Walk in the Park

Yesterday, November 30, it was 73 degrees. Beautiful, sunny and windy, I still managed to grumble inside about being ready for cooler weather. When it does turn cold (like today) I’ll probably grumble that I’m ready for sunshine and warmth.

Anyway, yesterday was a  perfect day to go for a walk and test out my new Fitbit and iPhone 6+!

My Fitbit goal is to walk 10,000 steps a day. I walked 11,000 yesterday, 8,000 of which were at the park.

And how did the iPhone 6+ work? Here’s a sampling, along with some thoughts on (human) nature:

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Seeing the thorns on these and other branches made me think about all the ways we protect our tender selves.

 

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We came upon this group of trees, and I didn’t think too much about it until I noticed the exposed roots on the other side.

 

 

 

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Then, I thought about how complex, even tangled, we are beneath the surface, about how little we know about someone. Beneath his skin. Behind those thorns.

 

 

 

 

 

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Sometimes, that feels lonely.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, I took these photos, grateful for the beautiful light cast by the warm, glorious sun.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

Last night, after Steve and I returned from Tulsa, after we unpacked, after we put up the Christmas tree, we sat down to watch To Kill a Mockingbird. Steve had never seen the movie before, and I was pretty sure he’d like it. He did, very much.

As many of you know, we often do writing prompts together. On this thankfully lazy Sunday morning, I suggested we write for ten minutes about what touched each of us about the movie last night.

I was surprised about the difference in what each of us wrote.

STEVE WROTE:

Despite Gregory Peck’s eloquent and convincing closing argument, his client, Tom Robinson, was found guilty,  and was later shot trying to escape. All the evidence pointed in one direction, social bias and pressure in the other.

atticus and TR

Most of us realize there’s something amiss when when a police officer fires eight bullets into an unarmed black man, no matter how big he was; yet we need to make sense of it, justify it. We need scapegoats, villains, socially-identified victims, but it leaves us uneasy, anxious.

We are living wrong when we normalize hate and violence, we can’t pass up the provocateur. In the movie, it’s Boo–the outcast–who sees the injustice and intervenes, brings about justice. But the movie suggests that at a deeper level people get it, the sheriff gets that the villain, Bob Ewell–though too easily a villain–dies as a result of his unending need for revenge, his need to externalize his hatred, to find it in others (Tom Robinson) and then to kill for it. He’s on a perpetual rampage because he can’t stand the ambiguity, can’t see the log in his own eye.

TKM EwellThe scene that touched me most was when Bob Ewell spit in Atticus’s face. Atticus stood for a long time, then wiped his face and walked on past Ewell, leaving Ewell with nothing to fight, which he needs. He needs to provoke, to engage, to feel connected, otherwise he’s miserable, empty, lost, diminished.

Atticus left him. Still his need for vengeance, reinforced by society, wouldn’t pass. He couldn’t let go, and he lived in the mistaken idealization that he could destroy the enemy and make his world more perfect. But he was digging his own grave, turning a neutral world against him.

Atticus, on the other hand, kept walking through injustice, not absorbing it, not taking the bait. He never got hooked into the need to retaliate. He acted with faith, that eventually good would prevail.

JAN WROTE:

There were many scenes that touched me–the integrity of Atticus, Scout’s and Jem’s love and respect for their father, Scout’s innocence, the moment Jem stood up to Atticus and said, “no.” It’s tough to choose. But I think I’d have to say what touched me most were the moments when Atticus went from respected attorney to loving father. Here are some of the scenes I remember:

scout in bed1) When Atticus tucked Scout into bed, she asked if she could have his pocket watch when he died. He gently told her that Jem would get the watch, but her mother’s pearls would someday be hers.

2) Later, Atticus sat in the porch swing and listened to a conversation between Scout and Jem about their mother. The longing in his eyes, not only for the wife he missed, but also for the mother his children missed, even for what their mother missed in seeing her children grow up–brought tears to my eyes.

TKM porch swing

TKM jailhouse3) While Atticus guarded Tom Robinson, his children showed up and suddenly, his brave, calm demeanor was shattered. He became frightened, protective, even angry, demanding that his children leave the dangerous situation.

4) When Atticus ran out of the house after Boo brought Jem home, he shouted for Scout. Again, his calm, brave demeanor was overtaken by fear over what might have happened to her.

5) Finally, at the end of the movie, Scout curled up in his lap like it was the safest place on earth. When the narrator (a grown-up Scout) said he stayed in Jem’s room all night and into the morning, I believed Atticus, above all else, was a father who loved his children.

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Here’s a haiku I wrote that appears in my book Life: Haiku by Haiku:

mischievous Scout sought
adventure, but instead found
compassion for Boo

What touched you most about To Kill a Mockingbird?

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Desiderata

Last weekend while unpacking (more) books, I came upon one of Steve’s old treasures. Reading it brought memories whooshing in like wind whipping up a pile of leaves.

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Chances are, if you are of my generation, you had a Desiderata poster hanging in your room. As best I can remember, mine looked something like this:

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I used to lie in bed reading the bolded parts, though I didn’t much bother with the other passages. Perhaps it was because my mind was too filled with all of the angst of the typical teenage girl’s life–some real, some imagined–like being a bit petrified that I hadn’t practiced my flute music well enough for chair tryouts in band. Or, maybe I was once again irritated with one of my sisters for borrowing my clothes without asking. Most likely, I was devastated that my mom had forbidden me to see my high school sweetheart anymore. Add to that the impending demise of my parents’ marriage. Regardless of what was going on, I doubt I believed “the universe was unfolding as is should.”

If you didn’t have the poster, you might have listened to Les Crane’s recitation of the poem on the radio:

jan1How many of you, in your know-it-all teen years, really listened to the words? I’ll admit, though I focused on a few of them–like “Strive to be happy”–I skimmed over much of the poem, not really interested in understanding it beyond being able to say I “got” Desiderata for the sake of being cool. I mean, what does “Take kindly the counsel of the years” mean to a teenager?

I re-read the words last night. Like I said, it brought back a lot of memories of a time gone by. But I was also struck by the timeless wisdom of the words. And although I didn’t think I’d paid attention to the poem as a whole, it must have made an impact on me, because in general I’ve lived my life according to its words.

Over the next few weeks, I plan to write about segments of Desiderata. No set schedule–I’ve found I don’t do very well with those. But, I hope each post will be an opportunity for you to share your thoughts and perhaps a few memories, too.

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

                                   ~~Max Ehrmann, “Desiderata”

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Venusian Politics

With all the dancing cartwheels cheers fervor news about the Republicans taking over both houses of Congress, one important (and to me, surprising) bit of news was lost in the clamor:

…a banner election year for women. Come January — when new members are sworn in — there will be at least 101 women serving in the 435 seats across the U.S. Senate and House, the first time in American history that female members of Congress have reached 100. (The number could be higher: Four races with female candidates have yet to be called.)~~www.nj.com

Courtesy Rutgers Center for American Women and Politics

Courtesy Rutgers Center for American Women and Politics

Many Republicans and Democrats will have their eyes on this new Republican majority, though I suspect for different reasons. Some hope that with a majority, the business of government will kick back into gear. Some fear that changes made in recent years, such as ObamaCare, will be reversed. Some wonder how the 2016 elections will be impacted.

But, when I learned about the record number of women now in Congress, my hopes for a better-run government were based more on a different mix of the sexes than a different mix in political parties.

I am not a feminist. In the battle of the sexes, I don’t believe females are the stronger or the smarter. Each “side” has its strengths and weaknesses. However, there are two differences between men and women that I believe may have a positive impact on Congress now that the number of women in Congress is growing.

menI first read about these characteristics in John Gray’s Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus. Though many have claimed the book had too many generalizations, once I read the book, I began to see the differences Gray spoke about in my own life:

  1. When someone talks about “a problem,” men want to fix it. They have the solution. Women, on the other hand, often want only to talk about the problem–to have someone listen. Often, they will then come to a resolution on their own.
  2. When men are under stress, they want to retreat. Wikipedia says: “…they withdraw temporarily, ‘retreating into their cave’, so to speak.” But rather than retreat, again, women want to talk about it.

Isn’t that what’s not being done enough in Congress these days? Nobody is talking. That’s why I think more women in Congress will be a positive thing. When problems or disagreements arise, they’ll want to talk about it.

CNN reported that regardless of party affiliation, women in Congress often meet to talk about issues over lunch, or dinner and drinks.

It reminds me of the friendship I share with the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pen. I doubt you could find a more diverse group of women. We differ in our political philosophies, our religious beliefs, our writing styles and genres, our marital and family statuses, our clothing styles, the way we talk–just about anything and everything. We are all different. Yet, we are very close friends who trust each other immensely. And we’ve had many a debate argument discussion conversation (a few that ended with belly-ache laughter) on how to solve the problems of the world.

Okay, maybe the women in Congress won’t have conversations that end in laughter–at least not the belly-ache kind–but if they have the discussions, that’s the important thing. Even if they don’t come to an agreement (often, neither do my “sisters” and I), they will come closer to an understanding of each other’s “side” and perhaps move toward a compromise–another thing too often missing in our government.

No matter your party affiliation, you have to admit that sounds a whole lot better than running to a cave.

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Ghosts of Halloween Past

gogojan (4)As I anticipate my grandson, Tommy’s, first Halloween, I perused my old scrapbooks for old Halloween pictures. Remembering those fun days made me smile.

rbtnnt I was one of those moms who didn’t want to just go to a store and buy a costume. Oh no! That would have been too easy. Even if Andi and Adam had begged me to buy a Rainbow Brite or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle costume from K-Mart, I had to be creative and make one.

Let me just say, some of them didn’t turn out the way I’d envisioned, and I will be forever grateful to my kids for being good sports about it–at least outwardly. (The one that really comes to mind is Adam’s Bart Simpson costume, where I spray-painted his spiked hair yellow, and cut ping pong balls in half for eyeballs.)

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So, here’s my gallery of memories. What Tommy will be for Halloween is a surprise that I’ll post later. But, we’ve been practicing a certain growl for weeks now. :)

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Beautiful Monsters

Sometimes, a convergence of “hints” whacks me across the face, wakes me up and tells me it’s time to do something. Here’s what smacked me this time:

220px-F_Scott_Fitzgerald_19211)  I read an article in The Atlantic about F. Scott Fitzgerald‘s thoughts on writing, titled “Nothing Any Good Isn’t Hard.” In it, he says:

But the amateur can only realize his ability to transfer his emotions to another person by some such desperate and radical expedient as tearing your first tragic love story out of your heart and putting it on pages for people to see.

That, anyhow, is the price of admission. Whether you are prepared to pay it or, whether it coincides or conflicts with your attitude on what is ‘nice’ is something for you to decide. But literature, even light literature, will accept nothing less from the neophyte. It is one of those professions that wants the ‘works.’ You wouldn’t be interested in a soldier who was only a little brave.

nin2)  This lead me to an article on the blog, Brain Pickings about Anais Nin‘s diaries, titled “Why Emotional Excess is Essential to Writing and Creativity” where Ms. Nin was quoted:

You must not fear, hold back, count or be a miser with your thoughts and feelings. It is also true that creation comes from an overflow, so you have to learn to intake, to imbibe, to nourish yourself and not be afraid of fullness. The fullness is like a tidal wave which then carries you, sweeps you into experience and into writing. Permit yourself to flow and overflow, allow for the rise in temperature, all the expansions and intensifications. Something is always born of excess: great art was born of great terrors, great loneliness, great inhibitions, instabilities, and it always balances them.

3) A few days later, this tweet whispered in my ear screamed “AHA!!”

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Can’t wait to read this book about a man’s “coming of age” in a Japanese POW camp during World War II.

 

Mr. Flanagan’s quote, in particular, has stayed with me, for I have always striven to show only what was beautiful. I’ve always hidden what is “monstrous” inside me, or, at least what is not beautiful. They are my imperfections, the things that I was always taught would make me “lose face”–one of the greatest sins for someone in my culture. At least that’s what I was taught.

 

 

 

4) Linda Austin’s recent interview of memoir author, Kathy Pooler fell right into place with these other “hints.” In the interview based on Pooler’s book, Ever Faithful to His Lead, when asked about her fear of what her real-life characters’ reactions to the memoir might be, Ms. Pooler replied:

In the end, I reconciled my concerns with the belief that this story is about my truth and my choices, and I made sure I did not intentionally disparage him in the story.

The fact that these “hints” appeared in the middle of a family maelstrom was not lost on me. It was as if someone was trying to send me a message.

In the years decades of my life, I’ve learned a person (me, specifically) can’t keep a monster hidden for long, for any monster worth its weight in ferocity, ugliness, excess, cruelty or sin cannot be kept forever locked behind even the most fortified door in the darkest corner of my an (oops!) internal prison, no matter how intensely one wants to please, to “save face.” Eventually, he (or she, as the case may be) breaks free.

I can’t tell you the number of times “secrets” about me, about my life, have blocked my writing. Isn’t it true that the purpose of writing is to make connections by sharing our experiences, our imperfections, our deepest, truest feelings, whether through non-fiction or safer fiction? Remember what Mr. Fitzgerald said?

…the amateur can only realize his ability to transfer his emotions to another person by some such desperate and radical expedient as tearing your first tragic love story out of your heart and putting it on pages for people to see.

Of course, it isn’t always a “first tragic love story” an author might try to tear out of her heart to put on paper. Maybe instead, an author’s deepest emotion revolves around a dysfunctional challenging childhood, or the birth and end of a beautiful and monstrous marriage. Maybe she’d like to share her thoughts on lessons learned (or not) through mistakes she’s made.

And what about the others who are a part of those stories? People who are also both monstrous and beautiful, no matter the “face” they hide behind. Is it a betrayal to write about their involvement? How do I write the full truth of my story without writing the full truth about their story? Though I may decide there’s no value in “saving” a false face, is it fair to make that decision for them?

I want to write about beautiful things–and monsters, too–because I agree with Mr. Flanagan, and I want to be fully human and not a paper doll cutout of Miss Goody Two Shoes.

Though I make no monstrous confessions here, I am inching toward authenticity. But does authenticity necessitate confessing everything? I am obviously battling with what Mr. Fitzgerald called “what is nice.” I am currently a soldier who is only a “little brave.”

I’ve asked a lot of questions here, and I’d be most interested to read any of your thoughts. In the end, I ask:

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What’s the value of “saving face,” if that face is only a mask?

Posted in Life, love, Truth | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Greater Kansas City Japan Festival

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I’m excited to head north to Kansas City this weekend for the Greater Kansas City Japan Festival. The festival is organized by a group of friendly, dedicated people and I look forward to seeing them again.

This will be the second year I’ve had the opportunity to attend the festival to talk about my book, The Red Kimono and the history of the Japanese American internment.

This year, I will be giving an additional workshop on writing haiku, a poetry form I enjoy writing to describe life, as I did in my book, Life: Haiku by Haiku. The following slide from my presentation spotlights a few haiku from one of the masters:

basho haiku

The workshop will also have a haiku exercise–my favorite part, because I get to hear the magical seventeen-syllable stories of the attendees.

This year, in conjunction with the workshop, the festival sponsored a haiku contest. We had over 200 entries in the adult and children categories, and the finalists are now up on the website, where anyone can cast a vote. If you’d like to read the haiku finalists and vote, click HERE. This is the last day to vote!

The festival will be at the Johnson County Community College:

12345 College Blvd
Overland Park, KS 66210-1299

My presentations will be:

2:00 – Wearing the Red Kimono, Recital Hall
4:00 – Haiku Presentation, Hudson Auditorium

Click HERE for a full schedule of events.

And of course, I’ll be selling and signing books from 10:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. So, if you’re in the Kansas City area, come experience a little Japanese culture and . . .

stop by to see me, too!

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Aha Moments

When we open ourselves, it heals us and it heals the other person, too. ~~Pamela Foster

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Few people are as talented in “opening” up as Pamela Foster, and though she writes and speaks about a variety of topics, I believe she is most gifted in talking about PTSD.

Recently, she recorded a 30-second spot for Mutual of Omaha’s Aha Moment Tour. She is now a Top 10 Finalist and could use your vote to continue to move up in the ranks. And, it’s important to note that you can vote once a day.

I’ve voted every day, not because Pamela is a very good friend of mine, but because I believe PTSD and our veterans are two very important causes that, unfortunately, in today’s news cycle, are too often forgotten.

Pamela will not let people forget. Instead she opens her heart, and her husband, Jack, “allows” her to share very personal stories. (Though, knowing Pamela, “allow” is probably not the best word I could have used.) My point is, both Pamela and Jack know the value of being painfully honest to get the story out there. And as the quote above says, their opening themselves “heals the other person, too.”

Please vote and vote every day until October 10. It only takes 30 seconds. All you have to do is click on the following link, watch the video, then click the orange “VOTE” button in the lower right-hand corner.

http://www.ahamoment.com/?x=us-en_brandsiteresponsive_81_6

Thank you!

If you’ve had an “Aha” moment you’d like to share, please leave a comment!

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Ah, Life!

I started to post this little complaint ruse on Facebook, but thought I might get a little long-winded, so I’ll do a blog post instead. I can’t make any promises about not being too long-winded, however.

In the last several days, squeezed in during Tommy’s naps and my evening hours, I’ve been packing and preparing three presentations I’ll make next week between here and Chicago:

Saturday, August 23 – Springfield Writers’ Guild, 1:00 pm-2:00 pm at Heritage Cafeteria, 1364 E Battlefield in Springfield, Missouri. I’ll be presenting a workshop on Interviewing Your Characters.

Thursday, August 28 – Chicago Japanese American Historical Society, 12:00 pm-1:30 pm at Harold Washington Library, 400 S. State Street (Video Theater, Lower Level), Chicago, IL. I’ll be conducting a workshop titled Wearing the Red Kimono, which will teach participants different methods to turn family history into stories.

Thursday, August 28 – Japan America Society of Chicago, 6:00 pm-7:30 pm at Harold Washington Library, 400 S. State Street (Video Theater, Lower Level), Chicago, IL. Book signing and Q&A about The Red Kimono.

Saturday, August 30 – Japanese Festival-Missouri Botanical Gardens, I’m excited to attend Obon (and see Steve try to dance) and I will be helping and selling my books at a booth from 4:15 pm-8:15 pm.

If you’re in the area, come by to say “hi!”

IMG_3811 (2)Anyway, back to my day. As my mind raced with everything I need to get done before we leave on Friday, as I tried to figure out what to pack, as I organized my presentations, as I “re-directed” Tommy now that he’s learned to climb over my pillow barricades (time to get safety gates!) . . . I received an email that my townhouse, which I’m renting, is on the market AND the realty company will be putting a lock box on my front door on Friday, the day I’m leaving.

Which means . . .

I ALSO HAVE TO CLEAN MY HOUSE BEFORE I LEAVE!!! Of course, I probably would have done so anyway, since for some reason, I always clean house before I leave. Nothing like coming home to a clean house, just to clutter it up with dirty laundry and bills that need to be paid, right?

Let’s not forget I’ll be packing up and moving in the weeks after my return. . . again. But, no complaints! I’m excited to say, this time into a house. I plan to stay for awhile, and I’m looking forward to making it home.

House

I guess I thought the surprise notice from the leasing company gave me something to complain about. Plus, it gave me a good excuse to post my schedule. Oh, and I also got to brag that Tommy is crawling, too. 

Still, I think I need an excuse to soothe myself, as well as an excuse to end this blog post. I think I’ll go out for a milkshake.

Posted in Life, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Something New: Day–oh, who cares!

In case you hadn’t noticed, life has gotten in the way of my “Something New” series. Oh my, I just checked to see when I last posted about trying something new, and it was June 26, when I dreamed about renting a beach house! Geez. I’ve been even more remiss than I thought.

Anyway, taking care of Tommy, making trips to Tulsa to check on my mom and buying a house have all squeezed themselves on top of blogging on my list of things to do.

But, that doesn’t mean I haven’t TRIED new things — I just haven’t written about them. And, because life DOES often get in the way, and I’ve taken on a more “go-with-the-flow” attitude, I’ve decided to keep trying new things, but it probably won’t happen every day, and I probably won’t write about every new thing I try, because some of it frankly, not very interesting.

But, I DID try something new last weekend that was fun (and surprising,) and it’s something that’s been on my (secondary) bucket list for a long time — riding a mechanical bull!

Steve and I attended Taste of Dallas on Saturday, and, in an attempt to escape the 108 degree temperatures, we entered one of the air-conditioned buildings. Lo and behold, there, right at the entrance, was a mechanical bull, and beside the bull stood two rather bored-looking teen boys who appeared to be wondering why nobody wanted to ride their bull.

So, the conversation between Steve and I went kind of like this:

Jan: “Do you want to try it?”

Steve: (Grinning) “Uh, no.”

Jan: “Oh, come on. I’ll do it if you do it.”

Steve: “Okay, you go first.”

Jan: “No way, you go first.”

Steve: “Nope. Let’s go play basketball instead.”

Jan: “Oh, okay. I’ll go first, if you promise you’ll go after me.”

Steve: (Still grinning.) “Deal.”

I have to admit, it was kind of like that old Life cereal commercial from the ’70s. Remember it, the one where Mikey was finally the only one brave enough to try it?

Well, I was the brave “Mikey” to ride the bull first that day. But first, I had to figure out how to get on his back. Of course, I didn’t want to make a fool of myself, attempting (and failing, I’m sure) to hoist my leg over. And I sure didn’t want to leap (and fail miserably) on top like a real cowboy might.

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Finally, after enough scratching my head as I circled around the bull, one of the teens felt sorry for me and offered his knee.

I was able to save face–at least temporarily.

Now, mind you, I hadn’t planned to ride a bull that day. So, I obviously wasn’t wearing the proper attire, which added to the rather mismatched pairing of Jan and Bull. No cowboy hat, no blue jeans and no cowboy boots, not to mention I was trying this for the first time at the age of 56.

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Here’s how my very short ride went:

Though the bull moved like he was even older than I am, I still struggled to hold on, even grabbing his horns at one point, at which the teen behind the controls stopped and shook his finger at me.

Oh, you mean I’m only supposed to hold on to this tiny piece of rope?

Before mounting the bull, I’d imagined myself waiving my hat in the air, yelling “yeehaw” to the world, but instead, all I could do was press my thighs tight against that bull, clinging for dear life. The crowd began to grow and cheer me on. to watch the crazy old woman fly off the bull.

Finally, eleven seconds later, (I think that was including the three seconds where the teen shook his finger at me) I could hold on no longer and gave up the fight.

But it was fun, fun, fun! And, Steve did fulfill his part of the deal, with just a little coaxing. After all, he DID have to follow my performance.

But best of all, after we rode the rides-of-our-lives, a long line formed, and we left those two teens much happier than they had appeared when we first walked into that nice, cool, air-conditioned building.

blog-smileSo, this was definitely a thumbs-up experience!

 

 

 

Posted in Creativity Challenge, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 10 Comments