Happy Leap Day…well, I think…

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On this, the last day of February, I recall how I used to pity those poor kids who could only celebrate their birthdays on the actual date, every couple of years.  I felt uncomfortable about the ambiguous nature of the leap year birthday. I mean, those poor kids had to hesitate and figure out an understandable response to the question, “How old are you?”.

I have always had a distaste for ambiguity.  Therefore, I ask a lot of questions.  (Liars HATE it that I ask a lot of questions.  I catch them off guard, it seems…)  I ask people a lot of questions, not because I’m nosy but because when I have all the facts about a given situation, I can make better decisions for myself.  It isn’t a judgement issue.  It’s more like:  “If you’re going to do this….then I’m going to do that.”   “If you are going to call back later, I’ll leave my phone on.  If not, I’ll turn it off so I won’t be disturbed while I work.”  It isn’t that I’m asking someone TO call back.  Whatever their decision about this is, will be fine with me.  I just want to know one way or the other so I can take action accordingly.

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Turns out that science has now substantiated why ambiguity bugs me ( or all of us) as much as it does.   The phenomenon  actually screws with our heads.   According to a study published in the Journal of Science, the reason lies in how the brain responds emotionally, and sometimes, even illogically, when forced to make decisions based on conflicting or little evidence.   These so-called ambiguous decisions are different from decisions that we think of as risky decisions.  No wonder the person who is being lied to, for example, appears so nutty to the rest of the world. That person is being fed conflicting information.   The heart hears what it wants to hear, but the head says, “Um….hold on there just a minute….That doesn’t make sense!”

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Wait….If it looks like a duck…then, it IS a duck….but it also looks like a rabbit.  Which do I choose?

When faced with a risky decision, one  is not sure about the outcome of a particular choice but can have a notion about the probability of success. In an ambiguous decision, a person is ignorant of both factors.  Thus, the uncomfortable feeling….the uncertainty, and sometimes illogical and absurd behaviors.

Brain specialists  would say ambiguity is the discomfort from knowing there is something you don’t know that you wish you did.  This probably stems back to the fight or flight area of the brain, the hippocampus, and is a matter of survival.   In the previously mentioned experiment,  subjects were given the opportunity to place  ambiguous bets while their brains were scanned using a functional magnetic resonance imager (fMRI).  In this part of the experiment, participants  were given the choice between placing a monetary bet  on the chances of drawing a red card from a “risky” deck that had 20 red cards and 20 black cards…that is, where the probability of choosing either color was 50-50, and making the same bet with an “ambiguous” deck where the color composition of the cards was unknown.

In the majority of  cases, the participants  decided  to place the risky bet. Logically, however, both bets would have been equally good because in both cases, the chance of pulling a red card on the first draw was 50-50.

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The brain scans taken during the experiment revealed that ambiguous betters were often accompanied by activation of the parts of the brain known as the amygdala and the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC).  These are  two areas of the brain that are involved in the whole emotions processing thing.   The  amygdala has been found to be closely associated with fear, which, again, harkens back to being in survival mode.   If you think about it, a correlation between aversion to ambiguous decisions and activation of emotional parts of the brain makes  perfect sense from an evolutionary point of view.  Do I go into that dark cave or don’t I?  Well, first, I need to know if a saber toothed tiger is in there, right?  And I’m going to be a little nervous about it until I find out.  Should I leave my boyfriend or not….Well, first, I need to find out if he really IS cheating on me.  In the modern human brain, this translates into a reluctance to bet on or against an event if it seems at all ambiguous.

The results of this study could help those of us in the field of Psychology,  understand how humans make decisions in the real world, because the choices people make are often based on very limited information.  (i.e…..All signs point to cheating, but he denies it….or I’m not going to walk into that dark cave if there’s a tiger in there, because it will eat me alive. )

Makes sense to me.

Anyway….Happy Birthday, Leapers…er…Leap Yearlings…um…people whose birthdays are on leap year.  Here’s a nice mug.  Have some coffee.

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The Writing Life

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The Mills Brothers  released their hit  “Too Many Irons in the Fire” in 1946.  70 years later, this song could be designated my theme song. Yet, how many irons are too many?  I suppose that much is subjective.

I live a multi-faceted existence and always seem to have a lot of irons in the fire.  With the onset of the new year, however, I find myself busier than ever, but I am also happier than ever, and with great hope for the future.

I am working on opening a new business and have been developing workshops and programs for that, gathering partners and finances, and creating a dynamic endeavor that may take a couple of years to get off the ground, so  I continue to work on other things as I focus on getting this done.

A friend, who is a former celebrity client from a decades-ago stint I did with an entertainment law firm, contacted me over the holidays to ask if I would be part of a $25 million capital raising campaign with a view toward producing 5 new independent films.  I will be working in the capacity of a consultant, designing social media promotions and campaigns, but won’t know many details until some time next week. This will be my first MOIP-related, salaried work I have done since I received my masters degree, and while I’m excited about the work, this is not what I’ll be doing professionally, in the long run, but that is another story for another time.

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In addition to my art work, a large part of my vocational time is spent writing.  I have my various creative writing projects going on….my cookbook, my novel, my poetry and short stories, all of which take the back burner too often in favor of the writing work that I get paid for.

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Over the last 48 hours, I have written essays on the world-renowned Monte Pascoal cigars, Missouri fly fishing, eyeliner, the Bakken oil fields, Maternity photo shoots and the merits of portable ballet barres.  I have written essays for a graphic design company, two criminal law firms, a judge, an artist and a physician whose specialty is the treatment of diabetes.  I have a long list of articles to complete today, and another list of articles that I will have to complete from our retreat at Lake Tahoe.

I have honed article writing down to a fine art and can knock out what my editors designate as “high quality” writing in a very short period of time.  My research skills were honed to perfection while I was in graduate school, and I am able to produce many articles in a short period of time.  All this, is in addition to writing the Chinese fashion catalog that provides an endless stream of work.

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Admittedly, I do not feel a lot of passion about the paid writing that I do.  My heart lies with my creative work, but the paid work provides a good income, and I rather enjoy it.  It isn’t what I intend to do over the long run, but for now, it is fine.

I work through a number of different agencies.  Over the years, my ranking has risen to the top with many of these agencies, and I have received a more noteworthy status than I once had as a hack writer.  Today, I am frequently notified by editors and former clients, so that the majority of the work I do is for private clients or special projects.

My work involves long hours and intense concentration, and, therefore, results in my having to make a special efforts to exercise and stay healthy.  This work can be all-consuming, and it is as easy to forget to eat and exercise as it is to breathe.  There have been days when I have started work before the sun came up, and ended it well after midnight.

In this new year, I shall endeavor to moderate my writing into a more manageable enterprise.  I vow to place my health first, and to exercise twice a day, beginning each morning with  yoga and a long walk, and doing a concentrated aerobic effort each afternoon. I have been doing this three times a week, but I am going to up the ante.

This freedom to arrange my schedule as I want it is the primary reason I continue to pursue the writing life.  This freedom to travel.  This freedom to begin and end work when I want.  The freedom to take off a half hour when my best friend calls, or the freedom to stop what I’m doing to pick Ingrid up from school.  These are the reasons that I write.

Tomorrow, as my friends go to their offices and get snagged in rush hour traffic, I will be departing for Reno/Tahoe.  THIS is why I engage in the writing life.  This freedom to leave when I want or to sleep as late as I want …..although I am an early riser….this freedom is why I write.

 

 

 

It’s Official! 

There is no greater feeling in life than accomplishing a goal that one has worked hard to achieve….well, maybe seeing my daughter receive HER masters degree was a greater feeling, but this is a significant personal milestone and I’m feeling pretty good about it today.  Congratulations, me. 😀  

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Click HERE to learn how to offer relief effort to the victims of the earthquake in Nepal.

(Thank you, Karma Hallmark)  xoxo

A “Ten Things” Check In

I am spending very little time online these days.  Time is fleeting as I count down the days until my final 10 weeks of school work and I am staying quite busy….working, playing, learning….  There are not words sufficient enough to describe how much I needed and am enjoying my current break.  My capstone (thesis) course begins on Sunday, but I probably won’t check in and look at it until Monday.

During my break, I have accomplished a lot and have felt joyful and happier than usual, simply because I have so much to feel grateful for …and because I am so close to completing this monumental goal in my life.  Things seem to be falling right into place in virtually every area of my life.  However, I remain ever-mindful that I could lose it all in an instant. That is the nature of life……so I am enjoying what I have in the moment, and am feeling extraordinarily thankful.

Here are some of the things that make me feel so lucky:

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#1.  John – My husband is such a good person.  He is a genuine blessing in my life.  His play writing endeavors are getting a lot of positive attention and reviews.  It makes my heart jump with joy to see him thriving in this way.  He is happy, so I am happy.  That’s how a good marriage works.  His job is also going very well.  He was just promoted and given a nice raise and a extended contract…AND, he will now be an exclusively online professor, meaning that he can work from anywhere in the world.  He will be moving back home to Portland  at the end of May, and I couldn’t be more thrilled.  We have many adventures planned together.  While we have settled into our separate routines in separate cities over the last five-ish years, with him coming home during holidays and over the summer,  we have always wanted to be permanently reunited.  This will be a dream come true for us both.  This will also give me the opportunity to take care of him better…diet, exercise…tender loving care.

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#2.  Art – I am on a roll with my art, becoming more inspired each day, learning new skills, trying new techniques.  Just this morning, I finished a mixed media portrait of my best friend called, “Lightworker”.   My head is constantly filled with art.  Right now, I am taking one of Deryn Mentock’s fabulous jewelry making classes, but I am also designing a new mosaic fireplace surround for our house, working on a painting, doing a series of guitar-related art, working on a new tee shirt graphic and am generally living the art life.  I love it.  I set aside a number of hours every evening to focus upon and create new art.

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#3. Music – Music, of course, is its own form of art, but I feel it deserves its own category.  I am practicing my guitar each day and still taking lessons. Not getting very good, but am learning a lot.  The main problem lies in the fact that despite being a keyboardist for the vast majority of my life, I do not have strong hands.  I understand how to play guitar perfectly.  My fingers, however, struggle.   I am, again, taking the Berklee College of Music songwriting course, and I will probably enroll in it again and again.  Even though the lessons are the same each session, I learn something new each time.

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I am working on writing these country songs that are really coming together!  I am also still attending jams on Sunday afternoons/evenings and am becoming deeply immersed into the Portland music scene.  I am having fun, meeting a ton of great people and have found yet one more thing to be grateful about.

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#4.  Friendship – With each passing day, I am more thankful for my best friend and the energy, love and kindness that he bestows upon me.  Two peas in a pod, we are, and demonstratively indestructible.  He is a gift straight from heaven.

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This is real love….real friendship, and I am grateful for it every minute of my life.  It has its negative side, as all things do, but since I have learned to ignore that, I am better able to reap the benefits of the positive. I used to take the negative aspects into my heart and allow them to hurt me or worse, allow them to make me angry.  Today?  I can’t believe I ever allowed them to bother me.  The positive is SO good, that it completely cancels out the negative.  I simply ignore the fluff and embrace the substance.  The love is substantial.

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  In addition to my bestie, I have other friends that enrich my life every day that I live it.  My friends are exceptional people, individuals from whom I continue to laugh with and learn from.  I am so fortunate to have these awesome, intelligent, remarkable people in my life.  What a gift!

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#5.  Organization – I am becoming remarkably organized, purging things from my life, becoming more minimalist, materially, and less dependent on STUFF, as I become more dependent on living a rich, full and active life.  I am sorting, adding shelves, tossing things out, donating things and really taking a new perspective on every THING that I own.  Stuff is simply not that important to me any more.  I find it easier and easier to let go.

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#6.  Adventure – I am trying new things a lot…going places I’ve never been, re-examining things that are familiar to me and seeing them through more appreciative eyes.  I am studying things more….nutrition, geography, philosophy….and taking on new perspectives about virtually everything.  I love trying new things and learning lessons about them.

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#7.  Simplicity – This one fits in closely with my binge toward organization.  I am learning to simplify…physically, emotionally and in every way.  If something is not working in my life, I have learned to simply move on with no regrets.  This happened with a couple of members of my family that simply could not be happy with anything I did in my life.  Therefore, I simply let them go and moved on happily, with no regrets and no negativity.    It’s funny.  I have let go of family members, but have not had to let go of any friends….but I will, if I need to.  I just haven’t needed to.  My friendships remain positive, probably because of the old adage that you can choose your friends, but not your family.

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#8.  Family – This is another category that should go higher on this list, in terms of priority…but I’m not writing these things in order of importance.  I am writing them as I think of them.  My family has taken some dramatic shifts over the last few years.  I have grown very close to my mother and father.

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I have grown closer to my cousins and have an Auntie that I feel very close to and thankful for.  I have a new daughter-in-law with whom I am very close, and a new grandchild who delights me with each encounter.  I love and appreciate my family here in Portland, and thrive on my encounters with little Ingrid.  I have grown closer to my granddaughter, Maya, and embrace the idea that she will soon live here in the Pacific NW again.  I admire her sense of adventure and love it that she is not afraid to make drastic changes and try new things.  She is an adventurer of whom I am quite proud!  I am one lucky woman and I know it!  Exceptional bunch of people, my family…..at least some of them.  😉

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#9.  Finances – I am learning more and more about business, about how to manifest money….about how to work the system to my advantage so that I might help others. I’ve learned to make lists and to prioritize.   It gives me such pleasure to share what I have and to make other people’s lives easier.  Using my financial prowess to do good in the world is my ultimate goal.  So far, so good.

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#10 – LIFE – Life, in general, is good, but I never take it for granted.  Rather than fear the future, I am grateful for what I have in the moment.  I know there will be losses eventually, but I prefer not to focus on that and, instead, really live the life that I have, while I can, and to do as much as I possibly can with a big smile on my face.  Life IS good!