The Stories I Tell ~ from The Word Cellar

Stories. Anecdotes. A free round of words for everyone!

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Location: Pennsylvania, United States

I love stories. I'm the one at social functions with a dozen new anecdotes. But I worry about hogging the conversation. Sometimes I tell myself that I'll be quiet and let others do the talking. But no matter how hard I try, my stories insist on bursting out! Here I can let my stories (the classics that I tell again and again, as well as new ones that unfold along the way) run free. I'm a professional writer and editor, and sole proprietor of The Word Cellar. I write for a variety of publications and clients on everything from green buildings and nuclear reactors to entrepreneurship and the arts. If you need words written, edited, or enlivened, I can help. Contact me.


Saturday Sayings: Never resist

You should never resist the temptation of painting a rainbow.

~Aude Kamlet

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add to kirtsy | 10:19 PM | 0 comments


Comfort in the Unknown

"I'm excited and nervous about it," I said.

"Why?" James asked.

"Because it's outside of my normal milieu. Outside of my comfort zone."

There's a pause. I know what my husband is about to say next, and I know he's right.

"Yeah, but doing things outside of your comfort zone is part of who you are."

"That doesn't mean they're not still uncomfortable."

It's true. I do push myself to do things outside of my comfort zone, not because I'm an adrenaline junkie with something to prove, but because so often what I want is beyond the boundaries of what I know. I do these things because I know I'd regret not doing them:

  • Auditioning for college and community theatre
  • Living in a foreign country for a year
  • Going out to eat or to a movie by myself
  • Signing up for a five-day art seminar retreat
  • Putting my private thoughts out there for the world to read
  • Planting a garden
  • Going to conferences filled with other bloggers and writers
  • Signing up for a summer watercolor class
  • Learning to drive a stick shift
  • Mastering the insidious worlds of mortgage lending and credit scores
  • Taking a roadtrip by myself
  • Calling the mayor's office to ask for an interview
  • Going door-to-door to campaign for my candidate of choice
  • Starting a business
  • Trying scallops
  • Admitting that I've struggled with depression
  • Getting my first pet
  • Volunteering to be a Big Sister
  • Wearing pantyhose and high heels
I read this list and none of it seems very radical. Nothing on the list is shocking or so far outside of the norm that it would make news. But how many of our daily fears and triumphs do?

I picture my comfort and discomfort zones as slightly intersecting circles with just the tiniest bit overlapping in a shade of grey. But beyond that are more circles. Your circles. And they all intersect. What I fear, you may not think about twice. What I do with ease may send you spiraling into a panic.

What if we could let go of the fear, acknowledge the discomfort and just move on, knowing that our circles' boundaries will change; believing that others will be there to welcome us into their zones?

What if "Feel the fear and do it anyway" was more than a saying that has become trite from extended usage in certain circles? What if it's the only way to live?

I'd love to hear what your comfort zone includes and excludes. I imagine building this giant network of comfort and support, so that no matter what we have to do, we know someone who can tell us all about it and welcome us into our own unknown.

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add to kirtsy | 2:01 AM | 5 comments


Saturday Sayings: You can wish

I wish you all the joy that you can wish.

~William Shakespeare

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add to kirtsy | 2:23 PM | 3 comments


Wherever You Go: Cranky thoughts on life

I feel blocked. I don't know what to write here. But it's not exactly writer's block. It's more life block. You know those days -- or stretches of days -- when everything just feels messy and chaotic and substandard? I think I'm having one of those. Instead of trying to hide that or make a poignant essay out of it, I thought I'd just come out and say it. So there.

That feels a little better.

Some good things have been happening:

  • My husband's birthday was on Friday and we had fun celebrating with his favorite chocolate cake and a few dinners out, including one with his parents.
  • My parents made it home safely from vacation, and I always feel like my world is a little more right when they're home.
  • I spent a fun day with a dear friend and her little sister on Saturday, eating groovy organic pizza, laughing, telling stories, and flirting with a 22-year-old waiter who made us feel young and cute and fabulous.
  • I did some good, hard writing and revising and ended up with an essay that pleases me.
  • I have some good freelance projects right now.

And yet, all I seem to focus on are life's annoyances:

  • My house is a mess. Really a mess. I'm never sure if my external environment mirrors my internal environment or vice versa. All I know is that when one is haphazard and unsettled, so is the other.
  • My sleep schedule is all over the place, which makes me feel less productive.
  • I haven't been exercising or doing yoga, even though I keep reminding and then promising myself that I will.
  • I still haven't planted anything in my brand new vegetable and herb garden because it's been raining all month. And until it stops raining, we can't clean and stain the deck. And until we do the deck, we can't have the exterminator come and spray for the wasps and hornets that have commandeered my back yard. And until we spew chemicals everywhere, I can't plant my garden. (Don't even get me started on the non-organic nature of all this. I'm wracked with guilt as it is, even though I'm assured that the chemicals are safe and non-toxic to humans. But if you have a better, greener way to deal with multiple wasp nests in the crevices of my house, let me know -- nicely, please. I have to do something; it's like a hornet and wasp airport out there.)
Oh my gosh. Whine-whine, whine-whine-whine.

Sometimes I get sick of being with myself. But as my dad says: Wherever you go, there you are.

Where are you these days? I'd truly love to know.

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add to kirtsy | 1:36 AM | 6 comments


Sunday Sayings: Suddenly upon happiness

They seemed to come upon happiness as if they had surprised a butterfly in the winter woods.

~Edith Wharton


add to kirtsy | 1:35 PM | 0 comments


Stroke of Insight

Because some stories are just too good not to share:

(If the video won't play, go here to watch it on the TED site.)

The subject matter of this TED Talk is fascinating: a neuroanatomist experiences a stroke and gets to study her brain from the inside out. The speaker, Jill Bolte Taylor, is one of the most captivating I've ever seen. She moves fluidly from science to the spaces beyond science.

I'm musing on how the functions of the left and right sides of the brain, as well as how they connect, inform the way I write and the way I live.

(Thanks to Jenni Ballantyne for this link.)

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add to kirtsy | 1:03 PM | 2 comments


Sunday Sayings: New-opened

I feel my heart new-opened.

~John Fletcher

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add to kirtsy | 4:03 PM | 1 comments


That Teenage Feeling

It's Friday night and there's a gaggle of teenagers roaming my street. They've been up and down the road for the last hour or two, running through my front yard in this neighborhood with no sidewalks; yelling, laughing, arguing, and generally sounding exuberant.

Now they're sitting on my neighbor's front lawn, in the complete dark of this neighborhood without streetlights. I assume at least one of the kids who lives next door is among their numbers. Either that or the neighbors aren't home and these kids are delinquents.

One of the kids just got into the backseat of a car and shouted his goodbyes before it drove away. Another shouted, "Jump on it, Tyler!" And I heard Tyler's sneakers smacking the pavement as he ran after the car, going along with the joke.

And now I hear them back in my own front yard, half running around, half wandering aimlessly. A boy just said, "Smells like...smelly sperm." There has also been some debate about whether or not "she" is "at home" or "at her friend's house." I can't understand most of what they're saying, but every so often a "shit!" or a "fuck!" rises up above the crowd. A car drives past, slowing down for a moment, but doesn't stop. The kids yell something at it.

Everything is louder and more boisterous than necessary. But isn't that the teenage way?

Six months ago, I started volunteering as a mentor to a teenage girl. She just turned 16, which makes her half my age. I hadn't forgotten my teenage self and the whole sordid world of high school, but it's all come back to me in a much more palpable way since spending time with this girl.

Oh the drama! The boys! The teachers! The boys! The parents! The boys! The friends! The boys!

I'm exhausted just thinking about it. Teenagers are "on" all the time: in front of their friends, their families, their classmates, their teachers, strangers at the mall. Thank God they seem to have a bottomless supply of energy; they need it to deal with the drama trauma that soaks into every minute of their lives.

My life used to be like that, all the way through college. I always had some sort of "situation" going on. This has slowly calmed down in the ten years since graduation. At first, I remember feeling disappointed about it. A few years after graduation, whenever one of my best friends would call and ask what was new, I felt ashamed that I didn't have much to say. I missed the drama.

Now? I'm so glad the daily drama has faded. Sure, I still get riled up about things and usually have a story to tell, but everything doesn't feel so do or die as it did at 14 or 18 or 22. Now, I deal with a cranky client and remind myself that this too shall pass. The toilet leaks or the water heater breaks, and we pretend to be adults and do what needs to be done. On the other hand, things like boy problems (i.e. marital discord) and family issues (such as illness or money problems) are harder to get through; the stakes are higher and the problems run deeper. But the constant, hyperactive state of teendom has mercifully ceased.

I had a real problem with turning 30. I felt like it was the final passage from young person to adulthood. There was just something about leaving my 20s that made me fearful and sad. But now, two years on the other side of that milestone, I think I'd have to name the 30s my best decade yet. I feel more solid, more grounded. And at the same time, freer. I'm pursuing the career of my choice, married to the man I love, scheming and planning for my bright, wide future.

When you're young, in high school especially, it's hard to imagine life beyond those childhood or teenage parameters. Every insult and slight feels insurmountable. There seems to be no world beyond school, chores, activities, friends, boys, and family. For various reasons (which included: "finding" religion and becoming a social outcast; the 21-year-old love of my life shattering my heart; and being in an extremely unhealthy relationship) my last two years of high school were miserable. I was desperate to get out, but terrified of college, dreading the idea of another four years of being lonely, misunderstood, and broken.

I wish I could go back and show my younger self that all of those things, while important, are temporary. I would tell myself that the feeling of being stuck won't last forever, that I will make friends with people who "get" me; discover music I love; uncover my passions and talents; spend a summer at the beach; learn how to play the guitar; spend a year in London; get married; buy a house; start my own business; be a published writer; get my first pet; travel to Santa Fe, New York, Ireland, Chicago, Wales, San Francisco, Tucson; do things I never imagined like enroll in a five day art workshop retreat; love and be loved.

I don't know what I thought my life would look like as an adult. I can't remember having a vision of myself when I was in high school, college, or even shortly thereafter. Now, for the first time, I feel like I'm seeing and choosing the possibilities. And I'm so glad to do it without the distractions that plagued my younger years. That drama trauma has a place and serves a purpose, but I'm finally okay with leaving it to the kids.

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add to kirtsy | 10:20 PM | 3 comments


Saturday Sayings: We are blest

photo by gezelle

We must laugh and we must sing,
We are blest by everything.

~William Butler Yeats

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add to kirtsy | 7:05 PM | 3 comments


M'aidez, May Day

There's a springtime snowglobe swirling outside my window. The pear trees lose more tiny white petals with every gentle gust of wind, leaving behind fresh green leaves in their wake. These flower faeries swirl in the air, carpet the lawn, and dance along the street's blacktop. From a distance, they look like little marbles or those supercold ice cream pellets called Dippin' Dots.

A lone, cream-colored daffodil keeps watch in the mulch against my house, refusing to bow to her age. But she'll soon sleep until next spring. The lavender lilac bush is already in full bloom, begging me to come out and cut some branches and signaling that summer is around the corner.

Everywhere I look is green, green, green. The promise of nature is best this time of year, when everything is new and delicate, not yet wilted or withered by hot summer sun. Autumn is my favorite season, but spring holds a close second in my heart. Both are lovely because they are the gentle seasons before the extremes of southwestern Pennsylvania's snowy winters and humid summers. I like warm (not hot) days, followed by nights that ask me to pull on a sweater or a zip-up hoodie when the sun goes down. And I like explosions of color, be it the deep reds and flaming golds of maple trees in the fall, or the pale pink blossoms of cherry trees and the glowing yellow forsythia of spring. Autumn and spring embody both ends of the spectrum, at once temperate and extreme.

* * * * * * * * *

Today is May Day. May day is a pagan celebration, a day of public protests, and an international distress signal. M'aidez: French for "help me."

Today, the occasion of May Day helps me to remember what I want. For you see, I've forgotten to water my dreams.

That statement is both literal and figurative. Let me explain.

Over the past year, as I've recognized my hunger for ritual and tradition, I've begun to mark the passing of the seasons. For the Autumnal Equinox, I took a page from Jen Lemen's ritual for letting go of things that weigh me down. I wrote the names of my personal albatrosses (albatri?) on stones and leaves. The stones I tossed into a lake, and the leaves I let fly out of my moonroof as I drove along back country roads.

For the Vernal Equinox, I decided to do the opposite. Instead of focusing on what I want to lose, I looked at what I want to grow. As it was the 20th of March, I wrote a list of 20 things I want to cultivate in my life.

And then I burned the paper they were written on.

And mixed the ashes with some seeds and soil.

The seeds were old; little packets of blue cornflowers and white Shasta daisies that I got for free from a gas station, years ago. I didn't have much hope that the seeds would actually sprout, but they were all I had on hand. I was running out of daylight and time, and it was either do the rite with old seeds, or not do it at all. I decided that the symbolic act of the ritual, complete with prayer and private poetry reading, was more important than the viability of the seeds.

So I planted the seeds, put the pot near a window in my studio, and have forgotten to water them ever since. This is not only bad for the seeds, it's bad symbolism. I forgot to water what I want to cultivate in my life. Not good.

On May Day, I want, as my friend Allyson put it, "to do elaborate, lush things, like May baskets and May poles, picnics and flower crowns." But instead, I'm busy with a major project deadline and figuring out what to eat for supper. So today, the extent of my ritual will be to water my little pot of dreams, not worrying about whether or not anything physically blooms there. I welcome today as the reminder that time moves forward, nature rejuvenates itself, and there's always an opportunity to nurture my soul, symbolically or practically.

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add to kirtsy | 5:17 PM | 3 comments