I suspect that I will see a new documentary about the joy of baking on Netflix sometime in March, and will be traipsing off to William Sonoma in search of the best pie pans. (I hope not!) In the meantime, I am very happy with my new path of simpler living and am feeling like I can embrace it as a lifestyle change. Wish me luck!

Don’t Send the Bear

I follow a blog about a guy who knits. I subscribed after reading his book, Mad Man Knitting, a mesmerizing tale of a waiter who worked at one of the most successful restaurants in the country, and then lost everything when it closed. The author was homeless for a while, living in deplorable conditions with little to eat and few support systems. Documenting his experience in vivid detail, he writes about how he slowly started scrounging an existence from- of all things- knitting. He knits the most adorable bears, writes about the textures and colors of the yarns, takes a photo and then sells them. In addition to his passion for knitting bears, writing forms his other creative outlet. His prolific output dwarfs the rest of the blogging world, with weekly and sometimes daily posts. He seems to have a lot to say and a lot of time in which to say it.

Mad Man Knitting Blog Link

One might think that the Mad Man Knitter-aka Gregory Patrick-is a similar tale to that of Porkchop Zimmerman from my last blog. They both suffered and found contentment through their art. They both produce an abundance of work, high quality stuff, well-received and inspiring to many. Both seem to still struggle a bit financially in spite of their modest celebrity status. Both personal journeys are fascinating to me. I have pretty much stopped reading the Knitting blog, however. And the reason, surprisingly, is customer service.

While Leonard “Porkchop” Zimmerman is at home with his mom sending free Happy stickers to anyone who requests them, Mr. Patrick has a long list of unsatisfied customers who sent in money for his adorable bears, only to receive nothing in return. If you read enough of his blogs, far enough back, you will find where he gets overwhelmed by the angry messages from customers who want their money back. The problem is that he has already spent the money and doesn’t have it to send.

It’s a cruel joke, really, because he constantly posts photos of new and adorable bears which he has just created, encouraging you to buy them because he only has beans and rice to eat. You are in love with the bear and empathetic to the artist’s plight. What you do not realize, however, is that you may or may not actually receive the product. Most people assume that even a backlog of orders would eventually be fulfilled. This is not the case. Some of us have ordered a bear, hoping to own this soft, adorable symbol of resilience through adversity, only to grow weary of waiting for its arrival.

I have to tell you that there seems to be a bit of randomness to order fulfillment. If Mr. Patrick knows you, or you happened to order a bear when he had postage money on hand, you receive a well-crafted and huggable bear. The rest of you, well…not so much. Sorry.

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In his defense, I knew the risk when I ordered. I had read blogs about his angry customers before I even sent in my money. I thought that the other customers were just impatient people, that they didn’t fully understand this struggling artist, and I empathized with Mr. Patrick in his plight to learn to manage a small business after only recently getting off of the streets. I assumed that eventually, a bear would arrive, and it would be an inspiring symbol to me, one I would set out to view daily. I would see it and think about the man who lost everything and learned to rebuild again. It would be a reminder to appreciate the little things, like a simple meal of beans and rice. It would serve as a gesture of solidarity with the blogging world. I was resolute to never contact him with inquiries about when to expect the bear, and prided myself that I would be the patient bear-adopter who waited kindly for my future fuzzy friend.

And then time passed. And then more time passed. So much time passed that I began to view myself as a bit of a sucker, and I decided to write off my purchase as a monetary gift to a stranger (he accepts donations in support of his blog). It wasn’t a lot of money and I didn’t need the bear. The sad thing is that I would have paid twice what I sent to receive it, and had plans to order many more. I eventually realized that I didn’t want the bear. The adorable yarn face would now represent disappointment and broken promises. I hoped that the bear would never arrive. And it never did. It’s been over 2 years since the order, and I’ve long since moved from where I lived when I placed it. He couldn’t send it now if he wanted to.

All of this is OK. I mean no ill will to Knitting Guy, and still admire his crafts. Although I have no interest in reading the blog or receiving the bear, I still think there was a message of tenacity in his story. But my inability to acquire a bear makes me appreciate Leonard Zimmerman even more, the artist who found a way to fund his passion and fulfill his promise to his fans: you have been there for me, and I will be there for you.

I think I’ll order some Happy stickers.

A Happy Choice

 

My stress-filled life had been burgeoning into a borderline melancholy when I agreed to attend the documentary “Happy”at the Imperial Theater with my friend Bethlehem. I was unsure of the details of the story but knew that the film was centered around the artist known for his smiling paintings, Leonard “Porkchop” Zimmerman.

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Like most Augustans, I had seen the Happy Robot signs plastered all around town, and had worn the stickers myself when they were thrust upon me by the ever-delightful and enthusiastic Tricia Hughes. Also like most Augustans, I was fuzzy about the motivation behind Zimmerman’s colorful and upbeat imagery, but curious to hear more about it, and possibly pick up some pointers.

 

As I am fascinated by stories of personal journeys, I was immediately drawn to the film, which recounts the life of the artist from childhood, through losing his great love, to finding redemption through his craft. I enjoyed watching him at work, fixated on painting while wearing headphones, head bouncing to the music. He would zone in close to the canvas, carefully outlining an image of a smiling bear, then suddenly burst into laughter. I wondered how his mind moved from the music to the paint to the thought which entertained him so much, a little envious of someone so completely in the moment and filled with the capacity for pure joy.

The documentary, created by Michael Patrick McKinley, shows the joyful painter’s lifelong passion for his art, which seems simple in content but is actual replete with symbolism and precise technical skill. As Metro Spirit contributor Molly Swift explains, McKinley has been able to convey that “in the midst of all the noise, the HAPPY campaign stands out both due to its origin and its simplicity. The point is to help people choose happiness. That is all.”

Which brings me back to me, and my current obsession with joy in the midst of stress, simplicity in the midst of chaos. Life has become so complex and overwhelming, that I find myself turning to stories like Zimmerman’s, which demonstrate that elation is a flower on the side of the road, obscured by the weeds and concrete artifacts, waiting for us to just notice it and pluck it for our own. At some point in his arduous journey of loss, Zimmerman realizes that he can either dwell on his pain or discover an outlet for expressing his emotions in a constructive way.

I realize that is naive to think that happiness is as easy as picking the flower out of the weeds; it’s one thing to choose happiness and another altogether to feel true joy in the face of life’s pressures. Viscerally, though, I believe we all make it harder than it has to be. Seeing how other people have overcome these pressures to discover their bliss brings us one step closer. McKinley’s movie inspired me to contemplate the healing powers of the creative process and the helpful power of a bright, simple smile.