Two Women Who Pointed My Way

prince charming play


In sixth grade, I scribbled my first play, “Prince Charming and the Seven Widows.” This was not an innovative or complex story. It had no real educational value. It wasn’t the original lyrics or dance numbers that prompted my teacher Mrs. Shrauger to ask me to produce and direct it using our class as cast and crew. Perhaps it was my enthusiasm. Perhaps it was her heart.

Phyllis Shrauger

Phyllis Shrauger was a member of the Hoquiam City Council when I was in her sixth grade classroom. She was an advocate for the arts, and civic responsibility, and took our class to a city council meeting. The choir she led sang Three Dog Night’s “Joy to the World” and “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music in nursing homes. She was the first teacher I ever witnessed providing differentiated instruction–before I’d ever heard such a term–for students who were differently abled. She partnered me with a student who had just moved to the country from Southeast Asia (I don’t remember where) and gave us each a hall pass to wander the school grounds whenever we liked, naming objects in English. Another student in class had a toy telephone in his desk that he called the Tigger Phone. She would pause whenever he pretended it rang.

Mrs. Shrauger treated my manuscript as if it weren’t derivative. She encouraged me to select a cast and let me lead  a dozen students from class to the stage each day to practice our play, then convinced the principal to let us stage it for the entire school.



A few years later, I went to a small high school in a rural town. Marsha West, an English teacher, encouraged us to make radio plays of Greek and Roman mythology, and newspapers accounts of those decadent gods. Some of my favorite early passages in literature were from those we studied in her classes. Two years in a row, she took several of us to Port Townsend to polish and publish our stories as part of a statewide literary magazine called Crosscut.

I was a logger’s daughter without financial resources for college, so I moved to Edmonds, Washington with a friend, and went to work at Jack in the Box after high school graduation. I cleaned the morgue and pathology labs at a Seattle hospital.  In my twenties, I worked for an army recruiter briefly, and later, processed overpayments for Social Security. After ten years of facing people’s death and disability, I took a good look around and knew I didn’t want to be there. I quit my government job to become an electrician’s apprentice. Then I quit that to caretake three children whose parent sexually abused and neglected them. Through the next two decades  children I parented over thirty children, many with special needs.

Even mothers get a few solitary moments to pee. I hung a magnetic board on the inside of my bathroom door. For three minutes, several times a day, I could steal away and manipulate words while my world held steady. Oh sure, somebody was yelling “Mom!” right outside the door. Bolstered by bits of type, I’d reply, “Just a minute, I’m…busy.” As tired as I was, I followed Cynthia Whitcomb’s advise and lengthened my day by rising at 3 a.m. to write.

While I was busy patching lives and purging demons, I found new dreams: helping a young man be the first in his family to graduate high school. Seeing an elementary child’s rage at her rapist transform into powerful art. Seeing a mentally ill mother who killed her child get a fair trial. Witnessing my twin sons earn scholarships: One to Georgetown University, the other to Embry Riddle. Seeing each of my children grow up and seize life on their own terms.

Life will give you dreams if you are willing to see them.

In the midst of all that, I wrote a half dozen screenplays. One did pretty well in the Austin and Sundance contests, resulting in a story meeting in Los Angeles. The producer and I chatted before the meeting. He asked how many kids I had.

“A lot,” I said.

“How many is a lot?”

I hesitated, but what’s a mother to do?

“More than you can count on one hand,” I said.

He loved the script and agreed to shop it. But as we parted, he said, “You have so many children, I’m not sure you have the commitment to be a writer.”

Parenting is about commitment. Staying for the long haul. Relinquishing self-indulgence except in stolen moments that come between other people’s needs. I didn’t sell the screenplay although Lifetime held it for six months, passed, and requested it again a year later.

“Does the baby have to die?” they asked me, as if in telling a true story, I could change the outcome.

Despite some terrible days on which I failed as a mother and an advocate, I’m proud of what I have accomplished on behalf of people who needed me when their lives were darkest. So many changes in me as a result of caring deeply and taking a stand. I was led by these two extraordinary teachers and forged by fire. From that fire, I now write.

* * *

Marsha West is alive and well, and still writing and loving life. You can read her blog at Marsha’s Musings.

Phyllis Shrauger passed away in 2009. You can read more about her here.

Deb’s Nail Salon

I’ve always had a busy mind. One of the earliest products I concocted is captured in my poem:

Backyard Bundt Cake

Find a good tree with a bald patch
at the base of the trunk. It is perfect
if erosion has worn away a bit of root
to form a puddle from yesterday’s rain.
Find an old Folgers can, rusty will do,
and a thick stick to stir the goo
you will make from two handfuls of dirt,
a bunch of dry leaves crackled into bits,
and (don’t balk now) a bit of dog doo
from over by the back fence. If the tree
is cedar, gather a handful of tiny cones,
stir them in whole. If it’s fir,
you only need one. Crush it
underfoot so the scales slide free.
Mix them in your muck with a little green
grass and dandelion wishes. Stir
vigorously. Your arm won’t get so tired
if you sing, “Delta Dawn, what’s that
flower you have on? Could it be a faded rose
from days gone by?” Make a circle of
small pebbles on a hot sidewalk.
Spread the batter inside the round rocks.
Bake until crusty brown.

My kids never had access to rusty Folgers cans because I buy Starbucks Coffee (Kimodo Dragon, in case you want to send some my way.) No MJB or Folgers for me. As far as I know, they never really found the charm in making old-school mud pies.

In fourth grade, a couple years before the coffee can mud cakes, I developed a marketable product at school: Fake Fingernails. We were required to have one bottle of Elmer’s Glue, one container of white paste, and one bottle of rubber cement with a stiff little brush (the kind that could get you dizzy) or the kind with the slanted rubber lid with a slit that you had to bend so the glue seeped out.

The desks were square with an opening on one side where students placed their books, paper and pencil boxes. Just inside the lip of the desk was a groove, slightly wider than a pencil. It was meant to lay your pen or pencil in so that it didn’t get lost behind the books. While Mrs. Rabey read Johnny Tremain aloud to the class, I filled the groove with Elmer’s glue. After recess, it was dry. I peeled the long strip from the cold metal groove, then snipped pieces about an inch long with my scissors. That went fine until one flipped right out of my desk and landed by another student. Mrs. Rabey had excellent ears and eyes.

I had to empty my desk, then turn it around with the opening pointing away from me. All my belongings were crowded on top. I hardly had room to set the paper for my times test. I missed recess where the other girls–one was a girl named Dawn Reams, I think–sat out in the grassy field and talked about Tom Jones. That day, I had to clean the blackboards and the erasers instead. CLAP-CLAP-CLAP: Chalk dust everywhere.

Wasting a little Elmer’s didn’t seem like it should be a crime. Forty years later, women would pay $40 for what my friends paid me a penny. I should have taken out a patent on the idea, but instead of encouraging my enterprise, the teacher forbid me from making more fingernails in the ruler on the top of my desk. There went my nail salon. I don’t wear fake nails to this day. You can blame Mrs. Rabey for that.

Things You May Not Know

I am the stone that marks the grave of Johnie Armstrong, slain despite promises to rise again. I am the wish closed, the rose that folds in death’s rendering. I am the open palm, the understanding one man asked me to hold. I am closed after unveiling the gift he refused.

I am the ready shovel, the willing labor, the mover of impossible mountains. I gust tornados. I cry floods. I unwrap silver linings in slivers of time so thin they barely ripple in wind. I am purple-black bruised. Burnt orange-brown. I am sometimes tired-with-a-T.

My lining is sheer. I stretch past what is asked to intuit what others yearn. I talk too loud, too long, too often. I am the one to whom Herbert said, “It was nice listening to you.” I am the one to whom Hank said, “Any man you loved would be a lucky man.”

I am debbie the difficult. I am too much desire and not enough satisfaction. I preach possibilities. I dance could-bes and why-nots. I wear a tattoo as a slit on my wrist— and so—to negate Vonnegut’s declarative it is. I am fickle: thoughts flicker like fireflies. I am the brown bat that flaps along the picture window capturing bugs drawn by indoor light. I am many opinions and not enough facts.

I am trillium: delicate-flowered, woody-stemmed. Easily broken, tenderly rooted, I live tri-parted. I am water, and wear others thin. I am transience in a steady state. I twirl my mind to let go of preconceptions disguised as truth. I think if I thought less (a conundrum at best) I would be pleased to live what I live. I am an imposter in thin skin.

I yell in all caps and write in white font, then lose myself without a mark to know where I am. I dream of petals unfurled into Armstrong’s wings. I am stuck, arms flailing in too-deep water, met with glances rather than alarm, as if to say, “How interesting you chose to swim over your head again. How strong and silly you are…”

I am gold filigree in the apple blossom’s center, heavy with pollen, ripe for the bees. I am heady undulations, and waves tripping treetops, branches pricking holes so the light gets in. I swell with irritation, but have lost too much to rage, so I poke and I prod and I bore into white collars of buttoned-up rules. I weary of explaining why assumptions are helpful. I am human, and I hate it: fallible, vulnerable, sanguine, alone.

I am the sometimes-black pennant bolded white with DESPAIR. I am the top deck of the cruise ship unworried about waste. I’m the blind eye where water buffalos are slaughtered. I am the forgetting of stars that hours ago lamp-lit bleeding Syrians. I am denial refusing loss.I am the way children play war (plastic soldiers dying blood-free deaths, resurrecting to re-challenge foes): innocent, creative, filled with faith in heroic acts. I am determined.

I am the dissolution of marriage Alzheimer’s promises to bring. I am my daughter’s depression treated with the right medication, and my son’s brain cyst drained and removed. I am counterbalance to the promises of the United States government that fails to tell my son the consequences of interrogating prisoners on this nation’s behalf. I am the mother of a boy who carries the sex offender label. I am the hurt of children I could not help.

I am a decent rendition of humility and creation. I am ridiculous and delightful. I am shy at the center of groups. I am deep friendships—short or long-lived. I am a smooth bend, the way a convertible corners, strange as the curl of letters on the slick glide of a page. I am a straight shot of Petron chilled over cubed ice and crushed lime, poured in a glass.

I am a mouth full of wasps and bees, trying to learn Mandarin Chinese. I am fierce protector. I am thorn in your side. I know when to stop, but I don’t always manage. I am the right choice every wrong time.

I am the edge of the abyss, the fluff girl for lost leaps, the one not-splayed across the table at Starbucks despite invitation. I am thirteen in pigtails, lost to the rapture of equine muscle. I am regret that a toddler was killed by her mother. I am October 20—the date of her death. I am all the promises I ever made, especially the ones I did not keep.

I am fuck as a holiday and a punctuation mark. I am masked. I am hidden. I am partly revealed. I am peonies blossoming slow motion, waiting in shade for he-who-chooses. I am life in this moment. I am ordinary. I am pedestrian. I am the muse I find in others, and the chagrin that it is not easily within.

I am relational beauty cohabitating with the trouble of integrity. I am love and loss irretrievably entwined. I am every hue of green except eco-activist, which admittedly misses a great spectrum of things. I am protector of bees, and ants, and biting insects. My mouth full of wasps sometimes stings.

I am bossy and indignant because I think I am right, especially and always when I am wrong. I am success with difficult children due to my weaknesses more than my strengths. I am stories my children tell about my failures. I am pancakes served on the unset table, homework torn up in a fit of frustration. I am gifts of lessons each child taught me. I am every shortcoming seen in others. I am grateful for forgiveness and trust.

I am loving too many which cost me too much. I am bad at compartmentalizing (but getting better, a feat that offers little solace or pride.) I am stories and meanings, a world and a wonder. I am the comma that says, “Pause.”

Move. Move. Move.

This week’s theme for Jane Ann McLachlan’s October Challenge is relationships. So many of our relationships are the result of proximity. We meet someone because they live, work, or play near us. I began thinking about how my many moves have affected my ability to establish, maintain, and release relationships.

From birth to high school graduation, I moved at least fifteen times, but probably closer to twenty. Most of those moves meant a new school, new teachers, new friends. When you have so many people and places changing in your world, it’s hard to have a clear narrative of your own life, let alone of the people who are constantly passing by.


When I began writing my memoir about two years ago, my memories were a jumbled mess. I could hardly remember what had happened when. I had a slightly better recollection of where certain things happened. I began visiting the exteriors of places I had lived, so that I could figure out the order of my memories. I still have gaps, but each time I revisit a place I have lived, I build a little more structure on which to hang my past.

Between the ages of 18 and 20, I lived in eight more residences before landing in Vancouver, Washington where I started attending Clark College. Within a couple years, I got pregnant.

My twin sons and I moved eight more times before we settled in Oregon when they were six. During those years, I had a number of beater cars: Ford Mustang II, Chevy Capris, a green Ford Pinto, a yellow Ford Pinto, Buick Skylark, and a Mercury Zephyr. I had a bunch of jobs, too, working my way up from Dairy Queen to Bonneville Power to the Social Security Administration to becoming an electrician’s apprentice in Local 48.  

When my sons and I moved to share the home of my husband-to-be on the 13 acres he owned, we found the consistency I’d always sought.For the first couple of years, all was quiet. Or as quiet as any home with two working parents and twin boys can be. And then, the other children began to come. Some left. More came. It went on like this for a decade, by which time, our family looked like this: 

foster family home - Names removed

In thinking about how proximity begets relationship, I can’t help but believe that my early childhood changes: learning to adapt, make anew, create a family out of whoever was close, promoted my later life choices. I was adamant that my sons would have stability and would finish school in the place they started. They would know the constancy of both their parents actively participating in their lives. And they did.

I didn’t see it at the time but it’s ironic and a little sad for me to recognize that the stability I strove for on their behalf was compromised when we became a revolving family system comprised of additional children who started their lives in families other than our own.


Where are the Oreos?

I’d been in the Braack’s kitchen more than a dozen times, but when you stand in a kitchen that you’re visiting, it looks different than a kitchen in which you now live.

Even a five-year-old knows where the spoons and cups in her own home are kept. You know if the cookies are in the canister or one-two-three drawers up (climbing them like a staircase), scooching your bottom onto the counter, turning from butt to knees to reach inside the breadbox where the cookies are kept.

What happens when you have to live in someone else’s world?  Where are the Oreos?

I was five years old. Five and a few months. It was late fall of my kindergarten year when I was left with the Braacks.

I’m guessing I cried.

Probably Pat lifted me with the arms that had rocked her own four daughters, and consoled me as much as one can console a child whose mother is gone. Surely, Doug jostled me on his knees as he did his daughters.

I have a fleeting impression of thinking ‘My very own bed!’ The mattress was long and slender, so big for my tiny frame, and stood near the door of the room that I shared with their four daughters. In the shards of memory that remain, it is daylight. I am sick.

Pat brought me a bowl to throw up in. I felt so relieved that I would not get sick on my blankets. I was proud to puke in that bowl. Can you see how a small gesture can be such a gift?  It gave me control. My father, mother, and siblings were gone, but I had a bowl. My kindergarten teacher was Mrs. Wing. Did she look like a chicken? I can’t remember. Did she buk-buk-buk?  Did she know a bowl could take the place of a family for a while? Between childhood and middle age my fingers have danced the edges of many bowls. I wandered through some years like a lost child, looking for center in other people’s eyes.

I left the Braacks when I was six; saw them next when I was forty-four. It was Doug and Pat’s fiftieth wedding anniversary.

I met my Braack-sisters again.

It wasn’t the occasion to say, “You gave me a bowl when I was sick.”

Instead, I said, “It’s good to see you again.”

Pat scooped me into her arms. Doug jostled me in his. I wondered if their kitchen looked the same.

Rule No 3: Learn to Be Amused

I thought Karen Karbo’s third chapter of Julia Child Rules: Lessons on Savoring Life would be amusing. Instead, Karen takes us along Julia’s path of early adulthood, including the death of Julia’s mother, her failed first love, her failed attempts at employment. Along the way, we discover Karbo lost her own mother shortly after her eighteenth birthday. Despite the serious events in both women’s lives, each found ways to wile away their time.

“You don’t need to have the life you want to enjoy the life you have,” Karbo writes. Her solution: Learn to be amused. By that, she means engaging in activities or tasks that “can make our otherwise unsatisfactory lives, satisfactory.”

You notice, she didn’t say, “Laugh your head off.” She didn’t say, “Have a great time!” She didn’t even admonish us with the platitude, “Do what you love.”

Let me quote Karen again: Learn to be amused.


She probably didn’t mean for me to reach for a dictionary, but I did. The definition feels lacking so I search for the etymology of “amuse” online. offers this:

amuse (v.)late 15c., “to divert the attention, beguile, delude,” from Middle French amuser “divert, cause to muse,” from a “at, to” (but here probably a causal prefix) + muser “ponder, stare fixedly” (see muse (v.)). Sense of “divert from serious business, tickle the fancy of” is recorded from 1630s, but through 18c. the primary meaning was “deceive, cheat” by first occupying the attention. Bemuse retains more of the original meaning. Related: Amused; amusing.

Ohhhh! I get it.

UH-MUSED. Doing things that occupy my body with non-productive activity so my mind can swirl around like steam rising from a boiling pot. The steam has nothing to do with what I’m about to cook. It’s a by-product of the process. We give it no attention whatsoever unless, for example, we inadvertently burn ourselves because we forget it’s there.

What do I do to be amused? The short answer: nothing. Too many clothes to wash, floors to sweep, bills to pay. There are too many meals to cook, dishes to wash, rugs to Febreze. When I take time to relax, I do (as Karen points out) get a manicure, a pedicure, a massage. I shop for things I’ve been meaning to buy. Do lunch with friends I’ve been meaning to see. Read a book I’ve been meaning to read. Purposeless behavior? Moi?

Then I remember, amusing myself used to be my specialty. Only when I think back to it, I hear labels like Irresponsible. Reckless. Immature. (Whose voice is that, anyway?)

I bought fake ID and snuck into the Gorilla Room. Violated no trespassing signs. Climbed aboard a foreign ship in the dead of night. Smoked a few cigarettes and more than a few joints. Woke up in closets I didn’t recognize. But I’m looking to go a little deeper. Past the easy distraction of being stoned or drunk. Past the amusement of the come-on, the pick-up, and the uh-oh-morning wave goodbye.

How did I used to amuse myself?

Reclined on the grass and watched the clouds.
Picked a bushy branch from a shrub, held it behind my butt, and cantered like a horse.
Climbed a tree and watched people from the V in the branches.
Turned up the radio/eight track tape/cassette/CD and drove. Where? Nowhere. Anywhere. Just drove.
I sat inside large truck tires on a playground, my finger tracing the line where the pool of water had dried up, leaving the mosquito larvae to die.
I whispered. I giggled. I twirled.
I learned to square dance.
I skipped rocks.
I imagined loving boys (and men) who would never love me.
I wrote long letters I would never mail. And some I did.
I hopped around on a red rubber ball.

Can I reclaim my ability to be amused?

Stay tuned.

Oyster Stew and White Flour

If I had to eat oyster stew, I’d be thin as a rail. Everything about oysters as a food choice disgusts me: the color, the consistency, the surface sheen, the ooiey-gooey-ishness of them that seems to cry, “HELP, I LOST MY SHELL.” They approximate the nightmare version of the Wicked Witch of the West after she melted. So skip the oysters and pass the pain de mie. I am a woman after Julia’s heart when it comes to eggs, butter, and flour.

But now, at my Best Middle-Aged _________ (fill in the blank) stage of my life, my medical chart includes hypertension and obese which is enough to send any middle-aged American woman’s blood pressure through the roof.

(Fuck digital medical records that let you see what your doctors actually say about you. Okay, forgive the f-bomb. It slipped. But they don’t use words like chubby or rotund or Rubenesque. They use the O word. And not the good O word.)

I’ve undertaken this Live Like Julia week with a fervor. Ironically, it means that I’m applying my passion and focus to making healthy choices (a euphemism that almost begs for another f-bomb) to improve my digital medical record–I mean, my health–instead of cooking the rich, delectable delights from Julia’s cookbooks.

Like everybody (or maybe it’s only the bodies I know) I like to have things the moment I want them.

Not so much how life works.

I’ve read “Rule #9: Make the World Your Oyster (Stew)” like, fifteen times in the last week. Since I’ve committed to stop overthinking things in my own head, I’m trying to get into Julia’s, or at least Julia-as-channeled-by-Karen. Tonight I got fifteen pages in before I found the gold nugget.

Karbo writes, “This recipe (Pain Francais) is seventeen pages long.” It took Julia and M. Paul Beck, two hundred and eighty-four pounds of white flour to develop the recipe.

The pearl for today?

Take your time.
Take as long as you need.
Take as long as it takes to get it right.

I didn’t build this pasty white baguette of a body overnight and it’s going to take some big-ass effort, some bad-ass attitude, and some serious-ass Julia Child’s perseveration to improve conditions resulting from years of neglect.


My favorite position for my feet is shown above. This is why reading is such a delight. Feet up, brain engaged, dog snuggled.

Tomorrow morning I’m going to tuck those toes into a pair of New Balance tennies and walk the path I’ve decided to walk. I’m going to take as much time as it takes.

Thanks, Julia.

And thanks, Karen Karbo, for issuing an invitation to #LiveLikeJulia.

Rule 9, Subsection D: Hog the spotlight

“No one told Julia that middle-aged women weren’t allowed to hog the spotlight…” writes Karen Karbo. Julia wasted no time whining that there were already too many cooks in the kitchen(s). She made space for herself.

I don’t remember worrying about hogging the spotlight or being the center of attention when I was younger. As a toddler, I didn’t seem to mind being center stage on my grandfather’s lap.





Later, when I was a single mother, I signed my three-year-old twin sons up for tap dancing and I got roped into joining an adult jazz class.

I didn’t dream we’d be asked to squeeze into red sequin-spangled spandex dresses. You can see that I wasn’t built for tiny tube dresses. My arms weren’t made for long sleek gloves. Still, I was more like Julia then. I focused on the fact that I had all the right (if not right-sized) equipment, the correct costume, and I knew the dance steps. I lit a smile
and sashayed onstage to I Will Survive.

In the years that came next, when I prepared hundreds of sack lunches and mated millions of pairs of socks, I forgot what it was to be the center of attention unless it was focused on other people’s needs, wants, and desires.

Julia’s principle reminds me that it’s not only sometimes necessary, or acceptable, to hog the spotlight,  getting attention can be fun. Take a new haircut, for example, which I happened to get today (I show a little lobe now!) or  getting a massage. My brain races like it’s in NASCAR trial. Or when my brain slows down, words pop up one by one like the old “bouncing ball” reading filmstrips you may be too young to remember. Filmstrips? (They were a real treat when I was in fourth grade.)

I feel uncomfortable in the spotlight even when I’m supposed to be the center of attention. That’s why Rule #9 is such a great chapter for me to tackle: I need to remember that the pearl doesn’t worry if it’s outshining the oyster. Like Julia, it just takes the space it needs to become what it is meant to be.

Overthinking Rule No. 9

Rule #9: Make the World Your Oyster (Stew) can be deconstructed into twelve sub-principles illuminated by Karen Karbo. (Over-thinkers Anonymous, here I come.)

A. Have everything you need before you begin.
B. Ignore the age spots.
C. Be the Best Middle-Aged __________ Ever.
D. Hog the spotlight.
E. Look good while you’re doing it.
F. Stop over-thinking.
G. Identify your passion.
H. Take as long as you need to get the job done well.
I. Snore unapologetically.
J. Get your own bed if anyone complains about your night habits.
K. Let others be right if they must, but live your own truth.
L. Screw ambivalence.

I covered A, F, and L in my blog post on Friday, and addressed B on Twitter earlier today:

Rule 9b: Ignore the age spots. Good thing because six form a Big Dipper on the back of my hand. I’m not old, I’m celestial. #LiveLikeJulia
— deb (@iwritedeb) September 1, 2013

Today’s focus was Rule 9, Sub-principle E: Look good while you’re doing it. (Can you tell one of my undergrad classes was called “Effecting Change Through Policy Reform”?)

For Julia, that meant “skirts, blouses, and her famous pearls.” She later had an eye job, face-lift #1, and face-lift #2. I’m not much for skirts, and I don’t know any plastic surgeons that accept payment in pine cones or dessicated animal bones which are about all I’d have to trade. I have a graduated string of pearls I bought while I was in China. I’d be willing to accessorize like the Mighty J.

This young woman strung them while I stood there. I tried to learn a little Mandarin before we went. All I’ve really retained is 谢谢 (xiè xie) which means “Thank you.” It came in handy.

I dug the pearls out today–I’ve never worn them–and put them on Julia-style, and then I took my lard butt outside for a walk on the property.

I can see why athletes and middle-aged walkers don’t wear pearls while they work out because the pearls add a little weight and tend to curl up against any fold of skin they can find which in my case wasn’t that hard to do.

But damn, I looked all pearly while I ambled through the trees.

Signing off with my Chinese name 石诗海 (translated loosely to mean Stone-Poet-Sea.)

Answering Karen Karbo’s Call to Live Like Julia

I’m super excited about Karen Karbo’s newest book in her Kickass Women series: Julia Child Rules: Lessons On Savoring Life, due out in October, so it was only natural that I decided to play along with her invitation to Live Like Julia. The book is comprised of ten rules that Julia lived by, including one my kids would say I’ve already mastered, “Play the Emperor”.

I decided to go with Rule #9 – Make the World Your Oyster (Stew) because I had no idea what that meant beyond life being full of richness (if you’re lucky enough to find a pearl) or seizing what you want, as Shakespeare’s Pistol declares, “Why then, the world’s mine oyster which I with sword open.”

Seize what I want? Like a pirate? Insert a knife between the shells and force it open for the treasure?

Then it occurred to me: Julia may have worn pearls but she made masterpieces of meat. It couldn’t be about looking for treasure, hoping for treasure, dreaming of treasure, seizing opportunities and forcing myself in for my own gain, could it?


Int. Doctor’s Office – Day

I sit on the exam table devoid of bra or panties in that special washed-to-threadbare-thin gown (attire that gives physicians the assurance you will not run out before they’re done talking) that ties in the back, trying to read her face.

I’d like you to go on blood pressure medication.

Yeah, I’m not going to take any medication.

Well, yes, you need to.


Me frothing at the mouth at home. A normal person might be pacing but pacing could be construed as exercise and god knows I don’t exercise, so…

Here is where the insanity becomes clear. I know about motivating people because I spent several years engaging objects at rest (known to others as “students with below a 1.0 GPA) to become objects in motion, thereby passing their classes. I spent another couple years visiting truant elementary school students and their overwhelmed, underachieving parents in order to help the children engage in regular attendance. I even had a poster in my office at Oregon City High School that looked a lot like this:

Simple, right?

Karen remembers an episode of Julia Child’s The French Chef where Julia cautioned viewers to “make sure we had everything we needed before we began.”

If I’m going to reduce my blood pressure, I might need to make a list of what I’ll need.

Turns out, I already have what I need. A gym membership, a yoga mat & video, yoga blocks (still in cellophane), pedometer, elastic bands, Fitbit to monitor motion and sleep, a trampoline, a nice bike, a hot tub (in which to recuperate) two arms, two legs, a body (if you can still call it that) and a head.

The head is the problem.

Remember that block that says, “I choose.”–The one that I used to iterate and reiterate to students was the essential step in change?–I don’t actually do that step. I’m fond of explaining to people that I don’t actually like to exercise. Or to sweat. Or to feel my heart pounding in my ears. I once told my buddy Joe Koziol, “I am content living in my head,” to which he replied, “If you don’t take care of your body, where will your head live?”

See how a logical argument will ruin a perfectly good excuse?

My process–I didn’t even try to share this with my doctor–looks more like this.

You might have to squint at the INTENT box because there’s a lot of internal dialogue going on there. (Click on it if you’re really desperate to read what my head traffic does.)

But back to my taste test of living like Julia. I read Chapter Nine: Make the World Your Oyster (Stew) and nowhere did it say that just because you eat what you like, you get to become a slovenly pig that hides out in jeans and sweatshirts. Not at all. Instead, Karen notes, Julia wore pearls while cooking.

Pearls? I could wear pearls while I exercise. That’s ludicrous, isn’t it? Like I’d be trying to look good, or something. Nobody accuses me of that now. Of course, I may keel over from a heart attack or stroke if I don’t change the INTENT box to things that generate ACTION.

Which brings me to Julia’s practice of refusing to overthink things. (I bet she never knew how great it feels to think so much. Like I don’t understand pâté. Give me a slab of beef, medium-well.)

I don’t think I can stop the overthinking part cold turkey. It’s radical. I need a cigarette just thinking about it and I don’t even smoke. I’ve decided that my part of the Live Like Julia, Rule #9 is going to need to skip intent all together and get straight to action. Julia was not a woman who wallowed in ambivalence. She prepped, she cooked, and she served. Action-action-action.

I’m going to get my ass in gear and I’m gonna wear pearls while I’m doing it. Screw ambivalence. For seven days, I’m not gonna overthink, I’m going to overdo. I’m going to sweat, beating heart and all. If any of you bloggers living Rule #10: Every Woman Should Have a Blowtorch, see me lolly-gagging around like I’m waiting for the perfect oyster to detach itself, roll ashore at my feet to reveal a precious stone, do me a favor: Brandish a little flame low enough to get me out of my head and onto my feet.