Life as a sum total

I don’t believe people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive.      — Joseph Campbell

I had a revelation the other day; one of those moments of clarity when something about life just falls into place. I discovered what’s important to me in terms of determining value: experiences.

Many clients come to me at a time while dividing their assets, and it’s surprising what they value. When I worked doing restraining orders in the next county over, I routinely could get men accused of abuse to waive visitation with their children as long as they didn’t have to turn in their guns to the sheriff. I’ve heard of cases where women gave up custody of their children for a car. Some litigants want to keep the family home; others want to keep the six-figure retirement account. Some just want the dog.

While many people are worried about the accumulation of money, driving the bigger car, buying up real estate, those things aren’t important in our lives. We have a modest house, and we need our two cars, because we work in different cities with very little access to public transportation. But none of these are flashy in the least, or foreign, or new–or even red.

What we do have are experiences. We’ve been to Disney multiple times, to Niagara Falls, to Mammoth and Wind Caves, to museums and parks and zoos, local and cross-country. I took two girls to New Orleans for Mardi Gras several years before Katrina; we stayed with old friends of mine in the Garden District and had a wonderful time. (Even when the cop pulled up and offered my high-school age daughter edible underwear. Don’t ask me.) We’ve petted sharks, we’ve shaken presidential candidates’ hands, we’ve seen the world’s biggest thermometer. We watched our cat birth her kittens on my great-grandmother’s hand-pieced quilt. We’ve marveled at the magic of fireflies caught in jars. We’ve eaten and cooked in every ethnic cuisine I can think of, with exotic ingredients of all flavors.

I’ve written here before about our other wild experiences, like the trip cross-country for the book tour that wasn’t, or the shootout in the fruit grove. Each of these, as with so many others, always brings the comment,  “Do you remember when-?” and then a reconnection to times past, and sometimes people past as well. Valuing experiences allows me to also value what I’ve chosen to leave behind, including two ex-husbands, jobs I once loved, placed I’ve lived. I can treasure moments that were good about them, without having to draw in the whole relationship.

But it doesn’t have to be anything earth-shattering. We remember the indoor water gun fight between five or six teenagers and myself that ended with me hiding in the tub behind the shower curtain trying to avoid being drowned. Whether we’re sitting around a campfire in the woods, stretching our legs with a fast and furious Frisbee game during a road trip, or sharing a cup of hot chocolate and telling endless knock-knock jokes, we build bonds that help draw us together and give us something to remember.

The same value system transfers to those we meet. I don’t care what brand name of clothing people wear (though I must admit, $300,000 for an outfit seems like something out of a crazy fantasy world), what neighborhood they live in, whether they’re a waitress or a doctor. If someone has been somewhere I haven’t been, or done something I’ve never done, and can make their experience come alive by sharing the story, they’re someone special in my eyes. Sometimes an experience is evidenced simply by a warm shared gaze between a couple, or a parent and child; the bond reveals itself. Through a very poignant kind of mathematics, that experience adds to the rest that make that person what he or she is.

Though it’s harder to find new ones as I get older, I’ll keep accumulating events and experiences until the last day, and if my belief holds true, I’ll have more chances to gather experiences even past that. But Campbell addresses this as well:

“Eternity has nothing to do with the hereafter… This is it… If you don’t get it here, you won’t get it anywhere. The experience of eternity right here and now is the function of life. Heaven is not the place to have the experience; here’s the place to have the experience.

What’s holding you back? Experiences are waiting. Go find them–and pass them on.


For love or money?

Thirty-five years ago, I received my first check for a piece of writing. The Peru Tribune paid me five bucks for a sweet little piece about my grandmother’s Indiana farm. It was hokey as hell. But they printed it. And they paid me.

That’s the big dream of a lot of writers–to be able to earn enough money pursuing the muse to be able to pursue the muse. Such a small proportion of writers actually hit that mark that–well, Han Solo was right. Never tell me the odds.

Since then I’ve had articles and fiction printed in publications small and large, national distribution, some of them. One book in print, two stories coming out in Cup of Comfort book editions in the next year. All of which I’ve been paid for. Not enough to give up my day job by a long shot.

Fellow writers are confused about my devotion to my blog and my Firefox news writing as they don’t come with a direct paycheck. (Well, the Firefox gig pays with a share of ad revenue, but only as a result of clicks on the Google ads on the page. If no one clicks, then…nada.) Why waste your time publishing what doesn’t pay? You should concentrate on the works-in-progress that have monetary potential, they say.

I put some thought into this at the end of last year, when I created the blog. It was fairly quickly apparent that I couldn’t collect ad revenue at a WordPress-hosted site, so I put the ad on my homepage. Not exactly making money hand over fist. At Firefox too, I might earn pennies a day. But is that all that matters?

Writers write, so readers can read.

Oh, sure, there’s the “something flows from inside of me and I must put it down on paper, else I shall simply burst!” part. But none of that applies to a check, either. We write so others will read what we write. By this process, we share something special.

As you can see, this blog has been accessed some 13,000-plus times. Of course, those aren’t all discrete readers–I hope at least one or two of you stop more than once! But in about nine months, that’s about 1,400 times a month someone has read my words.

I totalled up the Firefox hits the other day–since I started writing for that site five months ago, I’ve had over 37,000 separate hits on my stories. Those are much more likely not to be the same folks over and over, just because of their fanbase.  So between the two, I’ve had someone read my words some 50,000 times this year.

Sure, I keep writing the other, the novels, the short stories, the travelogues, hoping they’ll catch the eye of an editor or agent somewhere, so that I can invest in my pursuit shoes. In the meantime, there’s 50,000 people who have read what I’ve written, people from all over the country–maybe all over the world.

These may not have “paid,” in the way so many of us would like to be. But I’ve got to believe the words have paid off, in the way that has been true since the first storytellers began, in the connection of one person to another, an idea that sparks from one mind to the next, changing both people, even in some small way, forever.

A mother of a job

If I hear one more talking head complain that Sarah Palin couldn’t possibly act as vice president or president because she has five children, including a special-needs child, I think my head will fly off.

In case you’ve been in a hole somewhere, I’m talking about quotes like this from the Telegraph in the United Kingdom: How can she reconcile such a high-profile job as “veep” – a “heartbeat” away from leadership of the free world and all that – with bringing up five children, the oldest of whom is about to serve in Iraq and the youngest of whom is just five months old and has Down’s Syndrome?

Or this, same source:  The former beauty queen with the myopic gaze, who traded pageant chic for power suits and designer specs to stalk the halls of power in the 49th state, a breast-pump under her arm and a BlackBerry in each hand…

Or how about this from the New York Times: In interviews, many women, citing their own difficulties with less demanding jobs, said it would be impossible for Ms. Palin to succeed both at motherhood and in the nation’s second-highest elected position at once.



While I don’t agree with Palin’s politics, I take issue with anyone who says a mother cannot hold any job as long as she has the physical capabilities to do so.*  What is it that a vice president does that is more taxing than the life of a governor of a state one-fifth the size of the whole country, complete with natural resource issues, international borders, and budget crises? There is travel, of course, and late-night meeting times and other inconveniences, but these could be accommodated. How many other high-level families inside the Beltway have household help to deal with basic family issues? All the Nannygate stories we’ve heard over the years would indicate that it’s no sin to find help to make sure children are well-supervised (unless you hire the undocumented).

And not to burst anyone’s bubble, but everyone who thinks George W. Bush does all his own work every day, raise your hand now!

That’s what I thought. Presidents and vice presidents have “people,” assistants and staff who perform triage and make sure their executive has the right information at the right time, drivers, planners, secretaries….you name it. Any busy mother I know could only benefit and bloom in such a situation, not get bogged down.

As for having a special-needs child, I have to say that since I’ve had mine, I’ve had to become smarter about time management and more efficient with resources to accomplish all the tasks I want to in a day. The many parents in similar circumstances I’ve met, both in real-life and online, manage their families’ lives with a sharp eye, making doctors’ and therapy appointments, trying medication schemes, advocating their child’s cases at school, seeking out social situations that benefit their child. All the while, they work and take care of significant others and other children–some even care for parents as well.

I mean, imagine my surprise to find I agree with Phyllis Schlafly!

“(Motherhood) changes your life and gives you a different perspective on the world,” said Phyllis Schlafly, the conservative organizer who helped defeat the equal rights amendment nearly three decades ago.

“People who don’t have children or who have only one or two are kind of overwhelmed at the notion of five children,” Ms. Schlafly continued, mentioning that she had raised six children and run for Congress as well. “I think a hard-working, well-organized C.E.O. type can handle it very well.”

That being said, I’m not sure Palin as a mother is making good decisions at this particular juncture. Would I have put myself in a national spotlight when my teenaged daughter was having a painful personal crisis, knowing how the media sharks would devour her? Not likely. That’s a decision she’ll have to live with.

Women have had to balance many issues as they’ve made progress through the years, and Palin may have rationalized that to move women forward a step in the ranks of equality, that this sacrifice was worthwhile.

Robert A. Heinlein, in his persona of Lazarus Long, says, “Whenever women have insisted on absolute equality with men, they have invariably wound up with the dirty end of the stick. What they are and what they can do makes them superior to men, and their proper tactic is to demand special privileges, all the traffic will bear. They should never settle merely for equality. For women, “equality” is a disaster.”

Perhaps this will be the outcome of Sarah Palin’s choice in the long run.  On the other handWill she be good for women or an awful embarrassment? Too soon to tell. But, heck, she can’t be any more embarrassing than a vice president who gets indicted like Spiro Agnew, can’t spell potato like Dan Quayle or shoots his buddy like Dick Cheney.

It’s Sarah Palin’s choice to make, not naysayers in the media and the political parties and the religious extremists– hers.  I, for one, support her right to make it. You go, girl.

*For example, a pregnant woman would have a heck of a time shinnying through an 18-inch diameter pipe. But women who have the strength, endurance, intelligence or any other skill it takes to fulfill a job description (and there really aren’t many that list “penis” as a requirement), should absolutely be equally considered and hired.