Lessons from 2016 #3

Go for your dreams always.

From the moment we learn to crawl (and too often before that) the word we hear hundreds of times a day is…NO. Don’t do that. Don’t touch this. Don’t…Can’t…Shouldn’t…Mustn’t. The they are the other words…stupid, silly, naughty. By the time most of us enter school, the beautiful free-spirit that we were born with is broken. If it wasn’t before…school will make certain to kill every dream inside of you. Then comes jobs and bosses we hate. Most of us spend a lifetime forgetting the dreams we once held so dear. Sadly some even forget how to dream.

Here is the best kept secret…it is never too late to go for your dreams. Even if you are fifty and want to be a prima ballerina…you can find a way to capture some of that glory even if you never make the Bolshoi. One of my favorite movie scenes is the opening and closing venet of Pretty Woman. There is this black homeless man pushing a shopping cart and shouting out…”What’s your dream? This is Hollywood. Everybody’s got a dream.” So…what’s your dream?

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Lessons from 2016 #2

Sometimes you have to let old things go to make room for new ones to grow.

So like the stupid song says ‘just remember in winter far beneath the bitter snow lies the seed with the sun’s love in the spring becomes the rose.’ Any gardener will tell you the first lesson about growing roses is that if you want beautiful flowers in the spring, you have to prune that damned bush back…almost to the ground in the fall.

But so few of us have the strength to cut off those final bruised and dying buds of another season. Maybe those bruised flowers smell too sweet…sometimes sickly sweet perhaps? Sometimes we are afraid of getting stuck by the thorns…but the longer you delay the pruning the bigger and tougher those thrones become.

After Mount Saint Helens erupted one of the things that astounded scientists was how quickly life returned to the mountain. As desolate and barren as it had seemed right after that eruption within months there were signs of life. Almost as soon as those embers cooled the life cycle began again.

So too will yours if you simply have the courage to clean out the old to make way for the new.

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Lessons from 2016 #1

Some things are for a reason, others for a season, only the best are forever.

We see it every day in nature…things are born, they live and then they die. Animals, flowers, even the air, water and land have life cycles.

But when it comes to human relationships, we don’t like to see it that way. We get upset when a friendship, dating relationship or heavens forbid a marriage ends.

But the hard truth is…some people come into your life for a reason: to take something from you or give something to you. Others are there just for a season…in fact you could even argue that nothing is forever. Children grow up and spouses die.

Personally though I believe that some very very special ones transcend it all, across lifetimes and space.

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I am NOT that friend…

The past few days have been challenging. Not so much for me personally, but me as a friend.

One set of friend lost a big court case…

Another is having marriage and financial difficulties…

And I have probably pissed half the autism support network off with my positivity.

The bottom line problem…

I am NOT that friend you go to just to vent. 

Oh sure, I can listen to your troubles. I will even give you hugs, coffee and cookies if you are close by. But as I have blogged before those silly emoji ones…well, I am sorry but they don’t work.

I am not the friend that will allow you to blame everyone else. Not the person to come to if you want someone to tell you that someone else is wrong and you are perfect.

And I most definitely am not the one to come to if you don’t want to change.

I am though the best choice if:

  • You want/need an impartial perspective…and different perspective…a new paradigm.
  • You want practical answers…first steps that you can take. 

And if you do…then I am definitely the one that you can…

What kind of friend am I truly?

Let me tell you about E. She was the mother of PanKwake’s absolute BEST friend when she was in school. PanKwake used to say that she was going to grow up and marry this boy. But his mother was a single mom of 3…with no job…and she was losing her place to live.

Because she was illegal in this country.

As a teen she had been trafficked into the UK. A woman had come to her village promising her mother the world for her teenage daughter…and good education. She had then brought her to London…and used her as a domestic slave. Honestly, she was lucky…it could have been worse.

Then one day the woman just left…and never came back. Left this teen girl in an empty house with no food…utilities and rent overdue. Eventually E had hooked up with others from her country and for almost a decade they had hidden her and helped her…as much as they could…in the ways that they knew.

But this time she had hit a brick wall. She had run out of options with them. A lady from her church had arranged for her to live in a huge old house where her uncle rented rooms to others like her. That house was over crowded and filthy. There she was stuck with three small children…the oldest was not even five yet and the youngest was a babe in arms. And if that was not enough…she was being kicked out because she would ‘service’ this man.

Now me…I was just one step above that. After a miscarriage a little over two years before, I was STILL battling depression. I had just been housed in a two-bedroom flat with PanKwake after leaving her dad. I too was a foreigner. But I had two things going for me that E did not…my grasp of the language and we were here legally.

When E finally broke down and told me her story…want to know what kind of friend I am?

We cried. With four young children fed on cheese sandwiches and fighting sleep in the other room…we cried. And we laughed too. Then we got down to the business of doing what I do best…BRAINSTORMING. Looking through all the options that we could think of…and then some. We listed them out…

  • As abhorrent as it was…she could ‘service’ that man. But how long would that last? Would it really solve anything? What happened when it stopped working?
  • She could turn herself and the kids in and be deported back to Africa. But it had been so long since she had been there. That was a FOREIGN country to her children. Her family could not really help much.

Then there were the ones I could ‘help’ with. I knew that I could not allow them to stay with us for more than a night or two here or there or I would jeopardize our home. But I could call my immigration advisor and ask her advice.

And this may shock you…but we agreed that one of the children would stay with me if they got sent back. Two desperate mothers run out of good options…making a Sophie’s Choice. We spent hours debating which one. Honestly, we did.

And the next day while the kids were at school I called that advisor. She recommended that E go to the refugee services at the council. It was a risk though. She could be deported. But it really was the only viable option. That night we talked about it and the next day E went to them.

I was working part-time as a chef then and could not go with her. Sweet goddess, I was soooooooooooooooooooooo nervous. Especially when some lady from the council called me at work asking a hundred questions. I remember actually begging that woman not to deport them. I was worried that our plan to ‘save’ one of the kids might even be in jeopardy.

Today though…E and those children have a decent three bedroom house. She has gotten to go back to school…I think to study hair & beauty, which had been her dream…or maybe it is childcare. They have security…as much as any of us can anyway. Yes, she still has to reapply for leave to remain every few years…and wait in fear. But it is a future brighter than either of us ever dreamed in those dark days.

Of course, our paths drifted apart. I had to quit those jobs and take PanKwake out of school. The last time she saw her friends we travelled an hour to their birthday party at that new house. We had to leave after less than half an hour because of the noise and smells…too many people. Oh the joys of autism!

But when I sit at this desk in this huge house and hum…

Yeah I think that maybe…just maybe E and those babies were one of those ‘something good’ that earned me this amazing man and a happiness that I never dreamed possible.

So PLEASE if you are my friend…when you have troubles…if you want to just vent…

TAKE IT SOMEWHERE ELSE!

But when you want change…when you are ready to take a long hard look at the (wo)man in the mirror…and begin to build or re-build your life…to take action…then…

PLEASE COME TO ME…

That is my role….what I do best…problem solve. And like that other song said you really can…Lean on Me. Every step of the way. That’s the kind of friend I am.

(…and yes…I don’t preach something I don’t practice. In this house when I need to lean on Him…it goes something like this: Cwtch…spank…and tell me to get back to work.)

 

Always Something…

This week…

I failed the driver’s test that I studied for for three months. I scored a 50 out of possible 50 on the multiple choice. But I failed the video game section (called hazards) because the sim gave me vertigo and made me sick.

There were half a dozen more road blocks and hiccups with the house that we are trying to buy…and the sellers want to finalize on the 30th?!? A virtual impossibility.

Add to the mix preparing for a huge Thanksgiving party…every day life on the autistic spectrum…falling further behind in NaNoWriMo…and my sewing.

Is your head spinning as much as mine was?

But through it all there was one thing that shone through…

There is ALWAYS SOMETHING to be thankful for.

Not just at Thanksgiving…but every day.

Even on the darkest days. There is THAT moment. THAT thing. THAT person. THAT something.

The question becomes one of focus…perspective…or the fancy pantsy word ‘paradigm’.

What do you focus upon? Do you see only the negative/bad? Or do you look for and appreciate those moments?

I remember one such moment as clear as if it was yesterday…I had lost a baby, PanKwake was having seizures, and my marriage was irreparably broken. I was on ProZac (or one of the anti-depressants…they tried a couple). The doctors had diagnosed me as ‘major depressive episode’ or what in my mother’s day was called a ‘nervous breakdown.’

The day was sunny and warm. They had just cut the grass. I took PanKwake to the little park in front of our flat. She was running, playing and laughing. I could feel the warmth on my face, the smell of the grass and her laughter. I can remember thinking…’I am happy. In this one moment…I am happy.’

Yes, things were still overwhelming. It would be another year before I crawled out of that hole of depression and anxiety.

But I learned to enjoy THOSE moments. To live from one of them to the next. To use them to power my recovery. To hold onto them and pull myself up. This is a saying that sums it up well…

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I admit…at this point in my life…that is easy. In fact, I am also thankful for those challenges…because sometimes I feel so blessed/charmed that I fear the Annabel Lee syndrome (Edgar Allan Poe)…

But we loved with a love that was more than love—
   I and my Annabel Lee—
With a love that the wingèd seraphs of Heaven
   Coveted her and me.
And this was the reason that, long ago,
   In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
   My beautiful Annabel Lee;
So those ‘trying’ moments when we face the challenges of life on the autistic spectrum or just REAL life reminds me that even now things are not perfect…even if they seem that way most of the time. Hmmm…the reverse of the way it once was?
The thing is…that IF I had given up back then I would not be where I am now. You see just three months before meeting Cookie Monster, I experienced something that made me fear I was slipping back into that place which I call the ‘valley of the shadow of death.’ I fought it…I did everything I could to pull myself up. I tied that knot and held on.
Ironically,  I actually met Cookie because of that. I knew that I needed to force myself to get out of the house more. But I did not want to go to the movies, museums or on walks alone. I wanted and needed an adult to talk to…a friend. So I did the unthinkable…I went on a dating website. And found more than I ever imagined possible…
But if I had focused only on the problems that I faced…the obstacles…those challenges…we would be stuck in that dinky flat in London, battling the overwhelming noise and mess of a year of constructions…let me stop now. But you get the picture.
No matter how much we plan or study or do the right things in this life…we too often (read almost never) have control of what happens. We might like to think we do…but control is just an illusion. We are always just one decision or choice from disaster…or happiness.
And sometimes the only choice we really have is not our actions but our reactions. How we handle those disappointments…obstacles…and challenges. Do we let them beat us? Do we give in and give up? Do we allow them to overwhelm us? Or do we tie that knot? Get our butts up and back on the horse of life? And kick a$$…
Yes, I DO KNOW how incredibly hard that is. I have done it myself…more than once. I have walked my way right through that ‘valley of the shadow of death’ fearing every single evil out there…including lots in my own mind.
Thing is I do not think I am smarter or stronger or more special than anyone else out there. But I have spent years wondering, studying and trying to figure out…why me? Why did I make it through…relatively unscathed…things that have crushed and destroyed others?
And the only thing that I have come up with…the only answer I have found is…
Free will…Choice…Choosing what I focused upon…in those moments…the problems or any glimmer of hope I could find.
Maybe greater minds out there have come up with better, ‘righter’ or more scientific answers but I have not found them in my studies…
So until they do I will just keep finding the positives…focusing upon those and getting back up on that horse. So, yes, I am gonna retake that driving test as soon as I can…and this time I know going in how challenging I find that video game so I have already come up with a strategy of how to stay focused…and just get through it…
Sometimes that is all you have to do…

Stay focused and get through the challenges…

Cause this life is the hardest ‘test’ any of us will ever face. 

Hazard Test Lesson…

Almost twelve years ago, I had a car accident in Los Angeles. I have not driven since. When we moved to London, it was no big deal. In the decade that I lived there, there was only one place that I could get to faster and easier via car than by bus or Tube.

But since we moved up…that is another story.

We spend £20 on taxis going to and from PanKwake’s gymnastics. And there are other wonderful home education outings that we just cannot do without a car. Like the horse farm…we got there via cab but then it took an hour for them to find us when we called to be picked up…and she was so distraught, on sensory overload with the autism that she meltdown and we had to get out half way home. I mean you cannot just ask a cab driver to pull over and wait until she is better.

So for three months I have been studying for my driving test. In the UK that is broken down into three parts really. The first two called the theory test consists of a multiple choice section like back home in America. But the second part of that is what they call the hazards section. It is a video simulation. They show you a clip supposedly made to look like you are behind the wheel of a car. You are then expected to push a button when you see something ‘wrong’/hazardous. You are scored on each section individually but you must pass both separately in order to pass the test and be able to take the practical or road test.

After studying for three months…over 700 pages…yes, SEVEN-HUNDRED pages of manuals…I scored a perfect 50 out of 50 on the multiple choice section of the test. I know the laws, rules, best practices and signs…perfectly evidently.

Then I got to the ‘hazard’ section. From the first clip I was disoriented. While it is supposed to be like driving a car, it really is nothing more than a video game. And I do NOT play video games. I do not even like to watch them…and I live in a house of gamers.

In Minecraft, PanKwake will build roller coasters. She thinks it is funny to beg and plead, essentially ‘make’ me, watch her ride the roller coasters in her game. I get vertigo every time. And that was exactly what happened yesterday.

To make things worse…there is NO adequate means of preparing for this part of the test. Because even the video clips that are online do not ‘score’ you. So you do not know if you are improving at all. (If one of you knows where I can get REAL practice let me know!)

But this blog is not about kvetching. Yes, maybe it is not fair or right that you forced to pass something that measures less your knowledge than your ability to play a video game. But it is the law…and not much I can do about it except try to figure out some way of overcoming that disorientation and squeezing three more points out of it without vomiting on their computers. Heck, let me rephrase that…not vomiting on their computers until after I have finished the test.

What struck me though is that it is like life…you can study and do perfectly…yet still fail.

It is frustrating!

It is demoralizing!

It is NOT right or fair!!!

And to make matters worse…we have NO control over it!

But that is life…

And our choices are…

Give up…give in…

OR

Get up and try again!

That is the life lesson in all this…

You Cannot Control What Happens…

No Matter How Much You Prepare/Try…

What You Can Control Is Your Reaction! 

Your true power rests not in your actions…preparations or planning…but rather in your REACTIONS.

This is not the first time I have heard this. One of my favorite self-help gurus Stephen Covey (The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People) said that our greatest power was in that tiny space of time between an action and a reaction.

Don’t get me wrong…almost all of us are going to experience those emotions…frustration, demorilization and anger…and that is OK. It is what makes us humans.

The difference between winning and losing though is whether you allow those emotions to control you and your actions. Or whether you get your a$$ back up on that horse and keep trying. And the sooner you do that sometimes the better.

Whether it is PanKwake’s chocolate oatmeal cookies that never come out just right for her…or driver’s tests…or seemingly big things like elections…

Even when you have no control over what happens to you…you always have control over how you respond to it…make the most of THOSE choices.

 

Genre…Boxes…and other silly rules…

After spending most of yesterday in a room with a few dozen other frightened, frustrated and exhausted parents of children with Pathological Demand Avoidance, I came home shattered but excited. While much of it was review of things I had discovered years ago in this lifelong journey into autism, I had come away with a few new things to try, a renewed sense of commitment and an appreciation of just how far we had come over those years.

So much so that after making dinner for Cookie Monster, I dusted off a manuscript of a book on the subject of PDA that I wrote four or five years ago. At the time there was only one book available on the subject and it was written by clinicians primarily for other clinicians, teachers and professionals. It was a difficult read, not just because of the style but also because the outcomes that they were seeing in the individuals they had followed into adulthood were depressing.

While I immediately recognized PanKwake in those pages, I refused to be so glum about her prospects for the future. I remember thinking…Not my daughter. I will lay down my life if I have to to give her a better chance for the future. 

And over those years, I pretty much have. I have lost sleep. I have given up jobs. Been unable to write for long periods of time. I endured the censure of professionals who disagreed with my methods and total strangers on the street. I have lost relationships and given up all hope of finding anyone that could handle the realities of my life as the mother to a little girl with Pathological Demand Avoidance. (Thank you Fate and the goddess that you had other plans for us both in the most amazing man on the face of this earth…my beloved Cookie Monster.) I died daily…sometimes hour by hour and moment by moment. In small ways that eroded away at my physical and mental health.

But sitting in that room I realized something…It was all worth it.

PanKwake and I (us now because now there is Cookie Monster) were further down that road than pretty much anyone else in that room. And most importantly we were HAPPIER. It was working…all of the thing sin that book were actually making a difference in her life and future.

So I dusted that old text off and decided that if nothing else, I would serialize it on her PanKwake blog about autism.

But no sooner had I done that than the dinner conversation turned to a friend who was struggling in their relationship. And all I could think was…’women have no idea the power they truly have to build-up or tear down a man.’ Another blog on a different subject began to formulate in my mind.

If that is not enough this morning, I was up early writing my smut.

Then as I made breakfast with two blogs down and another two formulating in my brain, I thought how screwed up…convoluted…and completely against all the rules of writing it all was. I mean…

Erotica that would make Christian Grey blush…

Encouragement for parents of children on the autistic spectrum…

Recipes, sewing patterns and advice for homemakers…

Relationship advice…

I chuckled as I thought about my author logline/motto…

Writer…Madonna…and More (i.e.whore as in Madonna/Whore Complex).

No wonder you are having so much trouble finding your niche…your audience…getting your writing career off of the ground floor! You don’t ever stick to just one subject…one genre.

Then I realized something that I knew all along. I do. I write in the genre of…

Life.

REAL Life.

206Messy, screwed up, sometimes wonky, worn, and comfortable…warm too. Just like the quilts that I love to sew.

And while my career path as a writer may never be as easy, simple or straight as my friends who write by tropes, use different pen names for different genres or basically follow the rules…just like with PanKwake’s autism…I would not have it any other way.

This REAL life makes this REAL woman REALLY happy.

Besides one of my core beliefs about Pathological Demand Avoidance is that these kids have been sent into this world at this crucial time for the purpose of teaching us that…

Some times (i.e. MOST of the time)…RULES ARE MEANT TO BE BROKEN!

Except of course the only one that truly matters…the Law Love. Because nothing else really matters.

My Mother, Myself…

No, in this case I am not talking about the ground breaking book on female sexuality by Nancy Friday. That would be my other blog. No, in this case I am talking my own mother and me…and to a lesser extent my girls.

The other day I said that right now there were only three things that would save us…

Duty…

Honor…

…and Love.

I thoroughly believe that. But I also said that love above them all, especially duty. This then is the story of duty without love.

My mother was a post-war baby that came into adulthood in the turbulent 60s and early 70s. It was a burgeoning era of new hopes and dreams. Free love. The pill. Feminism. The dawning of the age of Aquarius.

Men like Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. Women like Nancy Friday, Bella Abzug and Betty Friedan. To put it in prospective, she was as peer of Hillary Rodham Clinton.

It was a time when women had more choices…more options…more doors open to them than ever before.

Except if you were the eldest daughter of a single mother raised by your grandmother in Spartanburg, SC.

Perhaps in some ways my mother never stood a chance in this world. She was born to a lost and angry fourteen year-old little girl, who had ‘fallen into sin’ after the death of her beloved Daddy. Whether my Gran-gran ever married my mother’s father or just pretended to is a family secret that went to the grave with her. Either way, my Nanny who had found herself a widow and a single working mother before she was even forty now had two little girls to raise…it was soon to be much more as two aunts and then I followed for her to care for.

But there must have been some spark of imagination, some ember of dreams in my mother because during her senior year in high school she was attracted to my father, who remained the consummate dreamer and entrepreneur throughout life. And when she discovered that she was pregnant with me for a brief time she even tied her star to his and broke away from Drayton, SC. But it was an all too brief sojourn. Because…

This song reflected her reality more than the other one…

Duty called.

You see I grew up in the good Southern tradition where women were carers. They were meant for the home…even when they were forced by economics to be working mothers. It was not just our children though…it was our elders too. And Nanny…the matriarch of our clan of strong shield maidens…was ageing.

To make a long story short, my mother gave up whatever dreams she might have had. She spent the rest of her days caring for others. First, Nanny and us kids. Then my step-father. My nair do well brother. Even my Gran-gran, the mother who had disappeared for most of her childhood.

But through it all my mother was resentful and angry…and she let you know it too. She was the queen of the guilt trip. Even as she cooked, cleaned and cared for her family…you felt it.

She was duty bound…but without love.

As a teenager, I rebelled (heck, I still do). I followed those feminists. I was getting outta there. I was going to be a fighter pilot in the Air Force. I was never going to have children. And I was certainly never going to be a resentful old woman.

And while I never flew a plane (What was I thinking? I hate heights and flying!), I have travelled far from Drayton, SC. Six children later, I apologize to the older ones for my brief lapse into my mother’s pity party, but I am anything but resentful of this life now.

The difference is LOVE!

I love what I do. I love making a house into a home…I always have. Whether it was a ramshackle old house in that hell hole of Bedias, Texas, a studio apartment in Long Beach, a cramped two bedroom flat in north London or this mansion that makes me feel like Cinderella, I love it.

PanKwake accuses me of being obsessed with cleaning. The butchers are shocked that I cook three meals a day. He does not know about the cookies or fresh bread. I sew cloth napkins and placemats for Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas as well as everyday. Pillows, quilts and skirts for PanKwake. And I love it all. Every meal, every ounce of bleach and every stitch is done with love and gratitude.

I have never been happier. 

What my mother considered duty, obligation and resented as a prison, I do with love and gratitude.

Admittedly, one huge contributing factor is that the love and gratitude that I invest in our home is reciprocated by Cookie Monster. Not just with ‘thank you’s but with cwtches and kisses and ‘I love you lots and lots and lots.’

The other difference is that this is a choice not just an obligation, a responsibility or duty. While I never flew those fighter jets, I have travelled and lived in places that would boggle my mother’s mind. I was not just the first woman in our family to earn a college degree, but the first person. And I did not stop with just one but added a Masters as well.

I have held not just jobs…the women in my family were always forced to work to make ends meet…I have had careers. I have managed multi-million dollar charity campaigns. I have led meetings with mayors. I have ‘babysat’ drunk B-grade stars…and even an A-lister. I have thrown high-end events in the country estate of a real live Duke and Duchess. And one day I believe my paltry books will one day grace best-seller lists. I will do interviews and signings.

But none of that gave me or will give me as much pleasure as caring for the people I love.

Because I do my duty with honor and love. Without those, duty only breeds resentment. 

Out of choice. But that is a whole other blog for another day.

 

Greener Pastures…

Canada…

Ireland…

The UK…

The list grows of all the places that are supposedly offering ‘refuge’ after this election.

But there is this old saying…

The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.

And this is a girl that spent thirty years looking for those greener pastures. I grew up in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Drayton actually. A tiny mill village with an ageing population. As long as I can remember I dreamed of getting out of there.

I was actually fifteen when this country song ignited my imagination…

But of course I focused on the ‘happiness is Drayton, SC in my rear view mirror.’ Nothing would stop me from getting out of there. I was just too liberal, too feminist, too right, too big to spend my life stuck there.

I was eighteen when I first ‘escaped’ to college. But Columbia, SC was not far enough away for this girl. After a few months, the dutiful daughter came back to help with an ailing parent. But those dreams would not go away. Within a year, I was off again…to Cancun, Mexico. Was that far enough? No, again I was back but this time in Gaffney. But the next time I escaped was to be the final one.

I took a job as a nanny with a young couple that travelled the country selling magazine subscriptions. I made it as far as Fort Lauderdale, Florida…and the Candy Store bar where I used ‘my talents’ in the wet t-shirt contest to supplement my earnings as a waitress…and I got lost in…sex, drugs and rock-n-roll.

Over the next decade that wildness was to be buried deep in the facade of mother and preacher’s wife. I was to go back to college and earn not just a BS but a Masters. But under it all, those itchy feet still yearned for…

MORE…

This one…is so painfully accurate…that it brings tears to my eyes.

Of course, mine was not the exceptional marriage in that video. I was competing with a mistress that was impossible to beat…god. So I was off again…look for those greener pastures. And there was one place that called me like no other…

Los Angeles, California – summer of 2000

It was a new millennium…the world had not come to an end as predicted. And with stars in my eyes, I set out in my old Dodge Neon with the ink still wet on my divorce papers. After all since I was a teen watching Corben Bernsen in LA Law, this was UTOPIA. The perfect place…where anyone could be anything they wanted.

And I was too. I had lost over fifty pounds and got a job as a personal trainer. I got my own apartment…the first one in fifteen years. I got another job as a fundraiser and I hob-nobbed with politicians and stars. I managed multi-million dollar accounts and dressed in red power suits. But I still was not happy.

You see Los Angeles was NOT that utopia I had dreamt of. I learned that when I was dating a black man. We had gone out for coffee but the Latino man sitting two tables away from us would not stop staring. I felt like I was back in Spartanburg…I would expect racism there…but not LA?

But I was to learn even in Utopia there were neighborhoods that this black millionaire business man that looked like a football lineman would not dare drive through because he was certain to be stopped by the police…even though he held contracts to supply tires for the cars they drove.

Then I met PanKwake’s dad.

London, England – 2006

I will never forget my first visit to the north London neighborhood that was to be my home for more than a decade. We could hold hands…even kiss in public. And no one cared about a white woman with a black man. In fact, light brown skinned children were more common than either their darker or lighter skinned counterparts.

This then must be my utopia!

I had lived there less than a year. I was training to be a breastfeeding counsellor. And the class I was taking was all that young girl with stars in her eyes and unrealistic dreams ever dreamed of. There were three upper middle class white women, an Afro-Caribbean (that was a new word for me…and a new concept too), a Muslim and three other white women like me with mixed race children.

Then after class one Friday, I decided that PanKwake and I would try the cafe in that community center. Those three middle class moms were sitting with their children about a large table. I smiled and asked if we could join them.

Despite the obvious visual contradiction, the response was ‘Sorry, there’s no room.’

Even in this city half a world away with its thousand plus year history of trade and colonization, racism was alive and well.

I noticed another of the mothers with her mixed race little girl eating alone. And my heart sank. I was never again to feel the same about this place either. In fact, I was to come to hate the place where I felt trapped, where a little five year old girl was called ‘an infidel’ on the school playground by an adult nonetheless.

Present Day – Swansea, Wales

Yes, I love this smaller city. I love the Welsh pride and spirit that so closely resembles that ‘Southern hospitality’ that I had come to yearn for as much as I had once resented the ‘small minds’ that was the other side of that coin. I even laughing joke about home cookin’ from Sandy’s where even the vegetables are slathered in gravy. The only difference is the accent it seems.

But time has taught me a valuable to lesson…

The grass is NOT greener. No place is perfect.

For one simple reason, no person is perfect.

I had one of THOSE conversations with PanKwake, my autistic 10 year old daughter, at some point in the seemingly endless night. I think it was around three or maybe five in the morning as we discussed her Aphmau’s latest roleplay and the villain Zane. Surprisingly, I think she understood the concept that no one is completely evil and no one is perfect (yeah, I know Cookie Monster seems that way to me sometimes)…far better than I did. Perhaps better than I still do.

I know that things may seem dark where you are. But the bigger truth is that darkness exists everywhere…in every time…and every person.

I am reminded of one of those preachers back in those dark days of Bedias, Texas (that was is a blog all in itself, folks) when he said…

Grow where you are planted.

But the greatest truth of all is…

Home is not a place. It is the people…those we love.

It is not Swansea that makes me happy. It is PanKwake and Cookie Monster and my other children spread around the globe. It is family…and friends…be they next door or words on a screen thousands of miles from here.

And it is growth in myself that allows me to realize the beauty of the past, the happiness in this moment…and hope against all odds for a brighter future for us all.

Goddess bless, comfort and protect us all no matter where we call home.

News Flash…

The world has NOT come to an end!

Despite reports from various sources and both ends of the political spectrum…life as we know it has not stopped.

I know this personally because after hibernating for most of this week in the home that is my refuge and my fortress…and most especially the arms of my beloved Cookie Monster without whom known of it would be possible…I went out for a bit today.

The wonderful older gentleman next door stopped me to ask how I was and how PanKwake was doing. People on the street smiled. I even used my debit card without incident to purchase groceries (way too many of them…never go shopping for just one thing on an empty tummy). And miracles, money came out of the cash machine too. I made it home with my sacks without being attacked on the street.

And yes, this is Wales. Not the hectic, polluted and overcrowded streets of London. Or America where I was born, raised and spent perhaps half of my life. But we live in an interconnected enough world that those ripples are felt everywhere.

Heck, the sun was even out…though her winter rays were weak. But considering this is Swansea, just her presence is cause for wonder and proof that the world continues on.

It all got me thinking though about another November and another place. I could almost taste and feel it…

November 1980, Drayton, SC…

It was sunny that morning too as I waited across the street at the bus stop. I had even slipped out early to apply my mother’s make-up that I had rescued from the garbage since at fifteen I was still forbidden my own. I am sure that I looked almost comical in my unschooled attempts at applying it, but I felt anything but.

The world was coming to an end.

Ronald Wilson Reagan had won the election. The preacher said that with six letters in each of his names the former actor turned politician clearly wore ‘the mark of the beast 666.’ Even Jo, Aunt Mildred’s worldly younger sister that was a feminist and reminded me of Maude from the television show both in appearance, her liberal attitudes and her loud, abrasive manner, agreed.

After four years of a charming Southern Democrat in the White House, a man who sought to uphold the equal society policies of Roosevelt, Kennedy and Johnson, we now had this conservative, who talked of austerity and strong defence. And no one knew what to expect…

Another Great Depression…

Nuclear war with Russia…

Most definitely though…the end of the world!

February 1991, Houston, TX…

I had nursery duty but there was an intercom so I could hear every word that the Pentecostal, fire and brimstone preacher said. I rubbed my about to burst tummy as the baby…my fourth child who was going to be called Lydia Faith moved and kicked.

Armageddon. President Bush was moving our forces into the Holy Land. All of Europe was united under the EU banner. All of the prophecies of Revelations was in place.

It was most definitely the end of the world…this time.

But it was not. Any more than that baby was a Liddy Fae. As HE will tell you proudly.

The list goes on and on…

Then of course there was 2012…the end of the Mayan calendar…which was a decent movie but not as good as the other one by that director (The Day After Tomorrow).

Is it really any wonder that many of my favorite movies (those ones as well as Armageddon, Super Volcano and a plethora of very bad sci-fi channel ones) are The End of the World? Or that as a writer, I have an Apocalypse series…and another unfinished book called The Fall of Man? Or that I even have as yet unfulfilled survivalist leanings?

But the cold, hard facts are…Brexit…this election…the deaths of famous people this year…none of that is the end of the world. Any more than the Gulf War was the final battle of Armageddon from Revelations.

Will that day come? Yes, eventually it must. Whether a global financial market crash that makes 1929 look like child’s play or little boys (or girls) in power push those buttons or Mother Nature blows her lid at Yellowstone, that day will come.

But not today.

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself…” Listen to the rest yourself…Really listen!

Life does go on…our children need our time and attention, our partners need our love and support, our friends seek welcome and comfort, and yes, not just our country, but our world needs not our fear and most definitely not more hatred, but our love.

Not just for our family, friends and ‘those who think and act like us’ (Pocahontas, Disney) but as Jesus said…

But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; (Matthew 5:44, King James bible).

And yes….thems is hard words. Even harder to live…but that, folks, is the law of love.