Sometimes I feel like the coal miner’s daughter of the internet writer’s world. No, I wasn’t raised in grinding poverty and the land here is pretty flat, but as a published writer I am constantly aware of the limitations imposed on me by my background, especially when I compare myself with other writers. I am, and will always be, unsophisticated and small-town. Or, as one of Dominick Dunne’s characters would put it, I am the type of person who “pronounces the “t” in often.” But I digress.
My first novel was published over six months ago in EBook form, but since Kindle and Nook are words from a foreign tongue that is not spoken much where I live, none of my friends or family have read The Complete Lily Lansing. Okay, I do have one friend who read it, we’ll call her Michele, and even though Michele spends most of her free time playing a game called corn-hole instead of reading, I’m sure she knows quality when she sees it.
For those of you whose only knowledge of south jersey is gleaned from watching spray tanned people curse and have sex on TV, I should probably explain what its really like here, so you can have a better idea of where this unsolicited advice is coming from.
Picture a small, three county oasis of people who should have been born south of the Mason-Dixon Line but weren’t. Instead, we drive our pickup trucks and build our fire pits in the middle of a large metropolitan area, surrounded by Camden, Philadelphia and New York. To the city people, we are hicks. Instead of shopping at Banana Republic we buy our clothes at Target and instead of buying stocks, we own things like quads and dirt bikes. Okay, sometimes we buy stocks too, we just don’t talk about it much.
I have a friend who visited once from north jersey and was amazed that we owned things called “snow pants.” I was pretty amazed that she didn’t.
But the best way I have ever heard our little demographic described is “hillbillies with money.” That does not mean we are rich, but instead of tar-roofed shacks we live in nice homes and we can afford regular dental care.
A few summers ago my cousin, we’ll call him Troy, did make one of those truck bed swimming pools, the kind you see jokes about on the internet. But it was no joke to Troy, his kids were hot bored in the dog day of summer so he lined his truck bed with something rubbery, got out the hose, and his two kids had a pool for the day. He now has his own in ground pool complete with a waterslide and Tiki-bar, and we all politely pretend the truck-yard pool thing didn’t happen. Don’t worry Troy, your secret’s safe with me.
Now, despite my humble upbringing, somehow at the age of eighteen I left for college, armed with a suitcase full of clothes I bought that summer on the boardwalk and an accent that fell somewhere between a southern drawl and Ebonics. I quickly realized that my off- the-shoulder sweatshirts with neon letters that boldly spelled out the name of the most partying shore town didn't cut it. So I applied for and received my first credit card and headed to Bamburger's, where I traded in my Madonna rags for a weeks’ worth of more presentable clothing.
Shortly thereafter, dressed a little better for success but still more coal than diamond, a professor suggested speech lessons, rudely pointing out to me that the first day of the week wasn’t pronounced “sun-dee.” Her words stung, but speech lessons turned out to be unnecessary. Somewhere, deep inside myself in a place I hadn’t know existed, I knew how to speak the queen’s English as if I were born in the Upper East side of Manhattan and accidently transplanted here. Switching back and forth between proper speech and my hometown dialect was literally like a switch I could throw on and off. In college? “The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain.” Back Home: “Youse don’t know nothin’. He said so hisself.”
But the most life-altering event of my college years occurred in my junior year, when a copy of the book Siddhartha fell into my hands. I read it, and then I read it again, and then I read it again. Suddenly everything about my life made sense. I knew what I wanted, and most importantly, what I had to give. I had answers to the questions I had never even thought to ask.
Which brings me to today—I am still a practicing Buddhist living in a postcard-worthy small town, who has never met another Buddhist living in these parts. So as for my spiritual studies, I go it alone, practicing my own blend of homemade Buddhism, as I have for the past twenty-some years.
Mornings are spent meditating, doing yoga, and then trying to write the great American novel, (again.) But sometimes, if I’m being honest with myself, I still let my background and my geographical placement on this little blue planet hold me back.
In practical terms, this means I am so slow with anything computer related, I have to pay my teenage daughter to post pictures to my blog. This is the same daughter who corrected me last week for pronouncing our presidents first name as if it rhymed with “attack” (it doesn’t.) What can I say, I haven’t watched television news in years I’m more of a reader, and sometimes the learning isn’t just a curve for me, it’s a an ice covered slope and I’ve forgotten my climbing gear and snow pants.
But worst of all, having reached middle age (a place just as foreign and bizarre to me as middle earth) I have only learned a handful of things that I feel fit to write about on my new blog.
Yes, my NEW blog. My publisher’s requirement and my worst nightmare. I feel a little like the neighbor with the worst house on the block, standing on my weed-choked lawn and frowning in bewilderment at the peeling paint, the tattered shutters, but having no idea how to fix them.
So I procrastinate. I make excuses (all true, but they fall on death ears.) Because in the end my editor gently insisted I post something to my blog and fresh out of new excuses and a habitual pushover, I uploaded this post.
In my defense, I am still recovering from a pit bull attack and can only type with one arm. And since its summer, I’m eager to head outside and work in my vegetable garden. So even though this piece could use another edit or three, I think I’m gonna stick a fork in it and call it done.
LIFE ADVICE #1: RX DRUGS. Cause as many illnesses as they cure. I read somewhere that each prescription drug has an average of seventy side effects and that some are life threatening. Now I’m not saying don’t take them, rather be mindful of what you are taking. Even common ones like allergy medicine can cause symptoms ranging from sore throats to suicidal thoughts and depression.
The best way to stay healthy is to exercise every day and stick to a healthy diet. But most doctors won’t look up long enough from their prescription pad to tell you that.
LIFE ADVICE #2: GET A HOBBY-A while back, I taught English at a school for kids deemed “at risk.” That meant they were given the choice between school and jail time, and they reluctantly chose school. There was also a smattering of soon to be teen moms.
Sometimes they asked me for life advice, but they were never concerned about important things like how to pay for the diapers once the baby was born or the fact that being in a gang shortened their life expectancy to the equivalent of dog years. The questions they posed were always about relationships. Like most people I know, the problems with their love life, or their lack of one, eclipsed everything else that was going on in their lives.
And for every scenario they presented, my answer stayed the same. GET A HOBBY. Find something that you enjoy and do it often. Because setting time aside to do something you enjoy increases your self-worth and allows you to become the type of person who is worthy of a real relationship. And when the time is right you will find someone. Until then, don’t waste your time engrossed in constant drama with people who very plainly don’t care about you. You are far too busy doing (insert your new hobby here.)
LIFE ADVICE #3: GIVE TO OTHERS I’ve had my own charity for about 14 years. It is 100 percent funded by me. I want to make the world a better place. I believe in the ripple effect. If I can make just one person feel better, their smile can travel the globe, touching one person at a time. I hope someday it touches you.
LIFE ADVICE #4: ADOPT A PET Your local shelter has a variety of animals, not just cats and dogs. Birds, guinea pigs and hamsters need love, too. And studies show that having a pet improves your health by lowering your stress level. Save a life and everyone wins.
LIFE ADVICE #5: MINDFUL EATING Stop grazing like an antelope in a field of wheat thins and think about what you’re eating. Then you won’t be tempted to eat until your stomach feels like it’s going to explode. And you will learn to be more selective about everything you put in your body. Buy organic whenever possible. Avoid GMO’s as a rule.
Google “Monsanto” and read as many articles as it takes you to understand that we as Americans have the poorest quality food than almost any other country in the world.
And don’t buy into that “eat a bunch of small meals all day” nonsense. Give your stomach time to digest your food, usually 3-4 hours. Then give it another hour just in case.
LIFE ADVICE #5: WALK. Every day for at least 30 minutes. And in case you should come upon a wayward pit bull, yell loudly and carry a big stick.
LIFE ADVICE #6: MEDITATE. Every day. Let it become a habit.
Meditation will end those weird arguments you have in your head with other people, where you’re like Marcia Clarke pleading your case to Judge Ito. It will also silence that annoying inner voice that constantly reminds you how much you have to do whenever you try to relax, or numbers the ways in which you are not good enough. Meditation stops racing thoughts. And then you are at peace.
Here is my favorite meditation by buddhist monk Tich Nat Hahn. Stop reading and try it now.
On your in breath think to yourself: breathing in, I know that I am breathing in.
On your out breath think to yourself: breathing out, I know that I am breathing out.
Can you feel the miracle of inner peace?
LIFE ADVICE #7: BE KIND TO EVERYONE. And not because you want people to think you’re a good person or because you’ll get a karma credit somewhere down the line. Rather, develop an understanding that most people you will meet carry inside of them a well of pain that is possibly as great as or greater than any pain you’ve ever experienced. R.E.M. said it best: Everybody Hurts.
LIFE ADVICE #8: DRESS FOR A PARTY-EVERY DAY. My youngest daughter went through a stage where she dressed like a clown. Okay not literally, but her brightly colored skirts, paired with logo tees and patterned knee-highs clashed louder than my metal trash cans when the raccoons knock them over.
But she was a treasure to behold when she came down the stairs each morning, and her self-esteem was through the roof. I could tell she felt beautiful. That’s the important part--dressing in a way that makes you feel good about yourself.
Because your dream job, dream date or the opportunity of a lifetime could be just around the corner, and if you’re wearing your “I’m just running out for a pint of Haagen-Dazs” sweats, you might have to book in the opposite direction.
I learned this lesson the hard way when I took my girls swimming at a local lake, wearing a borrowed swimsuit that was about four sizes too big for me and so worn out that it sagged in the butt. Somehow, I had gotten it into my head that the cedar water would permanently stain my cute little bikini and that since the lake was at least two miles from my home, I couldn’t possibly run into anyone I knew. But that’s a story for another time.
LIFE ADVICE #9: EMBRACE YOUR WEIRDNESS After a lifetime of worrying about every mistake I made and the ways in which others would judge me for them, I finally have learned not to care what other people think of me.
For example, it took me almost an entire month to get over the feelings of humiliation after I brought food to a neighbor’s party on a tray from the dollar store. This happened a few summers ago, but I can still recall the scorching look she gave me when I asked for the tray back, as if its small price automatically disqualified it from returning home with me. (In my defense, I bought it at one of those dollar stores where not everything is a dollar, but that’s hardly the point.)
I’ve finally let that incident go, and If I find myself backsliding and feeling guilty for not being good enough in someone else’s eyes, I say this mantra “Who cares what other people think. There is no spoon.” You will need to watch The Matrix to understand the reference. It is very empowering.
LIFE ADVICE #10: WATCH THESE MOVIES.
The Matrix—Remember, there is no spoon.
8 Mile—Spoiler: Near the beginning there is a scene where Rabbit walks in on his mom having sex. (Ick.) Just hit fast forward like I do.
The Pursuit of Happiness—the title says it all.
Musicals--watch them frequentl and sing along. My favorites are Grease, Mama Mia, and (even though it’s not a musical) Pitch Perfect.
*Avoid movies with excessive violence. They are poison for the mind.
LIFE ADVICE #11: READ THESE BOOKS.
The Power of Now--Eckart Tolle explains how to show up and be present to your own life
You Can Heal Your Life--Louise Hay's affirmations are transformative
True Love—Tich Nat Hahn's meditations teach you to be present and loving to others
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell—Ten thousand hours. I think it really can be that easy.
Siddhartha-- Herman Hess's fictional story of the Buddha. I keep an audio copy in my car.
The Complete Lily Lansing--Help me turn my dream of being a stay at home mom to two needy teens and two lonely poodles who miss me when I am at work into a beautiful reality
LIFE ADVICE #12: NEVER WEAR FLIP-FLOPS AS SHOES.
Even though it’s been years since the actress whose name begins with a “G” made them popular, people are still wearing cheap, rubber shower shoes as shoes and thinking it’s okay. Every summer, they rush in herds to Old Navy to stock up before all the good colors are gone (this year I got hot pink, light pink, and lavender). Anyway, it’s a lazy habit and it took a brush with death (not mine) for me realize it. Here’s what happened:
As I mentioned, I was recently attacked by a pitbull. And I was wearing flip-flops. So not only was I unable to get a good kick in, but I was very easily knocked to the ground and mauled. I can (almost) make jokes about it now, but the truth is I'm quite traumatized and one of my poodles was almost killed.
But back to the flip-flops: as I struggled, limping, to get away, the pit actually gave me a flat tire as a final humiliation. If I had not been wearing flip-flops, I could have fought the dog off better. So the next time I walk my poodles I’m borrowing my daughter’s Doc Martins.
They say time heals all wounds. Sometimes it heals them so well that you actually forget about them entirely. So it is with utter disappointment in myself that I remember another injury, some summers back, and a broken vow to never, ever wear flip-flops as shoes again, unless I was at the beach or living in an alternate universe where I frequently had to use public showers. Anyway, the incident took place in my own bathroom.
I was in the process of painting the walls a pretty peach from some famous clothes designer’s new line of pastel paints. The radio was playing, the curtains fluttered in the summer breeze, and I was feeling pretty good until the little rubber thing between my toes that held my flip-flops to my foot broke snapped that little bit of momentum sent me careening backwards off the ladder where, paint brush in one hand, paint can in the other, I landed hard in the bath tub. It’s not as bad as it sounds because looking up at the walls from the vantage point I realized that the paint was a little too orange, like a Johnson’s baby aspirin, and I decided to paint the bathroom something closer to a ballet-slipper pink.
Anyway, to sum things up, I don’t expect anyone to learn from my mistakes, just because I wrote about them in my blog. Sometimes even I don’t learn from my mistakes until I’ve made them a few more times. So if you find yourself backsliding, like I did yesterday when I wore my daughter’s periwinkle flip-flops to the mall because they matched my new sundress, take a moment and forgive yourself. Then repeat after me: Who cares what other people think. There is no spoon.