February’s Here

It’s February. A new month. Groundhog Day, Valentine’s Day, Presidents’ Day. February is just full of reasons to celebrate.

When I lived in Minnesota half a lifetime ago, I used to look forward to February 1st because it always seemed to be 20 degrees warmer than the day before. That didn’t mean it was warm; just warmer. But now I’m in sunny Southern California where it is always warm.

While I enjoyed Buttontapper Challenge in January, I will change directions this month. Instead of following Laura Roberts’s excellent prompts, I plan instead to seek out news items from the many exotic and little-known places of the world I have chanced to live in.

One inspiration for this shift is that I finished reading Wanjiru Warama’s second memoir about her life in San Diego, a place she had intended to come for just a year, to complete her university studies and to relax and be refreshed from the stresses of her life until then in Kenya. I enjoyed both volumes of her memoir, Unexpected America and Entangled in America, because of the parallels I saw between her successful adjustment to America and my not always very successful attempts to adjust to the countries I chose as temporary homes.

Wanjiru introduces her memoirs as cross-cultural stories. Her story is also an immigrant story, though like many immigrants, she didn’t come here expecting to stay. It was only going to be one year. Just like my stays in Asian, European, and Caribbean countries were supposed to be for one, two, or three years. Africa offered me just months in each country.

This is an important time in our history to learn about immigrant experiences, to understand the reasons immigrants, especially unexpected ones, have decided to stay here, adjusting to all the challenges instead of returning “home.”

Unlike Wanjiru, I have abandoned my initial attempts to write one or more memoirs. Instead, thanks to the advice and guidance of two teachers of creative writing at OASIS in San Diego, Caroline McCullagh and Lola Sparrowhawk, my WIP—work-in-progress—is a novel with a protagonist much smarter than I was who met a man more willing to share his love of country with her than any man I found there. My hope is that I can use these two fictional characters to share the cross-cultural lessons I should have learned and to do so sympathetically and sensitively.

The working title of my WIP: The Friendship Code.

Please join me on this journey.


Buttontapper Challenge: Day 31

31. Lessons Learned – Tell us what you learned this month, from examining your goals, dreams and behavior. What will you do differently next month?

First lesson: The only way I got as many posts done as I did was that I started ahead of time and scheduled posts into the future.

The reason: I received a gift from a writer in my read-and-critique group–the opportunity to edit her novel. And it needed to be done quickly. The two-hour blocks I scheduled on my calendar each day for writing blog posts or working on my work-in-progress were filled instead by the editing process. I considered it a gift because her faith that I could take on such a large editing project boosted to my self-confidence. It was a gift also because I knew enough of the story to know I would love it without having seen too much of it to review it critically as I edited. I look forward to being able to add my review to all the places reviews need to go to help getting the word out about her wonderful novel. Expect more on that later.

Second lesson: Being challenged to write down some of the answers changed how I decided to schedule, work, and finalize my projects. I know I wouldn’t have discovered the goal and reminder features of my Google calendar if I hadn’t been challenged to decide whether I would use digital or analog tools, for example.

Third lesson: Some of the topics posed required more time than I felt I could give. Instead of doing a poor job of tackling them, I skipped them. So the topics on the days I didn’t post may be the ones I need to think about most deeply.

Fourth lesson: Skipping a day–or more–doesn’t mean I’ve failed. Every day I wrote and posted something was a success. And when I didn’t write or post something, I spent my time productively editing, reading, or thinking. Or spending with family. The fact that I skipped a post only made me more aware of whether I spent my time well.

Fifth lesson: Though it doesn’t really have to do with this month’s challenge, another lesson from January came my way. Don’t try to fight the flu. When it hits, take it easy, stay indoors and away from others. I did. Thankfully it didn’t last too long.


Buttontapper Challenge: Day 20

20. Notable Quotable – Share a quote that inspires you!

The quotes that most inspire me come from women–no big surprise there. They come from women of color, though I am not one. But that should be no surprise either since inspiration comes from those who have overcome the biggest challenges. And I come from a background of privilege. I don’t mean wealth when I saw privilege. I just mean I come from a background where I didn’t have to live with fear–fear of not having enough to eat, of not knowing whether someone might turn on me because I was different, of not being certain I would be able to do the normal things children should be able to do without interference or fear, like walking to and from school each day.

The quotes I chose for today’s prompt are from Maya Angelou. It seems as though every time she spoke–or wrote–pearls of wisdom scattered around, just waiting for me to pick them up.

Here are three inspirational quotes that keep me acting, writing, and growing.

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.

If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.

Thank you, Maya.

Buttontapper Challenge: Day 14

14. Accountability – Let’s get accountable: share your goals for this week!

Since it is a new year, there are a number of tasks I try to complete before the end of each January. I’ll try to knock two of them out this week:

  • Create 2018 folders for the filing cabinet for those reports and notes that come in by email or snail mail that must be kept for tax or other financial reasons.
  • Reset all my passwords for online accounts.

A third of these routine new year tasks I completed by January 1: creating new 2018 folders on my laptop. There are a few items in the 2017 folders I need to move into the 2018 versions. I’ll do that as the needs arise.

Another remains: update Quicken to be ready for tax preparation time. Since we never receive all the 1099 reports until the end of January, I set this goal for January 31.



Buttontapper Challenge: Day 13

Mentors – Do you have any past (or present) mentors? Tell us a little bit about them!

While I have always sought to learn from the examples of others, I have never had a discussion with anyone where the word mentor or mentoring was used, except in the world of Toastmasters.

Am I too old for a mentor now? Should I look for someone living a full life of retirement and ask that person to be my mentor? Do I need help? Let me think about that.

Photo credit: Dane Deaner

Buttontapper Challenge: Day 12

Coaches – Who are some of the people who have coached you to success along the way?

Answering this question could take some time. And will be long. There are so many, though I’m sure not all the people I’ve learned from would consider themselves my coaches or even know they passed on lessons.

  • Mom and Dad, of course. I never felt they wanted my life to turn out a certain way. They didn’t pressure me to decide to be a teacher, or not to be a teacher. They didn’t pressure me to get married, or not to get married. I always felt they expected me to do my best and that my best would be something special. But I had to make the decisions for myself. Sometimes I knew they were disappointed in my choices. But they allowed me to make my decisions.
  • My teachers. Those I remember most are those who didn’t teach me subjects; they taught me how to use the knowledge I gained through the subjects to be a better version of me. One elementary school teacher in particular helped me deal with my biggest challenge, that tears came all too easily to me and that led to my classmates calling me “Crybaby.” He didn’t join the chorus of other adults who told me repeatedly that I was too old to cry, that I should just stop it. He told me to think of actors (he probably said actresses, I admit) who sometimes need to cry while on the stage or being filmed, even if they don’t feel like crying. He made me feel that being able to express my emotions easily was a gift, not a curse. He helped me see I just needed to learn when to keep the emotions inside and when to let them show instead of thinking I had to keep them all inside all the time. He got me to think about what I could do, not what I should stop doing.
  • My earliest bosses–all men. I learned from all of them, even the one who fired me when I was 19 because I didn’t show him the respect he expected. He was right. I acted on the basis of an assumption and left a note criticizing him where I knew he would see it. My next day at work, he didn’t yell at me or argue with me. He just explained that he no longer needed me on the staff. He gave me my final check that included the hours through the end of my shift. He expected I would leave right away. I stayed. And I learned later that he said he respected me for staying even though he had fired me. Through the experience, I learned to examine my first impressions instead of acting on assumptions. I probably would have learned that lesson anyway, but it was a lesson best learned sooner than later.
  • My women bosses. There aren’t many of them, especially since my career left me changing bosses about every seven to fourteen months as either I moved to my next assignment or a new boss rotated into the post of my current assignment. Alice Bens at the American Language Institute in San Francisco. Shirley Milgrom at American Guidance Service in Circle Pines, MN. Marilyn Hoffman and Mary Stearns at CPT in Eden Prairie, MN. Mary McAteer and Jane Whitney at the US Consulate General in Stuttgart, Germany. Margaret Murphy and Barbro Owens at the US Embassy in Bridgetown, Barbados. Mary Pendleton at the US Embassy in Chisinau, Moldova. Debra Jones at the US Embassy in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Barbara Bodine at the US Embassy in Sanaa, Yemen. Margaret Dean at the Department of State in Washington, DC. The thread that connects those I benefited from most is that they provided guidance on how to be a better me, not a better teacher or children’s educational materials writer or software engineer or Foreign Service Officer.
    • I believe Mrs. Bens (we would never dare call her by her first name) considered herself a coach for all who worked for her. Her job was to turn us into teachers of English as a Second Language who would move into permanent positions elsewhere.
    • Marilyn asked the typical questions during performance reviews (Where do you see yourself in five years?) and then provided guidance on how to get there, even when my honest, but foolish, answer was that I expected to join the US Department of State as a Foreign Service Officer, not the more politically correct response of wanting to move into a supervisory position at CPT, the company that employed us both.
    • Margaret Murphy was a tough supervisor who insisted her staff do things her way. After a few months I concluded that either she didn’t think I had the makings of a good Foreign Service Officer or she just didn’t like me very much. But once I moved into a new position at the same embassy, she became my biggest booster. If I had needed a publics relations representative, I would have chosen Margaret.
    • Mary Pendleton demonstrated how quiet power and authority accomplished more than bluster and insistence, the tactics I had observed so many of my male supervisors use. Her example helped me accept that I didn’t have to change who I am at my core to succeed, though my definition of success might not match the definitions others would try to impose on me.
  • Writer friends who encourage me to keep writing even while they point out when what I’ve written isn’t the best it could be. Among them are Lola Sparrowhawk Kohen, Caroline McCullagh, Dave Feldman, Syd Love, Al Converse, Susan Burns, Ken Yaros, Chavah Siegel, John Robinson, Rivkah Sleeth, Audrea Listz, Chaya Schonberger, George Geller, Johnnie Thompson, Lydia Hilton, and Sally Eckberg from my Wednesday morning read-and-critique group.
  • Writer friends I met through the San Diego Writers and Editors Guild, especially the Board of Directors: Ruth Leyse-Wallace, Mardie Schroeder, Bob Doublebower, Marcia Buompensiero, Laurie Asher, Rick Peterson, Gered Beeby, Dave Feldman, Simone Arias, Val Zolfaghari, Anne Janda, Janet Hafner, Frank Newton, Laura Roberts, Adolpho Sanchez, and Ken Yaros,
  • My husband, who keeps pointing out that I can’t add any more activities to my schedule or I’ll not complete the tasks I have already committed to doing, at the same time as he tells me I can accomplish anything I set out to do. And that he’ll be there if I fall down.

The last three bullets look like a draft for an acknowledgements page for my work-in-progress. An appropriate point to wrap this one up, I think.