Golf Ball Season

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Our house in Syracuse is across the street and down a hill from a municipal nine-hole golf course. You can’t actually see the golf course from my house, but you can’t help but know it’s there because, every spring and early summer, it’s golf ball season.

See, there’s a certain hole in that course where, if you slice them just right, you send golf balls over the fence, down the hill and onto our property. I find them nestled against the curb in front of our house, on my front lawn, or in the flower beds on either side of my front porch. One memorable time, while I was weeding my backyard garden, I witnessed one in action, bouncing down our driveway and coming to a stop at our garage door.

Finding golf balls is as much a part of my spring as the blossoming of early perennials, packing away my winter sweaters, and medicating my reaction to tree pollen.

The one waiting for me at the foot of our driveway when I got home from work today happened to be a nice, pretty new Titleist. I generally feel a little badly for the golfer when he or she sends a new one over the fence, as those things aren’t exactly cheap. But the majority of the balls that land in our yard are obviously practice balls, the more expendable, practical choice for the beginning golfer.

I never learned to play golf. Oh, I took some lessons and tried playing it on the very course I live near today, but it didn’t come naturally to me, so I quit.

I quit because, for too many years, I prided myself on being a perfectionist. And I used this desire to be perfect as a compass for my life; if I was good at something (and/or received praise for it) I stuck with it. If not, I dropped it.

Besides, what’s wrong with wanting to be perfect, I’d wonder? Isn’t “perfect” a wonderful word, a positive one? Don’t people remember Olympic gymnast Nadia Comaneci for her perfect ten? Why settle for B’s when you can get A’s, for “good” when you could be “best”?

And that perfectionism served me in many ways. I did very well in school. Loved reading because I was good at it, and writing because of the grades and accolades it brought me.

Then there was art. From the time I could hold a crayon, I loved to make pictures. Although I had no formal art training, I experimented with watercolor, chalk, pencil, ink, charcoal and acrylic paints. My mother didn’t just put my pictures on the refrigerator–she framed some of them. I believed I was destined to design greeting cards and illustrate children’s books…that was until, my sophomore year in high school, I got a C in art.

I never took art in school art again. Nor pursued a career as a commercial artist.

Writing, on the other hand, consistently brought me the grades, praise and awards I craved. Long before I graduated from high school, I had my mind set on being a writer.

Little did I know that the perfectionism that drove me to write would also turn out to be my biggest roadblock to a successful writing career. Far from being a “positive’ trait, it held me back, taunted me, scolded me. I’d get a rejection slip and quit writing for months at a time. I’d start a novel and, compared it to the work of my favorite authors, then abandon it, embarrassed, disgusted. Without teachers to stoke my ego and provide me with the encouragement I so needed, I floundered and procrastinated, struggled and avoided.

Yeah, perfectionism does that. So much for being a positive trait.

What I didn’t understand for the longest time…well, actually there were three things:

First, Nadia didn’t achieve her stunning level of performance naturally. She practiced. A lot. Yes, she possessed physical attributes that lent themselves to becoming a gymnast, but she also needed to spend countless hours honing them to accomplish what she did during those ‘76 games. Certainly she stumbled and fell and had imperfect dismounts during the years of practice leading up to her perfect scores.

Nadia exemplified the phrase practice makes perfect. If I had worked on my writing or art with even a tenth of the dedication Nadia put into her routines who’s to say what I could have accomplished.

Second, I’ve found that with any endeavor, the best lessons often come from one’s mistakes and failures. I think–I hope–that I am a better sister, friend, aunt, employee, writer and all around person based on the mistakes I have made over the years and what I eventually learned from them. In fact, I have come to believe that we’re all here to learn. Life is one unending series of lessons. And we’re not going to excel at each and every one of them–what’s the challenge in that?

And third, whether it’s pursuing hobbies or vocations or better mental and physical health, it’s important to have fun with the journey. When I finally stopped expecting myself to write epic prose and just began writing more regularly, I began enjoying both the process and the outcomes more. Sure, I still wince a little when I catch a typo or grammatical mistake I’ve made, and I still sometimes really envy the brilliance in other writers. But I know that my time at the keyboard is cathartic for me and, I hope, beneficial to others. Plus I learn from those other writers. And truly, that’s enough.

So as I retrieve the golf balls that come to my yard each year, I hope that the people who sent them my way don’t give up too soon. If they’re having fun, getting exercise, and spending time with friends, I hope that can be enough for now.

My only advice would be not to invest in new Titleist balls from the get go. Learning something might come at a cost, but it doesn’t have to be so expensive.

 

An “Angel Numbers” Game

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My sister sometimes calls me, with humor and affection, a weirdo–and, well, compared to her I sort of am. She’s the black and white sister, the one who looks for common sense in all things, the down to earth one.

Me, not so much.

I’m gray, and I’m not talking about what my hair color would be without the dye jobs I get every ten weeks. I have thoughts, ideas, questions and beliefs that I find difficult to articulate, not only to my black and white sister, but to most people I know. I think that’s why I like the Internet so much; I can Google these thoughts, ideas, etc. and always find people who share the same ones, or who provide me with new insights on them. Kindred spirits are always just a few keyboard clicks away.

I also think that’s why I took to writing when I was younger. It was definitely why I took to keeping journals; I probably have a couple dozen or more totally filled journals that capture decades of the musings that I’ve had a difficult time sharing aloud.

For example, I get a kick out of numerology. It’s not anything I’ve studied in depth, but I find reading about it interesting, and tend to believe numbers can tell us things or provide us with clues about our lives.

Take the number three. It’s been my favorite (lucky) number for as long as I can remember. I love that my name–Mary Anne Hahn–is comprised of three names of equal length, and that it’s twelve letters long (when you add the numbers in twelve together, 1+2 = 3). Add the numbers from my date of birth together, 4+2+3+1+9+5+6, and they equal 30–or 3+0=3. The street numbers of many the places I’ve lived, including where I live now (2+7+3) boil down to three.

Coincidence? I think not, although I can hear my sister saying, “Weirdo.”

One can find tons of websites brimming with similar, sometimes sinister, numeric “coincidences.” But even before I got online, I remember reading in the newspaper about how a numerologist pointed out that the numbers in the date that Nicole Simpson was murdered, June 12, 1994 (6+1+2+1+9+9+4), add up to 32–O.J. Simpson’s professional football jersey number.

This pertinent info couldn’t be used in court, but it makes one wonder, yes?

And even before that, I remember hearing about the numeric similarities between facts surrounding the assassinations of Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy. Fascinating stuff.

So naturally, I figured that there just had to be a reason why, on a regular and sometimes daily basis, I see my partner John’s birthday, October 18. Usually, it’s when I glance at a clock: 10:18. But sometimes it’s the total on a cash register receipt, or the time stamp on an email at work. Last weekend, at the marina, it was the birthday of one of the customers I sold a fishing license to.

So to Google I go, typing “meaning of seeing someone’s birthday” in the guru’s search box, Admittedly, I expected to find that John and I have some sort of cosmic connection, that we were meant to be in each other’s lives, and yada, yada, yada.

But instead I learned that the ten-eighteen phenomenon had nothing to do with John. It had to do with me.

I discovered that numbers seen repeatedly are referred to as “angel numbers.”  For those who believe in such things, angels use these repeated numbers to get our attention–to get a message to us. Although raised Catholic, I can’t say I completely buy into the concept (or reality) of angels, but I really like the messages that the numbers 10 and 18 supposedly mean:

Angel Number 10 encourages you to move forward in your life with faith and trust that you are on the right path in all ways…Have faith that your inner-urgings are leading you in the right direction and you will find future success and fulfillment on your chosen path…Angel Number 10 brings a message to step forward in new directions and look to new beginnings with an optimistic and positive attitude as they will prove to be auspicious and beneficial to you in many ways, now and in the future.”

Angel Number 18 …[asks] you to think only positive thoughts to do with prosperity and abundance. When you have high expectations and maintain a positive attitude, the angels and Universal Energies help you to manifest your highest ideals and achieve success in all that you put your intentions and efforts towards.”

I can deal with success, fulfillment, prosperity and abundance, right? Plus I like the part about being on the right path; I’m becoming more and more sure of where I want to take this blog in particular and my writing in general, so it’s nice to get a little encouragement from beings I’m not entirely sure I believe in.

If you too tend to see certain numbers on a daily basis, I invite you to check out this site. Let me know if you like what you find there.

And if you believe what you find, I won’t tell my sister. 🙂

 

S.O.S.: Save Our Sentences!

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As much as possible, I like to consider myself a silver lining type of girl these days. I wasn’t always this way, and it still doesn’t come naturally, but I try.

Generally my mind works like this: I see or read something alarming, disturbing or simply annoying, and I initially react with alarm, disturbance or annoyance. Then, after what ideally is a brief time, or even almost immediately, I try to look for the silver lining in what I’ve just seen or read.

Take this article that I came across last week.

In a recently released report, the business consulting firm PayScale found that almost half of all hiring managers surveyed stated that the skill they see most lacking in college graduates today is the ability to write.

And I thought, “Wha-a-a-t?”

Then I realized that, sadly, I wasn’t truly surprised.

I mean, I see it on Facebook all the time. Not typos, which I sort of can live with because I am the Typo Queen (although there’s really no reason for them either, because you can edit a published post) but out and out grammatical and spelling errors, and an over reliance on texting abbreviations.

I see the same things at work, in emails, and in external communications I review as part of my job. Punctuation errors. Incorrect capitalization of common nouns. Participles and modifiers dangling everywhere. I.e. when it should be e.g., for heaven’s sake! (Okay, I forgive most people that one. I looked it up myself many years ago, as I didn’t recall learning it in school.)

So, back to that article I read about college grads. After my initial reaction upon reading it, I came next to the silver lining–think about the opportunities this opens up for those who can write and write well!

Businesses need us.

And I’m not just talking about communications departments; in fact, those jobs are probably filled by some of the more than 50 percent of college grads who do possess solid writing skills.

Many other departments in an organization need solid writing skills, as does anyone aspiring to a leadership role in most companies. As I wrote about a number of years ago in an article entitled “Corporate Roads Less Traveled: A Guide for Freelance Writers” which commercial writer Peter Bowerman included in his second Well-Fed Writer book, Back for Seconds, departments that need competent writing skills include Customer Service, Marketing, Training,Human Resources–even the code-crazy folks in IT departments need to communicate in writing. And I wrote that article well before the emergence of social media and blogging platforms, which provide even more opportunities for the enterprising writer.

Besides offering services directly as freelancers and consultants, writers can also put together business and executive writing courses, then deliver them online, as webinars or in person, filling in the gaps that our education system obviously missed. And, remarkably, these courses can cover pretty basic elements, from the proper use of punctuation (oh, that poor apostrophe and semi-colon!) to when and when not to capitalize nouns (yeah, I realize I’d already griped about that one). You’d be amazed by what people don’t know about writing well. Or maybe not.

Of course, finding or creating these opportunities might take a little chutzpah. You won’t necessarily come across them by searching through online job boards–you’ll need to network and promote, actions that don’t always come easily to the introverted writer. But I’m as convinced that the opportunities are out there as much as I was back when I wrote that article. Maybe even more so.

The English language, while always wonderfully morphing, doesn’t have to be reduced to a twisted heap of hooked on phonics. This is a call to action for writers who are in search of work, to go out there and rescue the written word from the clutches of those who unwittingly but nonetheless brutally abuse it.

After all, we’re its last line of defense.

 

Chance of Fulfillment, 50 Percent

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My partner John owns a seasonal business, a marina, bait store and lodging in Henderson Harbor, New York, on Lake Ontario. Like most, if not all, seasonal businesses, we are weather-driven–ours is busier than all get out when the weather graces us with beautiful, sunny days, and deader than the proverbial doornail when cold, wet and windy weather blows in.

But sometimes the forecast, not the actual weather, does more harm to Henderson Harbor’s businesses than good.

Take this morning as I write this. According to both local meteorologist Joe Blow and weather.com, today was supposed to entirely suck.  Yet when I glance up from my keyboard to look out the window, I see a hazy but sunny sky, and a calmly rippling denim blue bay of water.

And I wonder, how many people based their plans for today on the forecast, not the weather?

Not everyone, come to find out. But my guess is business would have been much better if the forecast had accurately reflected a pleasant Saturday morning, followed by some rain in the afternoon, rather than an entire day of rain and occasional thunderstorms. So much for triple Doppler.

This made me think about life in general, and the doom and gloom we often see forecast in our daily news. It can be so easy to get caught up in that, to postpone treating ourselves for fear we won’t have enough when the economy collapses, or to decide not pursue dreams because they may be risky.

Then we look back, unlike the young couple in a current Suburu television commercial, and see how we decided to take the safe path rather than the adventurous one when we came to that fork in the road. That we ended up buying pants in Walmart instead of camping out under the stars.

I have a nephew who has an idea for a business he wants to launch. I’m quite certain other friends and family members would tell him it’s a pipe dream, but not me. I’d rather see him try and fail than not try at all. In truth, I hope he succeeds beyond his wildest dreams, and keeps his dear old aunt in mind once he’s rich and famous.

But yes, I do wish I had taken Robert Frost’s “road less traveled by” when I was younger. I had started to, putting myself through college with part time jobs and loans…but upon graduation, faced with all that debt, I grabbed hold of the first steady paycheck I could find.  Not at all the future that the young me had planned.

And though I certainly don’t regret the people I’ve met, places I’ve seen and many of the experiences I’ve had along the road I did choose, there’s this small, persistent voice inside me that still urges me to go for something bigger and more fulfilling.

Do you hear that voice, too? Not mine, of course, but your own, wondering aloud if you could still pursue an old dream, a calling, or even just a long lost pastime?

If so, that voice is there for a reason. And my guess is that it’s a more reliable indicator of how we should live out the remainder of our lives than triple Doppler. Or meteorologist Joe Blow for that matter.

Peas and Corn

Frozen-Peas-and-Corn Do you consider yourself to be a fairly mature, rational person–that is, until something you do or say proves completely otherwise?

I’ve had to face this realization about myself in the frozen food aisle. Twice.

And also behind the wheel of my car. All too frequently.

But first let’s talk about frozen foods.

For a number of years, my sister and I have taken annual vacations together, bringing along various friends and family members who are able and willing to come with us. When her sons were younger, we rented summer camps, first on nearby Oneida Lake and then at Brennan Beach on Lake Ontario. Later we took a few trips to different parts of Florida, and for the past several years we’ve rented oceanfront beach houses in North Carolina.

We have always been very close, my sister and I. Although like many siblings, we fought like cats when we were younger, our adult vacations have been pretty much drama-free; in fact, these trips give us time to bond that we don’t often get during the rest of the year.

Once settled into our beach house, we make a trip to the nearby Food Lion for groceries. Now when I say I’m pretty easy to please when it comes to food, that’s a monumental understatement. Oh. there are things I don’t like, but I’m far from being a fussy eater, so I’m usually like, “That sounds good,” or “That works for me” when my sister or others make menu suggestions.

Until, it seems, we get to frozen vegetables.

Now, to give you some perspective, my four siblings and I grew up in a household where pretty much the only vegetables we ate were peas and corn, probably because my mother knew they were the only veggies the five of us could agree on. Occasionally we had spinach, wax beans or green beans. But mostly it was peas and corn.

Once I was on my own, I discovered the wide and wonderful world of yummy vegetables outside of my limited realm of experience–carrots, broccoli, zucchini, summer squash, asparagus, cauliflower, eggplant, peppers, etc., etc., etc.–and that garden salads could consist of so much more than iceberg lettuce.

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I happily sampled a wide variety and, except for my long-term reluctance to try Brussels sprouts {which I’ve since overcome) and a continued aversion to beets and lima beans (eww–OK, I can deal with lima beans in a bag of mixed vegetables), I crave variety in my veggie intake. I love them steamed, grilled, stir-fried and sauteed, or in baked dishes like stuffed peppers and ratatouille, and I always buy them fresh or frozen, never canned.

I continue to eat spinach and wax or green beans now and then. But I’ve left peas and corn off my personal menu unless they are part of a veggie mix, or the occasional corn on the cob.

So there we are, on vacation, in the frozen food aisle–my sister B.J., my brother Jim, and I–and it was time to pick out some vegetables to include with our upcoming meals. Now my brother is a tad (understatement) more fussy when it comes to food in general and, I quickly learned, vegetables in particular, as he wrinkled his nose or voiced reluctance over each one I suggested.

Eventually my sister stepped in. “Do you like peas?” Jim said yes. “Do you like corn?” Again he nodded, so she tossed a bag of each into the cart.

“How about this?” I said hopefully, grabbing a bag of mixed vegetables that contained peas, corn and then some.

He shook his head. “I don’t like carrots.”

“Well for crying out loud, I want some real vegetables!” I fumed, tossing the peas and corn mixture back into the freezer and grabbing the first veggie mix I saw that contained absolutely no peas or corn. I threw that into the shopping cart, then turned on heel and stomped off to get something we’d forgotten in an aisle we’d already passed.

It was during those moments alone that I realized what I had done. I was establishing a pattern, and not a pretty one at that.

See, a year ago, in the same supermarket, same aisle, I reached for a bag of the same mixed vegetables my brother had just nixed, figuring they’d be a crowd pleaser (Jim wasn’t with us on the trip last year). When he saw me place them in the cart, my sister’s fiance Joe shook his head. “I won’t eat those. They’re store brand.”

“What’s wrong with store brand?” I asked.

“I won’t eat ‘em. Only name brands.”

“Well, that’s silly. They’re the same.”

“No they’re not.”

“For crying out loud, yes they are!”

My sister didn’t try to mediate that one. She just took off for another aisle.

When I realized that I’d made a frozen vegetable aisle scene two years in a row, I felt sheepish. I rejoined my brother and sister in the dairy section, and apologized to my sister, who’d witnessed both outbursts. And although I explained to both of them where my disdain for peas and corn came from, I still squirmed at the thought of my over-reaction.

Who knew I felt so inordinately passionate about vegetables? As I said to them later, you have to acknowledge you have a problem before you begin to address it.

So much for being the wise and rational person I’d like to think that I am. But I guess we all have our triggers. Mine just happen to be peas and corn, I guess.

And people who tailgate, or don’t use their directional signals, or cut me off in traffic…

OK, so clearly, at 60 years old, I’m still a work in progress.

What about you? Are you totally self-actualized, or do you have specific things that reduce you to your five year-old self?

Remember, (I’m smiling as I write) you have to acknowledge you have a problem before you begin to address it, right?