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An excerpt from The Improbable Adventures of a Middle-Aged Woman (now available!)

The cab driver has intense crazy eyes. I see this right away as he stands by his cab, waiting for a fare. The crazy eyes make him my kind of guy so I hand over the bags and tell him where we’re headed.

We’re in Munich. Since I was bred on war movies and spy thrillers, the word Munich sends a little shiver down my spine.

It turns out that Munich is charming, and that somehow makes it worse, because it’s not melodrama that way, with leering villains twirling their mustaches, it’s ordinary people, people who smile and hold open a door, who do the nightmare things. People like you and me. You and me. I think I speak for all of us when I say I would much prefer it to be monsters, the kind you can see coming from a mile off.

Eventually I integrate this new knowledge with the old, that this place can have contained horrifying acts while brilliant red begonias spill out of window boxes and everyone has a friendly smile (“That’s because they know you’re leaving,” a cynical acquaintance tells me later.)

The cab driver turns onto a narrow cobblestone path that cannot correctly be called a street but he drives down it anyway in order to deliver us to our pension in Marienplatz.

Here there is another blonde Ukrainian but also behold: a lift, the first lift in all Europe. It is too small for more than one person at a time, so I put Jessica aboard with a bag, then tromp up the stairs with everything else to meet her on the third floor, the duffel bag hitting my butt with each step.

We get inside the room and I collapse on one of the beds for a minute and she says, “Good thing there’s an elevator.”

When I am capable of ambulation, which doesn’t take as long as Jessica thinks, we go out into the plaza. Our travel rule is that we must first explore the area around our hotel so that we can always figure out how to get back.

Just down the alley from our pension I spot a clock tower.

“Look,” I say. “That’s perfect. The clock tower marks the spot where we’re staying.”

It turns out that this would work better if there weren’t clock towers on every street corner in Munich.

“Okay,” I revise. “The clock tower by the tourist shop that sells gingerbread.”

Then: “Okay, the clock tower by the gingerbread shop that is triangular in shape, not square like that one—”

In this higgledy-piggledy collection of buildings in the city center, you could conceivably trudge aimlessly for a week without ever finding your way back to wherever you are staying.

“On the prairie, they lay everything out in a nice grid,” I say to Jessica. “The numbered streets run east-west and the named streets run north-south, or vice versa, and either way you always know where you are in relation to where you want to be.”

“Uh huh,” says Jessica. She doesn’t tune me out a lot but when she does, it’s fairly decisive.

We wander the streets and I marvel at the buildings. They look so German! Just what they are supposed to be. In the square is the famous glockenspiel, and it is exactly right, too. I find that I am standing behind a man playing accordion in front of said glockenspiel, which means I am in a million summer vacation pictures. I step aside as a woman in a bright red hat pedals her bike past.

A boy is chasing pigeons while another is feeding them. Both are about the same age. I think this is the world writ small: half the people think it’s okay to do whatever you want no matter how terrifying it is to the pigeon, and the other half is trying to save the world from the first half.

Then I realize there is a third role, mine: the one who is watching.

We stop for ice cream at a stand run by a tall blond young man with icy blue eyes, exactly the kind of guy you see playing the part of a skinhead in a movie. Every time we stop by, he remembers that it’s still, not sparkling, water for me and vanilla ice cream for her. He flirts with both of us impartially the entire time we’re in Munich. He is adorable and scary.

“Okay, so we’re staying at the pension near the corner that has a triangle-shaped gingerbread shop by the clock tower with the ice cream stand at a diagonal to it.”

“Or you could write down the names of the streets,” Jessica says.

“That would be a map.”

“What’s wrong with a map?”

“Maps are two dimensional. The world is three dimensional. What I have to do is somehow get the three dimensional world my body inhabits to mesh with the two dimensional map I can read on a piece of paper, but my brain does not like this task. However, if I wander around and look at things, eventually my brain makes its own map.”

“Uh huh,” Jessica says.

In this we are opposite. Jessica can look at things but she won’t remember them. Unlike me, she can look at a map and use it to get from here to there.

I pluck one from the stand at the square-shaped gingerbread shop and hand over a few euros.

“Here.” I give it to Jessica. “Between the two of us, we’ll always find our way back.”

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The Improbable Adventures of a Middle-Aged Woman is now available in print and ebook formats.

If you’re looking for a lovely Mother’s Day gift, check out Jessica’s glass at www.jessicalawlerkay.com. Order by May 8 to ensure delivery in time for Mother’s Day!

(excerpt from) The Improbable Adventures of a Middle-Aged Woman

Adventures POD cover needs spine width

Let me state for the record that all of the things I have done in life made sense at the time. I have never once thought, “Well, this will be an expensive, foolish, and ultimately useless endeavor. Where do I sign up?” No, I always think it is absolutely the right course of action under the circumstances.

Graduate school: Where else do you go when you keep getting fired from jobs?
Martial arts: Obviously I was trying to quit smoking.
Marriage: A transparent ploy to get my parents off my back.

When my daughter was born with oh let’s call it special needs, it was not unlike a nuclear bomb going off in the middle of my life. At that point in time my idea of a challenge was a hotel without room service.

When the neurology resident said, “Your daughter’s brain is massively deformed,” I wasn’t thinking serious thoughts like, What is the prognosis? and What are the best treatment options? I was thinking WTF? WTF? not unlike a squirrel running up and down an oak tree.

Now an adult, Jessica moves slowly and carefully but loves to dance. She has a serious cognitive impairment but enjoys philosophical debates about abstract concepts like truth and justice. She has a significant visual impairment and needs help navigating unfamiliar terrain but is an inspired glass artist.

Over the years, I learned how to be the kind of woman who could raise this child. But that is not today’s story. Today’s story is about what happened after that, when all the dramatic action paused for a moment and I took a breath, and thought about me. At first it went like this: me me me me me glorious me! Then I began having deeper thoughts, which is a course of action I cannot in good conscience recommend to other people. Introspection is a dangerous activity when not handled correctly. Proceed at your own risk.

from The Improbable Adventures of a Middle-Aged Woman

On signs I didn’t heed

falling off cliff
This was a sign on the wall near a cliff Jessica and I visited during our European adventures. Note that it is a very graphic representation of what could happen if you step too near the edge. Note that I disregarded the sign even after I took a picture of it. In other words, I can’t say I didn’t see the sign.

There’s a story behind the sign. Oh, yes, indeed. And! You will have a chance to read the story once I get finished writing the book it’s in.

I came back from Europe with a suitcase full of notes. At first I wasn’t sure what they would turn into—a podcast, a photo essay, a bonfire—and then, of course, after I fooled around at it for months, it turned into a book. I have no idea why I thought it would be anything else.

Well, I do know why. I thought perhaps I was done being a writer. It’s been a good run and I kind of wanted to do something else, preferably involving wine and Greek sailors. But alas. It turns out that my great adventure has not freed me to become a runway model or deep-sea fisherperson. It has in fact made me more deeply committed to the process of writing, which was not at all what I was expecting. I am tempted to ask for my money back, if only I could figure out where to register the complaint.

The book, The Improbable Adventures of a Middle-Aged Woman, is nearly complete. I am planning on a May 1 release date, so scribble that down on your calendar. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll wonder what I was smoking (nothing, I swear).

In the meantime, Jessica has returned to the art of making glass. I have not yet updated her website (I have been busy experiencing personal growth) but I promise I shall get to it soon. She is working on some quite lovely glass casting which is a finicky and time-consuming process and just watching it drives me to drink, but she adores it. Casting means she can make jewelry more easily, if by easily we mean through a nitpicky and agonizing series of steps, but I don’t mind. Really. It means she can make things for people who prefer not to own large glass objects that four-year-olds can use as weapons. (Do not ask me how I found out about the four-year-olds.)glass show march 2017

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Dojo Wisdom for Writers, second edition, now available on Amazon in print and ebook! (Nook and other ebook versions here)

Catch a Falling Star (by Jessica Starre) and The Matchmaker Meets Her Match (by Jenny Jacobs), two of my favorite novels.

Don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter on my home page! You never know when I’m going to give away random good stuff.

On New Year’s revolutions

Every year, my daughter Jessica asks me if we are going to write down our revolutions, which is what she calls them. I have stopped correcting her because she is right, they are revolutions, not resolutions. They are the same each year:

  • Be happy
  • Do good work
  • Love each other
  • Be strong

We put the list on the refrigerator so we can see it all the time and remember who we are supposed to be.

Last year she asked if we could add “be patient” because one of us who shall remain nameless responds passionately to instances of injustice, or, in certain people’s words, “has a quick temper.”

Interestingly enough, “be patient” did not just help me remember to be patient with clients, small neighborhood children, and beloved daughters but it reminded me to be patient with myself. I started saying Take your time to me as well as everyone else, and although I have not transformed into an example of Zen tranquility and never will, I have learned that if you slow down a little you make fewer mistakes of all kinds.

This year, Jessica wanted to add “no arguing” but I said I was only human, plus she takes after me in the “bullheaded and stubborn” category. I pointed out that there were times when she herself started arguments, and occasionally she has won them. In conclusion, I argued (ha!), “no arguing” was unrealistic.  She amended it to “arguing only when it is very important, such as when it involves badly needed princess dolls.”

In the end, we boiled it down to Find a Way, which we agree will help us focus on finding solutions and not on deciding who is right/has the loudest voice.

This turned out to be important. I had originally planned to write a series of blog posts about our travels this past fall. And several people have asked about the very obvious midlife crisis I have been suffering and I wanted to provide some updates but the blog just hasn’t felt like the right place to do all of this.

I couldn’t figure out how to make sense of everything until I sat down and started writing.

And it turned into a book. It probably doesn’t surprise anyone but me but the travels, the writing, and the midlife whatsis are all part of the same inner work I’ve been doing, which I like to call The Way of WTF?

The beauty of the Way of WTF? is you do not need to meditate or cloister yourself away from the world, you just have to be willing to say WTF? on a regular basis and not have to have an answer.

So my personal goal for 2017 is to finish this book even through all the doubt and questioning I know it will bring. I have a sense that I will need the Find a Way revolution a lot.

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Dojo Wisdom for Writers, second edition, now available on Amazon in print and ebook.

Catch a Falling Star  and Lessons in Magic (both by my alter ego Jessica Starre) are still two of my favorite novels.

Don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter on my home page! You never know when I’m going to give away random good stuff.

 

On shedding illusions

Trust your cape, the guy with the guitar sings. Life is a leap of faith.

He is a middle-aged smiling man, busking at the plaza in historic Santa Fe on a warm summer afternoon. I’m here with Jessica, a few months after her high school graduation.

Our trip to Europe will begin later in the month, and I have a lot to do: sort through everything we own, donate what we no longer need, stuff everything else into a storage unit, pack for six weeks on the road in Europe and an indefinite amount of time after that, finish three editorial projects I’m working on, write a newsletter. If I had any shred of sense left, which apparently I do not, I would be at home doing those things. Or at least making lists about them.

But I am not. My face is lifted to the sun approximately eight hundred miles away from the packing that needs to be done and there is neither a pen nor a pad of paper within reach. I am here because I’m tired of being there.

Across the way, a man says to his companion, “What is that called? When you save for retirement?”

And I laugh. I don’t know what that’s called either. If I had any shred of sense left, which apparently I do not, I would be stuffing my money in an IRA instead of spending it on plane tickets and traveling shoes. Or at least not laughing about my recklessness.

I am a Woman Without a Plan.

It wasn’t always this way. For a long time I was the most goal-oriented person you have ever met, your traditional Type A control freak, and I was good at it. I loved piling up accomplishments, even the weird ones like breaking concrete blocks with my hands, until one day I didn’t. What I have accomplished by doing, doing, doing turns out to have been a deception.

I have deceived myself.

I have deceived myself into thinking that somehow there is happiness at the end of a goal, no different from leprechauns, rainbows, and pots of gold. That success will somehow give my life meaning. That doing just one more thing will make me what I am not, that this time scratching the last item off my list will be enough.

I am restless, I am always on a journey, I am always looking for something. The goals, the accomplishments—they have all been intended to cure that, to make me into what I am not. All this time scrabbling and clawing and for what? To turn myself into someone I cannot be?

At first I am bitter and disillusioned. I had believed from the time I was very young that if only I could be a writer, I would be healed. But I’m not healed and can never be healed, and the knowing is like a wound from a brightly colored scorpion. Then I try to fix myself in another way. I meditate, I live in the present, I do yoga. It works for a little while, until I finally understand enough of what I am experiencing to realize the truth.

I am restless, I am always on a journey, I am always looking for something. And that is how I will always be.

I have spent a great deal of my life trying to unmake myself. Now, for the first time, I am embracing my restlessness. I am shedding the accretions from my life.

I am shaking out my cape.

Like the man says. Life is a leap of faith.

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Jess and I are actually back from our European travels but it takes a while for the words to catch up with us, so stay tuned because you will almost certainly want to hear about how I found myself plummeting to my death on the coast of Ireland.  Right now I am currently working on a project, The Writer’s Grimoire, and if you would like to be a beta reader, drop me a line at jennifer@jenniferlawler.com. Also, don’t forget that Travels with Jessicaa recounting of our earlier adventures, is available everywhere online.