Stuck? Try Constraints

For the first time in our 30‐year history, DH and I low‐balled our gift exchange.

$30 apiece on each other.

Why the limit?

Boredom? Familiarity? Fixed income? Seasonal stress?

A numbers thing: $30 for 30 years?

But that anniversary isn’t until next December. And we’re not early partiers.

What answered was this: time for something different.

And so, DH gained Sherlock socks plus a World Travel Book for Kids.

Nirvana for a retired kid with a travel‐hungry Holmes heart.

He gifted Springsteen’s Broadway concert CD plus colored pencils and word puzzles.

Music for a writer’s ears while filling in word clues with 48 different hues.

The deliberate, inexpensive gift exchange has, in less than two weeks, ascended to status as Most Memorable Holiday Ever.

Why?

We forced ourselves to think outside the box. Which, unwittingly, drop‐kicked us into another one. Whoever hears ‘think inside the box’? 

With four hard walls around our gift‐giving, we surrendered dollars and expectation to creativity and consideration.

Overwrought, over‐priced shopping expeditions sit in the ash‐heap of our coupled past. Thank god!

Now, it’s simplicity, fun, and creativity—in all presents. And presence.

Constraints: they’re as clever as you make them.

Like a < 200‐word blog post.

First ever.

Magic, Not Resolutions

We say it once every 365 days.

Happy New Year!

What we forget is what else is true every January 1st.

It’s also Happy New Day!

And Happy New Week!

And Happy New Month!

Four times to thrill at a new start.

Next year, we’ll add a fifth: Happy New Decade!

It wasn’t that long ago that some of us celebrated Happy New Century and tag‐teamed with Happy New Millennium, too.

Why do we make only one of these happy proclamations then repeat it year after year, too? Are we numb to what the words really mean? Or could mean?

Photo copyright Rothko Chapel, Houston, TX.

Odd questions follow an otherworldly afternoon.

DH and I experienced the profound New Year’s Day Crystal Bowl Meditation at Houston’s Rothko Chapel. Neither words nor a singular photo can ever fully encompass this sacred space.

Multiply the mysticism by imagining people of all ages and types sitting on every bench with others camped on the floor on yoga mats and meditation cushions. Others crowd in quietly, filling the space at insistence to hear soul‐speaking chimes.

Dana Shamas of Bayou Bliss Yoga offered gentle guidance as harmonies rang out from crystal bowls arranged in the chapel’s center. From the chimes came a year’s intention for release, recovery, resilience, and renewal.

An hour later, DH and I emerged to the glory that is Barnett Newman’s incomparable Broken Obelisk. The reflection of Newman’s sculpture in the Rothko’s pool is only part of its charm.

The art honors Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who, ironically, our nation will honor two weeks from today.

Synchronicity roars. 

Today also marks the New Year’s Day birth of Irish writer Maria Edgeworth in 1768. Praised by Jane Austen, the British‐born Edgeworth was noted for her ground‐breaking innovation to the novel form. She also issued an ahead‐of‐her‐time clarion call for women’s rights and children’s education plus pithy and comedic social and political observations.

Edgeworth penned the novel Ormond, a title only one letter removed from my already unusual surname.

Synchronicity returns. 

How did I not know of this woman writer before? She’s so prescient that quotes from her 1795 Letters for Literary Ladies were recycled by 1960‐era feminists in America.

Edgeworth also penned this quote: “If we take care of the moments, the years will take care of themselves.” 

Comforting words on this New Year’s Day. A sort of centering prayer.

As are the words of noted American author Neil Gaiman: “May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness.…I hope you read some fine books…Don’t forget to write…and I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.”

I’ll merge the wisdom of Edgeworth and Gaiman to craft my own vision for the new year: caring moments in 12 gentle months laced with magical dreams and self‐surprises, topped off with a dollop of healthy madness, all in service of full‐time storytelling and a life fully lived every day.

Four intentions of projects to embody, complete, and present by this time next New Year’s Day.

You heard it here first.

What’s your vision to surprise yourself?

Writing Chain

Prayer Chain, she called it.

I heard Writer Chain.

How could I not?

Look at its pieces—orange beads, angel wing, spiral, open hand.

Each, aspects of me.

The number four prominent—bead colors, bead types.

Divine Mother rising.

I bought Mary Jane White’s lovely bead work at Kay Kemp’s Holiday Marketplace in the Houston Heights. Upon returning to my writing studio, I laid the chain on my writing desk as you see it here—tucked in a circle and cradled in orange crepe paper as it was handed to me.

Words have flooded out of me since. More, better words than in months. Long‐percolating ideas and stories breathe with new life. Novel scenes possess a depth and weight unimagined at conception. Even scribbles from a novel initiated 15 years ago sparkle with invigorating possibility.

Best: feedback gathered on that writing stuns. (Note to reader: I share these comments begging your advance forgiveness for any perceived narcissism.) Some direct quotes: wow, what are you doing differently? Your writing has improved so much. Your stories flow so well; you’ve really crossed some kind of hurdle. How did you do this? 

I credit the Writer Chain.

Wonder invites pondering: what does chain mean? Words of pain—going dark and negative, a place I often reside—spring forth. Prison, gang, bindings, suffering. Then, Nelson Mandela.

To every yin, there’s yang. Mandela sought, and found, other meaning in his chains. Light to dark.

Perhaps chains serve as bindings, or links, to connect us, one to another. In uncovering those connections, we listen and interpret then discover what might move us forward. Uncover to discover.

Are these links, or chains, the key source for inspiration and progress in our journeys as writers, artists, human beings? How do we connect all the links we find?

Is this ultimately the Circle of Life?

The Lion King, courtesy Elton John’s songwriting wisdom, roars as the season encourages rumination.

I hope the chains, the links, in your life offer you similar inspiration and forward movement. Open your eyes and unclasp your hands. You’ll see chains and links illuminating your path. Little gifts surrounding you, awaiting uncovering.

On your desk. Under a tree.

Maybe take a quick, short road trip.

Only a half hour after I got into my car, I discovered Writer Chain.

I’m forever changed by a piece of art lying on a table awaiting my discovery. With my writing practice now unexpectedly richer than before, my life, too, stands enriched by a marketplace reunion with four wonderful artists—Kay, Mary Jane, Virginia, and Sharon. Thank you, friends.

A final thought for this almost‐over season:

Nothing reveals the truth like six little words on a t‐shirt.

Rocking B’s

At the entryway to Oyster Creek Park, I spotted them.

Grandmother and granddaughter sitting on a park bench, bonding over books.

The thumbnail photo of this bronze sculpture caught my attention when I scanned Sugar Land’s Public Art brochure. Of the ten such sculptures in the city, this is the only one I really cared to see.

Something about young and old, innocence and wisdom, reading and sharing. And the precious grandchildren in my own life.

When I arrived at the park entrance, I found no hints—maps, signage, arrows, etc.—of where this pair sat.

On instinct, my eyes swept to the ten o’clock position.

How did I know to start at ten? Why not eight, or three or…

Intuition? Silly girl, I thought. Be grateful and walk toward them.

Along the way, I spotted alligators and paint‐can art. A dog learning to frisbee. A baby taking its first steps.

Picture taking and future blog posts. Of course.

As I walked, the bright‐shining sun and a clear blue sky sparkled on my shoulders. Seventy degrees, the phone tells me. Mid‐December? Winter begins in four days?

When I finally stood before the Grandmother and Granddaughter sculpture, B’s assaulted my vision: binoculars. book. bear. backpack. birds. bun. bench. braids. boards. buckles. blouse. buttons.

Twelve in a single shot. Why all the B’s? And why did I notice? Is that what real writers do?

I took a second picture of the sculpture.

Clean shot, I thought.

Only at home do I spot the next B. As in sunBeam.

The ray of sunlight was not there when I snapped the picture. I promise. 

When I saw the light, the word followed: Beam.  

My, that sounds like a song. Or a Bible verse. Egad. I digress.

Back to a photograph. We’re up to a baker’s dozen of B’s.

One final B surfaces as I stare at the image. It’s less obvious, but more special.

Bonding.

What happens when grandmothers and granddaughters Be together.

(Offered with heartfelt apologies to my writing teachers).

And now, we’re up to 15 B’s in a single Blog post.

Oops, that’s 16.

What a day for frisky, frivolous fun.

You’re lucky.

No F quiz follows.

Tis the Season for…Orange!

In these days of red and green, I cringe. Orange is My Color.

Orange orbs over Sugar Land.

Imagine my delight when this little orb danced into my line of sight. 

Its mutant reflection calmed concerns about aging handwriting.

Triple bonus came upon realizing this is my first‐observed orange Christmas decoration.

If this is the wave of future noels, I’m all in.

The exploding consumerism of the holiday season sickens me. I avoid malls and stores. I toss every catalog as it arrives.

Our house decorations are deliberate and minimal. Fireplace nutcracker. Santa moose. Seven‐inch white ceramic tree. German music box.

Red and green candles atop the dining table remind us this is the season to slow down, offer light, pay attention, and breathe deep. Ignore what does not enhance Life.

I call it a season for the senses: see; listen; smell; touch, taste. No cash required. No purchases needed. Only savory observation.

Like an unexpected orange Christmas decoration.

Selfie of “Selfie” — why, of course!

I’d gone to Sugar Land’s Town Center to observe our infamous “Selfie” sculpture.

The bronze piece outraged many people at its unveiling. Even Good Morning America featured the art. Why the fuss?

Selfie” is fun, engaging, and contemporary.

If we want to engage more people in appreciating artwork, we must experiment, modernize some creations.

Is that not partly why Lin‐Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton” still shines?

The same answer applies to painting, writing, dancing, etc.–name your art form.

One of the models for “Selfie” is Morgan, the niece of fellow RoadBroad Kay Cox. After my traffic box post last week, Kay enlightened me about the prevalence of public art in Sugar Land.

My cosmopolitan pride needed the education and the reminder: it’s never too late to learn. And so, I returned to the road.

Since, I’ve wandered across Sugar Land’s parks, streets, sidewalks, plazas and bridges. A wealth of public art surfaced. Color‐filled traffic light boxes at 13 intersections. Another 18 installations of bronze, iron, granite, and glass in sculpture, mobile, monument, and tiled form, all encircling an old Brazos River sugar town. 

What about where you live? Is there public art? Please tell us more!

In seeing how other communities create their art spaces, we each learn. As we share with each other, we enrich both our communities and our own lives. Thus, change gains wings.

It’s not just stories we need. We need art. In all its forms.

P.S. Notice the orange shirt in the “Selfie” picture?

Unplanned for this blog post. 

Like that orange orb, floating katey‐cornered from where I stood.

Ah, another synchronicity of the season…

Why December 2nd Matters

We fly the flag at our house every December 2nd.

This year, for the first time, I notice its wrinkles, saggy middle, and a lengthening shadow.

I smile. Kind of like (cough, cough)… us! 

Twenty nine years ago today, DH and I married.

That ‘80s hair, the pouffy hat, and those puffy sleeves offered omens of flyaway adventure.

Arrive they did.

We’ve traveled by land, water, and sky. In planes, trains, boats, ships, and submarines. Up mountains on Segway and in aerial trams. Over rivers and through woods (yes, sometimes to see Grandma). In three decades, we’ve slept in all 51 states plus 18 foreign countries on two continents.

Some doubted we’d travel so far for so long. A tumultuous five‐year courtship preceded our noon‐time wedding ceremony.

Pre‐marriage counseling smoothed our ride. We predicted our issues and developed a response plan. How’s that for two crisis communicators?

We committed to travel together. Through Everything. Our platinum bands meant more than simple finger metal.

Shout‐out to Dr. Tim Van Duivendyk for his wedding “charge:” you’ve got to meet in the middle with each other — and the middle that’s in the middle of those two middles is very difficult to find. 

Whatever road we’re on, DH and I aim for the middle lane. Sometimes, we don’t arrive at the same time. Sometimes, somebody must wait waaay longer than they’d like for the other. But, always, we meet in our middle. Eventually.

In writing this, I realize this strategy applies to many life situations.

Yes, December 2, 1989 was our Big Day. Big, too, for others in other years for other reasons:

On This Date  BY THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

1823 President James Monroe outlines his Manifest Destiny doctrine.
1969 The Boeing 747 jumbo jet debuts.

Whether it’s across a century or only half as long, the years, the middle, and the adventure roll on.

For each of us in our own ways.

For DH and me, we’re making more than a life together.

We’re creating a Story.

What’s yours?

Being Art

The headline stuns.

How did I not know about an art feast gracing a baker’s dozen intersections across my town?

My ego burns.

Isn’t a 26‐year, artsy resident — one who’s also an avowed news junkie — supposed to know all about the who and what of Art where she lives?

I share my discovery with fellow RoadBroad Ellen, who mentions that similar traffic‐signal art boxes stand across Houston. My mind wonders — is there anything Sugar Land has that the bigger, bossier sister city, 22 miles northeast, doesn’t?

My ego sizzles anew. Town pride smokes in the same skillet.

A Google search confirms Houston and Sugar Land are among hundreds across America that have repurposed ugly metal boxes into talking points for travelers stuck in traffic. The effort began at least 15 years ago in Connecticutt. Leave it to the Yankees to be so clever. And yet…

What a delightful way to turn unsightly man‐made mechanics into eye treasures for the stuck, the delayed, the bored! 

Ignorance morphs into curiousity which yields opportunity.

A day later, it’s time for an Art Box Scavenger Hunt.

First find is Judy Hope’s Tweet, Tweet, Sweet. Her melange of birds, hiding under this overpass, speaks to me. Freedom. Happiness. Peace. And color!

I dub the next stop “Blue Belle.” Not for that Brenham confection up the road.

Vivienne Dang’s Lady in Blue looks outward, dreamily, yearning of a bright future.

Her face rests directly atop the traffic box door. I wonder is that how she opens up — only at eye level? 

The sea of blue in which the entire image sits mirrors the background sky. Are we all sitting in a similar sea of blue?

The bees arrive down the road.

I offer thanks these insects are not this large in real life.

Why does this box scare me even as it lures me closer?

Mike Doan calls his creation Bizzy Beeze, praising the vital role played by honey bees in the farms that circle the Sugar Land community.

I realize an odd truth. The Bees have this blog post. Hmm…

Next comes Blossoms. That’s my title Artist Nataliya Scheib titled her creation, Butterfly Garden. 

I see only flowers. Zoom in and you’ll find butterflies by the dozen, darting to and fro among the color‐filled panorama of flowers.

This is the only traffic box I touch. Can you guess why?  

The final box I visit yields a single Butterfly.

Joy Chandler’s creation of Sweet Transformation highlights the plight of the endangered Monarch Butterfly, supposedly native to Sugar Land.

This lone image echoes Freedom. Joy. And the approaching Spring. The background of pastel circles add a sweet, supportive pallet.

I smile, standing here at the last traffic‐box art installation.

Birds. Blue Belle. Bees. Blossoms. Butterfly.

Don’t forget Boxes. As in Traffic‐Box Art.

The theme emerges: B Art. And now you ‘get’ the title of this blog post.

But what it all means? Alfie, do you know?

Me? I have no clue. But I will drive back down Highway 90A before long.

Eight traffic boxes await review.

Recording a Reading Revolution

I love books, as evidenced by this corner of my house:

Again, I’m a planet outlier.

Publisher’s Weekly bemoans a 20 percent decline in fiction sales. Only one year out of the past five have sales climbed. Thank Harper Lee’s 2015 book, Go Set a Watchman. 

All the reasons for declining fiction sales equal sensible logic:

More competition for entertainment hours and products.

More closings of brick‐and‐mortar stores.

Fewer book reviews.

Shorter attention spans.

Even audiobooks are displacing the printed novel. Mike Shatzkin, a noted publishing industry guru, calls it words‐to‐be‐heard vs. words‐to‐be‐read.

What’s ignored in the worrying noise is the price we’re paying by not reading.

Be it television, video games, the World Wide Web, streaming books, and other entertainment options, we’re actively rewiring both our brains and bodies. Few of us pay attention to the consequences, either short or long‐term.

Photo courtesy Amazon.com.

Writer Maryanne Wolf takes a look in her fascinating (ahem, non-fiction book), Reader Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World.

Wolf cites varying studies that blame the widespread screen explosion for our collapsing attention spans, declining imagination and thinking skills, worsening physical health, and strained relationships.

One of the first studies came out in 1998. Linda Stone, of the Virtual Worlds Group at Microsoft, possessed frightening prescience when she coined the term “continuous partial attention.”

Stone referenced children specifically when she created the term. Twenty years later, she’d no doubt label us adults with the same syndrome.

Tag me guilty, too. But only when I’m not reading a book. In that printed landscape, my attention laser‐focuses to imagine a world only I can see. 

Delicious creativity and control! Fun and fulfilling, too!

Yet, these recent books and magazines frighten me about this road we’re on. There seems an almost willful ignorance for behavior and consequences. In confronting these effects, there’s information and messages to share, heed.

Even so, I cross my fingers, remembering what’s happened with music. Printed books could travel a similar road.

Remember LP’s and turntables? They’re back, and popular, for reasons I don’t comprehend. Records over CD or streaming tunes? Clunky equipment over flat, round disks or no plastic at all? Pray tell, why

Amid my semi‐Luddite questioning, possibility arises.

Once can become twice. 

Music now, books next?

Copyright, GrooveBags.com.

Meantime, I read, wait, and check my mailbox.

Shoes inbound promise a coming retro‐revolution. 

Our world needs more fiction, published. And read. 

A broad can hope.

A Bag, A Man, A Card

To live well, we must see.

But some days, life demands listening, too.

Consider yesterday.

At the grocery store, I laid my blue recycled bag onto the short conveyor belt. Beneath the bag scooted a pair of soup jars, cornbread muffins and bananas, plus a bag of greens. Dinner.

I turned to my purse. On the phone, I tapped the grocery app then reached for my wallet. I heard a male voice and looked up.

The checkout person — millennial, I assumed — repeated his question, “you like books?”

I smiled.

Compadre! I love when this happens!

Love them actually.” I shook my head, wondering why he had asked me the question. He held up my bag, returned my smile.

My grin broadened. His friendly blue eyes returned kinship. On the conveyor belt, his hands slowed. Both palms now clutched the bag of greens as if they offered secret treasure. I looked to my left. A growing line behind me. Here we go.

I write books, too,” I said and, without pausing for his acknowledgment, volunteered, “My first novel, it’s in progress. Agents awaiting completion.”

Really?” his eyes alit with new interest. “What’s it about?”

My mind raced. What do I tell this reader about a book targeted at older women, female readers who’ve lived longer lives than his, many who’ve raised children and worked for older versions of himself? 

A brain flash. Elevator pitch then the blog. I sped‐talked through my novel plot then soared to here, the RoadBroads blog. I was on the road here at the grocery store.

You might check out my blog.”

He cocked an eyebrow. My left hand clawed through my purse, scrounging for a RoadBroads business card. Holding one aloft like an envious prize, I elevator‐pitched the blog.

(An explanation for non‐writers: an elevator pitch equals a short summary of a story‐in‐progress. The concept riffs off the image of a writer and agent riding an elevator together, giving the former only a few quick floors to tell her entire novel to the latter.)

Mr. Checkout took my card and listened to my generous pitch. WIth kind eyes and matching generosity.

In our brief exchange, he taught me much.

When you listen, you see people, discover opportunity, and, sometimes, find a fellow reader.

Translation: listening builds Life.

Plus, we’re never too old to learn.


A day later, I wonder: did the grocery store exchange begin with my t‐shirt? Pardon the sloppy selfie but consider the sentiment.

Like listening, words matter, too. Now. More than Ever.

On the Radio Road

The glory of a road trip is its implied permission to slow down and see.

Even quickies allow a glance of both.

First, I beg your advance forgiveness. This post is intensely personal.

Yesterday involved a quickie trip, four hours by car north to Kilgore, a small east Texas town near the Louisiana state line. There, at the Texas Broadcasting Museum, DH joined 17 other inductees into the Texas Radio Hall of Fame.

Big honor, big deal: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9dQtG38hfjw

This first‐ever RoadBroads video is worth your viewing time. Objective? Of. Course. Not.

Truthfully, 55 years’ work in one industry—radio and television—across four states and six cities merits celebration. In today’s world, where do you find that kind of dedicated work and unending passion? 

Our present‐day rush‐rush‐rush world celebrates the opposite: speed and superficial over slow and deep. The 240‐mile drive forced me to experience the latter.

The heavy blanket of morning fog hovered across fields that resembled where I grew up. Those Texas Panhandle wheat fields told me to leave. Now they spoke of memory rising in solitude.

The mist of this slow Saturday sunrise, sight offered hope, oddly.

Afternoon and a drive back home to Houston changed the view. A different kind of hope.

Something about the sun insistent on cracking with light, Cohen‐like. Clouds. Breakthrough. More hope.

I smiled, understanding unnecessary.

In between these trip bookends, the day became a trip down memory lane. Like DH, I worked in radio/TV news in a previous life. We used equipment like this every hour on the hour. We dubbed it The Board.

Translation: it’s one piece of equipment, used in the dark ages (aka ‘70s to early ‘90s) of radio to communicate with listeners like you. Standing before The Board in a now‐silent control room , my fingers twitched at my sides. Ancient muscle memory reactivated. Palms flattened against my thighs. My mind returned, smiling at the The Board, to the studio in Pampa—or was it Lubbock? Austin? Houston?

I backtimed to meet the network clean. Fingers hovered above the cart’s green “start” button, right thumb flat against the mic lever ready to go live, bladder squeezing tight for an overdue break, and lips ready to pronounce another station ID: “KPDN, Pampa, Texas. 740 AM on your radio dial. It’s eleven o’clock.” 

I swear I heard the station jingle in my ear, through non‐existent head phones. My mouth even whispered the time. In my memory, the network sounder blended in and the join was clean. “Yes!” I whispered.

Later, I saw these rabbit ears atop the now‐tiny‐looking television. Do you remember?

Change rules. Then and now, it always has. Even when we don’t like it.

Perhaps we can embrace that truth, beginning with slowing down. Going deep.

Seeing. Remembering. Celebrating.

Special memories. Special days. Special people.