Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Sweet Peace #6: Going beyond my story


   I have reason to believe my war with food began at birth. My mom was 18 when I was born. She smoked and, like most people back in those dark ages, had probably never heard the words “health” and “food” put into the same sentence. For whatever reasons, her breast milk was not nourishing and for some period of time, I was basically starving, not only for food but for loving comfort and connection. The nutritional solution of the day was a formula based on Karo syrup: enter sweet tooth.

Understanding the story of how my new brain connected hunger, starvation, lack of love, and sugar is all well and good; however, it doesn’t change much in my day-to-day world as I try to soothe the reflexive actions triggered by that early imprinting. Wars start for a myriad of reasons. Someone has to declare peace.

Viktor Frankl said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” 

The Gift of the Outsider

1/25/2022 Update: Finding these old posts ... especially ones where I can see learning and growth in the time between ... is like treasure. I didn't know twelve years ago how much a gift my lonely childhood was. Now, I understand that everything that has made me who I am was a gift.


In her book "The Seeker's Guide," Elizabeth Lesser states, "I recently heard a great writer say that an essential element in the life of a writer is to have been an outsider in childhood, to have been given the 'gift' of not belonging." 

 Gift? I never thought of it that way. Lesson, maybe. But ... gift? Those long, endless days of my lonely childhood as the incubator, the essential element, of my writer's soul? 

 There is no doubt that I was an outsider ... an only child growing up in the country spending more time with Anne of Green Gables and Dorothy on her trip through Oz than the flesh-and-blood playmates of real life. Books were my friends, my teachers, my magic carpet taking me far beyond the small, southeastern Kansas town where I lived and introducing me to people in all parts of the world, past, present and future. 

And that journey made me different, not quite on the same page as anyone else I knew. Hard as I tried, I couldn't quite force myself into the mold that would have let me truly belong. Outsider was tattooed on my forehead. 

So I asked one of my new best friends, "What does it mean to be an outsider?" and Google replied:
Being an outsider can do either or both of two things to a person (or a group in society). It can make you feel alone, lonely, isolated ... faceless, nameless, voiceless ... like you don't have a say in decisions that concern you. But it can also give you a unique perspective on the people around you or on your society as a whole. But, as Henrik Ibsen wrote in his play "An Enemy of the People", "The strongest man in the world is he who stands most alone."
And because Google has many voices, I also found a long discussion of one of my favorite poems from Emily Dickinson ...
I'm nobody!
Who are you? 
Are you nobody, too? 
Then there's a pair of us — don't tell! 
They'd banish us, you know. 
How dreary to be somebody! 
How public, like a frog 
To tell your name the livelong day 
To an admiring bog!
It seems that being an outsider was part of Emily's "gift" also. And, like many gifts, one wonders if there were a return counter for life's "gifts," which ones would we return and which ones would we keep now that we know what it brought us. 

I can't imagine a life without writing so perhaps a lonely childhood as an outsider was a fair price to pay for the world of books and the joy of words.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Sweet Peace #5: The Dog Ate My Homework

Seth Godin puts out a daily message and this morning’s wisdom struck home with the familiar metaphor for blaming someone else for our own failure to do something we had committed to do but for some reason didn’t. He reminds us, not so gently, that we can't blame the dog.

“When we’re actively enrolled in a journey, it’s on us.”

    This is the beginning of the fifth week of my Sweet Peace journey where the brass ring is learning to live peacefully with food, especially sugary foods. In previous weeks I’ve been putting together a plan I thought I could follow. The guidelines were reasonable, however, this week was a “dog ate my homework” experience. It wasn’t full on war, but it wasn’t peaceful. When I tried the sweet pause, it worked. Just as often, I blew right past even slowing down let alone pausing.

    “Enrollment is frightening,” Godin states. “Because enrollment confers responsibility. ‘This is something I’m choosing to do.’”

    This is something I’m choosing to do. Peace with food is something I want enough to take responsibility for making the choices necessary to develop it. One choice is to question all the plans I’ve made in previous weeks and reflect on how they have worked. Answer: not well.

Monday, January 17, 2022

Love Letters to My Life #43: Cosmic Insignificance

(Book details at the end of article)

(We know the day we were born, but most of us do not know the day we will die. This love letter to my life is written on the day I've designated as my death day: the 17th of every month, and reminds me to be grateful for my joy-filled life. Once a year I get to celebrate both my birth and death days on the same day. Joyce Wycoff)

Death Day in another new year … a double whammy for contemplation of life and the future. Thoughts swirl around what to do with my life and how much time I actually have left to do something with. Of course, no one knows: the actuarial charts peg my life expectancy at 99; Oliver Burkeman spells it out in weeks in his book 4000 Weeks, Time Management for Mortals. 

While I know the end could come anytime, today or that faraway 99, I choose to conceptually work with 15 years, 780 weeks. I’ve spent my fair share of the past 76 years learning how to manage my time, shooting for that illusive star of productivity. Burkeman offers an interesting bone to chew on … cosmic insignificance. This concept comes in Chapter 13 of his book and popular blogger Tim Ferriss chose to publish Burkeman reading this chapter in case you would like to hear it.

In a nutshell, Burkeman sets up the insignificance of humans by reducing the 6,000 years of human culture into 60 100-year lifetimes, reminding us that what we think of as the ancientness of our culture is a mere wisp of smoke, 60 lifetimes, in the billions of years timeframe of the Universe. While we’ve had amazing, transcendent humans who have changed life as we know it … the Einsteins, Mozarts, daVincis, Galileo … there have only been a few handfuls of them and even they did not make a dent in the Universe, so regardless of what the rest of us do, it will be, on the cosmic scale, insignificant.

This could be a downer making us feel powerless; however, Burkeman sees this as a great liberation. It’s not our problem, nor even within our power, to save the world, leave a legacy that will ring down the halls of time, or build anything physical that will stand for eternity. What we can do is live a life which engages our passions, feels meaningful to us and serves others and ourselves.

Burkeman builds a lot of this philosophy of cosmic insignificance on the pandemic which has brought us what he calls The Great Pause, a worldwide shift in perspective and possibility. Beyond Covid’s shocking world wide death toll which has already surpassed the death rate of the Crusades, the Hundred Years’ War, the Korean War, and approaches the death toll of the Napoleonic Wars, it shifted our perceptions, at least temporarily. We saw blue skies over polluted cities, experienced the shift of time spent at the office to time spent at home, and understood in a new way our interdependence on each other.

For me, and probably many of us, Covid highlighted our mortality and prompted our thinking about what to do with our finite gift of time. I have spent the past 15 years since Richard’s death exploring and learning more about the world and myself, reveling in a previously unknown capacity for making art and combining it with words. 

However, there has been an underlying restlessness because these efforts were reaching few people … perhaps I should be doing something more substantial, something that would serve more people, more directly. Maybe I should be more connected to community or feed the starving children somewhere, follow a truly worthwhile purpose.

Burkeman proposes this type of thinking as a form of grandiosity, a belief in a cosmically significant Life Purpose which the Universe is waiting for us to discover and fulfill. “Which is why,” Burkeman states, “it’s useful to begin this last stage of our journey with a blunt but unexpectedly liberating truth: that what you do with your life doesn’t matter all that much—and when it comes to how you’re using your finite time, the universe absolutely could not care less.”

Reminding us that each of is unique and will have our own unique definitions of what constitutes a meaningful life, Burkeman quotes the philosopher Iddo Landau: “We do not disapprove of a chair because it cannot be used to boil water for a nice cup of tea.” I love that.

Bringing this to a bottomline: As a cosmically insignificant resident on this glorious planet, I have the freedom to define and develop my own concept of what a meaningful life looks like.

About Corona Wisdom book: In early 1920 as Covid was beginning its creep across the globe, I created an almost-daily record in art and words about the time. It is a 120 page, hard-back, full color book available for $45 including postage in the US. For more information, please email jwycoff@me.com.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Sweet Peace #4: Breaking the pattern with a Sugar Impulse Pause Plan

As a child, I remember adults talking about sugar diabetes. I know my grandmother died of it and my mother spent three years in a nursing home with diabetes-related dementia before she died. Earlier, when she began to give herself insulin shots, I started monitoring my own blood sugar and found it elevated but not dangerous.

    It has now been almost 25 years of this sugar dance. The good news is that I am making some progress; the less good news is I still act as if I don’t have to follow the rules, that somehow, I can get away with eating sugary foods and not pay the piper. 

    I am amazingly healthy and would like to stay that way as long as possible. My blood sugar has a narrow zone of tolerance for carbs and sugars. Pair that with a yearning for sweet food and the result is choice points which appear way too frequently. In my calm moments, the decision is easy: health. The other 80% of the time, my rebellious teenager emerges and says, “I don’t care; this is what I want! I deserve it!” 

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Been There Voices: Anita Perez Ferguson - In the rear view mirror

We have a crappy old Chevy van parked in our driveway. I have resented it ever since we stored it for an acquaintance who will probably never remove it. It is a big ugly white box, old enough to vote. Oddly enough, there is someone who loves it and gives us much joy as he clings to the rearview mirror. 

This tiny strip-headed sparrow visits the mirror each morning at sunrise and engages in deep, deep reflection. He pecks at his image in the mirror, then flutters against the driver’s side window. If there were a sparrow dervish dance, this would be it. 

Because of the car’s angle, the sparrow must see several self-images; in the mirror, in the window, the mirror reflecting the window, and the window reflecting the mirror. It’s all him, all the time. 

So, this clunker of an unwanted vehicle provides some amusement and consideration of my own frantic self-absorption and my fascination with the rearview mirror of life. While our bird friend wears himself out pecking at the past, a bowl of fresh bird seed sits five feet away, the rising sun creates an unbelievable spectacle, the blue sky and fluffy clouds adorn the scene above, but he pecks, pecks, pecks.

I have even cleaned the mirror for him, enabling his fruitless pursuits, even while I urge him to look up, see the sky, the birdseed, and the new day. Two days ago, he brought a friend. One bird pecked on the driver’s side, the other at the passenger side mirror. My husband and I chuckled and continued our own morning pursuits. I reminded him to look up at the sky during his walk to work. 

And I remind myself, and you, to do the same. Happy New Year. Look ahead. 

** Anita Perez Ferguson, PhD, Santa Barbara, CA, young adult historic fiction author
Books; Twisted Cross (2020), Women Seen & Heard (2019)


Click here for more about Anita and other Been There Voices  


Been There Voices is about us, our lives, our successes and failures, our joys and sorrows, our lessons and our gradual, hard-won wisdom. We have survived and thrived throughout whatever has come our way.

The reasons are arbitrary and not intended to dismiss half of our population, however, this project focuses on the stories of women, and begins with fourteen women, well-polished grains of sand on the beach of life, tumbled by the waves of time until their light shines through, offering their stories, joys and sorrows, to the ocean of wisdom.

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Sweet Peace #3: Perfection is not an option


I’ve been on this pot-holed journey of making peace with food and my body long enough to know that even thinking about striving for perfection is a trap … and not a peaceful one. It feeds my sense of not being good enough to be perfect and triggers a freedom rebellion that says I can do (eat) anything I want and, somehow, not suffer the consequences. That “no one’s going to tell me what to do or not do (or not eat)” mindset has been with me for decades and I wonder if it is kin to the whole anti-vax, anti-mask thing going on these days. While I can see the holes in their logic, I’ve had a harder time seeing the holes in my own mindset.

This week wasn’t bad … far from perfect, but not bad. I tweaked my guidelines and here’s where they stand right now:

I am grateful for my excellent health and I think these guidelines will improve my peaceful coexistence with my body and food:

Sunday, January 2, 2022

Been There Voices: Susan Larson - A Red Letter Year

Looking back on a fantastic 2021! Despite the pandemic I was able to get the Pfizer vaccine here (in Mexico) so I feel protected and no one close to me was sick. It was a year of milestones in so many ways and I am so grateful to have lived to see the realization of many personal dreams and hopes for others come to fruition.

June was a Red Letter Day for my son, Brett, who received his Masters in IT from University of Denver. Because I taught overseas and our end of school year was mid June, I was never able attend  and of his graduations, so this was more than special, it was a first! I was also so very proud of his research paper which focussed on improving minority ratio in IT. It was a stellar paper as noted by his professor and everyone who read it. 

After the ceremony we drove to a luxurious condo in Aspen and we were agog at the airport as we were driving into the town. I have never seen so many private luxury airplanes in my life and can only imagine what it must look like during ski season. Unfortunately the ski lift wasn’t open but we toured a ghost town, incredible to imagine life back in the day, and then we went on a hike up a mountain. I stayed down at a lake with more trails than I could walk while Brett and Jira tackled the more strenuous hike up to another lake. 

The sky was blinding blue and crystal clear water. Aspen and the mountain trails are pristine, beautiful and clean which was a sharp contrast to the dust and poverty of Mexico. Of course, Aspen is an anomaly to most of the world but it was nice to bask in such privilege for a few days.

In July, my sister, Donna, and I made an epic trip to Seward, Alaska, complete with all kinds of screw ups, which is part of the adventure when we travel. The day I arrived we took a helicopter ride to one of the countless glaciers which was breathtaking in so many ways. I have always been afraid of helicopters and at every turn and bank, my stomach dropped. After landing the helicopter at the foot of a massive glacier, we got out and walked around it. There were numerous cracks in the melting ice and from time to time, there would be a huge noise and I was ready to leave before something broke off and slid over us! 

We hiked a beautiful trail that sadly had markers back to the late 1800’s of the depletion of the glacial area. But the deep green forests and quiet peace of Seward was something my soul had been craving. They also had a very sophisticated aquarium with all sorts of aquatic life that was truly mesmerizing. I want to go back and just sit in the forest.

My son, Chris, has always been known as the “finder” of lost things and he can locate most anything that is on the internet. We lost a brother to suicide in 1977 and he had a son, Jim. We kept up with him over the years through his mother but lost touch over twenty years ago when she died. 

Over the long years, we would talk about him and try to find him via social media, addresses, etc. When I retired, I was determined to find Jim and started with his mother’s family who came from a small town in Nebraska. After finding Jim’s aunt, I messaged her but no reply and I was on the verge of hiring a private detective. One day Chris and I were talking about this and he said “let me see what I can find.” Lo and behold about and hour later Chris messaged me “ I found Jim, called him, and told him you had been looking for him for over twenty years!” Naturally, Jim was floored and was inundated with calls and emails from my sister, Donna, brother Johnny, and me. It was a momentous gift from Chris to my family and to Jim and his family. This was a Red Letter Day for all of us!

When I retired to Ajijic, I found numerous volunteer activities, both formal and informal. Two I became closely involved in seemed completely hopeless. Joel is a forty year old man who lost his legs as a toddler to spider bites. I met him first through our dogs; he has two dogs that would get behind him and push him up hills with their heads. As fate would have it, he lives right behind me so I saw him all of the time. When his mother was dying of lung cancer, I came to know the family. One of the Facebook groups I am in has a Meal Train for locals and expats, so I put out a plea and the community brought food for over a week. 

The only avenue for money for Joel was dealing drugs and he was an addict. Over the past three years several of my friends helped him buy a new wheelchair, they don’t last long on our cobblestones, and through COVID lockdowns, we brought food to the family. One lady introduced Joel to AA and to my amazement, he has been clean over a year and now has a job at Walmart as a checker! He is over the moon, has a girlfriend and I see him wheeling home with a Walmart bag of groceries! Now he can be a real man and help provide for his family. There are no words for how happy I am to have witnessed this dramatic change in his life!

The other miracle I participated in was little Jose who was born with a spinal problem and couldn’t walk. A Facebook group called for volunteers to make his house habitable, so we raised money, furniture and even a new bathroom as there was none. This was in June, 2019, so although the house was re-done, Jose was still dragging his legs on the filthy floor and his “family” were drug dealers and a prostitute.

His mother was dead, a victim of drug violence and his supposed father was in prison. Over the past three years, guardianship was obtained for his great grandmother and Shriners did the surgery to help him walk. Social media is a great asset when bringing people together for a cause and little Jose was never forgotten at his birthday and Christmas. A Canadian lady took his story to heart and paid for intensive physical therapy and local leaders became personally involved. Behind the scenes, efforts were made to move him to a Christian boys’ home here but his family resisted because they benefited from the attention, goods and services provided by this community, both locals and gringos. 

About three months ago, his great grandmother died suddenly, leaving Jose alone in the den of inequity. Finally, his “family” agreed to move him to the boys’ home but not before trying to “sell” him to those trying to help. He is now in school and in a safe, wholesome environment and he is so happy. Another Red Letter Day I am so happy to have witnessed.

Wrapping up an already incredible year, my friends and I made a trip to Puerto Vallarta for the Thanksgiving Holiday. It was my bright idea to ride a banana boat and three others decided to give it a go. All was going well, lots of shrieks and laughter, when suddenly I found myself tossed into the water! I had pulled all of the muscles in my left calf and somehow hoisted myself into the boat with the help of the scrawny, but strong young Mexican man. A few weeks later, I noticed that my vision was blurred when using the computer so a visit to the eye doctor was in order. He told me that I had a torn macula and will need surgery in January. 

I made my yearly doctor’s visit and he had already heard about the banana boat escapade but didn’t know it was me. He roared with laughter and told me to “keep it up!” Reflecting later, his practice is primarily geriatrics and sees his patients to the end of the road, listening to a lot of regrets and sadness. He will hear none from me.

My 2021 ended with a wonderful visit to my son, Brett, and his wife Jira in Ohio. It was a very special time and I feel so lucky to be able to share it with them.
Along the way, there were countless moments of extreme satisfaction. I am very content.

So 2021 was a Red Letter year for me, my family and those around me. Now what can I do in 2022?

*** Susan Larson, Ajijic, Jalisco, MX, explorer of the edges

Click here for more about Susan and other Been There Voices  


Been There Voices is about us, our lives, our successes and failures, our joys and sorrows, our lessons and our gradual, hard-won wisdom. We have survived and thrived throughout whatever has come our way.

The reasons are arbitrary and not intended to dismiss half of our population, however, this project focuses on the stories of women, and begins with fourteen women, well-polished grains of sand on the beach of life, tumbled by the waves of time until their light shines through, offering their stories, joys and sorrows, to the ocean of wisdom.