I feel guilty that…

The second assignment in week two of Creative Writing was to write a story based on a prompt from The Artist’s Way. The prompt is below in bold.

I feel guilty that I am not more put together. Professional. I can’t say I feel this all the time but sometimes. Ok – weekly. Usually at work. 

I can’t have long nails. They bother me. I can’t do Cher things like work with my hands, type, hold a tennis racquet. How do you do anything with nails? Fish change out of your pocket, position a fitted sheet, serve a tennis ball, apply makeup? 

Makeup. 

That’s another thing I don’t like. Can’t do well. I envy my best friend’s 18 year old daughter. She could be Kevin Aucoin or whoever does makeup really well these days. 

I’m that old. 

Makeup makes me feel like a poser, an amateur. I hate the feel of it on my face, and I’m worried it will soil the collar of a favorite shirt when I take it off. 

It’s just makeup though. It washes, right?

Hair. I do love my hair, but I rarely “do” it. It’s more of a functional thing. Which is why I like it long. There are many options for not doing long hair.

Pants. I really only like jeans and yoga pants. Dress pants? Khakis? Ugh. The horror. I feel bloated and unattractive all day long in them. I found one pair of J Crew cropped pants that I love. Think Audrey Helpburn. No pockets. Black. Fitted, and cropped to above the ankle. I bought them in every color. I took a pair apart hoping to make more in other colors. 

Plaid. Argyle. The list is endless. They’re perfect. I just need more options.

Sweatshirts. Let me tell you. I have a mountain of them. If I could wear them every day for a month. I wouldn’t run out. If I had a job where they were appropriate attire, I’d feel most at home. 

T-shirts. OMG. They’re folded on shelves with a folding board. They’re organized by color and theme. They’re ironed. I’m that person. I have enough for an entire year without duplicates.

Sneakers. I can’t stop buying them. New Balance. Reebok. Nike. Puma. Adidas. Piles of Adidas shoes. A Vintage Campus pair I found in a thrift shop and mountains of Barricades and Adizero Feathers that have retired from tennis and line my basement stairs waiting for their next life as house project shoes or mowing the lawn footwear.

None of this strikes me as feminine though, and sometimes that needles me. Am I a professional person with these traits? Do I belong in a corporation if I dress like this? I look around. I see manicured nails. Slacks. Heels. 

The thought of my feet in heels makes me scream in agony. I need my feet. Why would I torture them? Besides, I tore a calf playing tennis, and now a knot forms in my right calf when I wear anything a few inches in height, reminding me of the injury. “Don’t test me, bitch! You need me for life!”

Yes. I do. 

Ode to Mitnick

Week two of Creative Writing commenced with a request to write a story with Kevin Mitnick as an inspiration. Below is my story.

He pulled up to the old storefront in South LA and took the first parking spot on the street. His late model Lincoln Towncar shook as he shut off the massive big block engine. It was a retired New York City car service car that his dad bought him as a joke, and it never stopped being funny.  An “I heart NY” and a “Free Kevin” bumper sticker adorned the back and made it his own.

He shuffled up to the front door in his dark wash jeans, a black t-shirt, and a backpack covered with pins and patches ready for another day fighting Russian trolls behind the screen of a MacBook Pro. It was late afternoon in California or early morning in Vladivostok, just as the first shift was punching in ready to flood the social network with garbage hashtags and working overtime to hack a campaign staffer’s email.

Even though he was just 16, the Bloomberg campaign had hired him full time after reading a story in the local paper about his exploits hacking the school lunch credit cards after a close friend couldn’t pay for food. “This is just the kind of out of the box thinking we need,” Bloomberg mentioned to his senior aid. “Get that kid on staff.” 

A staffer showed up the next day at his parents house with a generous monetary offer and a “Mike Can Do It” hoodie. He was in. 

He’d been working the afternoon shift for several months now and holding weekly meetings with paid staff and volunteers explaining how phishing worked and how to never click a link in your email. “I mean never,” he’d bellow. Even though the message came from a kid, the staff respected his knowledge and his integrity. 

No one questioned he had a strong sense of right and wrong.

He was also very successful on the hacking front having accessed the internal network of one particularly relentless troll network. How did he do it? A link in an email. One click and he was in. 

He was able to see what the network had on Bloomberg. 

Verdict. Very little. 

He did his job. 

He dug a little further and found the bank accounts of the group. Where was the money coming from? When he found out, the campaign made a press appearance touting the finding and the expertise that made it happen – a skinny teenager that could be easily overlooked but now no longer ignored.

As he took in the view from the twentieth floor…

Looking to do more personal work and side projects in 2020, I enrolled in a creative writing class at PCAD. For this exercise, we took a prompt from this website, https://writingexercises.co.uk/index.php, and took 20 minutes to write a story around it. The prompt is in bold below.

As he took in the view from the twentieth floor, the lights went out all over the city. He was reminded that it was the 30th anniversary of 9-11. Even after three decades, the memory was fresh, but the thought of something actually happening on this date was behind his comprehension. 

Could it be a terrorist attack or something more mundane like a failing circuit in the country’s aging infrastructure. 

Probably the latter. 

Occam’s Razor and all. 

He shuffled toward the stairs and silently cursed himself for making it “leg day” at the gym yesterday. His 45-year-old hamstrings strained as he headed down the winding flights of stairs.

Once he got to the bottom, the air was warm befitting a late summer day. New Yorkers seemed unbothered with the sudden darkness; although, the bodega across 23rd street was rapidly closing up shop – the owner slamming the steel garage door down with authority lest anyone think to quickly loot a Smart Water or some lottery tickets.

He headed east toward Eately thinking maybe, just maybe, a giant chain like that would have a generator? Maybe? But where would they put it? Was there room for a generator in Chelsea?

He could really use a cup of decaf, it was evening after all, and a chocolate croissant. Eately’s bakery couldn’t be beat. How long would the darkness last?

Why had he forgotten dinner? He was thinking about it all through the meeting when the view from the conference room just caught his eye on the way out. He stopped to enjoy it. Take in the view. Live in the moment. 

The meeting went well albeit late. He thought he nailed this last round of interviews. His dream job. A project management gig for AWS. A job with one of “The Big Four.” 

The pinnacle of a career in tech, he thought.

He was in a fantastic mood. He left like a master of the universe, and then bam, no power. Back to reality. 

Eately was, in fact, closing. No power meant no registers. Everyone paid with their smart phones or watches. No one carried cash. Everything ran on electricity. Without it, the world stopped. “When had he last charged his phone?”, he thought as he headed east. He couldn’t remember.

Good thing he lived on 12th and Broadway. It would be just a short jaunt home as the subway was surely closed as well. The moon was out, and Union Square was alive with people escaping their apartments to play in the moon glow. The latch on the dog park gate snapped as he passed. A woman brought her two Golden Retrievers out to play with the bossy Frenchies that ruled the space. 

Bark bark. 

Howl. 

I’m glad my Air Pods are dead, or I would be missing this joyful noise, he thought. Just a few more blocks to go. 

Should I really go home or linger a while? 

After all, my window unit has hummed to a halt and the place is probably stuffy by now. There will be nothing to do in the darkness anyway.

He stopped and turned back settling in on a bench to watch the action in the dog park. By now, the pack had been joined by a few more hounds who perked up in unison as an ambulance rolled past with sirens blaring.

Howl. Howl. Howl.

The Princess on the Submarine

With a desire to do more personal work and outside projects in 2020, I took a creative writing course at The Pennsylvania College of Art and Design. The class meets three weekends in a row on a Saturday, 10 am to noon. I can walk there. For this exercise, we rolled four different dice and had to incorporate these items into our story: Princess with a weapon, an apple, a left turn signal, and a submarine. I started by tackling the submarine first though I know very little about life aboard.

She woke up in a full sweat as the sirens blared on the submarine. 

Squawk. Squawk. Squawk. 

She had been a sailor for a full year now and had thought she heard every siren and digested every emergency signal. 

Yet, this was new. 

What could it be?

She hopped off the top bunk and headed toward the door. A blinking left arrow in the hall indicated the way to the hatch. She melted into the stream of sailors heading out. Everyone calm but silently annoyed at the interruption. Navy life was constant interruption. 

At the end of the hall, the officer motioned for the team to stop. The sirens fell silent.

“Fire alarm, folks.” 

“Thanks for playing.” 

“You may now return to your bunks.”

Ugh.

It took her six months to learn how to sleep on this nasty vessel, and now that sleep was interrupted by a game. The hazing never stopped.

At least her bed awaits. She climbed back in and fell asleep instantly. This was a trick she learned in the first three months. Sleep time was precious and in short supply. Best to learn how to drift off in minutes and not waste time pondering your condition, which for a new recruit was poor indeed.

Ahhhh… sleep. 

She fell off into a deep REM sleep and woke in dreamland as the princess she wanted to be. 

Dreams were her escape hatch, and this one started off with promise.

No more short hair. No more scratchy Navy-issued jumpsuits and granny panties. She was surrounded by vintage black tulle and silk. Her long hair in ringlets that felt soft and smooth as they gently grazed her back. The embroidered bodice hugged the broad shoulders she first earned doing pull-ups in boot camp and exposed her strong back. 

Who said a Navy life had no upside? 

Rings adorned her fingers and and a beautiful amethyst pendant fell across her collarbone. Actual jewelry. More things to enjoy that the Navy made her leave behind. She slowly played with the mother of pearl ring on her index finger and surveyed the room approvingly. 

Handsome leather chairs were scattered around with inviting fluffy throws tossed over their backs. Pillows and warm area rugs filled out the space with comfort. Sun shone in the tall, narrow windows and made sunbeams across the hardwood floor. 

Sun. Actual sunbeams.

My god.

She felt like a queen. 

Next to her on a small marble top table lay a bowl of fresh fruit. Apples, oranges, pears. She hadn’t even thought about fresh fruit in ages, and the supplements provided to protect sailors against scurvy were a poor substitute for the real thing.

The fruit is going to taste marvelous, she thought. She eyed the bowl and wondered what to try first suddenly overwhelmed with the opportunity to choose her meal.

Beyond the bowl was a smooth, medieval sword in a shroud laying on black leather ottoman. A symbol of power and grace – two things she lacked as an underling. Now they were hers. She rose from her chair and strolled across the room with her tulle petticoats rustling beneath her dress. 

She picked up the heavy sword with ease and removed the rough leather cover protecting the shaft. It gleamed in the sunlight, and she was forced to squint to examine the engraving near the handle. Like her dress, it was old and exquisitely made long ago with attention paid to every detail. It was a work of art.

Just then, an officer entered the room and barked orders at her. 

Not today, she thought, and held up the sword like a talisman. 

The officer continued screaming louder now, and the sword seemed to have no effect.

No, this can’t be! “But, I’m not on that submarine anymore, right? This can’t be over. I didn’t even have an apple yet. But, I haven’t enjoyed this enough,” she lamented.

Just then, she awoke on the same bunk. The officer just below her to her right. Screaming as before. Another dream gone too soon.

How much time until we dock again?

WordCamp US 2019

I’ve been digging deep into WordPress this year– attending my local MeetUps monthly and attending three WordCamps – Lancaster, Leigh Valley, and PHL. I’m into it, but even more than that, I love this community.

Given the time I’ve put in and the interest I’ve developed, I was overjoyed to get the opportunity to attend WordCamp US this past weekend.

The event had about 6 tracks instead of 2 or 3 and child care. Much of the other community standards were in place – close captioning, support for people with disabilities, a code of conduct, and plenty of diversity.

Besides the classes, which were amazing, I really enjoyed just talking to the attendees and vendors. I met people from all over the country and many from Canada. Morten Rand-Hendrickson of Lynda.com was there, and I got to meet him and tell him how much I enjoyed his classes. He literally taught me how to build in WP.

Pam Aungst, who spoke at WordPress Leigh Valley, was there, and I saw Beth Soderberg, who I saw at all three WordCamps I attended earlier. She wasn’t presenting this time, but it would be hard to beat the talk she did on building her starter theme at WordCamp PHL.

I also met up with three of my colleagues from the Lancaster MeetUp. One of them invited me to work with him at one of the Gutenberg Block Workshops. I have only known him for about a month and was so pleased he asked me to join him. I hope I can pay it forward like that some day.

The weekend ended with Matt Mullenweg’s keynote. I noticed a few things about it. First off, he’s an inspirational speaker. He ended his main address by requesting the audience give back by donating 5% of their time to WordPress Core development. I’m going to take this challenge to heart.

He also took about an hour of questions and answered them with a calm professionalism that I admired deeply. I found myself wanting to work for someone like that – be their friend – learn from them. It was deeply moving just to see him navigate the questions so respectfully.

As Scott Galloway says, Life is So Rich.

I have so much to learn.

All of this doesn’t matter that much

I’m a huge fan of Million Dollar Listing New York. I barely watch tv outside of sports, but I’ve seen all 8 seasons of this one and all 17 of Project Runway. What those shows have in common is the importance of problem solving and working within a limited window of opportunity. There is only so much you can say to make that construction next door a positive when selling an apartment. Have to make a dress with what you find in a floral store? No sweat.

However, this season of MDLNY is full of sturm und drang because the market for million dollar listings is in the toilet. The brokers the season follows, Fredrick, Ryan, Steve, and Luis, now have to really struggle for every sale. For a group of Type A high achievers, this is a daily struggle against the expectations they set for themselves.

I like them all personally, which is probably why I enjoy the show so much. I read Fredrick’s book, I downloaded Ryan’s, and I have a strong fondness for the searching that Luis allows himself. They feel real to me.

In this season, it’s Ryan who has a really tough go of it, and his wife, Emilia, has to calm him down.

Emilia: All of this doesn’t matter that much. You have to calm down.

Ryan: Every day. Every day. On the fifteen minute mark, I get yelled at because the market is crashing. It’s my fault. I can’t control the market. I can’t control what things are selling for. The things that people say to me are so fscked up. All I want to do is do good work. Do good work.

Emilia: You just said you can’t change the market. You can’t freak out about something you can’t change.

Ryan: It’s just tough right now.

Emilia: It’s always going to be tough. You put so much pressure on yourself. You’re going to have a heart attack. You’re so young. Is this how your dad was? (Ryan nods) Children learn from their parents. This is your safe zone. You should be laughing. Otherwise, when does this end?

She’s right. There is only so much you can do, and it’s not worth destroying the peace of home to make right what is essentially out of your control.

In the end, all of this doesn’t matter all that much.

It will probably just be fine, perfect in fact

This Wednesday, I got a flat tire that required an entirely new tire. I have 18 in rims and low profile tires that are probably fine in any other state but a nightmare on the horrendous roads of the Commonwealth.

This Saturday, I had tickets to WordCamp Leigh Valley, and I had to drive. I had a moment of panic thinking, “what if this happened on the road on Saturday? “

Then I took a deep breathe and said, “It didn’t happen on Saturday. It happened now when you can deal with it.” 

I took off Friday, and when I got up, I had what felt like a grain of sand in my left eye. I rinsed it with water, stood under the shower, used eye drops, nothing worked. I had sand in my eye all day.

When I got up on Saturday, my eye was really swollen from all the rinsing and rubbing. I bought my WordCamp tickets in May. I bought a special iPad keyboard to take notes for the event. I had been looking forward to it for months. I also happen to get up later than I expected and couldn’t have breakfast. I was driving to an area I’ve never been to for an event I knew I would love – and my eye was a mess. “What if there is another nail in one of my tires?” I was kind of stressed out. 

Then I took a few deep breaths and said – let’s just go and assume it’s going to be fine. I can see. It doesn’t hurt outside obviously being sore and gross to look at. The sand is gone. Once I get some water in my system, the swelling will subside. I have a pile of bananas I can eat on the road. Let’s grab a Gatorade and go. I’ll wear glasses anyway. The place is full of nerds that will hardly notice my angry eye… and so what if they did. 

The moral of the story is : it was fine. I got a protein bar at a WaWa after my bananas were gone. I made two wrong turns that were easily corrected. I had no trouble finding the place. I got my preferred parking space right next to the venue. The car held up fine. Everything was fine. Everything was perfect. I made some new friends. Learned so much. Brought home two nerd t-shirts. Mixed up my life in the best way possible. 

My mind often turns to the worse possible explanation, and I know many experience this from time to time.

Just remember – it could just be fine. In fact, it will probably just be perfect.



Alabama Nationals

A tale to tell in which I finally set foot in the state of Alabama for a tennis tournament.

I had the good fortune to be asked in late December 2017 to join a newly formed 18+ 6.0 mixed team whose season began in January. Captain Laurie quickly organized a practice every Saturday at 10:30 am, and low and behold, most of the team came out. Every week. On a Saturday morning. 

The season started off a little slow. I had my husband come out and watch a match to give me some advice.

“Bend your knees. Be ready. Just bend your knees and you’ll be better than anyone on that court.” 

Noted.

Practice continued and the wins started stacking up. We ended in first place and a spot in the regional championship in Hershey. 

A regional competition works like this. #1 plays #4. Win that, and you’ll play the winner of #2 & #3.  Three courts play, but this time all courts yield the same points. 

I played the first round. We went to a third set tiebreak. The opposing man served to me on the ad court at our first match point opportunity. He served to my backhand, and I nailed the cross court winner. Game over.

Turns out we won all six courts and advanced to Regionals, which would be held nearby but on an unfamiliar surface, Har-Tru. Our coach joined a club so we could practice on it. 

We’d play the winners of New Jersey, Delaware, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh. We won. Again. Nationals here we come.

Nationals were months away, and in the time, I continued to take lessons, play matches, and work out with weights and yoga. I showed up ready to play. 

The Mobile Tennis Center has 70 courts. I’ve never seen a club this big, but it’s all outdoors. Due to threats of rain, the Friday matches would be a compressed format  – play to four with no ad scoring. Gender to gender service at deuce. Ugh. We started off slow. 

Saturday came with wind and cold weather, but the games would be to 6 with ad scoring. We hit our stride. We ended the tournament 2-2 – in 9th place out of 16…in the country.

It was a long trip there, and my flights sucked. I’m definitely glad I made it though. It was fun to learn more about my team mates as people, see a state I’ll probably never return to, and play well. 

Book Review: Strokes of Genius

Wimbledon is my least favorite tournament. I hate the all-white rule. I hate that the grass gets cut up and causes injuries nearly every year. See also Bethany Mattek-Sands. It starts late, and the players don’t play on the middle Sunday. It rains. All. The. Time.

That said, I literally watched Strokes of Genius four times, so I thought it was time to read the book. Author Jon Wertheim is an entertaining commentator, and while he covers all five sets of this final, he fills each with tidbits about tennis, the All England Club, and about the players themselves.

The most interesting parts for me: Hawk-Eye is named for its creator, a 30-something (at the time) Brit named Paul Hawkins. The system employs 10 evenly spaced high definition cameras and projects the probably path of the ball to within 3.6 millimeters.

Federer does not have “tennis parents.” His father Robert worked for Ciba and traveled to South Africa, where he met Roger’s mother, Lynette. There are no great athletes in the family, and Wertheim describes Robert as 5’7″ish with sausage fingers. Lynette comes across as the bigger force when she takes an 8-year-old Roger to the local TC Old Boys club and says, “Here is Roger. I think he can already hit many shots. Maybe you can train him.”

Since they travel so much, appear worldly, and are usually only asked about sports, it’s easy to forget that professional tennis players don’t always have a lot of formal education. Roger left school at 16. Roger had a tendency to break racquets and throw things on court when he lost but says he gained confidence after winning his first grand slam.

Rafa, by contrast, was never allowed to throw racquets and Uncle Toni stressed that the shoes and equipment he was given were expensive and to be treated with care. Roger didn’t initially employ an agent and negotiated a poor initial Nike contract. Mirka took over the reigns of the Fed empire and now manages his interviews and appearances and helped design the RF logo.

Wilson spent more than a year designing Roger’s new racquet. Rafa will almost literally play with any AeroPro Drive you give him. Babolat describes him as the perfect pitchman. Wins a lot of matches. Isn’t very picky. Rafa plays with Babolat because that’s what Carlos Moya used. Moya is also from Mallorca and is currently Rafa’s coach. Rafa plays in very tight shoes because that’s what soccer players do. Not sure what to make of that one.

Strokes of Genius is an interesting and fast tennis read. My copy is going to a sports obsessed fellow traveler. It is available at the library. The movie is very different, so go ahead and watch that too.

To suppress anger

Brad Warner’s Sit Down and Shut Up: Punk Rock Commentaries on Buddha, God, Truth, Sex, Death, and Dogen’s Treasury of the Right Dharma Eye is the 18th book I read in 2018, and the fifth whose subject was Buddhism.

It’s been a tough year on a few fronts, but reading and internalizing these studies has helped me navigate a chaotic work environment, helped me stay calm on the tennis court, and has helped me grow as a person. 

To suppress anger, you have to suppress the urge to enjoy the beautiful juiciness of it all.

Brad Warner, Sit Down and Shut Up

One of the things I’ve tough quite a bit about lately was the role of anger. I’ve been imploring a few people I genuinely like to be nice to each other. Yet, they seem to choose anger. I couldn’t put my finger on why until Warner pointed it out:

To suppress anger, you have to suppress the urge to enjoy the beautiful juiciness of it all.

It’s hard for people to admit, but when you start paying attention, you’ll notice that you actually enjoy being angry. There’s a wonderful rush of self-righteousness to it. Because, obviously you can’t be angry about something unless you know you’re right and the other person is wrong. You are angry because you want to be angry. Always, always.

The main thing is to avoid acting on any angry impulses that might pop into your head. No matter how justified you might know yourself to be, an angry action will only invoke another angry response, both in the person you’re dealing with and in yourself. These actions and responses scramble your brain and make it impossible to act in any kind of efficient way to solve the problem at hand.

Watch how your anger begins, and see how it grows. When I did this myself, I discovered that anger always starts out very, very small. It’s always based on the difference between how I think things should be and how they are. Within this gap, the fiction known as “me” appears and reacts. To protect this fiction, I begin to justify my anger, to build a convincing case to prove to  myself that I have every right to be angry. I do this, I found, because the very existence of this fiction of self is based on its supposed ability to feel angry. To let go of anger is to let go of self. And that, my friends, is very, very, very difficult.

You cannot accept any of the justifications for anger that your ego coughs up at you, no matter how reasonable you make them sound. Even the absolute, incontrovertible certainty that your anger is 100 percent utterly and without doubt justified is an excuse to allow yourself to feel angry.

Look hard at what is happening within you. Your habit of reacting with anger has been built up over long years of reinforcement from a society gone terribly wrong.

With practice this stuff gets easier. But you’ll never completely lose your desire to get bad at things.

Drop me out of the equation. When there is no “you” there is nothing for “you” to get angry about and no one outside yourself to get angry at.

So to end my own anger, I have to stop enjoying it. To stop seeing the world as “me” and everyone else.    

To end the anger of my friends, I need to help them understand the same thing – that they are the world. There is nothing external. 

As Warner said, this is extraordinarily difficult.

In the midst of reading this book, I was musing to a friend that I was sometimes exhausted being the “nice” person in the room. Now, I see that this is the only way of being because everything is connected. Every action ripples throughout the universe because we are all connected. This is no me. There is no them. You can send that negative out or you can counter it by being nice. By being of service to others. Always.