Middle Treasure

This is it. The end of my wildest fantasy.

My 56th birthday, just two weeks ago, held a weighty significance for me. My father passed away at this very age, and I find myself contemplating life’s brevity as I stand at this milestone.

I reckon for most people, this phase of life triggers deep introspection, stirring emotions, and potentially nudging one onto new life paths. And for that reason, I imagine him at this juncture, questioning his mortality, pondering unfulfilled desires, and I wonder about the directions he might have pursued.

What if he wanted to travel, to revisit his old haunts in Cambridge, reconnect with surviving siblings, or catch up with his old neighbors on Rankin Avenue. What if golf or winemaking was his secret passions, the pleasures he’d strived to savor in retirement. What if he wanted to learn an instrument? Piano, maybe? Violin? Harmonica.

Did he wonder or want or wish, or was his life satisfying? Was it everything he wanted it to be?

Fifty-six is undeniably young.

Over a year ago, I began this personal interrogation, haunted by the notion that 56 isn’t quite the ancient history I presumed it to be.

Had I ticked off anything on my wish list? Wandered through any of those places I dreamed of seeing? Snuck in even a fraction of the experiences I pined after? Aaaaany at all?  

While contemplating my answers, one pipe dream came to mind.

I very often daydreamed about a 30-day retreat on a Buddhist monastery in India before my time would be up and fueled by the stark realization of life’s finite nature following my father’s passing, I decided this was the year to make it happen.

It turns out, a full month in India wasn’t possible (thanks to my delayed passport), but I managed to secure a two-week escapade in Mississippi. It wasn’t the initial blueprint, but it marked a deliberate step, an effort to grasp life’s chances, driven by the poignant lessons my father’s departure taught me.

Magnolia Grove Monastery. Batesville, Mississippi.

This piece is titled ‘the end of my wildest fantasy’ because it took merely three days for me to reconsider and reassess my choice of spending two weeks away from home. I must confess that this self-doubt took me by surprise. Contemplate the idea of being in India for an entire month, and you’d find my hands trembling at the mere thought. As it turns out, I have a deep fondness for being at home. In all honesty, my restlessness, and the wavering in my decision to spend two weeks away didn’t stem from a lack of desire to be ‘here, at the monastery’ but rather from my yearning to be ‘there, at home.’

So, with my belly tied in knots, I opted to halve my stay and remain for just one week.

And there, the culmination of my most untamed, extravagant fantasy is laid to rest.

My week in monk mode.

During my retreat, I wasn’t the sole participant. About 15 of us were present, and to my surprise, eight committed to the entire 90-day Rains Retreat—an aspect completely unknown to me. For the intriguing backstory, let me explain the Rains Retreat, tracing its origins to the time of the Buddha.

In those early days, monks traveled between villages, teaching and collecting food. While some, including the Buddha, resided in one place during the rainy season, others continued to roam. Those wandering monks faced criticism for a significant reason: their movements inadvertently harmed both crops and small creatures—picture worms, snails, and frogs emerging onto the wet ground. Aligning with the core Buddhist principle of non-harm, even towards the tiniest creatures, the Buddha laid down a rule making it compulsory for the Buddhist monks to stay in one residence during the three months of the rainy season. Hence, the Rains Retreat.


Mindful moments.

Buddhist monastics typically embrace a simple life, distancing themselves from the material world. Their days are filled with silence, contemplation, and prayer, each moment approached mindfully. As monks let go of concerns about material things, they explore inward through meditation and prayer. The day of a monk begins and ends with meditation – what I believe forms the bookends of their daily spiritual practice.

This routine meant my days opened and closed in the Grand Meditation Hall, where the 15 of us “lay friends” joined about 20 monks. It’s an experience beyond words. Meditating alongside the entire Sangha is truly one of Buddhism’s treasures. A simple definition of “Sangha” means the community of people (sisters, brothers, nuns, monks, and laity) that follow Buddhist principles.

And then, silence.

I have mixed feelings about one of the concepts, and that’s Noble Silence. This practice involves maintaining silence during meals, and also, from 9:30 PM until after the 5:30 AM morning meditation, not to mention monastics observe a monthly Day of Noble Silence – which lasts approximately 36 hours. (The Day of Noble Silence for November just happened to land during my week.)

While I’m truly captivated by the idea, finding it both liberating and spellbinding, I must confess that as an Italian, the challenge of not being able to engage in conversation during meals is rough. And no talking with my hands, either.

And then, talking.

I took part in Dharma talks and delved into the Five Mindfulness Trainings.

A Dharma talk, essentially a lesson on Buddhism by a Buddhist teacher, and the Five Mindfulness Trainings encapsulate the global spiritual and ethical ideals in Buddhism. They tangibly express Buddha’s teachings on the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path—a pathway of right understanding and genuine love that leads to healing, transformation, and global happiness.

If you’re interested, the Five Mindfulness Trainings are: reverence for life, true happiness, true love, loving speech and deep listening, and nourishment and healing.

I also joined in Dharma Sharing. For this activity, we gathered in a circle and followed specific guidelines:

  1. Practice deep listening and speak lovingly and mindfully.
  2. Bow.
  3. State our name before speaking each time.
  4. Refrain from giving advice, even if requested.
  5. Maintain confidentiality about all that is shared.

While sharing wasn’t mandatory, I felt invited, even encouraged. Still, for an introvert like me, the anxiety level hit a solid 10—kind of counterproductive during a Zen week, isn’t it?

And then, eating.

I haven’t eaten three meals a day since childhood, and veggies haven’t been on my plate since I was in my 20s. But there’s something about real, clean, vegan food. I stuck to small, mindful portions, except for that one time I grabbed a few of those round fried things off Allen’s plate. Apart from the Australian sister, all the monastics are Vietnamese, and their cooking is absolutely fantastic!

Eating mindfully, you know, 36 chews and pausing between bites, really fills you up! On the full Day of Noble Silence, I threw in a fast. Surprisingly, it wasn’t hard; by Wednesday, I was still feeling full from Saturday breakfast!

What surprised me.

What caught me off guard was this: I’m pretty sure at least 75% of my acquaintances, and probably all my readers, know I lean conservative. More often than I’d have liked, I had to step away from the group, focus on my breath, and count: breathe in—1, 2, 3, breathe out—1, 2, 3, 4, pause… in—1, 2, 3, out—1, 2, 3, 4, pause…

I’d wager two sweet potatoes, a spaghetti squash, and some of those round fried things that I might have been the only conservative on the grounds. But what surprised me the most was how often politics came up, of course only among the lay people (though the Australian sister was also quite open and willingly shared her left-leaning political views).

It was unexpected, quite unsettling, and frankly, disappointing.

So, what did I learn?

I learned how to squeeze a deep breath into my jam-packed day!

I also learned that life can be beautifully simple if I let it. What complicates things for me? Excessive thinking. (I’ve done the legwork for you; excessive thinking is just a time-suck.)

I’ve also figured out that my life is unfolding in the present, yet I often reside elsewhere—in thoughts tethered to the past or the future. The past is set; it’s what brought me to this very moment, right where I ought to be: the present. While I can make plans for the future, it’s vital not to dwell there. My place is here, right now. When I fixate on a future moment over this one, I’m just longing away time. I’m missing out on life.

I also learned that mindfulness doesn’t have to be slow. I’m naturally speedy, and slow-movers can irk me. The secret to mindfulness? Staying engaged in what you’re doing. I discovered that even in walking meditation, you can move briskly, as long as you’re invested in the activity.

Another realization: my hang-ups and quirks follow me wherever I go. Just like Jon Kaba-Zinn said, “Wherever you go, there you are.”

Other Ah-Ha learnings: connection to others is SO important, but time solo is precious. And if you TRY to settle your mind, you won’t succeed. Whenever you resist something, it makes it so much worse.

Lastly, I’ve come to understand that the real work of life is internal. The most significant strides forward come from having faith and embracing optimism. It’s the middle treasure.


The wrap-up Q&A:

  1. Regret shortening my stay? Nope.
  2. Go again? Definitely.
  3. Stay on course? Just bought a sweet potato—yup.
  4. Use my passport? Doubt it, and that’s cool.

Can love really blossom through ink and paper?

Do you believe in love at first sight? Well, how about love that blooms even before setting eyes on each other?

While deep in research on a very unrelated topic, I fell into the fascinating world of correspondence courtship.

The more I read on this topic, the more transactional it sounds. But the more I fantasize about it, the more magical it sounds!

In my mind, I picture a slow-burning love affair playing out through pen and paper, through the mail, across hundreds or possibly thousands of miles. A story of love unfolding… one sentence at a time. SO romantic.

That’s how I want to think of it, anyway.

In the nineteenth century, the era of ‘matrimonial advertisements’, newspapers played Cupid, connecting hearts that might never have crossed paths otherwise. Imagine Tinder, but with quills instead of swipes. Couples fell in love through handwritten letters. Can you imagine uttering the words “I do” before ever locking eyes with someone?!

(I can.)

So what motivated these daring souls to commit to a lifetime with someone they’d never met? There were economic factors, and the aftermath of the Civil War, the California gold rush, and the great western migration lent hand to this unconventional courtship method. But for the purpose of this blog, I’m going to concentrate only on the love story. The love story not driven by physical appearance but rather by the depths of two hearts. It’s way more romantic this way.

While some people deemed it disreputable and scandalous, to me, the allure of love found through the printed word is irresistible. Imagine love transcending the barriers of time and distance… one handwritten letter at a time.

Here’s what I think it looked like (Yes, I am taking creative license):

The Matrimonial Bazar operated from 1869 through 1876


A Bachelor of ability, good moral character, 30 years of age, born and reared under Southern skies, desires to correspond with a true Southern woman, object matrimony. Teetotaller, musical, with good means. Advertiser has travelled foreign countries and would do so again if desired. Will some young lady take pity on one who would make a devoted husband. Address, Bachelor, Box 264, Oklahoma, Ter.


Dearest Bachelor,

Your portrayal of a gentleman of good moral character, with thirty summers gracing your existence, all beneath the tender sunbeams of Southern skies, has captured my imagination. I wonder about the man you are and the dreams you cradle in your heart.

I wonder, do you possess the strength to carry in the sack of flour that will rise into the bread we shall share by a crackling fire?

I wonder, do you long to sit, nestled by the hearth, sharing tales with your new bride in the warm, flickering glow while the hours slip away unnoticed?

I wonder, do you find solace in the embrace of nature, as I do? Perhaps we might wander through Southern woods, hand in hand, tracing the footsteps of deer or marveling at the vibrant wildflowers that grace our path.

I wonder, can you name the constellations that adorn our Southern skies? For I dream of stargazing, my head resting upon a strong shoulder, as we chart the course of a shared destiny in the heavens.

I wonder about the songs in your heart that flow through your fingertips when you caress the keys of your instrument. Might you serenade me with a tune born of your own creation one day?

And what of the books that adorn your shelves, dear Bachelor? I wonder which favorite tomes that have stirred your soul, for I believe that the tales we hold dear can reveal the deepest recesses of our hearts.

My heart brims with curiosity and anticipation. And with a heart full of wonder and hope, I wait to hear from you.

Magnolia Evangeline Montgomery, a Southern woman

(Anyone want to play the part of the bachelor, Mr. Theodore Adams, and sweep Miss Magnolia off her feet?) 

‘Imagine If’s’ are out of control

          “The book that would change her life forever fell from the shelf and landed at her feet, as if fate itself had placed it there.”

This is the first line of my novel. Well… one of the novels I am writing.

          “Chef Clara reminds me of Aunt Bea, a woman who can’t be trusted with booze or chocolate but certainly enriches our lives.”

This is the line from another novel I’m writing.

          “A great grift is like a romance. You have to find out what they want and then woo them.”

          “I was 14 when I moved in with my husband. People have asked me what it was like to marry at that age, and I suppose it is the same as when you marry at any age. One minute you’re having a good time, and the next, you’re terrified.”

Yes, a THIRD and FOURTH novel. There’s also a fifth.

And dozens of characters.

*Lucy, a young woman that finds a magical book.

*Olive, a mid-lifer finding adventure – and purpose – in culinary school. (There may be a kidnapping involved.)

*Apple, a grifter who struggles with an unsettling realization that maybe, just maybe, there is more to the art of deception than she knows.

*Jane, known only as ‘the woman on death row’.

*Sue, unemployed and with no other alternatives, stumbles upon what can only be described as a ‘genie in a bottle,’ leading her to make a wish she never anticipated.

I’m a rockstar at naming characters and writing first lines. It’s the 89,990 words that follow that give me trouble.

Which is why I have a writing coach. An accomplished, published writer.

On one recent call, she offered Imagine If’s:

Imagine Olive, instead of jumping in with both feet and not thinking through situations is, instead, someone who takes NO chances in life. Imagine if she is a Michelin-star chef instead of a master of Trader Joe’s one-pot meals. Imagine the secret room she stumbles upon is actually a cooking class with strobe lights and a side of vegetables instead of mobsters plotting a kidnapping.

Another words, imagine the story completely different from the way you are currently writing it. Imagine the protagonist to be a completely different character. Imagine the plot to be nothing like what you’ve spent 30,000 words setting it up to be. Imagine the entire reason she is in this situation is actually some other random and possibly nonsensical reason. 

Imagine if this story is… something completely different than what you’ve got.

Imagine… if…

With all these ‘imagine if’s’ I second-guessed whether I even had a novel worth writing.

So I started a new novel.

One coaching call after another. One ‘imagine if’ after another. One new novel after another.

I finally wised up and realized there is a big difference between a writer who coaches and a coach who writes.

I also realized that when I drill down to beat sheets, plot points, a blueprint of every pivot point of the hero’s journey, applying methodology, blah, blah, blah, I become bored as hell with the story – not to mention it becomes nothing more than a daunting task to sit down and write every day. Yes, can’t forget about the ‘daily writing habit’ that is supposed to put me in my chair every day at the same time for one hour because that’s how the writing coach says you write a novel…

I say, imagine if writing a novel is like assembling a puzzle where you have all the pieces but no picture on the box to guide you, and you’re not even sure if some pieces belong to this puzzle or a completely different one.

Imagine falling in love with your characters, even if they’re total trainwrecks with questionable life choices.

Imagine if starting a novel is like planting a seed – you have no idea if it will grow into a majestic tree or a quirky shrub, but you’re excited to see it sprout nonetheless.

Imagine if one day, these characters meet in a cafe…

Pick your side.

Let me begin by apologizing for what is about to read as a terrible comparison.

As a child, I remember the day when Elvis Presley passed away. I was only 10 years old and didn’t understand what was happening, but I felt something that I also didn’t quite understand. It wasn’t devastation; it was more like sadness. But as a child, I had been sad before, and this was still disturbingly different. It could have been the reaction of the adults around me. They were wrecked, torn to pieces. It was as if something achingly horrendous had happened in the world, something that had shaken everyone to their core. As a child, I had never seen adults cry. But that day, every adult around me was in tears.

Fast forward to today. I was sitting at my desk when I heard the news about Tucker Carlson. It may seem like an inappropriate (or unbalanced) comparison, but this news feels just as dark and maybe more sinister to me than Elvis’s death did when I was a child. Tucker isn’t a king, and not everyone loves him, but there is something about this news that has me feeling like there is something deeply wrong in the world.

Yes, it’s possible that Tucker was sacrificed as part of the Dominion settlement, but I am starting to feel like this fight is not just about politics anymore; it’s a real battle between good and evil.

I hope everyone is paying attention. I don’t care which side you vote for, who you pray to, or where you’ve planted your seeds. It would help if you got in the fight. And however it is placed on your heart to do so, do so.

Whether it’s boycotting Bud Light, canceling your Amazon orders, or deleting your TikTok, do it. Take your stand.

Or if you’re feeling it differently, and instead of canceling something, you want to start something, then do that. Sign a petition. When you sign a petition, you learn something, and becoming educated is the ideal stand you could take. The point I want to make is that there are many ways to get involved in this fight, and it doesn’t always have to include giving up something. You could hit a donate button; or not. I suggest attending a rally. Just do something. Do anything. Find a way to get involved in the fight against evil. It’s up to all of us to make a difference, and we should have started yesterday.

Evil doesn’t just stop when it has a few people on its side. It’s always working to win the whole board, and we need to be vigilant in our fight against it. Don’t sit quietly, staring pensively out a window, waiting for someone else to do something. There is a tiny village of heinous monsters feeding off of others. They started it, and though I hate to ruin your day, it requires all of us getting in the ring, regardless of political affiliation or religious beliefs. It’s good vs. evil. Pick your side

Everything must go

Great news, everyone: the northern hemisphere is tipping towards the sun!

I’m not exactly sure why, but the beginning of spring has always felt like more of a new year for me then January 1. There’s something about seeing things bloom and hearing the birds after a cold, dark winter. Now is the time for:

  • Spring cleaning
  • Tarot and oracle cards
  • DIY home projects
  • New intentions
  • Plants and herbs
  • Hiking and being outdoors
  • Blogging

Let’s start with blogging. I fell off the face of the earth for a while but I’ve been doing a lot while I’ve been away.

I’m working more regularly on a novel I started in January (1976) (maybe not that long ago), but I am also still working on the memoir, switching back and forth between the two.

I started a certification course (more to come later).

I’ve been knitting, sewing, and being a general grandma (minus the knitting and sewing).

I’ve been reading. SO MUCH READING. Reading is the only time everything is possible.

And I’ve decided that everything must go!

Let me explain…

At 55, I have a good life and a mostly happy outlook on the future of the world. Maybe I’m perpetually anxious and maybe I have accumulated a list of semi-reasonable fears: failing air conditioners, the IRS, and airbag recalls. And maybe I am always running from a fresh crisis, or running smack dab into one. But overall, I have a good life and a mostly happy outlook on the future of the world.

But then there’s …

My dad.

He was healthy, kept active, ate a balanced diet, drank moderately, didn’t smoke. He was retired and built a home at the base of a splendid mountain. He worked part time at a championship golf course that welcomed such players from in-the-day like Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino (literally, welcomed them onto the lush green fairways, and in the middle of winter – there are photos). My dad spent hours with his 4-year-old granddaughter feeding ducks at the zoo. This man had hardly any stress in his life. He was healthy, till he wasn’t.

One Tuesday his doctor diagnosed him with cancer. Six months later, on a Saturday, we buried him. He was 56.

I’m turning 56 this year and this factor begs the question, what am I doing with my one precious life?

That question leads to a few others (like you didn’t know I was going to say that!). I’m not trying to be dramatic, nor am I a semi-morbid freak, and I don’t need anyone talking me down from impending doomsday thoughts. But I am looking for clarity about this thing called life. So, here I go. Attempting to clarify.

Question 1: Am I experiencing life the way I want to experience it, or am I experiencing it the way everyone else is? “This is how you do life because it’s what you’re supposed to do because everyone is doing it so don’t do it any different” and that way is to work at a job no less than 40 hours per week and pay taxes and have health insurance and contribute to a 401K and work at this job for a minimum of 25 years but then retire from that job and go get another job because after all, you’re only 50 (maybe 55 or 60) and you are too young to retire so go get another job where you’ll have to start at the very bottom, or go get a mindless job that keeps you busy and supplements that retirement income but is a total waste of time, or, heck, maybe stay at the original job past 25 years even though you are no longer challenged by it, satisfied with it, inspired by it but you should consider staying there because the alternatives are less inspiring…

Work toward retirement, but don’t you dare retire.

Question 2: Have I done “the thing,” the one provocative thing that is awesome, surreal, soul-changing and gives me the unforgettable experience that shakes up my life? I think there is something bold that sits in the back of everyone’s mind – or on some bucket list or in a journal. Maybe you thought of it when you were a kid, playing astronaut or rockstar in the backyard and no one told you to stop it. No one called it unrealistic. But then suddenly you turned 18 and college became Plan B. And, now, when you think back to “that thing” you say to yourself, no, it’s too risky.

Now you live your life for the weekend because the lawn isn’t going to mow itself.

Question 3: If I die tomorrow, will today be the best last day ever, or will it be a stressful, anxious, robotic, made-out-of-habit last day? I’ve always been one for habit – or, depending on the thing I’ve sometimes called it tradition and I’m someone that enjoys tradition, like showering at night, coffee every morning, parking in the 5th row at Target, skipping the bottom two stairs. But all of a sudden, I’m unsettled with coasting through life on autopilot. While running on autopilot frees me up to think about other things, at the same time, it’s giving me a sense of drift and degradation to my sense of purpose.

Going through the motions of life doesn’t mean you’re alive.

So… everything must go:

  • Old habits
  • Old perspectives
  • Old rules
  • Old information
  • Old clothes

At 55-almost-56, I’m looking at my life and the glittery opportunity to define the way I live without the influence of everyone around me or societal standards – that’s the hard part. I mean, why not live bountifully not bleakly, and without guidelines? If my plane were to go down today, why can’t my last meal be dried mangos and Gardettos? Imagine this: your DAILY meal plan is a “last meal” dream. That’s deep.

Pizza and a cupcake, anyone?

So let me sum up the awesomeness of this post in three bullets:

  • I’ve been unhappy with my career for a long time – so I’m ditching it completely. I will never again let an algorithm dictate what I write. I quit marketing (I QUIT MARKETING) and I am taking ownership of my words. I’m writing for a grassroots movement that is fierce in its mission – and doesn’t give one iota about keywords or search engine optimization.
  • My “one provocative thing” is that I want to experience life on a Buddhist monastery – as a monastic, not as a visitor. While the ultimate experience is 30 days in India, two weeks in Mississippi is easier to plan right now. For the record, the reservation was originally made for India but evidently getting a first-time passport must be done in person, and the appointment isn’t for months.
  • The last few weeks have been an amalgamation of bittersweet nostalgia, newness, celebrations, birthdays, and overall, a journey of figuring out what I need and don’t need in my life. I’ve been reintroducing myself to, well, myself. And through it all, I’ve realized I’m a fiery little thing. No wonder I’m in this headspace!!

A sabbatical (or something like it)

If I said this once, I told it a trillion times: I have more days behind me than I have in front of me. I may have 10, 20, or 30 years left, or I may have two. All I know is that I’m 55, my dad died when he was 56, and my mom when she was 64. I have aunts and uncles that also died in their 50s and 60s and cousins that passed in their 30s and 40s. The only grandparents I met died before I could drive, and I never met a living great-grandparent. 

The numbers could be better. 

Whatever my fate, living a vibrant life has nothing to do with its length and everything to do with its width.

(Before I continue and tell you what happened, I’m reminding you that impulsiveness is one of my endearing qualities!)

Only a few people know this. In October, I quit my job. This is the first time I’ve taken an unpaid break from work. (I’d call it a sabbatical, but that would imply I kept my employed status.) A couple things: I wanted to see if taking a break…a pause…was all it was hyped up to be. Plus, it was time to step back from work so I could see where I was headed.

I intended to take eight weeks off and start my job hunt after the first of the year, but around six weeks in, I fell upon an opportunity. And, since I’m not entirely bonkers, I started a new job.

Weeks 1, 3, and 6.

I went into this…furlough…expecting it to open a magical portal of bright hope and life-changing experience (I pictured divine beings dancing as a red velvet curtain opens). 

Week one was good. 

Bliss. Heavenly bliss. Like a jar of creamy Jif. Zero dread. Late morning coffee. I ate whip cream from a can.

By week three, I had moved into Loserville. It’s not a great feeling have no reason. Double fisting whip cream from a can.

But, thankfully, I moved out of Loserville and got back on track by week six. Now I was doing the deep thinking I had planned on doing (the kind that is often elusive during the crush of the day-to-day). I was back to being blissfully quiet and mindful in all the moments. I was ordering in. Setting goals. Cozying up with my spreadsheets and planners! I was having revelations. 

Then an old colleague texted me.

“My company is hiring; you would be perfect for the job!”

Now I swear, I was fully committed to my original plan – a full eight weeks off which included all of November and all of December. I planned to show up in January with an updated resume, hit the interview train, and start a new job in February. (I guess mathematically, that’s 12 weeks.) I was fully prepared to play my edge until it scared me, but what happened, happened fast, and I had to make a choice. 

Monday morning, I emailed my resume. 

I was on the phone Monday afternoon with HR – being “screened.”

Tuesday morning, I was on Zoom with the VP of Digital.

I was putting together a mock strategy for a made-up client on Tuesday afternoon.

I was in the office presenting said-mock-strategy before a panel on Wednesday.

Thursday afternoon, I signed their offer letter.

By the time the weekend rolled around, I started crumbling. Likely it was the pool of silence hanging in the air after I signed that letter and I knew even inordinate amounts of food wouldn’t quell the onslaught of emotion that was brewing. 

What did I just do?? Did I just run to a new job, scared? Or did I think this new opportunity was truly sexy and desirable? Did I make the decision with clarity or with an opaque moment of desperation? 

I was supposed to be on pause. Rethinking. Redesigning. Recharging. Eating whip cream from a can. I had been off-center for so long that I knew I owed myself this pause, but I think I just blew it. 

But, in fact, I didn’t. The truth is, my decision was perfectly sane. If something is meant to be, there isn’t any right or wrong thing you can or can’t do. You just have to stop *f-ing yourself in the head over it. Instead of trying to justify why you should stay unhappy (or, paused), honor your desires and stop delaying YOUR TIME. 

I definitely desired this job for a lot of reasons. There’s enough about it that I can do with my eyes shut, while plenty I need to learn. It’s a title I’ve held for years, but the role has always been half-written. But with this company, I get to wrap up the ends (make them a pretty little bow of holiday cheer) and get ‘er done! And it’s going to be incredibly gratifying. 

Desire is the pimp juice of life. (Or is joy?) Either way, the end of my pause comes as no coincidence with the end of the year. I mean, with the end of the year always comes a transition. Some of us celebrate our past year’s accomplishments, while others lament it and hope for their own redo. I stepped out on a ledge (and self-medicated with canned whip cream, but, yeah).

You may be knee-deep in wrapping paper and slushy snow or wading through a puddle of confusion and regret, but here’s my end-of-year and holiday present to you:

This holiday, I hope that every gift you open brings that extra glimmer across your face that only the best gifts can bring. And while you may be opening a “thing,” I hope that your heart is the one gift you open with the most gusto. While you are filling yourself with savory morsels and sweet treats, I hope you are also feasting on the things that nourish and sustain your most perfect life. While you sing along to carols in your toasty car and draw hearts with your mitten hands on the foggy window, I hope you also whistle to your own little tune. For every old tradition, I wish you a new one. For every reindeer game you can’t figure out how to play, I wish you a game that’s all your own. For every Elf, The Land of the Misfits, and the little rebels who are Home Alone, I wish you radical acceptance, even if only you get it. For every Miracle on 34th Street, I wish you a miracle on whatever street, ocean, aircraft, or spaceship you happen to be on. And for every lesson learned in 2022, every disappointment, every accomplishment, I wish you a new year full of just as many “oh shit” moments, happy tears, sad tears, “*F-yeahs!” and visits to the drawing board. I wish you colorful lives where they all may “even say you glow.” Because, after all, none of us knows how many days we have in front of us. 

Merry Christmas! 

It’s starling, my dear. Simply starling.

Murmuration. It’s a biology term, and it’s the phenomenon that results when hundreds of starlings fly side-by-side in unison and coordinate their flapping to make spectacular flight patterns.

You’ve seen them: A flock of birds in the night sky, swirling this way and that, feinting left but then swerving right. The flock gets denser, then sparser, moving faster, then slower – but always in a captivating pattern, like they’re being controlled by a secret rhythm.  

In a murmuration, each bird, on average, pays attention to its seven closest neighbors. Why seven? According to researchers, six or seven neighbors optimize the balance between group cohesiveness and individual effort. 

So it sees the seven nearest birds, and it will adjust its own behavior. If its nearest neighbors move left, it moves left. If they move right, it moves right. The bird doesn’t know the flock’s eventual journey’s end and can make no radical change to the whole. But each of these birds’ slight reformations, when occurring in swift sequence, shift the course of the total and in fascinating patterns. (It’s just like the 2° I talk about in my article, The Power of Small.) 

I cannot fully understand it, but I am impressed by it. I’ve been reading a lot, and the way I interpret it is that it’s a logic that emerges from simply who is sensing whom (aka, the function of the network structure). The flock’s performance is determined by the construction of the network. This, in turn, shapes the behavior of the network. 

(*Writer shakes head) 

The pattern — or information — passes through this chain of connections from one bird to the next. 

(*Writer is still shaking her head)

Each bird is a node in the system of influence and can affect the behavior of its neighbors. Scientists call the process in which groups of disparate creatures move as a cohesive unit of collective behavior.

Human behavior on social media. Strikingly similar.

New research suggests that human behavior on social media (coordinated activism, harassment mobs, etc.) bears strikingly similar to the collective behavior performed by birds. Picture birds, fish, or ants acting in collective behavior without hierarchical direction from a designated leader.

Crazy to think about, but once you start, you get it!

One bird follows another.

I retweet you; you retweet me.

It’s the construction of the network.

For birds, the signals along the network are passed from the eyes or ears to the brains. For humans, though, the signals are passed along our screens, from news feed to news feed along this artificial superstructure designed by humans. And this superstructure is mediated by algorithms. And curation by the algorithms is how content appears in your feed. In essence, the algorithm determines the seven birds… and you react.

First, the nudge to assemble into flocks. Next, the nudge to engage. The nudge to engage is also known as “bait.” Twitter’s Trending Topics, for example, shows a nascent “trend” to someone inclined to be interested. The algorithm is signaled once the user takes the bait, and the topic’s profile is raised for their followers. Now the bait is curated into your friends’ feeds. Why? Because they are one of your seven birds. Frenzies begin to take shape. Are you with me? And once this happens, there are consequences: users are driven mad with rage, and small subsets of people become larger flocks. All before anyone knows anything has happened. Eventually, an armed man may decide to free a DC pizza parlor or a violent mob blitz a nation’s capitol. 

We often say “it went viral” to describe our online murmurations, but, come on, we’re not wholly passive here. We have agency, and we can decide not to take the bait. We aren’t actually birds. Saying it went viral is a pathetic attempt to absolve ourselves of all responsibility. I remember my mom telling me that a rumor does not simply spread; it spreads because I spread it. 

I used to think the bait cascading across the network was the problem, but I don’t anymore. Most of the bait is old; history repeats itself. Instead, the size and speed of networks are the real problems. In the early 1900s, bait may have been confined to a village or town. In the 60s, it might have percolated across television. In the 2020s, it pushes through a murmuration of hundreds of millions of Twitter users and is picked up 24/7 by mass media. 

Winston Churchill said, “We shape our tools, and then the tools shape us.” Social media infrastructure shaped society, which shaped behavior, which is shaping society…

The content is somewhat secondary. So, is what we see of value? We’re technically not seeing what we want to see but instead what the structure (algorithm) wants us to see. And if this is the case, the only possible result is a social disaster (which I’m seeing). Instability results from immediate public reaction to incompletely understood matters magnified by instantaneous feedback.

Because curation organizes and directs the flock’s attention, the potential downstream impact on real-world power is absolute. Disinformation, hate speech, and harassment mobs; we’re intractably polarized.

And what are we doing? 

We are treating the worst dynamics of today’s online ecosystem as problems of speech rather than challenges of curation and network organization. Content moderation needs to be reworked. What does this look like? Well, I don’t know. How many birds should we see? Which birds? When? Nudges and bait seem to be attention traps. And attention traps seem to lead to bad things. We need more tech reformation conversations. Some bills mandate transparency, and there are calls to reform 230, but revoking legal protections or breaking up business grabs is challenging. Someone needs to prioritize rethinking design. For example, Twitter could eliminate its Trending feature entirely or in specific geographies during sensitive times like elections. It might limit nudges to surfacing actual large-scale or regional trends, not small-scale rage bait. Instagram could enact a maximum follower count. Facebook could introduce more friction into its Groups, allowing only a certain number of users to join a specific Group within a given timeframe. These are substance-agnostic and not reactive. Design interventions.

But, again, the design shapes the system and spawns the behavior. But if the resulting behavior includes less time on site and fewer active flocks, well…

So what do you think? How much online mobs and flocks of birds have in common is truly starling, right! 

7 Secretive confessions that probably won’t shock your socks (or even mildly alarm them) but here goes

Time to break out the protein chips and start whispering secret confessions. 

Everyone loves a good confession, especially when the admission comes from someone you think is perfectly fantastically flawless! Admit it. Your evil little eyeballs jump at a chance to know all the things.  

Perhaps you have made assumptions. Maybe you are curious. Possibly you are none of these things but accidentally clicked on my blog while scrolling with your big thumbs.

Nonetheless, welcome anyway. Let’s spill a few secrets and eat protein chips! Because why not?

CONFESSION #1: I barely ever buy books

If you’ve seen pictures of my books, you’re probably thinking, “But you have so many!” It’s true. I am ridiculously and enormously, and incomprehensibly blessed with books, but about 50% were gifts from friends or giveaways I’ve won. Perhaps 30% are from garage sales, meaning we’re talking 50 cents to $1 per book. And 20% I bought at full price from the bookstore. 

Except for those garage sales, I barely ever spend money on books. Thrifty bookworm winning here (which is good because I am the poor).

CONFESSION #2: I have a very strict unorganized writing schedule


On the one hand, my writing block is from 2-7 pm, exactly without fail, every single day: blogs, social media, short stories, pages of my book. I am like the clockwork beast of awesome. 

On the other hand, I usually have no idea what I’m going to write about as I sit down to write. I occasionally weep as I sit staring at my screen, wondering what fried pretzel made such a strict schedule for themself but neglected to COME UP WITH CONTENT.

 It’s a mess around here. An adorable mess, though.

CONFESSION #3: I never weigh in on important topics (anymore)

I have firm opinions. Do I blog about them? Not anymore. This is 50% because someone else has already very articulately said what I think, so read their blog post instead and let me eat my chips like a child. And it’s 50% because do you expect me to say something profound and poignant? That’s not on my resume. (I have to admit, I miss putting out the raving opinion pieces like I used to. The opinions are still there. It’s the “raving” that I’ve tempered.)

CONFESSION #4: I plagiarize myself constantly

When you’ve been writing for so many years, you sometimes blink and say, “We’ll, I’ve got nothing.” Or, if you are me, you end up writing a brilliant and inspired post and then randomly search your blog because something about it felt familiar, only to realize you’d already written about this. Then you post it anyway and cry to chocolate because chocolate understands.  

But seriously, I should take legal action against myself. I’m terrible.

CONFESSION #5: I have 0% care for rude internet people because they are turnips

Life is too short to cry over what nameless internet turnip-heads think, and life is too short for turnips in general. Like seriously, what is the point of a turnip? 

CONFESSION #6: I don’t force myself to achieve 2000%

Gone are the days when I’d blog every. damn. day. 

(A) Book writing needs to be a priority over blogging because hopeful career there; (B) my blog will not perish if I don’t post every day, and (C) I am trying to keep it fun! That’s the key to sticking to blogging for years and years and years. 

CONFESSION #7: I can’t shut up, apparently

This needs to be said, though I don’t think it’s a secret. Look at all my random word trails leading to irrelevant discussions on turnips. I feel mildly guilty when I write about nothing, but I can’t stop. I’m happy – sometimes, about nothing. And life is too short not to be happy (or blog happily) – and that is my goal here. Be happy, blog happy. 

Plus, I have much to say – even when it’s about nothing. But don’t assume that it’s my fault. My brain is just so interested in stuff…

Well, I’ve spilled enough confessions. Nothing earth-shattering; I’m still that delicate dandelion of niceness that you believe me to be. But I do promise I’ll try to write something-more-interesting-less-nothing next time. 

Maybe I’ll tackle a conspiracy theory! 

Maybe I’ll talk about my biggest regret!

Maybe I’ll talk about my plans to build a self-sufficient backyard so that I can live off the grid (power grid, and all)!

Or maybe I’ll just share a few jokes…