The Bonfire Club

Thank You

An excerpt from Anne Lamott's Facebook Page - on the brink of her 60th Birthday. 
Brilliant.

This is the last Saturday of my fifties. The needle isn't moving to the left or
to the right. I don't feel or look 60. I don't feel any age. I have a near-perfect
life. However, I grew up on tennis courts and beaches in California during the 
sixties, where we put baby oil on our skin to deepen the tan, and we got hundreds 
of sunburns. So maybe that was not ideal. I drank a lot and took a lot of drugs 
and smoked two packs of Camels (unfiltered) a day until I was 32. I had a baby 
and then forgot to work out, so things did not get firmer, and higher. 
So again, not ideal.

My heart is not any age. It is a baby, an elder, a dog, a cat, divine.

My feet, however, frequently hurt.

My skin broke out last week. I filed a new brief with the Fairness Commission, and 
am waiting to hear back.

My great blessing is the capacity for radical silliness, and self-care.

I'm pretty spaced out. I don't love how often I bend in to pull out clean wet clothes
from the washer, and stand up, having forgotten that I opened the dryer that's above,
and smash my head on the door once again. I don't know what the solution to this is,
as I refuse to start wearing a helmet indoors.

I don't love that I left my engine running for an hour last week, because I came 
inside to get something, and then got distracted by the dogs, and didn't remember
I'd left the engine on. It was a tiny bit scary when a neighbor came to the front
door to mention this, and I had to feign nonchalance, and act like it was exactly 
what I had meant to do it all along.

I backed into an expensive truck in the parking lot of Whole Foods last month. 
Boy, what an asshat THAT guy was. My bumper had fallen off in the mishap, and I 
had to tie it back on with the shoelaces from my spare running shoes. Sigh.

Wednesday, the day before I turn 60, I am having a periodontal procedure that Stalin
might have devised. How festive is that? But that night, my grandson and niece will
pelt me with balloons, and we will all overeat together, the most spiritual thing 
we can do.

Mentally, the same old character defects resurface again and again. I thought 
I'd be all well by now. Maybe I'm 40% better, calmer, less reactive than I used
to be, but the victimized self-righteousness remains strong, and my default 
response to most problems is still to try and figure out who to blame; whose 
fault it is, and how to correct his or her behavior, so I can be more comfortable.
My friend Jim says, "I don't judge. I diagnose." That's me.

Spiritually, I have the sophistication of a bright ten year old. My motley crew 
and my pets are my life. They are why I believe so ferociously in God.

Politically, I am still a little tense. I love that Obama is president. I love 
Obamacare. My great heroes at sixty are Gloria Steinem and Molly Ivins.

Forgiveness remains a challenge, as does letting go. When people say cheerfully,
 "Just let go and let God," I still want to stab them in the head with a fork, 
like a baked potato.

This business of being a human being is infinitely more fraught than I was led to
believe. When my son Sam figured out at 7 years old that he and I were not going
to die at the exact same moment, he said, "If I had known that, I wouldn't have
agreed to be born." That says it for me.

It's hard here, and weird. The greatness of love and laughter, the pain of loss, 
the bearing of one another's burdens, are all mixed up, like the crazy catch-all 
drawer in the kitchen.

This doesn't really work for me. If I was God's West Coast rep, I would have a 
more organized and predictable system.

So we do what we can. Today, I will visit a cherished friend post surgery, and 
goof around with her kids. I will try to help one person stay clean and sober, 
just for today. I will loudly celebrate my own sobriety, and also the fact that 
my writing has not been a total nightmare lately. 

I am going to go for a hike on these sore feet, and remember Gerard Manley Hopkins, 
"The world is charged with the grandeur of God." Charged, electrical with life's 
beauty and light! Wow. 

Then I will probably buy the new issue of People magazine to read on the couch before
my nap, and a sack of the black plums at the market that seemed overpriced yesterday, 
but not today.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Life

Life,

is not what you see,

but what you've projected.

It's not what you've felt,

but what you've decided.

It's not what you've experienced,

but how you've remembered it.

It's not what you've forged,

but what you've allowed.

It's not who's appeared,

but who you've summoned.

And it's not where you've been,

but where you're going.

And this should serve you well,

beloved,

until you find,

what you already have.

                                   ~M. Dooley

Courage

One isn't necessarily

born with courage,

but one is born 

with potential.

Without courage,

we cannot practice

any other virtue

with consistency.

We can't be kind,

true,

merciful,

generous,

or honest.

              ~Maya Angelou

Getting There

The beginning and the end

are never really the journey

of discovery for me.

It is the middle

that remains a puzzle

until well into the writing.

That's how life is

most of the time, 

isn't it?

You know where you are

and where you hope to wind up.

It's the getting there

that's challenging.

               ~Anna Quindlan

Blessings

I woke up this morning,

feeling exceptionally grateful

for the blessings in my life.

The people.

The opportunities.

The heartaches.

The lessons.

I cherish them all.

They have opened up my eyes.

In times of joy

and in times of struggle.

Pushing me to become

softer and wiser

And more appreciative

of the precious perspective

they continue to provide.

 

Gateways

The gateways

to wisdom and learning

are always open,

and more and more

I am choosing

to walk through them.

Barriers, blocks, obstacles, and problems

are personal teachers

giving me the opportunity

to move out of the past

and into

the totality of possibilities.

                     ~Louise Hay

26.2

The New York City Marathon

is happening today.

It brings me back

to three years ago.

6am on Staten Island

waiting for my corral call

full of nerves and anticipation.

Wondering if I could pull it off.

Would my body give out

or would it persevere?

It was anyone’s guess.

The weather was crisp

and the streets were lined 

with onlookers.

Every borough revealed 

it’s own distinct color. 

I will never forget

soaking in the energy,

mile after beautiful mile

of this magical city.

And after a long and tiring day 

feeling the satisfaction

of testing my limits,

overcoming my fears

and crossing that beloved finish line.

 

The Seed

I remember it well.

My first trip to San Francisco

at age 17.

I peered down from my hotel window,

studying the street below.

The white light seemed to reflect

a brighter existence.

The faces of commuters

exposed a hint of gratitude

and a collective understanding,

that life is a little bit easier

in this city by the bay.

As they hopped onto cable cars

to take them downtown,

I wondered what it would be like

to be a part of this world.

In that moment,

the seed was planted.

and shortly thereafter,

I would call this place home.

 

Retrospective

We understand ourselves, our lives 

retrospectively.

There comes a moment

when we finally know 

what matters

and perhaps more important 

what doesn't,

when we see 

that all the life lessons

came not from what we had

but from who we loved,

and from the failures

perhaps more than the successes.

                      ~Anna Quindlan

 

Pursuit

You can only become truly accomplished

at something you love.

Don't make money your goal.

Instead, pursue the things you love doing,

and then do them so well

that people can't take their eyes off you.

                                     -- Maya Angelou

Learning

“There is no perfect fit

when you're looking for

the next big thing to do.

You have to take opportunities

and make an opportunity

fit for you,

rather than the other way around.

The ability to learn

is the most important quality

a leader can have.”

                                       ~Sheryl Sandberg

Luck

People tend to think that happiness is a stroke of luck,

something that will descend like fine weather if you're fortunate.

But happiness is the result of personal effort.

You fight for it,

strive for it,

insist upon it,

and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it.

You have to participate relentlessly."

                                                       ~ Elizabeth Gilbert

Tools

“It's funny: 

I always imagined when I was a kid

that adults had some kind of inner toolbox

full of shiny tools.

The saw of discernment,

the hammer of wisdom,

the sandpaper of patience.

But I grew up and found

that life handed you 

these rusty bent old tools

friendships,

prayer,

conscience,

honesty

and said 'do the best you can with these,

they will have to do'.

And mostly,

against all odds,

they do.”

                                               ~Anne Lamotte

Home

Home is where the heart is.

It calls us back.

Stirring memories of a simpler life.

Where time stood still

and friendships blossomed.

As we eagerly anticipated

all of the fun and adventure

life would toss our way.

Perfect

"When we spend our lives waiting until we’re perfect

or bulletproof before we walk into the arena,

we ultimately sacrifice relationships and opportunities

that may not be recoverable.

We squander our precious time,

and we turn our backs on our gifts,

those unique contributions that only we can make.

Perfect and bulletproof are seductive,

but they don’t exist in the human experience.”

                                 ~Brene Brown

Guideposts

A few weeks ago, I decided to leave the safe harbor of a well paying job 
and strike out on my own.

From the moment I declared my independence, I felt those familiar little 
butterflies that come right before taking a long trek into the wilderness.

It's typically well before daybreak, as I lace up my boots, stuff my backpack
and try to settle those tiny little wings fluttering inside me.  Stepping 
into the cold, it shocks my system as I trepidatiously make my way into the 
dark.

The excitement of the adventure is always tempered by the fear of the unknown.
Those familiar voices inside my head go to battle, as one calmly reassures me
this is going to be a blast and the other is frantically rattling off bear 
safety rules and asking if I packed enough snacks and sunscreen.

I have been on enough of these trips to know that as soon as the sun rises
and the warmth of the day shakes off the chill of uncertainty, my feeling of 
vulnerability will vanish. I am reminded by the many stopping points and 
guideposts I see along the way, that I am well protected and pointed in 
the right direction.

These reassurances have already shown themselves to me in friends, family and
colleagues who seem to have come out of the woodwork since I made this 
decision, offering an incredible amount of help and support.

Over the years, I have had the opportunity to trek to some amazing places. 
The scenery is always breathtaking, but the real hook for me is the sense
of accomplishment that comes from putting in the miles and discovering 
vistas reserved only for those who make the effort.

As I embark on this journey and make my way into the woods, I have faith in 
knowing that whether it's just around the corner or over the ridge, hidden
landscapes of unexpected beauty are just waiting to be discovered.

I can't wait to enjoy the views.

Risk

Have you ever had the feeling you were meant to do something?

Regardless of the consequences.

I mean, really meant to do it.

As if it has always been part of the plan.

You just weren't paying attention.

It brings on a rush of adrenaline you can’t control.

Your heart is in the lead. 

Your mind is made up

and your body is following both as if in a Svengali trance.

I am no expert, but I think that is when you know it’s right.

The risk is there. 

The fear is real. 

The pull that overrides both is overpowering.

I was told once that you will know when you're ready 

when your passion leaves you with no other choice.

I often wonder if this happens to everyone when they are on the verge

of something great. 

Guess I’ll just have to wait and see.

Reconnecting

As we make our way over the pass, my friend Dan and I spot the crystal blue lake
in the distance and toss each other a grin. We have 4 precious days ahead of 
us and couldn't be more excited.  

Our Tahoe tradition started in our early 20s. Every Thanksgiving weekend, we 
would pile as many fellow transplants into the cheapest rental house we could 
find and while away the hours eating, drinking, and breathing in the mountain
air.

Life was simple then. Fresh out of college, we had no mortgages, high pressure 
jobs or life decisions to make. We were ecstatic to be in California and brimming 
with the enthusiasm that comes from living in the moment, unaware of where our 
lives would take us next.

Although our group size has dwindled, it seems only fitting that the ones who
remain were there with me at the very beginning of my west coast journey over
23 years ago. Rolling into San Francisco, without a plan. 

Life has shown us that change is inevitable and reminds me every day not to 
take this time for granted. I look forward to these getaways and relish the 
opportunity to relax and reconnect with those I love, who know me inside 
and out.

Recently, we decided to make this a summer trip.  A minor adjustment to maximize
our beach time and enjoy the warm weather. Although the holiday is no longer 
our focus, I give thanks just the same. 

I am eternally grateful for the cherished friends I get to share this special 
experience with each and every year.

 

Hospitality

I took a turn and found myself on the wrong side of Rue de la Bucherie. As I 
wandered a bit, a garbage man walked up to me and in broken English, asked if he 
could help.  I told him my destination and with the raise of an eyebrow, I could 
see it immediately registered. He motioned for me to follow him. We turned around 
and walked a few blocks in the opposite direction until we stopped at an opening 
in the road. Off to the left sat a run down building that stuck out amongst 
the surrounding architecture.

There it stood, the iconic Shakespeare and Company Bookstore.

I had been told by my father that this was a must see in Paris. He shares my 
obsession with wandering the rooms of shabby old book shops, looking for 
hidden gems. A literary addicts equivalent to a good dive bar. 

As I walked inside, there was a cavern like feel with the coziness of 
the make shift reading nooks I used to create as a kid. Allowing just 
enough space to crawl up and settle in for a while.

The rooms were packed and the stacks leaned in as if one false move would 
set off an avalanche. A risk worth taking when discovering a coveted secret
hide out. I read "No Photographs Allowed" as I ascended the staircase following
the sound of a piano up to the second floor. One creak after another, each room
showing it's own distinct character.  The old upright I had recently heard, 
was already abandoned in the corner next to a man reading in an oversized
armchair. Writings, paintings and old photographs were on every wall.

I stumbled upon a small excerpt on George Whitman, the founder, who after 
inspiration from his friend Lawrence Ferlinghetti, decided to open up this
bookstore and offer lodging to struggling writers and artists in the upstairs
rooms. He had been inspired by others who offered up their homes to him 
during his travels in Latin America. Henry Miller, Allen Ginsberg and Anais
Nin were among the many who spent a night or two under this roof. I couldn't
help but wonder who was staying up in those quarters now.

As I made my way back downstairs and purchased a few choice reads, I looked 
up to an inscription above the doorway that read in big bold letters, "Be not
inhospitable to strangers, lest they be angels in disguise".

As a stranger spending a few precious hours in this quirky little refuge on 
the left bank, I am happy these were words he lived by,

and more than grateful for his kind hospitality.

Lost In Translation

I knew I shouldn't have ordered the tartare. As I sit in a Paris café on 
this fine Sunday evening, looking down at the raw hamburger meat that has 
just been placed in front of me, I realize yet again, I have fallen victim
to a loss in translation.

The last trip I took to this city was 15 years ago while visiting my brother
in London over the holidays. My sister Megan and I decided to take a weekend
excursion. How fun it would be! We thought. We would take the city by storm.
See the Eiffel Tower. Walk the Champs De Lysee!

Between the two of us, we had nothing more than a handful of phrases I
cobbled together from my high school French classes. We were ill prepared 
but certainly up for the challenge.  We had no idea that right out of 
the gate we were doomed.

Once Megan realized that her conversational Spanish wouldn’t offer her a 
leg up, she nervously began blurting out "Bonjour" upon arrival and departure
of any shop, museum or restaurant we visited. The only sentence she had 
committed to memory was "Je suis fromage". Translation "I am cheese".  
Let’s just say, I strongly encouraged her to keep a tight lip, smile and 
nod as much as possible. 


As we wandered the streets in the January cold, we quickly concluded that 
this may be a more welcoming city in the summer. The air was frigid and so 
it seemed, were the shopkeepers. They had little patience for the loud
"hello!" they received every time we walked out the door. 


Adding insult to injury, I grew suspicious and convinced that every store 
owner was trying to rip us off.  I even shot one of them a dirty look as he 
tried to sell me a pair of cotton gloves for $6. A great deal by US standards,
but I was sure he said $60! We were out of our element and crazy was taking 
over. My favorite photo of that trip is of Megan sitting on the bed in our 
tiny hotel room with a map sprawled out in front of her. The look of exhaustion
on her face says it all. 

We had many laughs, but left with little more than a few souvenirs, a double 
hot fudge sundae and a boatload of frustration. The sundae arrived with fries 
on the side, and was a parting gift at 8am, for our meager attempt at ordering
a quick breakfast on our way out of town. Another menu misunderstood.  We were
ready to surrender and eager to get out of dodge.

Surprisingly, this time around I feel more relaxed and the city seems more
accessible. It must be the warm air that boosts my confidence and interest 
in relishing in this unique little adventure despite the language barrier.


I have a grin on my face as the waiter checks in to see how I enjoyed my meal. 
I look up from my French Phrase book and reply "je suis plein".  He knowingly 
laughs and shoots me a wink.

Oh well. I will get it right next time. After all, things could be a lot worse.
It’s Sunday. It’s Spring time and for crying out loud...

I'm in Paris!

 

Enchanted

I have never been a big fan of amusement parks. In fact, I used to get stressed
out just thinking about them. As a kid growing up in Illinois, the closest I 
ever came to this type of planned fun was at our town's summer carnival where
the rides were sticky and the workers were either heavily inebriated, 
disinterested or just plain grumpy.

Needless to say, Disneyland has never been high on my bucket list, but I 
promised to go with my sister and niece for her birthday and before I knew it,
the trip was booked and I was committed.

As I packed the night before, I tried to rally but couldn't help but feel a 
slight pang of regret. Work was crazy and the last thing I needed was an out 
of town trip forcing me to put things on hold and push back my deadlines. I 
justified that this was a big deal for an 8 year old and resigned myself to 
grin and bear it.

Much to my surprise, from the moment we stepped off the plane, my discomfort 
began to ease. The look on Gracie's face alone was enough to make me rethink 
my selfish concerns. As her feverish excitement filled the room, a 
transformation unfolded before my very eyes. The kid who typically takes her
own sweet time getting out the door, suddenly became fiercely goal oriented 
and laser focused. Where are the princesses? Why is check in taking so long? 
Don't these people know we have fairy tale characters to meet? Geez. She was 
on a mission and as the days went on, it became contagious.  

Our short visit was filled with one surprise after another. We did it all. 
Boat rides and lunches. Princess meetings and autographs. A water show and fire
works. The junk food was a plenty and the pixie dust was everywhere. We were 
in the land of make believe and loving every minute of it.

I must admit, "Whistle While You Work" being broadcast over the hotel speaker 
system seemed downright irritating when we arrived, but by our last day, it 
started to grow on me.  Just as much as the tiny little birds that boldly made
their way across our path at almost every turn. I could swear their grey 
feathers were a slight shade of blue and they had a suspicious look about them,
as if they had just flown out of a freshly baked pie. 

As we packed up to go, I realized that this trip was exactly what I needed. 
To spend quality time with my sister and favorite little girl, appreciating the 
magic that lies in everyday life.

On our flight back home, Gracie let out a heavy sigh and said with disappointment
"I miss Snow White already". For a split second I thought. Me too. 

For the first time in months, I felt calm, relaxed and utterly enchanted. 

Acceptance

Speaking our truth
or drawing a line in the sand
exposes us in a genuine way.


The more we reveal to others
the easier it gets.


Staying honest with each other
without fear of consequences


invites the world in
to accept us.


Just the way we are.

 

Unstoppable

When was the last time you challenged yourself?

I mean really put yourself out there and went for it, fully aware it was a stretch?

Challenging ourselves creates a healthy tension.

It catapults us into a state of uncertainty and pushes us beyond our comfort zone.

Leaving us with nothing but faith in our own gifts and capabilities to pull it off.

In a way, if forces us to see ourselves for who we really are.

Smart. Strong. Unstoppable.

So, go ahead and do it.

Say yes. Dive in. Fall back. Trust.

Let the exhilaration of believing you will succeed in whatever you do

be your safety net.

Turning Points

Our lives are like an epic film.
Every day a different scene.
As the plot unfolds
new characters are introduced
and challenges are overcome. 
Creating the necessary turning points
that bring richness and color
to our ever evolving 
truly spectacular
story.