All is Clear on the Extremities Front!

It’s amazing what one water pill will do. I can already feel the positive effects of this drug on my body. My legs, ankles and feet are still just a bit swollen, but progress is a foot (pun intended).

I returned from my marvelous adventure in Greece late Saturday night and continued to worry about my legs and ankles. I had traversed many countries via four flights, taking me from Mykonos to Athens, Athens to Munich, Munich to Chicago and finally, Chicago to Minneapolis. My feet and ankles ached from the skin being stretched, and my legs had an overall feeling of having been bruised. Each step hurt. So, I decided to check in with the GP. Better safe than sorry. Doc asked me to describe in detail all of the events of the past week, and he was concerned. While he could offer a water pill and we could see how it goes- he didn’t feel comfortable because of the range of symptoms. So, he ordered the ultrasound of both legs and an MRI of my chest, to rule out clots and pulmonary embolism.

After a few hours at St. Paul Radiology last night, I was given the all clear. With much relief, I headed to the pharmacy to fill the water pill RX which doc suggested would ease the excess water in the legs. “You should notice an improvement within three to four days” he said. “If not, call me”. The odd ash all over my legs and feet itched like a crazy obsession, and he recommended some Benadryl should take care of it.

I slept so much better last night with this diagnosis. No back of the mind fears of a clot traveling to my heart or lungs, or brain. Had it not been for my Factor V Leiden condition, I might have been less over cautious. But, now that I know all is just fine, I will wait for the swelling to reduce and the itching to stop.
It’s back to life as normal. And that certainly feels good. All is clear on the extremities front, and this offers me a chance to redirect my attention onto more energizing matters.

While all this was going on this weekend, we had company on Sunday. It had been shared that I was working on a novel and they asked that I read some of it to them. I read a part of my novel that I had not looked at for over six months. As I read it, it felt good. It felt right. And it gave me another boost of energy to think about focusing my attention back onto the novel. Here is that excerpt:

As a preface- the main character Nina enjoys a visit from her best friend Frederika. The story is set in the late 1930s, just prior to the Nazi occupation of Norway.


It was nearly three o’clock and Nina knew by now that Fredrika would just be arriving at the top of the roadway.  She eagerly finished up with milking Lisbet, tugging for one last draw from her teat and then wiped her hands on the towel laying on her lap before rising and pulling the milking stool out from under her.  She gently patted Lisbet “good girl” she cooed.   She walked back to the refrigeration system to deposit the afternoon’s product making sure to properly seal the container and wipe around it.   She grabbed the large mop that was hung high up on the barn wall and pushed it into the large pail of warm sudsy water and then quickly swished it throughout the milking area to clean up any residue.   She didn’t mind the milking duties.  Half the time she was deep in thought about one of the books she was reading or her next outing with Lilly.   But she always looked forward to a visit from Fred and she quickly made her way out of the barn to Lilly, already saddled and waiting just outside.  She mounted her and gently urged her to trot up the roadway towards the gate.  On her way out she passed Vera who was on her way to the barn “enjoy your painting time” Nina offered.   “Is it already time for Fred’s arrival?” asked Vera.  “Yes, she should be here by now”.    “Say hi and tell her we look forward to seeing her at dinner”.  With that Vera waved her sister on and smiled.  Those two had been inseparable since they were first enrolled in that choir when they were about ten years old.  It was an amazing bond and she wished she had a friend as close to her as Fred was to Nina.       

 

 

It had been over three months already since Fredrika last visited on one of her weekend jaunts and Nina was so excited to hear the news on how things were going for her in Moss.  Although her Far could get some supplies locally and he had regularly scheduled deliveries of provisions, it could be months before they headed in to the bigger town south of them for a resupply of those essentials that only an in person excursion could render.  Nina had written to Fred a few weeks ago asking her to pick up a few things for them; a favorite shampoo and almond hand cream. And, there she was, on time as usual, already dismounted from Nordlys and she was working on the chain that held the gate closed.  The journey by horse from Moss to Hvitsten was likely around two hours and one would think by now that Fred, not to mention Nordlys, would need a rest.  Nordlys was an amazingly beautiful stallion with a coat so black it often had shines of blue and green depending on where he stood relative to the sea, sky and pastures.  His coat reflected the nature surrounding him and Fred thought of the name to describe the ethereal Northern Lights that often danced and played out before them in winter time, depending on the atmospheric conditions.  The colors as well as the lightness of the flowing sky were a wonderful description for this animal that could perform amazing feats in the ring.  Nina was glad that even though they had moved to the city, they could still have a few horses stabled at a nearby farm.   She was sure Fred would have gone crazy without her access to Nordlys.   “Hei Fred, so good to see you, here let me help.”   Fred gave her the famous broad smile and flipped her long thick flaxen braid back over her shoulder “Hi Nina, it’s been too long, so glad we could schedule the weekend… I love our time together and Halvor didn’t mind.  Do you want to head out over the meadow through the marsh? Maybe we could walk along the beach for a while until we get to the bend.”    About a year ago, Fred and Halvor moved to the small city of Moss situated twenty kilometers south to open a restaurant, a dream of Halvor’s for years.  With the opening of Den Minne Kjøkken (The Memory Kitchen), he was finally getting a chance to try his hand at cooking professionally.  Halvor’s concept was to offer food that would take every Norwegian down memory lane, to a time of comfort and gathering with those that were the most important.  The space itself was designed to create atmosphere and warmth, a place where one could come in and spend time with friends and family as if entertaining in one’s own home.   The ingredients that Halvor introduced as well as the changing menu were always fashioned to create moments of joy and connection for people and a reflection back to more secure times.  It was as if Halvor already knew times ahead were going to require this comfort.  As much as Fred enjoyed her life with Halvor in the small city of Moss, whenever she anticipated her visits with Nina, she would long for time spent on her favorite shoreline.   “Sure, that sounds perfect- let’s drop your pack and head out”.  

 

They both mounted their horses and walked up the roadway to the main house.   “Gunnar!” Nina called out, “Hei… come and take Fred’s pack for us”.   Gunnar came running down the dirt road towards them with a big smile.    Gunnar still harbored his childhood feelings for Frederika, and they had not diminished since the first time he set eyes on her when Nina came home with her from choir practice one day all those years ago.  Gunnar had seen her in the hallways at school, but never really had a chance to interact with her since he was a few grades behind them.   So when Nina announced one day that she had become friends with Fred and that she was inviting her to their home, Gunnar couldn’t believe his luck.  “Hi Fred, how are things?”   “Very good, Gunnar.  The business is just beginning to take off and Halvor is getting easier to live with now because of it” she beamed at Gunnar, never knowing that her mention of Halvor resulted in him feeling slighted once again.   




Fred never really knew the depth of Gunnar’s feelings for her.  Sure, she knew there was a slight crush but she had no idea how miserable he was when she was around because of how she played with him as if he were a little brother.  And besides, she was married now.  She felt that Gunnar must be over his childhood feelings by now.    Alas, no- as silly as it was he couldn’t shed his affections and still longed for her to look at him the way girls look at someone with whom they are deeply in love.   Gunnar shrugged knowing it was pointless and he felt embarrassed wondering if she had any inkling of the emotional rumblings going on in his gut.  He grabbed her overnight pack and waved them off “see you at the supper table when you get back!”, and with that he retreated back up the driveway to the house.

 

 

They started off with a slow paced walk down through what they called the boulevard, which was a long straight path bordered by majestic birch trees that formed a privacy fence for several hundred meters before the path curved and opened up into the vast meadow where the sheep grazed in one paddock and the horses were contained just beyond in the other.  Both paddocks faced the ocean and between the two was a lovely alleyway formed by the fences which allowed one to stroll down to the beach. “How is the mill doing these days?  Is Mona getting stocked up enough for the next market? Is she showcasing any new colors this time?”    Mona had been busy for months dying the wools for the next fiber market held in Moss, an annual event in late May.   “Oh, you know Mor, each year she churns out more skeins than the last and the fiber community just loves her for it.  She has a new shade that she is calling Brilliant Amethyst which she is getting from the big crop of heather that she harvested last spring.  But it’s the Tyttebær Red that I think will be the biggest hit this year”.   The markets were an opportunity to help refill part of the farm’s working fund.    




Mona was an expert at harvesting the yarn from her prized Spælsau Sheep.   The fiber they provided was so silky and soft. They made incredibly beautiful sweaters that were prized for their softness and perfect for those that couldn’t handle the itch from other wool yarns.  Mona’s colors all came from the nature that surrounded the property; she mostly used the wild flowers and berries and various wild grasses, but occasionally she would incorporate fallen leaves, twigs – anything from which she could soak and harvest a unique pigment. She generally always had a batch of neutrals and also a colorful splash of brilliant prismatic colors which were great for combining with the neutrals or using on their own for an uplifting shawl or coat.   She had once made a coat out of the dye lot she made from the tart berry: Tyttebær, which not only made the best sauce accompaniment for her roasts and meatballs, but also created a deep blood garnet colored dye which ended up as one of the most beautiful full length wool capes that Fred had ever seen, bordering on the mystical.  




In winter time, Mona wore that cape everywhere she went and in the bleakness of winter, one could always locate her from afar by looking for the red splash of color amongst the dull white of the snow, and the ashen browns of the soggy brush and leafless tree limbs reaching for the sky.  She had recreated the shade once again, but this dye lot had a deeper tinge, an almost black red.  Along with the naturally brilliant colors of Mona’s dye lots, she also offered muted tones as well as natural whites, blacks and grey-blues which were a staple for every knitter and weaver.  Her skeins were sought after throughout the region and on opening day at market, most of her supply would dwindle down to a few dozen skeins.   This time she was working towards an even more substantial supply than the last market which she hoped would take her through at least two full days of the market.    “That’s wonderful, Nina.  I am so glad that Mona still thrives with her wool business.  Her yarns are so amazing”.    “I know what you mean- at market I don’t see anything that compares to it- those Spælsau sheep make all the difference.”        

 

***
So the novel is in progress. Characters are developing. Storylines are evolving. The project continues… I only wish I had more time to dedicate to it each day.

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.” -Thoreau.

Indeed.

Vascular Alarm in Santorini

Santorini Blue


The last two days in Santorini have been memorable, for sure.
Two nights ago, I had my first encounter with a medical concern while on a group trip. Being that one in the group that ends up demanding special attention from hosts for a condition of bloating legs and a potential circulation crisis is embarrassing and generally makes me very uncomfortable. It leaves me completely mortified.

It all started with the day we left Crete for Santorini. Half way across on the ferry, I noticed my legs were extraordinarily puffy. I jokingly referred to my ankles as cankles. It got a good laugh. At least out of me.

 

 

But then, as the day wore on, those cankles were getting more and more puffy and my sandals were digging into my skin. The back of my calves were aching and pulling and I began to feel nauseous.

 

 

We had a brief break in the afternoon with only an hour to refresh in our rooms before we were scheduled to head off for a tour to the archeological dig: Akrotiri. I was given advice to elevate my legs in the room. I arrived in the room, found an extra pillow and positioned it onto my headboard which was actually a half wall separating the bedroom from the living area. The bed itself faces the window to the vineyards. I position my bottom right up against the pillows on the headboard and place my legs up in the air leaning against another pillow. I begin to search for symptoms on an on-line medical site on my phone – trying to find information on swollen legs and feet, swallowing issues, light headedness… dizziness.

 

 

 

The next thing I know, I wake on the bed and look at my phone and see that I am ten minutes late for the group. Horrified I pull myself off the bed and go the bathroom to comb my hair. I am unsteady on my feet, dizzy. I throw on a sweater and pull out my lipstick. I sit down on the toilet to quickly take care of business. The hotel room phone rings, I am sure it is the group leader. Oh no- I have become that one agent- the one that is holding up the group. I can’t believe it. I am never that agent. I am always working on being the one that no matter what, is there before the rest have gathered. Ten to fifteen minutes early. I see that now I am going on twenty minutes late. I am truly beyond horrified. This is my worst nightmare. I hate being this person. I open the door to my room, and I am greeted by Apostolis, our hotel host. He has come to retrieve me and I am suddenly so grateful that I at least was ready to walk out the door. I try to talk to him and find that my speech is slightly slurred and that I am having trouble with a few words. My cell phone rings… It’s Lynne our group leader. I try telling her that I am with Apostolis but can’t quite come up with his name, so as we walk towards the group bus down the winding streets of the hotel village, I tell her that I am with the Greek God and as soon as that is out of my mouth, I regret it. I am being just goofy now- likely out of embarrassment.

 

 

We reach the bus and I see that everyone is onboard the bus and waiting for me. I mumble an apology as I board. I am feeling nauseous this whole time and my legs are hurting ..aching all the way up the calf into my thighs. Both legs.

 

 

The afternoon progresses, we reach the archeological site. And, as we walk through Akrotini, I start feeling just a little better. The air conditioning is helping. The site is magnificent and I am amazed by the story of this city that was buried by lava and ash. The preservation of the buildings. The possibility that this is the actual Lost City of Atlantis. We learn about this Minoan Civilization that goes back 1700 years BC. My mind is pulled in a different direction from my legs. I feel a light breeze from the AC on my body. I start to feel a little better.

 

 
After Akrotiri, we head out for a visit to Vedema Hotel’s Beach Club – a chance to see what our clients will experience if they take advantage of the shuttle that would transport them from hotel way up in the hills to the beach, complete with beautiful outdoor pool, bar, cabanas and black sand beach oceanfront chairs with the traditional straw umbrellas. Lovely. My legs are puffing up once again and I am having trouble. I can see by the sandal strap that my circulation is once again changing and my calves are aching. It is suggested that I elevate my legs and with guidance from a fellow traveler, I place myself backwards on one of the lounge chairs, with my legs up on the head rest facing the sky. My back and head towards the foot of the lounger. I sit like this for about 10-15 minutes before the group is called once again to move to the next activity- return to hotel to have our wine tasting in the hotel’s wine cave, and dinner in another wine cave.

 

I make it half way through dinner before my legs begin to really throb. I am having a bit of trouble with my throat again, and so uncomfortable. I attempt to move my legs under the table- swirling them around with the exercises one finds suggested for airline flights. As I eat my meal, I try to not make a fuss by I am hurting. People around me are talking. Enjoying themselves. I just don’t want to be the bother. I just want this to end. I say a prayer. Please help my legs – help this not become the problem it could be. Please.

Our group leader pops over to my side of the long table set in a wine cave and invites me to check out for the rest of the night, go get some rest, she says.  And, if you don’t feel like you can join us tomorrow, let me know by text in the morning. It will be a very long 12 hour day tomorrow with lots of steps. I marvel at the invitation. Oh, yes- that would be wise. I can’t imagine climbing the stairs of Santorini under this painful condition. I tell her I will see how I feel in the morning. Perhaps the night will make a difference.

 

Several fellow travelers insist on escorting me back to my room. The group has been lovely. Genuinely caring people and I don’t sense any irritation from them that I have become the problem child in the group. The delicate flower that needs special attention. Again, this whole idea makes me even more nauseous. I just can’t handle being the one in the group that either holds the group back or creates a “special consideration” environment. Can’t tolerate the idea.

 

 

And yet, here I am. Swollen legs. Throat tight. Nausea.

 
On my return to the room, I soak my feet in a cold spray of water from the bathtub. On the bed, I layer pillows vertically, as high as I can make it so that I can elevate my legs above my heart for awhile. I soak towels in cold water to create compresses for my legs. And, I climb into bed, and cover my legs in the cold wet towels. I watch a little CNN to catch up on the day’s news.
The next morning, my ankles and feet are still tight. I feel light headed. My lips are puffy. I text our lovely host to let her know that I am taking her up on her offer to allow myself some time to rest and heal. The day’s hotel site inspections will mean a lot of climbing of steep staircases and then descent as well … Up and Down. And then, a Catamaran Ride followed by Dinner. At least twelve hours away without rest. She agrees it is a wise choice and then suggests I call the hotel front desk to see the doctor. I had been told the night before that the doctor had been called so he is expecting my call if I should need him. I agree to see the doctor. At this point, there is a bit of fear involved as I worry about potential DVT. If it had not been for the throat and lip puffiness, or the pains that shoot up into my lower buttocks as if a sciatica reaction, I would beg off. But then, there is also the group to consider. And, if this is more serious, I need to know.

 

The doctor comes within an hour and listens to my description of symptoms. He does my vitals: oxygen and blood pressure. My oxygen is high, and he explains this is likely due to stress. I am taking in too much air, breathing heavy due to my anxiety over the situation. My blood pressure is high and for me this is very abnormal. I am one of those people who never has high blood pressure; it is 145/85. High for me for sure. Again, likely due to stress. What he is concerned about is my throat symptoms and nausea and dizziness. He feels the veins on the top of my ankles, pressing gently down and waiting- perhaps counting pulse. Not sure entirely but he then shares that he is checking the blood flow through my veins. He tells me that I am having a muscular reaction in my calves. And, a Neurovascular impact. He prescribes an RX of muscle relaxants and advises me to take it easy today, to elevate my legs and to use the cold compresses. The plan was to spend the day taking care of my legs. I am so grateful to have been given this break from the busy schedule to ensure my legs an chance to recover.

 

After a full day of rest, in the early evening, I rejoin the group with another agent who had medical concerns on this journey. Hers is associated with COPD. So, there are two of us who had to deviate for a few hours from the main itinerary planned. In the evening, we are transferred out to a hotel on the cliffs to join the larger group and have a site inspection of that property – built into a cliff. Stairs, stairs and more stairs. I don’t want to be a bother. But, I just spent the day elevating my legs and taking muscle relaxants and now I am about to climb cliff stairs for a hotel site inspection… Oy. Hard to say no to our gracious hosts. The other gal and I do receive a modified version of the inspection, with fewer rooms, and it’s all good.

 

 

During dinner, I begin to feel the swelling start again on my feel, ankles and calves. And, I worry. What will happen if this does not correct itself soon. I try to shift my mind to other thoughts. I drink my water. I avoid salt as best I can and I enjoy our hosts and conversations around the table as we gaze down the cliffs into the ocean and to the horizon before us and enjoy also the vistas of Fira Town opposite us. During dinner, a community across the bay is celebrating something special with tiny bursts of fireworks viewed from this long distance away. So small from our vantage point that a picture would be pointless. So we just enjoy them. And relax. And take in the fresh air.

 

 
At the conclusion of the dinner, we climb back to the top of the resort via one staircase after another, until we find the minibuses awaiting our return to our host resort. I worry on the bus ride back to our hotel, as I feel my feet once again swelling and aching. Upon my return to my hotel room, I repeat the steps to reduce the swelling: cold compresses and elevation.

Today, our departure day from Santorini, I am grateful to wake up with much improvement with my condition. Still slightly swollen but so much better than the day before. I actually experience hope that this may be over. And, I make a mental note to avoid the climbs as much as possible. And this is made possible because the hosts on the group tour insist I let them know if I need to sit out a site inspection or climbing here and there. Later today, another site inspection. Unless the inspection is anything like Fira Town on Santorini, I should be ok.

 
The group has been so gracious. I have not felt any negative repercussion to my special needs these last 48 hours. So perhaps, this time, the group is different. Compassionate. Kind. Understanding and Human. We need to give each other a break in life. One never knows the specific circumstances of another persons drama.

 

 

This was a lesson for me in tolerance of others. Grace and mercy. For other trips ahead of me, when that one agent has to beg off or special concessions are to be made, remember your time at Vedema Resort in Santorini and how gracious and kind they all were, and compassionate and accommodating. And remember the smiles and encouragement of so many on the group who expressed concern and genuine care and not resentment – nor disdain.

 

It’s been such a lovely trip.

Respite in the Bay of Elounda

It’s been over a week since my last entry. I sit facing an island that used to be a Venetian Fortress in Crete before it became the last leper colony in the 1950s. I face this island from my hotel room at the Blue Palace, in Elounda, Crete, Greece. It’s my third day in Greece. Having just come from Athens, And having just finished a stat at the Grand Bretagne, this island haven is a nice respite from the fast paced city life.

 

 

I chill out after our group luncheon of salads and fish. Delicious fare as we gaze at moored boats in the harbor and take om the azure blue ocean. The weather today is a bit gray and threatens with light showers and a cooler breeze.

I sit on my deck listening to a bit of Chopin to take full advantage of my deck, feel the breeze caress My skin and this cherished time carved out for me to write. I can’t waste another moment of writing opportunity. This time is precious to me and I grab it and hold it with great care. Others may wander and explore the resorts offerings, perhaps some at this very moment are taking in a spa treatment. But I, no- not I. I sit on my deck listening to Nocturne in E-Flat Major, Op 9 No 1 by Chopin. The breeze has become a bit more volatile. I sit in my nightgown and bathrobe provided by the hotel and enjoy my perch. The blue waters and some local fisherman boats bob before me. My own plunge pool sits unused, the waters are pushed by the winds which provides evidence that to dip my foot or even leg into the waters could prove chilly. So, I sit up here in my director chair and I lean onto the wooden table which overlooks the brilliant blue ocean and the islands beyond.

So much to take in and so much to comprehend. I am sitting in a five star hotel on the island of Crete. Yes. Me. Sitting here listening to the wind, to Chopin, to the sounds of my Logitech keyboard doing it’s thing as my thoughts flow from my mind to my fingertips to the screen.
At lunch, perhaps I indulged just a bit too much on the dry white wine from the region. To the point that I somewhat curse my dopey feeling as I consider the bed and an afternoon nap. It’s about three hours away from dinner with the group, more food, more laughing, more connecting with fellow travel sales consultants that primarily serve the luxury market. Only ten of us selected from around the country to participate in this Familiarization Event. My selection due to my agency’s high volume with the supplier; not my own – since I am fairly new with this agency. But the potential is there, for I have been fortunate to serve quite a few luxury leads passed along from our owner and others within the company that trust my background and my approach. I feel quite fortunate and blessed. I am learning so much already and anticipate the extent to which this knowledge will be used upon my return.
All of this is surface, really. On a personal level, I find the geographic location is ideal for someone seeking respite from the touristy hot spots. The quiet of the bay of Elounda draws me in. I am entranced already. I could spend a significant amount of time in this very place, if I were permitted to do so. The brilliant blue waters are mesmerizing.

 

 

The Rock as it appears in t he distance, strangely comforting in its historic significance. This whole country with its history dating back to well before Christ ..well, it’s enchanting. Even the chirp of the birds and echo of the wind seem different somehow.

 

 

And, now, the heavy water pellets from the rain are dancing on my private balcony plunge pool waters. No different really than any other rain shower on top of a pool in any other part of the world. Yet- here it sounds and feels different to me. The plunge pool has been interrupted from its primary purpose- to sooth and hydrate and offer relaxation to guests. I need not enter the waters myself to receive such nourishment for my soul. I look at the drops bouncing into the pool waters and I rejoice at my own sense of merriment in this moment. Time for me. Time to feel the wind on my calfs, bare as they are under my nightgown as I sit privately drinking in this experience. Just me, my keyboard, the sound of the wind and the rain and the view of the island that at one time provided protection for this people of the bay.

 

 

When I rejoin the group, I will learn of all the activity and accomplishment they have managed in our short three hour window of down time from the group schedule. And, I will secretly rejoice at the time I had to cherish on my own, on my deck, with the privacy of rock walls sheltering me from neighboring eyes. The palms down at the beach offering a metronome sway to the sound of the wind, and yet offering up their own tempo.

 

I am grateful for the roof overhead on my deck which protects me from the now pouring rain. It’s not a burden. The rain soothes.   And, I know, tomorrow will be a different day. Seventies predicted, sunshine and a chance to do some sightseeing. There is plenty of time ahead for that sort of busyness. No. Now, it is time to appreciate the window of quiet I have been afforded. To cherish this silence interrupted only by the sound of rain drops pelting my recliner furnishings on the deck facing the Bay of Elounda.

 

And… the next morning, this:

 

image

Waiting on My Time.

image

-above painting by Lars Lerin

 

Cliffs. Crashing Waves. Dog. Cottage. Tea. Book. A bird flies over head. Cloud. Rocks. Wild grasses. A very gentle wind that let’s me know the planning is breathing.

These are just a few images that come to mind when asked by a client: “where to next?”
Those images are kept quiet in my brain while my mouth uttered: “Iceland, or maybe Greenland, or perhaps the Faroe Islands”.
The man looks at me confused: “Really?” He asks. “Why? What would you do once you got there?” he seems genuinely perplexed. For most travelers that are clients, it is about what I call merit badge travel. People want to collect a necklace of adventures that they can string together and bring out and show people. Look where I have been! At cocktail parties, perhaps they compare- who has been to the most exotic place?   Whose top of list trumps the others? And in all fairness, I have been to so many places- Europe to Asia to the Arctic.

image

It is no longer about which additional I can add to my list.
I look at the man.  I smile and say: “Mostly, I love nature and wide open spaces.  Once I am there, I would sit and enjoy the vistas. I would hike and breath in the fresh air. I would explore charming small villages… meet the locals…”.  He interrupts “I hear the people are nice”.

Yes, they are nice. And those I have met are a lot of fun, casual and relaxed.  They tend to enjoy lively music.   Reykjavik is known for a wild party life that goes into all hours of the night; some hotels have double panned Windows- it’s  important to know which ones.  But I am basing those views on encounters I have had with the West Nordic People when in years past, at the Vestnorden Travel Trade Show, a bunch of Faroese people might perhaps have had one too many glasses of wine or even Akvavit.. and could break out in loud national songs or even popular pop culture tunes…Yellow Submarine comes to mind.
My response to this man who stopped by for some spring break options but really wanted to talk about that trip to China he wants to take this year, is that- yes, the people are very nice. But in my mind I am thinking this place I want to go to, it’s not my next trip. It would maybe be a permanent and final move. Not just another trip. The quest to find home is important to me.
One might wonder: are you not already home?

No. Not really.

I have never really been home.

I have been visiting for long stretches of time.

I have borrowed a geographical location, but I plan to give it back sometime. After I have waited. When the time is right for “my time”.

Why do I say this?

I did not grow up here in the Twin Cities. I came here as an adult after college, my first adult job brought me here. And while I was wildly excited about the quaintness and historic charm of the capital city when I first arrived, I found fairly soon that the locals who have lived here their whole lives already have their intimate group of friends. I am mostly a work friend. I have one or two friends outside of work and I see them maybe once or twice a month (if I am lucky). But they are kind of set as well, they have lived here their whole lives and  have their circle of family and friends. The truth is, I do not have one person in my life that lives nearby, that is a close intimate person who I feel comfortable calling any time, day or night. You know, that kind of friend.

 
I have very close acquaintances for whom I have a deep fondness and feel close. I look forward to these people checking into my life and I into theirs. We have lunch or after work dinner. But we don’t meet during the weekends. And perhaps, if I moved, I would be missed. But something tells me that it would be a fleeting emotion of missing me, and that this feeling would quickly dissolve.. within a fairly short time.
So this image response of the perfect physical location where I could find my bliss, I keep this quiet mostly. Because in my life, when I have entrusted my heart to another soul and have felt a sweet kinship with someone that fueled me each day and week with weekend outings, I find that the person checks out or declares a wish to leave my geographic area. One such friend for whom I have one of the strongest affections for, one day said to me: “I will move home because there is nothing for me here.”. She was referring of course to the fact that her family was home, and home was about 5000 miles from here. I understand this. Intellectually. But a little something inside me broke that day. “There is nothing for me here” echoed in my heart and soul for weeks afterwards.

 

It alerted me to an important fact. Right now, I have my parents. They are in their seventies and eighties. One day, they will be no more. When that happens, I will need to evaluate. Is there anything here for me? Anything to keep me here? Anyone to keep me here? If the answer is the same as it would be today, if today I should find myself orphaned, what will I do? Will I stay or will I go?

 

When no one needs me anymore, I will walk to the cliffs, close my eyes, listen to the birds and the waves, I will reach down and caress the silky hair of my sweet and only companion who sits on my lap (likely a papillon). On that hand crafted wooden bench I rest with my sweet companion, situated just outside my cottage front door, and I will gaze those majestic cliffs.   I will drink a cup of tea, and read or write a book (or both).

image

These images have been following me around now for years. In some variation, most of my life.

 

And at times, as I drive to work, an occasional piece of the kaleidoscope image comes to the forefront of my mind, and I wonder: why is life about waiting? It feels like that for me. I wait on time to find that space to finally be able to do what drives me most, that one thing that fuels my passion, that one thing that brings me joy. I wait to find a space of peace that is perfect for me to sit, contemplate, breathe. For some reason, I must wait. I just hope that in my waiting, I don’t run out of time.

 

Balancing on the wave of life

I find it marvelous that in the midst of emotional upheaval, difficult remembrances, and darker moments that I find my way back up to the surface and can gasp for that breath of refreshing air. Every day brings a new opportunity to find my way to the wave that will take me back in to shore, the one that I can steady myself upon and from which I can raise my arms high in the air and clap once again with sheer joy at the marvel of it all. It’s all about what one chooses to focus on.

Lately, with jury duty, I was pulled for a while to thoughts of darkness. And, in the midst of that I was dealing with a challenging work season with at times difficult clients. Oh, you may think the customer is always right.  In my world, they simply are not always right. I do my very best to bring clients wonderful vacation dreams come true, but within those exchanges I have to endure certain people whose personalities are very strong, they feel they know it all and are better at arranging travel that I might be.  After all, they don’t know me and they took a twirl or two on-line and found things through web based travel agencies that were tempting. The commercials on TV suggest they can get a better deal with on-line hotel companies. Most of those on-line hotel companies are very restrictive once the reservation is booked and paid in full.  And, once you show up at the hotel, the message is: “you bought it, you must keep it”. If you enter your hotel room and hate it, or it smells, or it is a closet or it looks out at the dumpster in the back alley or, perhaps there is a weird stain on your sheets: tough. Sure, you can and should go to the front desk to inquire about a solution, but don’t be surprised if your efforts are for not. And, if you call the customer service line at the on-line booking host, don’t be surprised if you get a round robin repeated response that you had to cancel your booking at least 48 hours prior to arrival per the terms of your particular booking in order to have any refund compensation. “But” you say, “I didn’t know 48 hours prior to arrival that the room would be 100% unacceptable”.   Silence. “I am sorry, Ma’am.  You needed to cancel the booking 48 hours prior to arrival in order to receive a refund” is the dead pan response.  You give up, it’s useless. I had someone tell me not too long ago, that she had that type of experience with one of the many on-line hotel sites and she will never again book on-line. I smiled a little. She nodded- understanding passed between us. You see, as a travel agent, when we book services, if you have a problem with anything you booked through us, there is a customer service desk.  But in our case, 99% of the time, this desk will bend over backwards to make it right. So, you don’t have to sleep in that icky room that you nabbed for 75% less than what you thought you had to pay.

Recently, I had a client book a river cruise in Europe.  This is a lovely Christmas Market River Cruise that starts with a pre-cruise city stay in Prague and ends in Budapest and she and three girl friends in two balcony cabins will enjoy the Danube and the beautiful Christmas Markets. Throughout the booking process, the lead client was routinely rude, yelling and even cursing.   The slightest thing would set her off and it was always a shock to me at the sensitivity she was exhibiting.   The underlying mistrust was palpable.  At one point, when the booking was on hold, she called frantic with loud words coming through the ear piece because the booking for one cabin was more expensive than the other cabin and she was furious about the lack of clarity. Never mind that I had written every detail out explaining the differences and provided the client copy of the cruise lines’ invoice. When she would allow me a word in edgewise, I was able to explain that the insurance for the two ladies in the one cabin was higher because they booked a higher category of cabin. When the trip cost increases, the insurance premium increases. This was detailed in the previous email. Almost grudgingly she acquiesced and they booked. And I knew that with her emotional roller coaster approach to every detail of the booking process, that 2016 was going to be a long year. And indeed, yesterday that thought was affirmed. I received the email that they were ready to book their air. Their cruise includes a promotional free air offer in standard economy class. When one books air as part of a cruise, and in particular free air, it is generally the case that one receives the air schedule from the cruise line closer to departure date; sometimes 30-60 days prior to departure date. As this cruise is a holiday cruise, it is prudent to add something to the booking called AIR Plus, which allows the selection of the schedule and airline right away. The customer has the choice of their preferred schedule and airline for the most part. I say that because the category the cruise line is using is a particular category, and that category must be available for the air to be free. If it is not available, then it may be necessary to pay a little bit of a difference in price between free and the next category. This privilege of selecting an itinerary in February for a cruise taking place late November/early December is $50 per person. Not a bad deal and then these ladies don’t have to worry about what airline, whether there will be many flights, and many connecting cities. They have a say in their air schedule. So, I get to work. And, I present a wonderful schedule that has only one stop between their home city and Prague with a good amount of connect time so that these senior ladies are not too rushed getting from one airplane to the other. I send the schedules and details. And, inevitably, I get a response filled with capital letters (shouting at me) that she has to have the bigger economy class seats because she has a rod in her leg. Because she paid for AIR Plus she believes she is entitled to the upgraded economy class.   No.    That is not what AIR Plus is- it is the ability to select your Standard Economy flight schedule now rather than in September.    So I call the cruise line air department before responding to the client, what are our options?  I need to have all my ducks in a row, anticipate an answer to every possible follow up question before she even knows she has that question.  And I learn that once the air in economy class is ticketed by the cruise air department, we can go to the airline website and pay the upgraded cost from Standard Economy to Delta Comfort (Delta Comfort is an enhanced economy which means a bit more legroom and some other amenities included). The cost per direction for the over the water flight is around $149-$189 per person per direction and subject to availability once the ticket is issued. I send off the details and I brace myself.  She won’t be happy. She will blame me for using the word AIR Plus but not telling her it did not give her access to enhanced economy. Never mind that all along I had only referred to her air tickets as being in Standard Economy. I understand that tourism lingo is hard to keep up with. And, I am always more than glad to explain and provide answers. What I don’t enjoy are people calling me with accusational tones and yelling at me (whether vocally or written yelling). Be nice.

My father used to be like that a while back. I would happen upon him in the kitchen on the phone, yelling at some service provider. Arguing a point that, as I listened, I realized that he may very well be wrong in his presumptions.  Older people at times begin to wear a sweater of cynicism and distrust for people in general.  Some older people.  This distrust is fed by regular interactions with people that could be tainted with disrespect or even, disdain.   Or, perhaps a tone that left them feeling irrelevant.  Dad had this tone for a long while; but this was more prevalent before he had his shunt put in which helps drain the excess fluid from his brain, which has netted a calmer guy.    In general, Dad is less volatile, less reactionary now that he was diagnosed and treated by a caring medical team.

My client has stage 4 cancer. She is under a lot of stress. Her life is out of control and her mortality is before her. This trip is vital to her, and she wants to have control over every detail and she wants her wishes to be granted regardless of how unreasonable or uninformed they are. So, I try to listen. I try not to interrupt with my own bag of truths. And, I try not to take it personally.

So, I started with marvelous joy at the beginning of this entry and I shared the frenetic days I have had lately in my job. And that is OK. I sit here in a coffee shop with ear buds in…. typing on my wireless keyboard with iPad tucked into the holder and I listen to the waves and sounds made in music by the wonderful Sigur Ros from Iceland. Ethereal music that glides along and helps me calm down and rejoice at the things in my life that help me re-balance and move forward and for the most part enjoy the travel agent gig. Most of my clients.. 99% even, are lovely. Perspective my dear. Perspective.

A Company Exodus

Last night was an emotional evening with friends. Many expressed their feelings openly. It was a time to share experiences and individual truths relating to the exodus. And, there were a few people there last night which continue to work for Company XYZ, and are listening and witnessing the deep emotional scars of those that left. And, sharing the continued underlying problems of Company XYZ. I feel for them as they seek to continue to work there with dignity in their hard work and hope for their own futures. I think about all that went wrong and continues to go wrong with that place. And the saddest part is that everyone (for the most part) that left, had a strong connection with the place, in many cases because of the vision of the work. In our business, when you find a niche or market that fuels you with passion and purpose, it’s an amazing thing. I had that with Company XYZ. When I entered their doors as a new employee, I rejoiced at my good fortune. This was going to be it. I was surrounded by fellow lovers of a specific geographic location that warmed my heart, I would be helping create dreams of custom itineraries for the independent traveler throughout the countries of this glorious region. Finally, instead of being a travel agent that could offer the entire globe, I was now dialing down to a specific place on the planet which had my heart singing. And, I would be traveling to this collection of countries myself to network with our ground handlers, guides, business partners in travel to develop our products of hotels, sightseeing, transportation and more. I thought I had landed my dream job. I could use my language skills for specific countries relating to my mother’s homeland. And, for the first few years I felt I had made the right decision. The perfect decision.

However, underneath the joy there was also doubt as I watched strong personalities bump heads and saw decisions made that in my view negatively impacted the company; but then, what did I know, I was merely a worker bee. They must know what they are doing, right? I glanced occasionally at my paltry bank account balance and justified my poor financial status in life to the fact that – after all, I work in travel. Everyone in the industry knows that travel doesn’t pay. If I had wanted money, I should have chosen another field; like law, or medicine. I chose travel because, honestly, I love languages and exploring the globe.  In this field, my bank account has been pathetic for most of my career, particularly someone in my age bracket.   The truth is it’s an accepted standard in the industry which makes living single almost impossible without some creativity in sourcing options.   What I didn’t know at the time was that this didn’t have to be the case.   During those years of meager income, I benefited from staying in the most luxurious places in the world and continue to enjoy the most high level services just about everywhere I go.   All on someone else’s dime. So, to properly evaluate my income, I need to remember to add what those items would cost to my annual figures. One year, a ten night trip through Norway staying mostly at historic deluxe inns owned by families that have been running the place for generations; sitting on my balcony with the fjord view. Of course, I would never have the money to personally pay for those ultra luxurious trips while working in this business, but the more that I sell certain things, the better chance at a familiarization excursion to test those services out myself; whether paid by my company or paid by the supplier itself. If paid by the company, the trips cost minimally as the suppliers organize these trips to showcase their offerings for our clients. It’s a perk, for sure. I don’t have to save up for a trip, I just wait for the glorious announcements of which suppliers are sponsoring the upcoming FAMS, and then learn who in the office gets which cherry assignment. Usually, these occur once or twice a year and in the fall season, when things slow down a bit for the average agency and certain destinations.
So what happened at Company XYZ?
So many abuses of power and many moments of poor leadership in general. When almost half the staff exits in one year, the management must look at their practices and consider what they may have done to contribute to the discontent. Was it wages? Poor direction? Financial struggles? Overall disrespect and disregard for the work produced by its workers? Common blatant overuse of criticism and infrequent praise. In Company XYZ’s case, all of that and so much more. Management’s recurring poor decisions in every aspect of running the business left the workers feeling devalued and irrelevant. At the end of my tenure there, I recall sitting at my desk wearing fingerless gloves and a billowing scarf around my neck to take the chill off my body as I tried to type on my computer; the recent move the summer before had been into an old building in a tiny strip mall that backed up against a motel known for being both a whore house and a narcotics headquarters for the local druggies. But our general manager moved us to this location because, I am sure, it was cheaper than the alternatives. So there we were freezing because of poor insulation and not permitted to use too many space heaters at once because it would overload the circuit breaker. Hun? This is where you work?

 

That summer move was a nightmare as they smooshed 10 of the staff in one department into a small walk in closet like space with industrial folding tables and folding chairs, wires coming out of the ceiling and landing behind our computers so that we could plug in.  No filtered water, just the bathroom sink so we filtered our water by hand for coffee using one of those tiny pods.  This placed into question for me each day, how sanitary is this? The thought going through my head was, maybe I am making too much of this.  The management tried to encourage by suggesting how great the space would be once finished next door.   The construction project took several months.  While we attempted to discourage in person client visits, and suggested we were not available for walk in services, some clients would pop in anyway to drop of payments for their trips or to talk to our consultants. Seeing them standing in the doorway of our closet made me wonder, how can they have confidence when they see how our working conditions look? And even if the new space was meant to be great- how could they not see the questionable locale?  It was embarrassing. But we were cheerful, we’re moving- pardon our mess.   When the move was completed, we had another surprise from management- all those heavy filing cabinets in the back storage of the temporary space- yea, those; they shall be moved by staff.  No moving company.    There I was with two damaged arms from previous injuries, being asked to buck up and move heavy furnishings from one space to another, while upper management GM is in Belgium sipping a brew with her hubby.  Yes- she opted to take a vacation during the worst part of the move.  And while it might be true that her trip had been scheduled earlier in the year, prior to the anticipated move- how ultra convenient for her that her trip fell in the busiest season of our business and during the worst part of the move.    Management was missing from that move and after several hours of heavy labor, I sat in a chair talking to myself in my head- this is the ultimate in horrible management.   No regard whatsoever.   Complete and utter nonsense and so unprofessional.  Workman’s comp anyone?  This is not acceptable.  And, they are clueless on how to handle staff.

 

After the move, it was the financial strains that sealed my decision later in the year. Supplier bills were not being paid and it was making it highly uncomfortable to reach out to these same suppliers now to request future bookings for our clients; whether hotels, guides, luggage services or transport. How can I ask a supplier to confirm a booking for me when we had not paid them for bookings from five months ago? And our fears and concerns are batted away and a legitimizing comment is made with venom if we questioned it.

 

So I was the first in the domino effect. When my opportunity came with a strong agency, financially at the top of their game, with solid opportunities for growth and an increase in pay my first year that would be infuse hope that the poverty standards of a travel agent did not have to be my own reality.   This new company was suggesting incentives and pay opportunities that would reward my efforts.  I would have been an idiot to say no.  So, I said yes. And, I left. And then, within a year- 9 are gone from Company XYZ; and they blame us. They hate us. They unfriendly us on FB. They speak perhaps poorly of us and our betrayal. To me, the betrayal was theirs. They either didn’t care, or if they cared- they were too proud to do anything positive to change the current mess. And, the place continues to struggle. And, my heart goes out to it, because deep down, I loved Company XYZ, and wanted it to be my final stop on the career track.
Now, a year later, I am thriving. My productivity at new Company ABC is right on track. And, it feel good. It feels good mostly to be acknowledged as being a positive contributor, of receiving praise for efforts well done. For being paid fairly. And, for knowing that my future has hope and promise.

Bliss or Pipe Dream?

Back to the grind stone.
On my way home from Mexico aboard Delta Airlines, I watched an episode of On Creativity, a serial that offers insights into the creative world hosted by Paula Wallace of the Savannah College of Art & Design. In this episode, one of her guests was Steve Lassater, co-creator of Pixar. During the interview, they showed his commencement speech at the college and he brought out of a bag a very well loved Woody doll from The Toy Story that had been sent to him by a young boy who no longer needed to love this Woody doll.  This boy included a letter that asked Mr. Lassater to bring Woody to a place where he could be with other dolls forever more. This was a tearful reading by Mr. Lassater as he held the Woody doll up to his audience for viewing, one could see that one foot was missing, the clothing on the doll was faded and stained and the limbs were limp and well worn. During the interview in general, the idea was conveyed by Mr. Lassater of the importance of carefully selecting a vocation for which one would not ever feel that they had worked a day in one’s life. Am I doing this with my life? Do I live to work? Or, do I work to live? I do enjoy the travel gig, in general. However, there are so many instances during the course of my work that I find my efforts less than appreciated or even respected.
While on my trip, I received word that one client had called the office ranting and raving about her rental car not having been fully prepaid and that she hoped the rest of the trip I had planned for her would not be an equal disaster. Never mind that during the booking process, I told her over the telephone that it would not be possible to set up her pre-cruise car rental on a prepaid basis as there was not a rental company that offered that possibility.  Instead, her rental rate would be guaranteed using her credit card but that her cost would be paid locally at time of rental pick up at the Houston Airport. And, with her final document package, I included a cover letter that went over all of the details including her car rental and it stated the same as noted above. These details were conveyed orally and in writing. She wasn’t listening, and she didn’t read. And, she then reads my administrator the riot act and uses explitives in the process. Nice. Another client was informed by telephone voicemail and email that I would be out of the office until December 8th, and that I would contact her on my return to set up an in person appointment to go over their final documents for their Europe trip happening over the holidays. While I am gone, she just shows up at the office asking to see me. Another client requests a 28 day honeymoon to Southeast Asia to start January 2nd, 2016; his inquiry came in October 26th. I work on this with two revisions, sending him complex independent custom itinerary proposals with everything they wanted to experience, including cooking classes, temple tours in Angkor Wat, couples massages, all private services, interior Asia flights, and five star hotels. And he sits on it for almost two months. Now, he is ready and I am scheduled to talk with him this morning. With his commitment, we now have to rush to book everything and hope things are still available because he just couldn’t get around to it.  And, take care of the Visas on a rush expedite basis.

I wish I could say that these stressors do not affect my gut. But the truth is, I just got done with an endoscopy yesterday and the damage is fairly severe… meds and modified lifestyle are required to heal. So, does this work give me joy? Am I in my element? Or, am I just another dog in the musher’s sled, always feeling the crack of the whip at my back and pushed to move move move… to someone else’s demands.
What would I do if I could do what I wanted to do? Well, I would learn to write well. I would busy myself in learning the craft, every aspect of it and making a life of writing for myself. I wouldn’t just spend an hour or two before work and some left over time after work and on weekends. I would throw myself into it with all my might. And, would this put me into my true bliss? Or, is this a grass is greener thing? Seeing all fo those resorts for the purpose of serving a bride somewhere wishing to wed on a beach, is that my calling? Serving clients traveling all over Europe and Asia, is that really it? Or, is it writing? How do I know the answer to that?  Is my writing dream a foolish pipe dream?
For now at least, one step in from of the other. I have over 50,000 words to work on to create a first novel. And, I must continue this daily writing practice, sign up for courses, workshops, get to know other writers perhaps. Come out of the vacuum.   Possibly work towards a retirement of writing bliss?  At least that’s a goal.

A Riviera Maya Paradise

A funny thing happened on my shuttle ride from the Cancun Airport to my resort for the last two nights: Secrets Maroma on the Riviera Maya. I was bit by the Mexico Bug! I have been in the travel business for my entire career which spans about 24 years. In all that time, I have traveled to places that include China, Hong Kong (while it was still under British rule), Macau and throughout Europe & Scandinavia including British Isles (all of them – including most in the Caribbean), France, Switzerland, Italy, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Greenland & Iceland. I admit I have avoided Mexico. Well, I shouldn’t say I have never been to Mexico.. since I did walk over from San Diego to Tijuana when I was in college. But mostly I have picked other places over Mexico. Why, you ask? Just not my thing; not a big sun and beach fan. But maybe this tide of mine is turning.

The resorts I have seen these last two days during my Destination Wedding Training rival and beat the Jamaican ones- by a very long shot. The drive on my day of arrival in Cancun as we headed for Maroma was truly pleasant. On that ride two days ago, I didn’t pass multiple burnt out cars, homes that were a blight on the landscape, ematiated dogs scrounging for scraps, trash strewn winding roads. There was none of those remnants of memory from my trip to Jamaica this past September. Mind you there were some buildings along the way here that had evidence of disrepair, but they weren’t complete hovels. My heart of compassion went out to the Jamaican citizens, living in those conditions can’t be easy. But I think of relatives and even my mother at that, who although raised in poverty during the war, always had a sense of pride for her personal space. And, here in Mexico, at least so far, I see more evidence of that dignity than I did in Jamaica. But then, as they say, some love Jamaica and some hate Jamaica. There are generally very few people in between. For a vacation spot, defintely Mayan Riviera wins over Jamaica for me. And, as a selling agent, this will be my recommendation to clients seeking to escape the winter doldrums. A little piece of Mexico memory in the midst of the 30 to 40 below freezing temperatures which can be part of our season in Minnesota, will go far for many. Time to head out now- hitting five properties today. Wedding training and culinary samplings.. not a bad gig.

My First Day at Sea

It is my first day at Sea aboard the Oasis of the Seas  and we are sailing the Western Caribbean.  I take some time to gather my writing goals for the week.  I decide to go back and read past journal entries and I find this one.  And I marvel at how my feelings on certain subjects remain the same year after year.  And, I am grateful that, in some ways, at least I am consistent.

 

May 10, 2014

It is 9:24am and having arrived early for my meeting with Angela, I sit at a round orange pedastal table against the wall of the Barnes and Noble Cafe savoring my Caramel Macchiato and reflecting on all that has passed and all that could be.   It is a moment of deep reflection blended with the mundane.  To my left, a couple sits enjoying their own breakfast version of coffee and a muffin, passing commentary on whether one has tried the other’s delectable latte version.  I think about time.   How fleeting it is and what a waste I have made of most of my life.  Or have I?  I am so hard on myself- why?   What is it about my life that seems to fall so short of the bar I have set for myself, for which I seem to never be able to attain success?  The bottom line is that I too often compare others lives with that of my own.   I look to their experiences in the hopes that I can one day perhaps mirror their realities.  Then I am drawn back to my present moment and I listen to the tunes filtering through the line of my ear buds from Spotify.  Right now, I am playing one of my favorite play lists which contains pieces from Handel, Rachmaninoff, Beethoven and pieces also from the soundtrack The Piano.    This is the movie that starred Harvey Keitel and Holly Hunt- set in turn of the century South Pacific somewhere.  I have very vague memories of the actual theme of the movie- it was about a woman and a little girl played by Anna Pacquin- who moved to this remote place that had a beach, rain forest, aboriginal peoples, and she – this lady – brought along this piano that was a required part of her daily life.   And the pieces she played were incredible …they to this day do something drastic to my soul.   Truly.  Classical music moves my spirit in a way that nothing else can touch.  So I love this soundtrack and realize that I must find a way to get ahold of that movie again and watch it.  There was violence involved- she had her finger cut offf which curtailed her ability to play the piano… horrific moment.. and I do not even know why that happened, what prompted it.   And was it in New Zealand, Australia or a French Polynesian Island?  What was the exact time period?   Why were they there?    I have such vague memories of the overall plot … but the music- oh my, the music.  I have had other experiences like that over the years- with movies like:  The Mission- which introduced me to Ennio Morricone, and also Adiemus.   I enjoyed the movies- but it was the music that followed me out of the theater and made me buy the soundtracks and listen to them over and over and over again.

I think about how isolated I am in this experience- I don’t know one soul that has this same passion about music.   I have no one to share it with- is this perhaps the disatisfaction that I face?   Angela has said and written about the notion of wondering “where are my people”.  I feel this same way -most of the time.  Like I was dropped on this planet as an experiment- to see how I could manage surrounded by other beings that had nothing in common with me.    I have so many vivid memories of moments when, in a rush of excitement to share something I had experienced- the person on the receiving end of my commentary glazes over and it is  obvious that whatever it is that I am trying to convey has absolutely no impact on the recipient.  This is actually a regular occurence for me- just about daily.   And, I wonder- why?   Why do I have these passions ..to experience them myself and just enjoy them- probably.   Is there a need really, to have someone else mirror back the same contentment that I experience in these moments?    I recall the time I was in Rome and was standing at the Trevi Fountain.  I was the only single soul standing there marveling at this fountain with sculpted horses in action as if jumping out of the fountain in fear.    I had no one to turn to to say “wow”.   And I remember how sad I was about that.  Or, standing inside the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican on a bus tour full of other people that were either couples or families traveling together, best friends on a trip together- and then there was me… standing there under Michaelangelo’s Creation – in awe… alone.
So I wonder – does it matter?  Why do I have a sense of loss when I experience these moments alone?  Why do I long to have those moments shared by someone else.   And the specific and more probing question is- would that other person even get why I was so mesmerized by those horses or by the music or by the piece of art work depicting the creation and biblical moments- like the Garden of Eden on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel?  Would that person stand there with me, nod his head and then move on?  What am I looking for in the shared experience?   Having that person stand with me – simply be present with me?  Or, for that person to look at me and for there to be this connection.. this moment of complete understanding that comes from having the same passion.    And, what are the odds – if I were a betting woman, to be able to find this type of partnership?    I admit that I am not looking actively because I fear the risk of getting tangled up in another disatsifying unbalanced partnership that ends up being more service than mutual partnership and enjoyment.
Not finding other souls that share the same deep interests and understandings is difficult- it means that the life experience is more of a solo journey filled with obligations.  Is this the reason that my marriages – in part – failed?    I was stuck in these relationships with people who had absolutely no clue what made me tick, and nor did I know what made them tick and- neither of us could figure out how to move to the next step to learn about one another, to feel what the other felt.  And, with our busy schedules and obligations ..time trodded along, and the experience of being part of a “couple” felt so bland and blank… and pointless.   I was there to satisfy his sexual needs- mine were satisfied in part, but honestly, it felt more like servicing him.   And, the payment was null.    No real mutual benefit ..so then, why stay?   So, I did not stay.  I eventually got out of both of those prison cells and launched myself into freedom… healing a bit along the way and then finding myself here- a solo traveler.  I enjoy my music, I enjoy my dog, I enjoy my parents, I enjoy globe trotting without having to gain access to a permission slip from another party that might find my globe trotting interest offensive or a waste of precious resources.  I don’t have to get permission to buy the vehicle I want to buy.  I don’t have to beg to go to the restaurant I want to go to instead of the one that makes him excited, I don’t have to hope that the movie we pick will be one I like.  I don’t have to share the dinner entree on the menu with him that he picks.   I can pick what I want on the dinner menu and eat it myself.    These all sound likely – like bizarre expressions of freedom- but to someone whose life was directed by another strong personality during two marriage episodes, the very idea of a third foray into this bizarre arrangement leaves me falling flat.     There is this comment I hear from people that one day I will find someone- so that I don’t have to grow old alone.    Well,  maybe I won’t have to – maybe I will live with several canine friends that keep me company, organizing my time as I see fit, enjoying nature, writing, music, and also- friendships.   I do need to get more involved in volunteer and other organizations that offer an outlet for social time and make life interesting- get things on the calendar.
Other than that- this time with the keyboard has been once again, fruitful.   I can count on the keyboard to help me organize my thoughts, to help me put down on virtual paper- the essence of the discontent and then I have a way to observe it through a different lense that brings focus on the situation and a better perspective.
Sometimes I come away from these sessions a bit more blue.   Today, I feel encouraged.  It’s been months since my last daily pages entry… and I am glad that I have re-opened this outlet of thought.     I need to do this much more often.

NaNoWriMo 2015- the adventure begins!

For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by the written word. My bookshelves carry dozens of books on how to write, what to write, when to write and reasons why I should write, along with piles of magazines to motivate me to write. I have had a user ID for NaNoWriMo(National Novel Writing Month)  since 2012, and I believe back then, when I signed up, I had full intentions of carrying out my first full blown writing challenge. But something got in the way.. and looking back, I am not even sure what the culprit might have been. It could have been work, other family commitments or simply my lack of passion and discipline. And, I have not looked at the site since.  A couple of days ago, I picked up yet another Writer’s Digest magazine volume, this one a special edition “Yearbook Issue” presenting the Writer’s Workbook. Initially, I leafed through it and then put it back on the shelf at the bookstore. In its place, I picked up a Publisher’s Weekly and another magazine that claimed its focus was the novel. I brought these back to my spot in the cafe inside the bookstore to enjoy a latte and some glances through these periodicals, a possible help in inching me along to the next stage. The one magazine on novel writing had this really large font and every article had the same layout. It felt as if this was a self-publish magazine. The content blurred through my vision, for some reason, absolutely nothing about it captured me. The Publisher’s Weekly was completely focused on children’s literature; almost every page had cartoon images of children playing, dogs frolicking, monkey’s in trees, dogs barking, frogs jumping. I push this edition aside. I return the magazines to the shelf and find myself picking up the Writer’s Digest issue once again. Opening to the index, I spot the first offering has to do with writing a novel in a month. Sounds familiar, could this be about NaNoWriMo? I flip to the page indicated and sure enough, a section completely dedicated to throwing oneself into the challenge. Steps, inspirations… and I realize, this is the perfect timing. It’s mid-October, I still have time to figure this out before the challenge begins! Plotting, planning, brain storming- these are steps I must do before the actual day. I am a planner. Of course there are those who skip this step and according to NaNoWriMo, these folks are called pantsers (aka: people who wing it).
The NaNoWriMo site has come a really long way since I last set eyes on it. I had to send myself a password reset since it had been so long, and as I finally accessed the site I was blown away. Amazing amounts of energy went into creating that site and they must have quite the crew behind it. There are some workbooks that one can download that they have created for the purpose of bringing the concept to school children of all ages. The site invites me to take a look and download one of the workbooks. I choose the high school one and save it to my iPhone and send it to myself so that I can access it later on my iPad. The document is 93 pages long and contains everything one needs for the basics to novel writing, an essential novel writing 101. And it’s awesome because while I have been writing for years, the truth is I have not really written anything of substance. I love writing but have never had any focus on plot, characters, purpose, or point. It’s just a lot of journal drivel that I enjoy for the purpose of allowing my thoughts and feelings to have a place where they can land. It’s back to that whole discussion about having no one really to rely on for discussion. I do not have a close friend in my life to whom I can share everything anytime I need to – nor whom I offer the same in return. I do have friends – but they are the occasional once a month encounters or long distance support and texts. I don’t have a best bud that I can go to for my personal shares and needs. I wish I did have one of those but that just has not been my fate – to date. Anyhow, so this writing thing, the journaling, has been a way for me to stream my thoughts and line them up so that I can look at them, and make sense of things. It’s been useful. These moments have been my friendship with myself. I actually enjoy my own company and writing and readng what I write, has been an interesting form of dialogue.
What if? What if I could be a writer in the more traditional sense? What if I could write and create something worth publication? Something others wanted to read and once they read it, they wanted more? How do I go about making that happen? And, more importantly, what story do I have to tell? What characters can I develop to help unfold a tale that is worth telling?
I am excited because even though I don’t have the answers to those questions right now, I feel certain that I will in time. Write what you know. That’s a piece of advice I have read in so many of my magazines and books. There are so many threads I can go back to from my journaling days to mine a story line .. a character, a feeling or an opinion. Good story needs conflict and resolution. Well, I have plenty of that in the store room. No need to go out and find those ingredients. I just have to figure out how I take real life experiences and shake them up into a fictitious piece that will make sense and flow and keep the reader’s attention. Back to the workbook: there are great exercises in there. Not to mention all those books I have on writing. Everything from genre, to character, dialogue and pace. Maybe… just maybe, this is finally my year to move myself up a rung from dreamer to doer.
In less than a week, I leave on an Western Caribbean Cruise journey – a work trip.  This is a chance for me to experience a MegaShip that holds 5400 passengers.  My good friend from very far away is flying in to the port city to join me. I love this person like a sister. I am so grateful for her and her personality and her values. She and I will do well on this trip because of our mutual in advance understanding of what will make this cruise a great cruise for each of us. She has liberty to hang out at the pool for hours at a time without worrying about me. And, I will be spending time on the iPad typing away. She knows I am not a pool or beach person and she’s ok with that. And we are both OK with doing our own thing during the day (on some days) and then coming back together to enjoy the evenings. No pressure to have to bend to each other’s agenda. Yay. I am not even bringing a bathing suit because I hate them, hate wearing them, and uncomfortable all the way around in this arena. I have declared it, and claimed it and will be spending my time doing those things I love most: writing and knitting. During several evenings, we have scheduled shows that are included in the cost of our cruise- can’t wait to see the production: Cats. We have a superior balcony cabin which means a large balcony. I can imagine myself hanging out there with tea and books and iPad or yarn & sticks. Thoroughly kicking back to my own version of complete and thorough bliss.  Throw in complete awareness of the cruise experience for future clients… the “work” part of the trip.    Write down those impressions to record on my work place blog when I return, to help colleagues learn from my experiences as well.  I can hardly believe that I have this blocked week for this purpose and I am getting truly excited about it. I had considered bringing my actual laptop but it is so heavy and so I am hoping that my iPad holds out and stores all my writing without problems; this is one of the original iPads that came out so long ago and it’s still chugging along but at times, it does not cooperate so I need to make sure to send all writings to myself by email to ensure that I have a copy of everything. I will bring several notebooks and really good pens in case I have to resort to the handwritten method.

This morning, on one of the local public TV stations, there was an interview with a creative writing professor from the U of M. She had just published a book that was written from the basis of letters of recommendations. I did not catch her name but the interviewer, Kathy Wurzer, commended her for only writing by hand. The professor responded that this was the only way she could write. That, while she has a computer, the computer is like this eye watching her, waiting to criticize her. All that I could think of in that moment was that my writing flows so much better when I type. Partly because my hand seems to cramp because my hand can’t keep up with the speed of my mind. I end up with these very hard to understand written pages that are chicken scratch at best. What also struck me about this professor is that her personality seemed so dry and dead pan- perhaps she was nervous. The interviewers were both so delighted with her product, praising her writing as one that would definitely garner her more requests from publishers for new novels. This delighted the professor of course and for a moment, she brightened with her face softening, a smile displaying as she agreed this would be lovely if it were to happen. It was marvelous that this morning, amongst the political news of the day, that the show had featured a writer since on this day in particular, I am preparing to meet with a friend at a local coffee shop to have our monthly “writer’s meeting.”   When I enter the world of writing, my awareness of life and people and ideas is heightened. I feel that there are signs all around me that I am doing the right thing. That I am pursuing my passion and moving forward with the plan. That I am following my bliss. That I am doing what I was meant to be doing on this planet during my lifetime. And, rather than worry about wasted time or allowing my inner critic to take over to suggest I can’t do it, or that I don’t have it in me, I push forward and reach for my inner victorious self and urge myself to give it a shot. I have nothing to lose… and everthing to gain.
NaNoWriMo suggests 1667 words a day. Today, I have managed to type around 1950. These were merely journal threads on writing and the idea of diving into the 30 day challenge. Still, what I know is that I don’t have a problem these days with getting words onto the page. My focus right now will need to be unearthing a viable direction. The plan. Plotting my course and providing myself with a compass for the challenge. What is my final destination? I have read somewhere that authors at times will write the ending first.. so that they know where they are headed… then, they plot their way backwards in time to create the moment that lead up to that ending- that might work for me. One thing I know from reading other NaNoWriMo participants encouragements- if this is the first challenge, just jump in – don’t worry about it, see what happens. Don’t create a huge expectation, just do it. And, that sounds marvelous to me! I will dive in and see where the journey takes me- how very exciting. The NaNoWriMo prep counselors suggest creating the name of my novel … I am not there yet. But, it’s October 18th …and exactly 14 days from now- the challenge begins. I have two weeks to prep- so grateful for that valuable time.