5/30/17

And so today’s moment of happiness despite the news.

I’ve started working with a new massage therapist. His focus on me is split – relaxation and convincing my hips to loosen up and let go of the pain. This means that I spend half the massage wondering why I have to battle my own body, and the other half in total bliss.

Today, the massage therapist also sprung a floodgate.

At the very beginning, as he worked on the back of my head and I faced the ceiling, he said, “How was your holiday weekend?”

My holiday weekend was missing the word holiday. I closed my eyes tightly.

Then later, when I was on my stomach, he pressed down on a spot between my shoulderblades where I tend to carry stress. And the next thing I knew, I was soaking the little doughnut face pillow with tears. Frustration, stress, sadness, self-anger – you name it, it was there.

I took on a project this weekend that I never should have. It was a project that would normally take me, sandwiched into my usual schedule, at least a month to accomplish. I edited a client’s 400-and-change page novel in two days. There was no holiday. And now, my regularly scheduled program is so far behind, I swear I can see the underside of last April.

Why did I do this?

Because I’d seen this project right from its start and I wanted to see it through to the end. Because I love this client and all my clients and students. They’re family. Because I wanted to make damn sure it was done right. Because I have played the part of Superwoman now for at least 21 years, keeping incredible work hours, raising a family, writing my own stories and books (and having them published and doing the required promoting), raising a business, and growing very used to people saying, “I don’t know how you do everything you do,” and wanting to keep that bar up high. Because I had years and years of some influential people in my life telling me I was lazy and I never was, but I harbor a very deep fear that maybe they were right. I have to keep proving them wrong.  And…because I have a terrible inability to say No.

So again…why did I do this?

Because I love my students and my clients. Because I want them to love me. Because I love my family. Because I want them to love me. Because I love my readers. Because I want them to love me.

Because I want to be loved by the whole freakin’ world.

And so I picked myself up off the massage table. Apologized for the leakfest. And I went home.

Trying to ease up my schedule some this week, I emailed two students, asking if they could each switch their meeting times. Doing so meant that I wouldn’t be facing reading and critiquing five coaching clients’ work (100 pages total) and critiquing a class’ work (varies each week), starting at 10:00 tonight because that’s how late it is by the time I finish teaching and land at my desk. The first student said yes, of course!, the second told me she couldn’t switch to when I needed her to, but we would figure it out, I wasn’t to worry. When I said I would try to get her done at the usual time, she said she wished I wouldn’t. She said, “I don’t want you to overdo more than you already overdo.”

And I realized something.

My students and clients do love me. My family loves me. My readers love me. I don’t know about the whole world, that might have to be relegated to the lofty dream category, but really, it’s enough to love and be loved back. And I realized that, along with learning to say No, I also have to learn that love isn’t taken away so easily, so thoughtlessly. I am surrounded by really thoughtful people.

So my happy moment today? I learned I can say No and it will be all right. And now…I’ve got to get some work done.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

May 6, 2014 Photographs from the condo of Michael and Kathie Giorgio in downtown Waukesha. The home office of Kathie Giorgio. She is a writer. A cat named Edgar Allen Paw looks on at lower right. MICHAEL SEARS/MSEARS@JOURNALSENTINEL.COM

 

5/29/17

And so today’s moment of happiness despite the news.

My holiday weekend has been anything but a holiday. I’ve spent most of it hunkered over my computer, working. I did take the time yesterday and the day before to get outside and walk the 3-mile loop of the Riverwalk. But today, I couldn’t even do that. I was aching. And there was just too much to get done before tomorrow. There still is – I’m not done.

But this afternoon, I shoved it all aside. I stayed on my computer, but the words that came up on the screen, the words I worked on, rearranged, read aloud, took apart, put back together, and ultimately loved, were my own.

I wrote.

A Moment last week was about a much-respected editor of a magazine I love telling me to make a story longer and then to re-submit it. I started that process a few days ago. When I did, when I cracked that story back open, there was so much more to it that rushed out. My first time through it, I added 1279 words. When I looked through it again, those 1279 words looked like they belonged there all along. They shook their fingers at me for not noticing them before. I laughed, grabbed them by their wagging fingertips, and they pulled me back in for more.

Today, the real finessing began. The polishing, the trimming, the not-this-word-but-that-one, the sinking into a character so hard, my edges disappeared and became hers. And those words became mine, my playthings, my balls to juggle, my clay to shape. There are times I wish I could write with the old plastic magnet letters from my childhood, the ones that presented to me the alphabet and that A means apple and C means cat, and every letter can join with another letter and make a word and words can make sentences and sentences can make stories with meaning. With lives. Peopled with people who aren’t real, but are. I know them better sometimes than I know myself.

And then I had it. The moment I teach about. The moment I tell all students to look for, when they ask me how I know when a story is done. The Damn, I’m good! moment. I looked at that story in its new wholeness and I thought, No one else could have written this but me. And I was warm with the accomplishment. And grateful to the editor who told me to stretch.

Oh, that stretch felt good.

And it’s not done yet. I will stroke this story through several more drafts yet before I declare it finished. When it occurs to me to write the words The End, I will send it off and I will celebrate.

This is why I write. This joy. This loss of self and this experience of others. This wordplay. I can feel those plastic magnet letters in my hands and I can feel the weight they promised me then and they deliver to me now.

This is why I write.   This is why musicians play and dancers dance and artists paint and sculptors shape. And why angels sing.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

5/28/17

And so today’s moment of happiness despite the news.

For two days in a row, we’ve had glorious weather. Sunshine. Blue skies. Rain at night when it doesn’t bother anyone except my storm-phobic batshit beagle. And so, for the second day in a row, I ventured out to Waukesha’s Fox Riverwalk for a three-mile walk.

Walking two days in a row is a big deal for me. I live with fibromyalgia. I’ve been told and I’ve read that movement decreases fibro pain. I’ve yet to see that in action. I woke up in pain this morning. The hips, the shoulders. And, in true bizarre fibro-fashion, the collarbone. I was stunned when I first learned that collarbone pain is a hallmark of fibro – I’d had that and thought I was nuts.

For the first quarter of my walk, I moved to the left foot-right foot mantra of this hurts this hurts this hurts. Eventually, though, the perfect sky and soft river eased me into a walking meditation, where I could leave pain behind, at least until I stopped moving.

I wore a favorite t-shirt today. It’s black, and in bold white letters, it says, #Plus Is Equal. On the back, it says, It’s time to represent. The #PlusIsEqual movement was started in 2015, by Lane Bryant. Their statement:  67% of US women are size 14 to 34. But they’re underrepresented on billboards, magazines, TV…everywhere. We believe all women should be seen and celebrated equally. As a well-rounded woman, I fully agree and I wear the shirt with great pride and joy.

On my walk today, many women called out to me, “I like your shirt!” I smiled and said thank you and kept on going. Men, I noticed, didn’t say anything. They glanced at my shirt and then away.

I was about halfway around when a woman caught up to me and fell in step. “Can I walk with you for a bit?” she asked.

I was surprised, but agreed. She wore headphones like a necklace. Clearly, she planned on walking alone, but now she matched me, foot for foot. We walked in silence for a bit.

“I like your shirt,” she said finally.

“Thanks,” I said. And yes, this woman fit in with the 67%.

“I always feel funny when I walk here,” she said.

I asked her why.

“You know. People zip by me. They’re running or they’re power-walking or they’re rollerblading or they’re biking. And I always feel like they look at me as if I don’t belong here. Like you’re only supposed to be doing this –“ she waved her arms, “—if you’re skinny. In shape. You know. The body beautiful.”

“Doing what?” I waved my arms like hers. “Enjoying the day? Listening to the river? Admiring the sky?” I turned to look at her and scanned my eyes up and down, in a way I knew would make most people uncomfortable. But I had a point. “Your body is beautiful.” Left foot, right foot. This didn’t hurt so much anymore. “Know what else? So is mine.”

She looked ahead at our path and she smiled. We walked along, down the brick walkway, up the small hill, over the bridge, stopping for a moment to lean on the railing and watch the water. Then past the park and the squeals of children. Under weeping willow trees. Through the calls of red-winged blackbirds and robins. And yes, we were passed by those who were running. By those who were biking. By those who looked like they’d been doing that sort of thing for a while.

As we reached the parking lot where Semi was waiting for me, the woman said, “You made me feel better. Thank you.”

I felt better too.

And yes, that helps, Despite. Anyway.

5/27/17

And so today’s moment of happiness despite the news.

Know what happens when the sun comes out and the temperatures go up?

  • My daughter asked – ASKED – if she could clean out her closet. (I know – I’m still stunned.)
  • When I drove out in the convertible to get our lunch, there was a man sitting on a ledge at the intersection where I had to stop for traffic. When I looked over, he was beaming. I beamed back. We seat-danced to the music I was playing. And he called, “You have a wonderful day!” when I pulled out.
  • Two teenage boys held a door open for me. When I said, “Thank you,” they smiled and said, “You are very welcome.”
  • At another intersection, which I hate because there’s no light and there’s tons of traffic, always ill-timed, I had to wait forever. And I didn’t care.
  • When I went for a walk on the Riverwalk, my daughter came with me. Even though she snap-chatted all the way around, she as at least with me and out of her closed-door room.
  • On the Riverwalk, everyone was smiling.

It was a beautiful day.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

5/26/17

And so today’s moment of happiness despite the news.

Yesterday, I received a rejection for one of my short stories. Normally, this would not be a reason for a moment of happiness. Normally, it would be a reason for me to kick, scream, pout, cry, hold my breath until I turned blue, and take the editor’s name in vain. But not this time.

This time, it was a personal note from an editor I greatly respect, from a magazine I greatly love. It was addressed to me, by name. It told me how much the editor liked my story, and it told me where I lost him, and it told me that if I chose to rewrite the story, he’d love to see it again.

And here’s the thing. Typically, letters like this are about making a story shorter. This was about making a story LONGER.

Ohmygod.

The story was its length because I was trying to be a good little writer and stay within the Rule for appropriate short story word count. I deliberately sacrificed content and style for the Rule. It’s still a good story and I was very happy with it. But there was this little part of me, usually on my inside right elbow, that itched for more. Tingles in my fingers that said, Hey, you’re not done pounding the keys yet. And the hamster in my brain kept insisting the wheel needed to turn and turn and c’mon, let’s go.

But the Rule. Break the Rule?

Now, here was this editor, who I respect, telling me to let loose. Telling me to stretch. Telling me to let go of the reins of control and let my horse run.

He gave me permission to break the Rule. Well, you don’t have to tell me twice.

So today, I set aside the NIP (novel-in-progress) and I returned to this story. I spent most of the afternoon with this character, who is a repeater in my stories and books, but usually, as a dead person. As a memory. This is only the second story I’ve written of her alive. And I love her. And I turned her loose. I STRETCHED. The wheel turned and turned and turned.

I busted right through that Rule. Shattered it to smithereens. And man, did it feel good. I wrote with such a sense of freedom and abandon, I swear my hair was whipping in the wind I imagined.

Years ago, I took part in a class at an art studio that encouraged you to go back to kindergarten. The walls were made out of whiteboard and we stuck our sheets of canvas paper to the walls with masking tape. The paints and brushes were in a huge trough down the center of the room and we were encouraged to just paint at will. Not think ahead. Mix colors. Go off the paper. Use our fingers. Use our bodies.

Break the Rules.

There were days I came back covered in paint. On my clothes, face, under my fingernails, in the lines of my palms. I came home exhausted. I came home happy.

Today, I wrote until I was exhausted. I wrote happy. I just freaking wrote. I returned to the organic, the very basic dirt floor, of who I am and what I do.

And I think this editor is going to love it.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

5/25/17

And so today’s moment of happiness despite the news.

Despite being a night person, I don’t like the night. The dark brings with it dark things. Dark things that were once real. Dark things that are memory now. I think sometimes my tendency to be a workaholic – okay, I do my best to be honest in these things, so let me change that. I think sometimes my absolutely being a workaholic who works into the early morning hours is a way to combat the dark and also to fight away the deepest dark of all – sleep, where nightmares dwell.

And so I sit at night with the lights on and I work. What is that quote about a single light in the dark?

It’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness.

So I sit in light. And I work the darkness away.

Tonight, just a little while ago, I was at my computer when evening began to fall in earnest. I hadn’t yet turned the lights on. I am the only one in the house right now  – Michael is downstairs in the AllWriters’ classroom, leading the Teen Writers’ Workshop, and Olivia is a teen in the workshop. This is probably the quietest moment I’ve had all day. I started to get up to turn on the lights, to ward off the creeping dark, but then I noticed a light blue tone to the graying of nightfall. And so I made myself, just this once, sit and watch.

I’ve watched sunsets. I know their beauty. But this was the first time I watched evening, and evening turn to night.

Other words for evening: twilight   dusk   eventide   vespers   nightfall   witching hour

Everything turned the quietest of blues. It wasn’t a sky blue or an ocean blue, but a blue like a featherbed. There were no birdcalls, no birdsong. It was as if silence became something I could dip my hands into. Let run through my fingers.

Another phrase for night: the dead of night. Well, that’s the fear, isn’t it. What all dark things lead to.

But I didn’t feel fear. I only felt admiration. And the sense that, metaphorically, evening can be okay. Just like autumn can be okay. November can be okay.

Dark can be okay. Memory can be okay. What used to be dark can lead to light. That’s what I’m doing with these Moments, isn’t it.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

5/24/17

And so today’s moment of happiness despite the news.

Six times now, I’ve written down a small idea that grew into a book manuscript. And six times, I’ve watched a publisher turn that book manuscript into a real book, a book-book, one that perfect strangers can hold in their hands and read. Six times now, I’ve had a day where my book suddenly develops a face.

A cover.

Receiving the electronic galley of your book and its cover is like holding an ultrasound photo of your baby. With the cover, with the face, your book suddenly has a personality, an identity. It becomes real. It becomes Someone – at least, I think of my books as Someones.

Today, it happened for the seventh time.

When I received the file, I opened the cover photo first. And then I just sat and gazed at it. There it was. And then I opened the galley file and looked at the words, the words now no longer looking like Times New Roman 12 Point Font, double-spaced, on a screen, but…like a book.  A book-book. Real.

I can remember back to when I decided my name was going to be a household word by the time I reached twenty years old. As each of my decades reached its ninth year, 29, 39, 49, I changed when that household word would be reached. 30. 40. 50. With some decades, not only did the numbers slip by, but my name changed too. Kathleen M. Thomas. Kathie Lokken. Kathie Lokken-Giorgio. Kathie Giorgio.

That last name felt like I finally fit in my own skin.

My first book came out when I was fifty years old. This year, I will turn fifty-seven, and this is my seventh book. It will be released on September 7, 2017.

I’m not a household word. I know that. But I know I’m in a lot of households. I know my books have been held in many hands, some belonging to people I know, some belonging to perfect strangers. This one will be too.

I do not have a goal to be a household word by the time I’m sixty. I’m letting that go. I’m learning to accept that not all lifelong dreams are realized. But that doesn’t mean a life hasn’t been lived.

I set out at an early age to achieve some pretty lofty goals. Last year, when books five and six came out, I decided I could now say I had a body of work. This year, with book #7, and hundreds of short stories, and essays and poems too, I feel like I can say I’ve produced a lifetime of work.

And I’m not done yet. Book #8 is underway.

There’s a lot that I haven’t accomplished, and at times, that’s left me feeling like a failure. I focused more on what I didn’t than what I did. But I’m learning to tilt my head the other way and seeing instead what I have done, and not all the empty space in between. Don’t look at the empty. Look at the full.

It was a somewhat melancholy moment of happiness today. A bright happy, but with the slight blue tone of regret.

But I feel full. Book #7. In Grace’s Time.

In my time.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

5/23/17

And so today’s moment of happiness despite the news.

It’s a hard news day.

Manchester. A concert for tweens and teens.

Little girls.

And a suicide bomber.

In an international conversation with a coaching client today, she said, “How do you do that sometimes after the news, like out of Manchester, I don’t know.”

I answered, “That’s why it’s called Today’s Moment Of Happiness Despite The News.”

She said, “My happy moment was seeing my daughter happy yesterday, despite the news.”

Later, she said, “God almighty, just makes you hug your children tighter.”

Today, the day after the news in Manchester, I gave my teen daughter a guitar. Pink, because this girl’s world is pink and always has been. A guitar, because while she’s an amazing violinist, she’s had a hankering to try the guitar. A surprise gift, because the school year has been rough socially, but she’s toughed it out. She finds joy and solace in music. So I wanted to give her more music.

I want her world to always be pink.

She beamed. That smile.

I hugged her tight. Tighter.

My happy moment was seeing my daughter happy, despite the news.

Tomorrow, I will hold her tighter. Again.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

5/22/17

And so today’s moment of happiness despite the news.

I am a hyper-organized person. When people ask me how I manage to get so much done, the answer is in one word: organization. Things are in their place, and their place is set in cement. My desk calendar is meticulous. I don’t use an online scheduler, either via my phone or my computer, because there’s too much chance for a screw-up. I know where I’m supposed to be when, and what I’m supposed to do when I get there, and I’m prepared.  Things. Get. Done. I was that person everyone hated in college – my papers were always done at least two weeks in advance of the due date. I don’t write papers anymore, but I do have deadlines, and they’re met well in advance.

Until today. From now on, I have to add “almost always” to my sense of organization. I have to add “usually”. I have to add “typically” and “probably”.

I knew I was in trouble this weekend. I organize the work for the week ahead around a Saturday night outing. But this weekend, everything went crazy. There was the sudden interruption of a dentist appointment early Saturday morning, followed by my once-a-month three-hour workshop. Followed by my having to take my daughter into Urgent Care because she couldn’t stop coughing. Followed by my falling asleep (as the result of no sleep the night before because of nerves for the upcoming dentist appointment) during meditation, which led to an unplanned nap, which led to dinner out, which meant I didn’t even sit down to do any work until almost ten o’clock Saturday night. This led to Sunday, which had two extra activities: my daughter’s violin recital and going to see the play Jane Eyre at the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, where my husband works. I brought folders with me to the play and I read during the twenty-minute intermission.

But ohmygod. Organization plans all awry.

Then came today. I deliberately got up early, so I would be showered, dressed, and fed before my morning phone clients. That way, I could hang up the phone and get right into my own writing and still get my own creative work done while trying to catch up with my teaching work. Instead, my coughing daughter was still coughing. So I had to take her to the doctor. At 12:45, the only time available. And he was running late and didn’t even get into the exam room until 1:30. I only got an hour and fifteen minutes of writing in, and then I decided to sacrifice the rest to meditation, to try and calm myself down. After meditation, I was in the process of signing on to Skype for my 5:00 client when I realized I couldn’t remember what my client wrote this week and what I said about it. And a chill went flying up my spine.

BECAUSE I NEVER READ HER WORK.

I read the two clients before her and the client after her and the class after her. I checked her off as completed on my calendar. But I completely leaped right over her.

I had to show up a few minutes late to our appointment so I had time to wipe away tears of absolute frustration and failure. When you’re as organized as I am, perfectionism is, of course, right there in bed with you. It’s a threesome: Me, Organization, and Perfectionism. We don’t have room for a fourth: Failure. But it felt like Failure was all over me. It was Armageddon.

But I got on Skype and I told my client what happened. She was gracious, kind and forgiving.

And you know what? My world didn’t end. I am back in my chair, trying to get my ducks all lined up in a row again, my cats all herded. And I know they will be. I also know now that if one wanders off, if one of my things isn’t in the place it’s supposed to be, if I drop a ball…I’ll be okay. The world won’t suddenly hate me.

Tomorrow will be a better day.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

5/21/17

And so today’s moment of happiness despite the news.

Years ago, when my big kids, now 33, 31, and 30, were getting ready to make the choice of whether or not to participate in their school’s music program, I had one rule. No violin. Absolutely no violin. I couldn’t stand the sound of a new player, smacking a bow to the strings, squeaking, squawking, scratching. For me, it was akin to the sound of fingernails on a blackboard – something that never bothered me, but made the greater population cringe.

No violin.

My oldest played the trumpet. My middle played the drums. My youngest (then) played the flute. They had their share of rude noises too, but I was always relieved that it wasn’t the violin.

Then came my fourth child. My baby, when I was forty years old and the three big kids were 16, 14, and 13. She let me know very quickly what she thought of my rules and expectations. I thought I’d seen it all by the time I had her; in reality, I hadn’t seen anything yet.

In fifth grade, she came home from school, put her hands on her hips and declared, “I want to play the violin.”

Oh, no, no, no, no, I thought. Come on, really?

But there is one word that describes Olivia best. Determined. Whatever she chooses to do, she does. If she wanted to play the violin, she wasn’t going to let it go. There would be no substitute.

And so she went on to prove me wrong. The squeaky, squawky, scratchy phase was over so fast, I don’t even have any memory of it. I only have memories of that little girl, tucking her first instrument under her chin, drawing the bow across the strings, and smiling.

That smile.

Today, I watched her perform in a recital. She stepped up to the stand, placed her bow reverently on the strings the way she did so long ago, smiled, then leveled the smile as her whole body became involved with the music and with concentration. She played a slow movement, rich in emotion. And then she flew into a fast movement, so fast that I thought her violin was going to burst into flames from the friction.

I am so happy that she insisted on breaking one of my rules. And I am so happy to have been a part of the squeaking, squawking and scratching. What I hear coming from her now is music at its purest. And what I see is better than any vision.

Her smile.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.