All posts by Angel

Brexit

My daughter taking a selfie on the streets of Hammersmith, London, July 2017.

I wrote this a few days after the Brexit vote in 2016, but never published it. Everything I wrote two years ago, I still feel today. With March 29 looming, I decided to dust off this blog post and publish it.

First, left me explain that I am a liberal. Every checkbox that is used to describe a liberal — gun control, socialized healthcare, marriage equality, regulation of corporations — all these things are integral to my belief system. This is my ideological infrastructure. This small blog post is written from that point of view. I’m not trying to change anyone’s mind; I’m not trying to infiltrate the ideology of the opposing camp; I’m merely mourning. So many of us are mourning right now. For those of us who truly believe in equality and that, someday, there could be a world with no borders, Brexit was emotionally devastating. I cried for two days. Honestly.

I cried because my children are British. I’m American, but their father is British. And as British citizens, they would have been able to freely move about Europe for work or vacation. I was so excited for the openness and possibility of their future, but that has now shrunk significantly for them as it has for all Britons.

I cried because xenophobia, nativism and isolationism won. Britons choose to shrink instead of expand, disclude instead of include. I cried because the hope that I have in my heart that one day there will be no borders, that we will call all people of every nation brother and sister, that the color of a person’s skin will be no more noticed than the color of a person’s eyes or hair — that hope took a sucker punch to the gut.

I cried because I believed in Britain. When things seemed hopeless in the U.S. and racism seemed to edge forward or gun laws were once again struck down or the FDA once again didn’t protect consumers, I would think, “Well, at least there is Britain. They still shine brightly for the Western world of progressive thinkers.” I now have to align Britain with the U.S. They are no longer the standard bearers of liberal belief.

I cried for the EU. A united and stable Europe is a very good thing; a fragmented and unstable Europe is a very bad thing. Just look through your history books. The destabilization of Europe is not a good thing, and, if it comes to it, I hope the EU quickly and decisively chops off the arm that is Britain because a stable and unified Europe, in the end, is a far more important thing than the British economy. The world can survive without a robust British economy although we will wobble as we slowly reset. But the world as a whole will have a much harder time surviving without a healthy and unified Europe. The breakup of the EU is not a thing to be wished for. The EU is significantly weaker without the UK, but, as we work through this crisis, resources should be used to bolster the EU. The UK has voted to be an island state and as such, will have diminished political and economic influence. The EU is of primary importance as it will politically and economically stabilize a much larger region and population.

There is nothing good in this, not from a liberal’s view. I hoped that by writing this, that by mourning in public, I could move forward. But the sadness still surrounds me. June 23, 2016 was a terrible day; it was the day that nativism won and Great Britain voluntarily chose to diminish.

Learning Your Craft


And if you don’t have the honor and discipline to learn your craft, then quite frankly … you don’t deserve to be here.

Dr. Lee, Drumline

Deep intrinsic natural talent is a wonderful and, to be perfectly honest, a very enjoyable thing to have. Your subconscious, intellect and emotions come together effortlessly to create an idea, and you are able to bring it into the world with little trouble. Your work flows as easily as a strong river to the ocean, and you create a thing of beauty.

However, there is a dark hidden secret to natural talent: we rarely study the field in which we are talented. Why bother? We’re already brilliant. I don’t have to work hard to write something beautiful and meaningful. It comes to me like a symphony playing in my head for my own pleasure. I’ve never bothered to study literature or grammar or poetry or story structure. Why should I? I have a god-given gift, so elegant in its grandeur that it requires no molding or contrivance. My talent is complete in its divinity.

But now, at the ripe age of 50, I realize how very wrong I am. I have spent my life trying to create longer pieces of work that are coherent, substantial and poetic. I have tried to create a piece of written art that will deeply connect with people and create a bridge of shared understanding and metaphor between me and my readers.

I have never succeeded. Not once.

In my arrogance and ignorance, I threw my talent away, and in so doing, I also threw away a large and important part of myself. My writing has remained malnourished and stunted throughout my life because I didn’t think I needed education.

The only hope I have is that I have realized this before my life is over. I still have half of my life left. I will spend it well, studying literature and grammar and poetry and story structure. I’ll nurture my natural talent, so my writing can finally blossom into its full potential… so I can realize my gift.

Writing Without My Muse

Where is she?

She’s beautiful. She makes my words flow without effort. My grammar becomes art; my narrative becomes poetry. I’m high on my own genius.

But she’s missing.

My words are flat, a dull lifeless echo sounding through a hollow concrete house. There is no poetry. Even the sunset is dull, melting watercolor on a gray paper sky.

Where is she?

I need her. How can I write without her? I’m stupid. I’m clumsy. I have all the finesse and beauty of a 6th grade English paper.

Where is she?

“Start writing,” I hear her whisper in the voice of a gossamer angel. “Start writing. When you write, you call me. I need you as much as you need me for I only live in your words.”

My beautiful muse. I found her, sleeping silently in my pen, waiting for me.

Starting a New Productivity Tool Using Unrealistic and Unachievable Goals

Me and my shiny new personal kanban board.

It’s inevitable. It will happen every time. You finish a new book that outlines a shiny new productivity system or you watch an inspiring YouTube video on how to make a personal kanban board or how to effectively separate the hours in the day or perhaps you read an inspiring post on the internet’s blogosphere.

You’re excited. This is it! This is the missing piece in your toolbox. With the new tool that you discovered, you can achieve all of your goals.

And the tool or the advice or the system is probably excellent. It will help you. But all of these various techniques miss out the very first step you must take:

When you first use a new-found shiny and exciting tool, you will populate it with unachievable goals. Every time.

Perhaps you’ll schedule too many goals. Or perhaps you’ll schedule too little time. Or perhaps your goals are simply unachievable… but let’s not go into that unhappy and emotional topic in this particular blog post.

After you have completed this first step and have entered too many goals in too short of a time, then the next step, unfortunately, is that you must fail miserably. I’m so sorry about this. It hurts, and depending how many times that you’ve been through this gauntlet, it may take a few months to get back to planning and creating your future or it may just take a few days. I’ve done this so many times now that I’m able to pull myself off the ground pretty quickly and get back to work.

The third and final step of this baptism is to use the tool again but in a much more reasonable and practical way.

I just learned how to use a kanban board. They’re beautiful! I love them! When I watched a YouTube video on using a personal kanban board, my heart actually beat faster as I became excited about the possibilities and just the sheer fun of using one.

And then, unwittingly and unwillingly, I went through the above ritual yet again. Every time. I’m 50 years old and have been exploring the productivity space for 25 years, and I still make this mistake every time.

The Journey

Tears of golden glass. A sunset refracted through crying eyes. Fear and sadness are siblings. They prey on anxiety and desire.

It will never happen. You have lost before you started. You will never see the fruition of your efforts, feel the success of your calling. It is all stillborn. So why try?

Why try? Because there is no other path, no other choice. To be myself – to truly inhabit this body and this brain and this heart, to truly honor this life – the only choice is forward… even if it is leads to failure.

The Journey The Journey The Journey The Journey The Journey The Journey The Journey The Journey

It is impossible to fail because the purpose is The Journey, to acknowledge and experience and feel The Journey, wherever it may lead and whatever it may bring.

So you are incapable of failing – not ever, not truly.

We are the Reason Why

Life is Mystery. We may think that it is math and physics, hard and immovable, but in fact it is poetry and song, liquid and dynamic. Life is the living, breathing water in which we swim. Even just a single strand of our hair reflects all the shimmering colors of the rainbow as it flows through the living water.

But we don’t know this. We can’t see it. In sadness and confusion, we seek out a wise sage on top of a high mountain and ask, “Where is the beauty? Where is the joy?” And she answers, “You are the beauty. You are swimming in the joy. You cannot see it because it is everywhere. You are a fish asking ‘Where is the water?’ You are a bird asking ‘Where is the air?’ You are a dancer moving gracefully across the stage, twirling and leaping with each step and asking, ‘When will I begin my dance?’”

“I do not feel joyful or beautiful,” we reply.

“That’s because you have defined joy and beauty very rigidly. You expect it to a look a very specific way or feel a very specific way. Let go of your illusions of joy and beauty and discover joy and beauty, live joy and beauty. Let it unfold in you. Let it be you,” she replies.

And this makes sense to us and we can feel it, and so happily, we descend the mountain. But then we forget again. It evaporates like the mist of the dawn giving way to the noonday sun. We forget that we are not only dancing, but that we are the dance. We are both verb and noun. We are the reason why.

The Excitement of the New Year

It’s the New Year which is my favorite holiday. The New Year brings excitement and hope, and, most importantly, action! We act upon our feelings of hope and desire. “This is the year that I’m going to get healthy!” “This is the year that I’m going to start my own business!” “This is the year that I’m going to write my novel!”

Unfortunately, the fire that fuels us at the New Year will die down to an ember and will no longer push us forward to our goals after a few weeks. We must find other ways to motivate ourselves, and we only have a few weeks to put those other motivators into place before the New Year’s magic disappears and we lose its power.

I’m going to share with you the two things that help me stay motivated as the excitement of the New Year grows stale, and we have to find that impulse deep within ourselves to keep going.

First, have an achievable plan in place. The key word absolutely is “achievable.” Our immediate desire almost always outstrips our abilities. We want to be fit now! We want to be an accomplished artist now! We want a successful business now!

We want to skip the journey and get straight to the result. We believe, falsely, that the result will make everything perfect. Once we are a certain weight or make a certain income or can perform a certain feat, then we will be worthy. Everything will finally be okay, and we can quit hurting, feeling less than.

But nothing exterior to you will ever make you feel worthy. If you were magically transported to your goal weight, you would still hurt. You would still feel less than.

The journey is the key. The journey transforms you. You learn and grow and become. You’re not the same person at the end that you were when you started. So when you’re finally healthy at whatever weight that may be, it’s not the way you look in the mirror that makes you feel worthy; it’s everything that you learned and experienced – your internal transformation, not external – that makes you feel worthy.

The journey is hard and long. And it starts with an achievable plan that takes into account “failure.” You’re going to fail. You’re going to make mistakes and wrong turns. You’re going to be thrown curve balls by life. Course correct and keep going.

I have found that most goals are actually built upon habits. Do you want to get healthy? Get into the habit of exercising and eating well. Do you want to be an artist? Get into the habit of drawing everyday.

And this is where your achievable plan begins: work on one small habit at a time and use a trigger. And be consistent – practice drawing the same time everyday or in the same place everyday.

One small habit. One. Small. Consistent. Move slowly and change slowly. Live your journey and inhabit your story.

The second thing that helps me is to stay positive. The negative self talk in my head can be debilitating. To combat this tendency, I listen to uplifting YouTubers. I have uplifting quotes littered around my house and placed all through my planner. I listen to positive music. I try to be a positive person, complimenting and saying kind things to others. All of these practices set up a feedback loop that keeps me from spiraling into a negative headspace.

Stay positive. It’s how you win.

Good luck. And Happy New Year!! May 2019 be wonderful!

Guns in my children’s middle school

My family had a terrible day – a day filled with fear, anger and hopelessness.

It started for me at 11:36am when I received the following texts from my 13-year-old daughter, Lily.

As parents, we are plagued by nightmares – our children drowning while unattended, our children getting abducted, our children getting involved in drugs…

Our children having an active shooter at their school.

My heart began to pound. I started shaking. I texted her back.

As I called my husband, she continued to text.

By this point, I’m crying as well as shaking. My husband and I have a rule in place because, as a manager, he attends a lot of meetings. If I call three times in a row, it’s an emergency. I’ve called him twice now. I quickly text my daughter back.

As I’m calling my husband the third time, she texts:

My husband picks up. Our conversation is brief. Through sobs, I tell him, “There’s a shooter at Lily’s school!”

“What?!” His reaction is immediate.

“She says she’s safe. She says there are sheriffs with rifles in the hall.”

“I’m leaving now!”

“I’ll meet you at the school,” I reply and we hang up.

I text my daughter as I’m looking for my keys and shoes.

By 11:44am, just as I’m getting in my car, she texts:

On the way to the school, I phone my husband. I give him the update from our daughter, but we don’t know where our son, Damian, is or how he’s doing. Lily’s in 8th grade and Damian’s in 6th grade, and they both attend Murchison Middle School in Austin, Texas. We hang up so he can phone our son.

When I get to the school, there are parents waiting outside the school. I find my husband, and he says that Damian in not answering his phone or his texts. The bell rings and kids begin to pour between the portables outside and the classrooms inside. My husband and I don’t wait with the parents outside the building; we decide to go in. Inside, there are even more parents standing outside the administrative office.

The noise and chaos is loud and everywhere. The kids are all talking to each other and hugging each other. My daughter and her friends find us and we have a massive family hug, but we can’t get into the office to find my son. The office is still locked with all of the lights inside turned off. We see the people through the glass door stuck on the other side. My daughter starts telling us what happened and how scary it was.

“I was in lunch and there were like 100 kids. And they were yelling at us to get behind the stage. They kept yelling, ‘It’s not a drill! It’s not a drill!'”

Finally, the office opens and the parents stream in. There is little girl there with her mom – she’s so small that I’m sure that she’s a 6th grader – and her eyes are all puffy and red and fear is still on her face as her mom hugs her. I have to wait in line, and when it’s my turn, the administrator herself has to go get my son because they are so overwhelmed with parents. Only a few student office helpers are there, and they have all already been sent off to fetch other students out of classes.

Everyone is fine. No one was hurt. And when we finally get home, the following email has been sent by the principal, Brad Clark, to all the parents:

——-

Matadors,

All students and staff at Murchison Middle School are safe, and we are operating under normal procedures. Here is a summary of today’s event:

At approximately 11:15 a.m. we received a report that a man in plain clothes wearing a firearm was walking in our building. I immediately placed the building on lock down. Students and staff followed lock down procedures. AISDPD and APD officers arrived immediately to ensure the safety of all students and staff. Through the course of their investigation, it was determined that there was a man in plain clothes wearing a firearm in our building. They confirmed that he is a Murchison parent who was here on unofficial business to attend a parent-teacher conference and that he had checked in properly at the front desk but that neither me, security, nor our school resource officer was made aware of the the presence of a legally armed person in our building. We are working on a system to notify all necessary personnel in the event of a legally armed visitor to Murchison Middle School.

Please know that we responded well to the incident and that all lock down systems worked.

Teachers have been instructed to allow students to see their counselor if they feel the need.

I will re-send my REMIND link to you all with instructions for signing up to receive real-time updates.

Thank you for your understanding.

Sincerely,

Brad Clark, Principal

——-

For my husband and I, the adrenaline running through our bodies immediately turned from fear to boiling anger! A parent?! A “legally armed” parent was allowed into the school with a gun?! And not only that, but they were going to continue to allow “legally armed person[s]” in the school with guns?! Seventeen percent of Texas schools allow staff and/or board members to carry guns on to school property. At no point in the email did the principal reassure us that guns are not allowed in the school. No. He told us that they were going to put a better procedure into place to allow “legally armed person[s]” into the school with guns.

Principal Clark sent a follow-up email later that evening as his first email had created confusion. It was a much longer email and included the following paragraph:

——-

Understanding that many parents were learning of the incident from their children’s text messages, I felt an urgency to notify the community that we were safe and to provide a cursory explanation of the incident, which I did. In my initial email, however, I referred to the man only as “a legally armed person in our building,” rather than as a law enforcement officer in plain clothes. This omission was due to my uncertainty as to which branch of law enforcement the man works – police, constable, probation, parole, etc. and my desire to provide you with a clearer explanation; however, I sent it before learning the information. This unintended omission confused some people and caused concerns about who can legally carry a firearm in a school. Please know that only a “law enforcement officer” can legally carry a firearm in a school.

You have my sincerest apologies for this omission. It was made in my intent to get the message out to you as soon as possible.

——-

Though I was relieved to know that parents in general were not allowed to bring guns into the school, this second email did little to stop my anger. In our national discourse, we’re having the ridiculous debate as to whether teachers and staff should be armed. I can now tell you that after today’s events at my children’s school, I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that I do not want the teachers and staff armed. There is no debate for me. I do not want adults routinely walking around my children with guns, not even off-duty police officers.

The NRA, politicians and pro-gun advocates have forced guns in the school with my children regardless of my feelings or views on the matter. My children had a man – a man that I know nothing about – walking around their school with a gun today. The terror that I felt, that my husband felt, that other parents felt, that my children and every other child in Murchison Middle School felt meant nothing. This story was barely reported on.

And that is when the hopelessness settled in. No matter what we say, no matter how many children and adults are killed by mass shootings, no matter how much fear and pain we feel as American citizens, it never changes. Year after year, child after child, life after life violently destroyed, it never changes. Our politicians will not change the gun laws.

This is my tiny voice. It’s so small. In the vastness of this world, among the masses of people, my voice is so small. But I have to try. We have to try, don’t we?

We have to keep yelling. “We want gun control!” Louder and louder and louder. WE WANT GUN CONTROL!

All of us, together, our tiny voices becoming powerful and one in unison. WE WANT GUN CONTROL! So loud that the roof of heaven can feel our pain and our resolve and our hope for our nation and our children.

WE WANT GUN CONTROL!

Change Only One Habit at a Time

I don’t use cuss words a lot. They’re not terribly eloquent. But every now and then they are absolutely perfect for conveying sentiment. And now is one of those times, I feel.

Changing habits is a fucking bitch.

After the birth of my second child, I had become very unhealthy. Given the endless work of two small children, my husband and I resorted to a lot of fast food and processed food for quick meals. Eating these poisons disguised as food, our health declined rapidly. By 2009, I would spend days in bed because I felt too miserable, had no energy, and was in too much pain to get out of bed.

And then, I had That Moment. We all have That Moment in our lives. It has only happened to me twice in my life: once when I was 19-years-old and once in 2009 when I was 40-years-old. It’s when you wake up and say, “I’m not going to live like this anymore. I don’t want to be like this anymore.” It’s when you decide that you’re not going to be in an unhealthy relationship anymore, or you’re not going to stay working for a terrible boss doing a job that you hate anymore. For me in 2009, it’s when I decided that I didn’t want to spend everyday sick in bed and in pain anymore. I wanted to be healthy.

Now, fast forward three years to 2012. You would think that I would be the perfect example of health by now. I’ve been working towards this goal for three years. I should be glowing, strong and full of energy.

Did I mention that changing habits is a fucking bitch?

First I had to learn about nutrition. That was a journey in itself and one that I continue today. Then there were tons of attempts, failures, false starts and wrong turns. I’m much healthier today than I was in 2009. I don’t spend everyday in bed and my body isn’t in a constant state of low-level pain anymore, but I’m not anywhere near my goal of abundant energy and beautiful glowing health.

And here is my first bit of advice to you as I distill three years of experience into a single sentence: Change only one habit at a time. This statement is so simple and will be disobeyed time and time again by so many people, including me, and yet it is the cornerstone of change.

You see, when you change an ingrained habit, you spend the entire day in fierce battle with yourself. It is exhausting and you don’t always win. All of your effort and energy needs to be channeled into a single significant habit change. If you try to change more than one habit, your energy becomes diluted as you spread yourself too thin, and you lose the battle.

Recently along my continued journey towards health, I tried to change three habits at once. In my impatience, I lost everything and now am back exactly where I started at the first of the year. I’ve made no progress except to learn a very valuable lesson:

Be patient. Enjoy the journey. Quit counting down the days. And change only one habit at a time.

The Source of Art

(Crossposted to: Life with Science)

Twelve years ago today on May 15, 2000 is when I first laid eyes on my future husband, Matt. We worked in the same company, but I worked in the Austin office and he worked in the London office. He had flown into Austin to train us on the company’s proprietary software. Other than Matt, I was the first one into the office that morning. We worked in a large, open-plan room with low-rise cubicles and the room was always dark because the programmers preferred for the lights to be off. He was sitting at a desk off in the corner working at a computer, his face lit up by the computer monitor in the dark room.

Two days later, I had a massive crush on him and two months later we were dating. And one year later we were married.

So May 15 is an auspicious day for me. It’s a day of love and beginnings. So, today is the official day that I begin writing as a career — truly begin. No more waltzing with fear and hiding from fate. I start work today.

And I’ve been conducting a postmortem in my head of all my past failed attempts. I can create brilliant small vignettes — little snippets of a story that read like poetry and carry deep meaning. But whenever I try to write an entire book, it reads, at best, like an 8th-grader’s attempt at fiction. The kernel of the story holds promise, but the surrounding prose drags it down into the realm of the novice, lacking clever timing and meaningful metaphor.

And why is this? My conclusion is that the failed attempts at an entire book have never come from my soul. Now, we can sit here and debate whether we even have souls or not, but the truth of the matter is, every artist creates from a personal and sacred spot deep inside of them. And when someone creates from this place of true emotion and lived experience, the resulting art has a life and an impact. Its beauty resonates outside of and separate from the artist.

And I think, when I’m forcing myself to just write through a story, that I’m not writing from that sacred spot. And the resulting story leaves the reader without an experience.

So, I’ll try to write from that sacred place. The story may be jumbled and it may meander untethered, but at least it will be true. And it certainly can’t be any worse than my past attempts.