Sunday, July 15, 2012

Optimism and Grit (or Secretly I'm an Ninja) (with yellow socks)

A pearl grey suit made of the lightest wool, a pair of nylons, and new black heels that were making my feet swell. I’d flown across America to meet with somebody and she’d cancelled two hours before. I’d gotten up early to steam my suit and curl my hair. I took a bus downtown anyway to visit the IBM San Francisco office, and was surprised to discover that nobody comes in on Fridays. You are not in D.C. anymore, Dorothy.

I wished I could click my new black shoes and fly back home, but I was downtown, I had a rental car (my appointment had been 40 minutes away from the city), and I had nowhere to go. I thought about ditching and striking out on the open road—nowhere bound, but first I had to do something about these shoes. I was limping and cussedly ornery. So cussedly ornery that I had to walk out of Macy’s without a word because after waiting 20 minutes for the salesperson to bring me a pair of shoes (which they didn’t have in my size), I had no response to the fact that he hadn’t brought me another pair (in my size) that had a different color stripe on the sole.

“Oh, did you want me to get those?”

I couldn’t even muster a “duh.”

My feet needed to get out of those shoes and then, and I didn’t give an oat what color the stripe was. Under $30.00 bucks was the criteria. I made it into the Sketchers store and broke down. I spilled it all to the sales representative. I went through six or eight pairs of on sale shoes before they came back with a box in my size. This time I was patient. She’d listened to every word without judgment.

I bought a pair of sparkly purple shoes with comfy soles. I walked to Union Square. I called my brother as I browsed through the displayed artists’ wares in the park. I’d worked months to finally arrange this meeting. I’d worked every connection I had to get a position in the Bay Area. I didn’t know what to do.

I hung up. I looked down to the title of the massive shell mandala I stood before.

“Optimism” was written in italics next the name of the artist and the price. I threw back my head and laughed. I looked at my sparkly purple shoes. Optimism indeed. I wiggled the pain out of my toes.

And then I moved across America. I reduced my work hours to 20 a week, working remotely on my old IBM project. I started pushing the writing in a major way. And every couple of weeks I wonder what in the world I am doing.

“Nobody makes money writing.” I’ve told this to many people. I’ve told myself I would never quit my job and write fulltime. It was impractical. And although I’ve always been a bit a whimsical, a free spirit sort, I was raised to be practical.

“You’ve got grit” Jeanne sametimed me (IBM chat).

“And grit determines success more than any other factor.”

She continues to give me a pep talk. Jeanne is wonderful this way, and this word stays in my mind for the next several weeks.


“Erin, you’ve got grit,” I repeat.

I continue to maintain my blog that nobody reads. I make bookmarks to promote my web-site. I email and call newspapers and journalists. I touch base with bookstores to see if they are interested in holding readings. I push to finish the new book despite the fact that sales haven’t picked up on the first.

“What do you do all day?” people ask often.

“Get through half of my list if I am lucky,” I want to say back.

And then one day I am in San Francisco. A couple days previously I had been turned away from the Mormon temple because I forgot to renew my recommend. Right now it is my life-line. The place God tells me it’s okay, and that he believes in me, and that I’m doing the right thing. I almost cry driving back home from the temple, and I never cry.

It is nine in the morning, and I’m going to move my car parked on Haight Street because I stayed the night at a friend’s house. She comes with. I take her to her car, and she goes to get it registered.

“My roommate will let you back in,” she assures me.

But she doesn’t because the roommate’s not there. And I don’t have my cell phone because I’d only left to move my car. My friend lives in a carriage house behind a town house, and I can’t even get through the outer gate. I knock on her neighbors’ doors, and nobody has her number. I snoop until I find the hidden key. It gets me through the gate. I look under every single succulent pot (over 20) in the yard. And there are no more keys. The key I have doesn’t open the door on twelve tries.

Upstairs where I am camped out on the couch, my computer lies unattended still logged in to sametime. My co-workers in D.C. are sending me documents to edit. My friend Mariella (in town from Georgia) is calling me to see when she can pick me up to see the city. I have been locked out for forty five minutes, so I climb the fence.

I stand on top of the fence and look up to the edge of the balcony. There’s no way. It’s too far a fall below. I’m already up at least ten feet. I think of all the gymnastics moves that could get me up there, but I’m no gymnast, no stunt guy, and it is very far to fall, and I am very afraid.

I stand there for fifteen minutes, fearing. I’m wearing a skirt. I’m holding a purse. But I need to get up there, and there’s no other way. It’s an awkward thing to do. It’s unconventional, and it’s dangerous.

“Erin, you have grit.”

I reach several feet up with my right foot and wedge it into the siding of the house. Both my hands are gripped on the outside slats of the veranda near the bottom. I push myself up with all my strength and raise my left foot, so it just grasps the bottom of the veranda. I push myself up with all my strength, and then I am standing on the outside of the veranda, trembling and catching my breath. I can’t believe what I have just done. I climb over the top, and enter through the open door.

In the meantime, my sister has given birth. Documents have arrived in my inbox. My friend Justin has called to confirm that I’m picking him up from the airport, and Mariella is picking me up in fifteen minutes.

I put on my tennis shoes and realize I forgot socks. In Chinatown, I buy a yellow pair that have the golden gate bridge stitched on them in red, and scrunch them down around my ankles because I am too cheap to buy the $10.00 pair at the Nike store. Attractive, I think. I remember my purple shoes.

But I have learned something very important about myself that morning.

Two days later I call a journalist at NPR.

“Erin, you have grit.”

“You are a ninja.”

I repeat to this myself each time I do something daring. Each time I doubt.

And next week, and the week after that, I’m going to figure out how to get inside. The door may not open after twelve tries, but if necessary, I’ll climb the walls and over the veranda. Because somewhere, somehow, there will be an open door.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Virtuous Are the Patient

I realize this as I scowl a little bit that all the fruit flies in our kitchen have not yet drownded in the apple cider vinegar traps we so strategically placed around the kitchen. Note to self: Compost bin must be taken out daily. I realize this as another week passes and my part-time technical editing job has not started. I realize this while talking to my friend Dave about my literary "career".

Finishing a book, selling a book, and then finally making it through the edits to printing a book, is climbing a big 'ole mountain. Once you peak it, you realize there's another to go: promoting, promoting, promoting. It takes a very thick skin to contact people day after day, and most of them don't call or email you back. It's kind of like dating in which sometimes you just prefer a direct rejection to the alternative of waiting.

To Dave: "I told everybody that I'd be excited once the book was in my hand, but once it came out, I was already knee deep in promotion."

Note to self: It's time to be excited!

As I write this I realize that maybe excitement is part of the virtue. The painful parts, you wait through, but the great parts-- this is the where patience takes a twist, you don't wait to enjoy them because you may never. When I'm done promoting book 1, I will be in the processe of selling book 2, and still writing book 3.

Huzzah! I'm published! ;)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Year of the Dragon

The most powerful animal on the Chinese zodiac, symbolizing energy and change, usually for the positive. It fits 2012.

I've moved from feeling overwelmed to extremely optomistic. I had PRK eye surgery over the holidays, which unlike I was advised by my doctor beforehand (Oh yeah! You'll be fine editing nine hours a day) is a long healing process (validated by the experiences of many others I ran into after having surgery).

So in the first months of 2012 in which I'm very involved in preparing my first book for publication in April, trying desperately to wrap up the second book, and slammed at work, my eyes are swelling making my vision too blurry to read, so I have to break up my work day (I even had to get a government issued laptop and a network key, so I can work half my hours at home).

It's also a time when I feel like I should be applying for jobs both inside and outside my current company, which also requires eyesight.

It didn't help that on top of all this, I spent the first half of January with a sinus infection.

In a couple months, I'm going think this all is pretty hilarious. I even appreciate the comedic value of the situation at the time being--although some days--like yesterday when I was on my way to my Chinese friends' house to celebrate the Year of the Dragon and got lost three times because I couldn't see the road signs, I want to cry.

But all in all, on top of what's seemed like an impossible situation, I feel hopeful and blessed.

The press told me at the beginning of December that they wanted me to get my whole book fact checked. It had been peer reviewed by two Utah historians, but my book covers 200 years of coal mining history and is set in Wales, Utah, West Virginia, and Washington D.C. I had to either pull out the literally hundreds of sources I had used from my files and disks and pastainkingly validate every detail, or find historians from Wales and West Virginia, and an expert in energy to peer review it.

I thought this was going to cost me hundreds of dollars. The final changes for the manuscript need to be made at the end of January. There's no way I could do it myself. And yet, I've found strangers to help me look over my book, and moreover, they've refused compensation, only requesting a copy of the book when it's done. This has happened also in gathering photos from all over the world. So far, I haven't had to pay a cent for kindness from all directions.

I feel like the tender mercies of God are being manifest by different people in the smallest of ways, but they are making all the difference.

I love so many people, and so it's all a challenge to see them all before I leave. I feel like there's no way to do it all, and yet, on Saturday morning before I went to my friend Jeanne's house to pull together a cover for the book (the press rejected the one I orginally submitted and then put together one of its own that I don't like), my friend dropped by the high-tech camera I'll be using to take pictures at her wedding in a week, so I could play around with it.

I used it to take the professional level photo I needed for the cover. The light outside was perfect--cloudy above and snow below. It's the most even light possible. Jeanne and I were able to put together something beautiful. It took several hours, and I didn't have time to make the dish I'd planned to bring to my Chinese friends' house (they'd told me not to make anything anyway).

After amazing Chinese food and a Jackie Chan movie, I headed over to my friend Lindy's house (on her honeymoon) to care for her cats who pee on things if they go without human contact too long. I stopped by the grocery store for a few breakfast items for two friends I'd invited over this morning. I forgot ingredients for the vegetable stew I'd agreed to bring for a potluck tonight.

But this morning brainstorming of what to pull together (and not break the Sabbath)--I noticed my friend Lindy had written me a note to use up her tomatoes. With her perishables and the ingredients I didn't use for my dish last night, I was able to pull something together with hardly anything in my cupboard or in my refridgerator.

Tender mercies. Life is beyond overwelming, but God is in the details, even allowing me to be me: manage my crazy job, write two books, move, and say goodbye to everybody I love in a mad dash of activity.

And as far as the new job goes, I could probably do with a few months of unemployment. I could finish the second book and uncomplicate my life, so I can move on to 2012's goals: learn a marshal art, spend more time primping, and find somebody to marry. In the Year of the Dragon, I plan to invest my time becoming a little more attractive and a litte more dangerous--matching the dragon for it's beauty and fire. ;)

So I'm letting the job part go. I trust it will work out somehow. Most of all, I'm feeling excited about the opportunity to reinvent myself. I've lived in D.C. for 8 years-- a good portion of my young adulthood. I've made a lot of mistakes, and I've changed a lot and overcome many challenges.

I can't wait to leave the expectations of all the people that I'm leaving behind to be the new and better version of myself I've earned from all of my trials. I can take the best from these eight years and be that best without all the history of my growing.

In the spirit of the Year of the Dragon, here are all my recent Chinese cookie fortunes:

"You need not worry about your future."

"If your desires are not extravagant, they will be granted."

"Think highly of yourself, for the world takes you at your own estimate."

"You will always get what you want through your charm and personality."

"An admirer is too shy to great you."

And while we're being superstitious, we might as well go all the way. The Year of the Dragon is also a good year to be an Aries:

What the stars say on romance:

You're ready for the real thing, and that's because you've finally developed the most important relationship of all - the one with yourself. Now that you're crystal clear about what you will and won't put up with in your intimate relationships, there's no turning back! You've set your standards high and there's no need to compromise.

Although Mars, your ruler, will take up prolonged occupancy in your work sector for the first half of the year - leaving you little time to even think about dating, mating or relating - you'll more than make up for it during 2012's second half. September is potentially one of your most romantic months of the year, so put yourself out on the dating scene without excuses. And finally, December is your most auspicious time for meeting someone you could settle down with. This is your make-or-break year - so let it rip!

And on my career:

When Pluto and Uranus reach their exact square in June, you'll be confronted with the culmination of a quest for radical change that began in summer 2011. Use the momentum of the first quarter of the year to launch your major projects, since Pluto will turn retrograde between April and September, causing a forced slowdown and re-evaluation of your priorities.

With Jupiter bringing good fortune to your money sector for the first half of the year, you'll experience fabulous ease in attracting opportunities to boost your income. You're learning how important it is to value yourself and not sell any of your talents for less than they're worth. The summer brings fabulous opportunities for writing and publishing, so if you've been sitting on a book (or two) that you know needs to be written, this is your year to put pen to paper and fingers to keyboard!

--Almost uncanny, isn't it?

In any case, all signs point to 2012 being a wonderful year to be alive. ;)

Friday, November 25, 2011

My New Job

This is the point at which stress hits. Three months from a projected relocation and I still have the job details, the house details, the moving details to work out.

And to tip it off work has continued to be really stressful. On last Thursday after having another uncomfortable conversation with one of my employees about performance, I came home and told my roommate that I thought I was going to cry.

"Do it! It'll make you feel better. You deserve to cry."

I got misty eyed for a moment. Not even a real tear. I guess that's it, I thought. Oh well, so much for the big cathartic relief.

The real test of whether I've had all I can take is not usually tears, no, but something that adds cause to the case for tears: locking my keys in my car.

On Saturday morning on the way to watch the championship frisbee game that I wasn't participating in because work has kept me too busy to play with my friends, I got out of the car to fill up my tires.

This, I explained to myself, was the responsible thing to do because they were getting a little low. Who knew what could happen on the way to a frisbee game?

Responsible me shut her keys, her wallet, her phone, and her triple A card in the car. Responsible me was over it. I knew there were other ways of solving this situation; many men came by offering cell phones with internet, a one stop location to connecting with my road-side emergency provider.

Instead, I thanked them graciously (I hope) and borrowed a screw driver from the garage attached to the station. I walked down to my friend Amanda's house for a metal hanger.

"I guess you know what you're doing?" My most persistent possible rescuer volunteered for the second time. He really did mean well, and persistently, so I let him hold the screw driver wedging the door open and cringed as he wiggled it around, tearing up my weather stripping.

As the end of the hanger gripped the edge of the lock and I began to pull, he exclaimed, "This is exciting! I can hardly take the suspense!"

If all other job leads fail, triple A, here I come. Not only can I offer lock picking skills, but simultaneaous counseling and empathy for victims of forgetfulness like myself who on days when they have had all they can take, watch their hand slam the door shut just as their mouth opens wide in shock, disbelief, forming the words, "not again."

Sunday, November 20, 2011


We hiked the Billy Goat trail along the Potomac River by Great Falls for my brother's birthday. Both of us felt instantly giddy. "How did I not know this was here?" My brother kept exclaiming and planned to take his church youth group the very next week.

"What's the big deal?" my roommate muttered.

"Rocks." My brother and I explained. If this was enough of an explanation. We grew up under the Rocky Mountains and spent our childhood scrabbling up their slopes, riding our bikes up their trails, and free climbing their waterfalls.

"Rocks." What more could anybody really need? The mountains were our guardians. With something so mounumental standing watch, how could you worry about day to day humdrumming in the valley? We lived under majesty.

And now in the beautiful fall mornings when I walk to the metro just after first light, I realize that I'm beginning to feel this way about trees.

I've always liked green things. A climbing plant is currently taking over my cubical, and I don't have to the heart to cut it back. My office is where at least one thing thrives.

But trees have never been quite like rocks or mountains. I love trees, but rocks make me feel at home. But just this fall, I've realized how Eastern I've become.

I love the variety of trees that grow in my neighborhood the bamboo and the old oaks. Not the the Rockies maybe, but certainly sentinals that stand over us and keep us safe. Wiser, because they are much older than we are.

And in the fall, they cast off their brilliance. Just like I pause to smell the roses, often I delay a minute to find the perfect leaf to bring to the office and place on my desk--usually a red one. When I have my own house, I plot having a bowl of leaves under the mirrow in the hallway-- not unlike a bouquet of flowers--snippits of color I'll refresh with new ones on a bi-weekly schedule.

I'll never forget these mornings. The quaint old houses and their trees casting their yellows, oranges, and reds against each other and the crispness in the morning. From now on, trees will always remind me of home.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Vegetable Soup

Vegetables are among the top ten things I blog about. A week ago, concocting the perfect cauliflower soup in my head kept me up all night. One of the main things that attracted me to SF was vegetables--mountains, beaches, (the general aura of hipness), and vegetables. Every time I walked past a produce vendor, my heart leapt inside me.

Lately vegetables have seemed to be my only salvation. I work a lot, all day at work (and I've been in corporate America long enough to understand there are a precious few who do this), and then at home I pull out my IBM computer for more work. I also need to rewrite my whole darn book, and vegetables are helping me stall the inevitable.

A couple weeks ago when life seemed completely overwhelming, I bought a banana squash, two apples, and two onions, stuffed them in my IBM backpack, carried them home, and spent the evening making 28 cups of soup. If anybody has never seen a banana squash, the above visual should supply the imagination.

Another evening I cut up a whole head of broccoli and tossed it into a boiling pot with green beans, spinach, carrots, and an onion, filling my freezer with more Tupperware containers.

It helps that we are part of the CSA, and there are always some vegetables on the table waiting to be made into something. There is still a pile of sweet potatoes. I made one into biscuits while making the previously described green soup and also a chicken spinach salad for dinner. I traded baking soda for powder in the heat of it all, and viola, the first inedible dish in years.

My roommate thought it was hilarious--I thought it was hilarious because not many years back everything I cooked was gross. Up through my teens I could only make Scottish shortbread reliably, during my freshman year of college I added mircrowaved twice baked potatoes, and two years later the dish of dishes: artichoke pasta. That about summed the repertoire until 25.

Not five days ago, I experienced failure once more: spinach soup. Not a winner. Spinach is gross. I had all these romantic ideas about spinach soup. Once upon a time in Ecuador, I climbed a hill with two very heavy bags in a little town snuggled into Amazon jungle covered Andes and ate at a very small restaurant run by a genius.

He was a painter, and kept us waiting for our spinach soup for almost 45 minutes; he was not making soup, but art. It came out steaming, creamy, beautiful vibrant green. The whole experience seemed magical. Even more since I tried to replicate it in my own kitchen. I will leave spinach soup making to the Incas.

But not vegetable soup making. Last weekend I went to Harris Teeter for a Redbox and a box of Coldeze. I came home with a butternut squash.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Embracing the Positive

This morning while I was putting on my makeup, I had an ephiphany of sorts. I guess along the lines of my last post--my mind is still buzzing over the same premise apparently.

I wrote it on a sticky note and pinned it to the wall at work: We are rewarded according to the version of life we choose to embrace. I mulled over this line as I walked to the metro. As I pointed out before, I'm not sure I can subscribe to the "Law of Attraction," which asserts that wealth, success, and even love are a matter of a certain mindset--life has never been that simple,and limitations are rife in terms of personal abilities and circumstances. And as an artist, I will strongly advocate that most success is the result of hard, hard work, perseverance, and a bit of luck, or as I would phrase it--infinite grace.

Notwithstanding,it occurred to me today that it was possible to work very hard at something, and to even persevere, but hijack our own efforts by our negative patterns of thinking--it's a relationship between hope and effort that is like hope and faith, and even that third Christian virtue, love. Without all three, they do not complete each other, and the best opportunities in our lives are frustrated.

Taken out of context, but still relevant: Proverbs 23:7: As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.

We are rewarded according to the version of life we choose to embrace.

We can choose to embrace the premise that we are ultimately unworthy or inadequate, or we can choose to embrace our divine worth and the premise that we are transcendentally loved. While just this feeling of being loved cannot make all people love us, it can change our outlook, so we focus more on the positive in the relationships in our life.

We can choose to embrace the faults of others or the shortcomings of our current situation, or we can embrace the goodness in others and our fortunate circumstances, and ultimately it is this positive outlook that shapes our inner person, and by this token has profound repercussions on outward events.


About Me

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Author of "Coal in Our Veins: A Personal Journey" (USU Press 2012) and Rain in Anbar: An Interpreter's Story of the Sunni Awakening. Currently experimenting with alternative medicine to lessen impacts of severe exercise induced asthma.