Ten Ways to Show Yourself You Care

Ten Ways to Show Yourself You Care

Tess and Janilaal Flower Crown

Janilaal Celebration Crown and Sneaky Fork Moment. ©2011 Anjani Millet

We work hard. We give well. We love deeply. But do we remember to appreciate our own open heart and generous spirit?  Take a moment to love and notice what you did, thought, felt, said, or gave last year that is a testament to the excellence of your spirit.  Take a few minutes to appreciate the person you have become. Here are a 10 ways to show yourself you care, and to mark the achievement of becoming the person you have become.

Ten Ways to Show Yourself You Care

1. Flowers. Buy yourself some!

2. Take yourself out on a date. But before you do, dress nicely, buy yourself flowers (see number 1), and consciously note why you are doing this: because you are wonderful. 

3. Write down private thank you notes to you from you, and stick them in pockets – coats, pants, shirts. Offer little thoughts like, Thank you so much. I love how loving you are. I love your generous nature. You have made me laugh.  You took such good care of the family this year. Thank you!

4. Send yourself a gift. Log on to Amazon or other gifting sites and send yourself a token of your appreciation. Get it wrapped!

5. Mail yourself a lovely card, signed by hand. We all love getting things in the mail, especially hand-written notes. Who does that for you anymore?  You do.

6. Foster a relationship with your future self by hiding money you’ll find later. My favorite gift for myself was a $50 bill I hid in a book I knew I would get to, but not for awhile. A year later, when I finally got around to reading it, I had completely forgotten about it when the money fell out onto my lap. It was an amazing feeling of gratitude for my former self and a connection across time, from that moment to the one in which I first placed the money. It made me cry.

7. Make a backward-in-time chart to note the things about this moment that are because of something wonderful you once did or decided. For instance, earlier this year I looked around my family and realized my daughter, and her family now, all came from that moment in high school in which I took a dare and talked to her future dad.  I appreciate the young woman I was!

8. Share with a friend the 5 best things about you, and ask them to do the same about themselves. Then, make a toast to the hard work you’ve both put into being a great person, and how well you’ve succeeded.

9. Lipstick and mirrors. Write a note in lipstick on your bathroom mirror about how charming, lovely, or hilarious you are. Love the love notes. They are fun to wake up to.

10. Be kind in thought and deed. You know you are kind to others, so do unto yourself as you would do unto others – practice kindness toward your own mind and soul. Guard your thoughts, and remember what your mother taught you: if you can’t say something nice to yourself, don’t say anything at all.

Congratulations on being you!

-Anjani

Related Images:

Within the Secret Family: Self-Portait in White

Within the Secret Family: Self-Portait in White

 

Inside the Secret Family

Inside the Secret Family: Self-Portrait in White. ©Copyright 2014 Anjani Millet

Our family, like so many, seems fraught with mystery and intrigue.  On a sunny afternoon last week, I decided to capture as best I could the feeling of being a member of my sometimes strange and secretive family.  I shot this series of self-portraits using mixed light – natural daylight and two speedlites (flash units), one on camera, and one behind the door without a modifier (softbox, umbrella, etc.)  Here is the first of the series.

 

 

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Twig Prayers, a Photographic Novel

Twig Prayers, a Photographic Novel

Praying woman, with twigs

She prayed. ©2014 Anjani Millet

Twig Prayers, a Photographic Novel, began as an afternoon shoot at an abandoned mental hospital. Expecting only to shoot landscapes that day, the shoot instead whispered to me the surprising story to me called Twig Prayers.  I went home and began writing the next day, and found an amazing story of a young woman, a warden, a boy named Hank, and prayers to Silence, a living being akin to God.  If you’d like to stay tuned as this story goes along, and eventually is published, you can subscribe to my newsletter here.

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Red Polka Dots and Pantaloons Made Me Charming

Red Polka Dots and Pantaloons Made Me Charming

Today I'm Charming in my Red Dots and Pantaloon!

Red Dots and Pantaloons, I’m charming! ©Copyright 2014 Anjani Millet

Long ago, I set 2 personal goals: I wanted to be charming, and always smell lovely. Sadly, me and perfume don’t get along, but today I feel quite dapper and maybe even a little charming in a little red polka dot dress and, that’s right, white pantaloons. Who couldn’t feel adorable in pantaloons, seriously? #HowToFeelAdorable #vintage #Clothing #selfie #Pantaloons #PolkaDots

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Yours truly!

Anjani Millet, Behind the Scenes

Your truly!  Many thanks to my friend and photographer Lori Patrick who shot this at our Photographer’s Vintage Tea Party.
from Instagram: http://ift.tt/1o7gdAo

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Loving Past Our Mother’s Disdain

Loving Past Our Mother’s Disdain

Mom and Grandpa Talking in Hospital

My Mother, 83, and Grandfather, 102

My mother has always been two people: Lucille Ball, in all her ridiculous, slapstick comedy, and a fearful woman, simmering with anger, having been trounced upon mightily early in her life.

Her first husband took her three young children from her and disappeared, along with my mother’s best friend.  My father, next in line, is also a terrible human being with whom I’ve had no contact in 20 years.  The next man she dated murdered a clerk, unbeknownst to my mother, while she waited in the car at a gas station.  At last she met my step-father, Bob Smith, whose decency, intelligence, and kindness were a snuggly campfire in the arctic winter of her life.  He saved us both but sadly, left our world years ago.

Now, at 83, my mother is newly diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, as well as a lesion in her brain.  Although we’ve only now found out, she is at mid-stage (4.5) through the disease, the cycle of which lasts between 8-10 years.  My brother Jarrett and I are her primary caregivers, along with my Uncle Bob and his wife Tina, two other saints in the making.

My mother now is more angry and bitter than she’s ever been but now it’s personal for my brother and I.  As is typical in this horrible disease, she blames everything on us – but more often Jarrett, as he has been the primary caregiver for some time before I arrived.  Upon us she blames everything from removing her car keys (neither of us were involved) to toilet paper “disappearing” from her bathroom, which no one else uses.  She tells our family members, her hairdresser, church members, and anyone who will listen about us about how we are doing her wrong, no matter how much right we try to do.  She is simply incapable of understanding what is going on.

This is especially painful because the reason she is blaming us is, itself, a manifestation of the disease. She has absolutely no idea what is happening to her mind and blames its symptoms on us. She repeats the same story within moments of its first telling.  She loses almost everything.  She has no sense of time.  She has no idea that there’s anything wrong and certainly doesn’t understand why she cannot even be left alone anymore.  Paranoia is part of this malady, and she is beginning to believe we are the monsters under the bed. On the contrary, Alzheimer’s is robbing the life out of the entire family.

In the many weeks I’ve been back and forth to Colorado now, I have not once seen my mother prepare any food.  If we are not here, she simply does not eat: she weighs 95 pounds. Her mind is improperly perceiving sensations of hunger, so the closest she can get is obsessing on her dogs being hungry – after she’s fed them 7-10 times in a day.  She eats like a horse if we can corral her long enough from her wanderings to actually stay in one place long enough to eat.   And now that she’s starting to eat again, she’s far less worried about the dogs.  This is common in Alzheimer’s: obsessive/compulsive behavior and misplaced, projected physical sensations.

All in all, this is the most exhausting and emotionally challenging experience I have ever had.  We lost my sister, her husband, and my father to cancer, and those were brutal, terrible experiences. This is worse.

As my cousin Sandie told me, whose husband also suffers from dementia, we have to think with our heads and not our hearts. Unfortunately, every step forward will likely result in our mother becoming more angry, more paranoid, and more certain that we are to blame for everything she is losing, including her own mind.  Despite the overwhelming evidence of both her disease and our devotion to her health – including both of us coming from out of state, leaving our entire lives behind to care for her – she can’t see any of it.  Her world is tiny and closing in around her.

And us too.

-Anjani

Related Images:

The Best Worst Date Story Ever.  No Really. EVER.

The Best Worst Date Story Ever. No Really. EVER.

Vintage Gas Pump. ©2013 Anjani Millet

Vintage Gas Pump. ©2013 Anjani Millet

This is the best worst date story I’ve ever heard, and it is true. It is my mother’s story, and it happened to her in 1966 or so. I’ve asked many people over and over if anyone can top this date story. No one ever has. Note: I have changed some names in this story to protect my mother’s identity, and some minor details, but have otherwise told the story as my mother told it to me.

It turned out to be a very long date, starting at 6pm, and ended after 5 am the next morning. But lengthy as it would be, no cooing, canoodling, or goodnight kiss would occur. There would be no waiting for the phone to ring afterward, no wondering if he really liked her, and no next date. There was, though, just one phone call, made that very night. It was the only one allowed, in fact: the one she made from the Sheriff’s office to the babysitter. My babysitter.

My mother, I’ll call her Marthe, was a 36 year old single mother, and her history with men was not pretty. Her first husband, a preacher with whom she had three children, took all of them, and my mother’s best friend, and disappeared into the wilds of Oregon to start a new, hidden life. This is another story that would forever break the hearts of my mother and first her three children. The second husband was yet another charming gift from the devil’s clutch purse; a handsome, pathological liar wrapped up in a shiny, charming bow. This man became, unfortunately, my father, and thankfully, they were divorced almost as soon as they began.

But a few years after I arrived and my father disappeared, things were looking up for my mother.

On that balmy summer night, she had a date! Her shining black hair was pulled up high, into a perfect, dramatic beehive. The nape of her neck was adorned with that surprising shock of glistening silver hair, like a sparkling jewel crowning her back. Her Kohl eye-liner, round at the top and sleek at the edges, like cat eyes, showed off her emerald green eyes, which also sometimes looked violet in some light, depending. She looked like Liz Taylor. It was the sixties, and she had on her squeaky new go-go boots, white, leather, and up to the knee. She’d slipped into that figure-hugging orange dress: a little short, sure, mid-thigh; it was stylish, cute, and a little saucy, just like her.

Her date was a man I’ll call K.P., and she’d known him at work for two years. He seemed smart and responsible, if quiet, and was always nice to her in the halls at work, even though most engineers couldn’t be bothered speaking to the secretaries. When he asked her on a date, she was flattered and, after she thought about it a bit, the tiniest bit hopeful. Maybe she could find a good man one day, even a good father? Maybe. Doubtful. But, maybe.

He arrived at 6:15 sharp, and they hopped in his yellow Carmen Ghia. Dinner at the Red Hen was tasty, if frugal. Steak: medum, slightly tough but decent. Salad: iceberg lettuce, chilled cucumbers, anemic winter tomoatoes, nearly red. Dessert? Well, she skipped that (girlish figure), though he had neopolitan ice cream. She didn’t drink any wine due to her religious beliefs but even if she did, she wouldn’t. Her young toddler – that would be me – was home with a sitter, and she wanted to be sure she didn’t smell like a loose person when she returned in a few hours. After dinner, they’d go bowling, where, she thought, she might impress him a little with her first class bowling skills. Bowling was the one thing she felt any good at anymore, because in the last few years, she’d come to doubt nearly every decision she’d ever made and every thought she’d ever had. But bowling was like a reliable friend; always there for her.

Between dinner and bowling, they stopped at the 76 gas station to fuel up. After he filled the tank, as he was heading in to pay, he leaned in the driver’s window in a friendly way and asked her if she’d like anything. That was nice.

“Oh, gosh, a Coke, please. Thank you!”

He smiled in that big way he did at work. His stride was relaxed and confident as he walked into the store. She watched him go, and wondered does he like children, has he ever been married, or, oh no, is he currently married, and does he believe in God? Will we have an ok time, is he the sort to have affairs, does he have a good relationship with his mother, what if he hates my hair? Moments later he returned and was about to get back in the car, but had forgotten the drink.  He headed back to the store, just to get her that soda he promised. Yes. He was keeping his word – a good sign. And as he walked away, she decided she liked the look of him. He was as handsome from behind as he was head-on. When he returned, he smiled again, handed her the soda, “enjoy!”, and off they went. They joked about the funny way the waitress almost tripped on a snag in the carpet on her way to their table. He seemed to think it was a little funnier than she did but, well, everyone is different about what’s funny. My mother has a hilarious sense of humor and has always reminded me of Carol Burnett, and was good for a pratfall herself, so she didn’t think much more of it.

They arrived at the bowling alley, and he took her hand in his as he opened the car door for her. So considerate! Seems few men were gentlemen anymore, especially the ones she had chosen so far. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a really nice man for once, someone to care for her and her little yours-truly, someone who wasn’t another sweet-talking snake in the grass. We’ll see about that. That is what she told herself, and and that is just what she did. When they reached the building, he opened that door too,

A scary arm and hand, opening a car door.

Scary Arm. ©Copyright 2013 Anjani Millet

and the minute he did, a badly conducted symphony of smells clanged and soared into her nostrils – sorry french fries, wilty-lettuced hamburgers, exhausted cigarette smoke (menthol for the ladies), Coors beer, old leather bowling shoes and new (partly rubber), spilled whiskey, tired carpets, greasy black machine lubricant, brown floor wax, grease pencils.  She’d bowled for 16 years, and the aroma disaster that was every bowling alley was both noxious and known, as familiar to her limbic system as her favorite Tijuana beauty parlor. She breathed it in and didn’t mind the instant little headache.  K.P. paid for two games at the counter, and ordered their shoes. The clerk handed my mother hers first – a dainty size 6.5, red striped, brand new. Shiny. Feminine. Pretty. A little stiff.

“And what size for you?” she asked the man with my mother.

“Size 11, thanks,” he said to the tired woman whose sleepy cheeks were furrowed from too much Scotch and too many divorces. Her scraggly voice was like branches on windows, crackling and near-breaking; her throat too moist, the unfeminine phlegm conflicting with the Sexy Smoker Voice. She’d earned the sultry voice over two decades by happily imbibing thousands of smoke clouds over the years, only some of which came from her own cigarettes.  She bent to find some nice shoes for the handsome man at her counter.

“Oh,” K.P. said, “I forgot something in the car. Go ahead and head to our lane,” he told my mother. “I’ll be right back. Take my shoes?” He touched her warmly on the small of her back, quickly, with his fingertips, as if they were already lovers.  My mother headed to lane 12 at the far end. It was a little dark, which was fine, as she’d applied evening mascara. Besides, if you ask me, she thought, as if she were reassuring the lights themselves, every woman over 30 looks best in less lighting, rather than more. She slipped onto the cool, burnt orange bench, its heavy plastic looking polished and glisteny. She plopped down her white plastic purse with its gold buttons and mother-of-pearl handle (so cute!), slipped on her red shoes (ouch, a little tight), surveyed the other patrons of the busy bowling alley, and headed to Lane 12’s little desk. She was about to write down their names on the score card, but decided to wait and let him fill it in. If he was really a gentleman, he’d put her name on top – ladies first. It seemed like a benign test, but you can never be too careful. Her husbands had both been completely self-absorbed and she wouldn’t put up with that kind of nonsense from a man again.

She fiddled with the white wax pencil to be sure this was not too silly or sneaky an idea, to test a man like this, just a tiny bit. When she settled on her answer, no, she returned the pencil to its groove on the desk. She went back to the bench and pretended to look for something in her purse so she had a good reason to the score card was still blank when he returned. As in every mother’s purse, she found plenty of loose pennies, old tissues, a missing pacifier, one tube of liptstick with a missing lid, and two half-eaten packets of Wrigley’s chewing gum. She fiddled with Wrigley while she waited, all of the sticks now stiff, flat gum-boards that crunched when bitten. She unwrapped one, bit her tongue upon first bite, and pretended to look for something else, carefully refolding the wrapping paper, which took a hand bit of extra time. She unwrapped and snapped a second piece in half, and half again, and into tiny squares, and finally, tippling the little stack into her mouth, like teensy building blocks.

Now, see here… He was taking longer than she guessed was polite, considering this was a first date. She felt a little like this was a tinge rude to keep her waiting: what in the world is he doing, I don’t remember anything he left in the car, it was so clean… I wonder if he’s another neat-freak). She almost said that out loud. And then, if he turns out just to be a slowpoke, who needs that, because the only thing worse than a cheating, lying man is a boring, slow man, and this made her laugh, as if a boring, slow man could be any worse than what she’d already had. At least she’d never been bored, that’s for dang sure. While she was unwrapping and rewrapping the third piece of gum, for stalling purposes, the waitress came over. My mother ordered two sodas for them both, thinking, I hope that isn’t too forward, since he is picking up the tab.

She decided that rather than get unattractively irritated, which she was in imminent danger of doing, she’d reflect on the things going well so far on this date. She began a numbered list in her mind, figuring there would be maybe a few, but once she got past three items, she decided to jot them down. She found in the inside pocket of her purse an uncapped red pen which had leaked a little, not too much, and a folded envelope, with its edge ripped open (its corner having been sacrificed for an earlier Wrigley’s wad), and the plastic window flap thing hanging open.  She unfolded it and jotted down the things her date was, or had done, so far. As of date number 1, he:

1) has always been well-mannered at work,
2) asked me out politely
3) picked me up and came to the door
(3a: on time);
4) said hello to the baby while he
5) helped me with my coat, and
6) even said thank you to the sitter (though that was unnecessary of course), and then he
7) opened my car door, which was actually
8) his car he drove, not mine,
and then whisked me away to
9) an evening he had planned himself, but not until after he
10) asked my opinion of his plans before we we left.

Well, a list of over 10 things by the first date had to be rare. She thought she’d seen something about this in Dear Abby. She went on.

So he took me to a
11) nice restaurant,
which had
12) good food. Well, alright, it was not that great, but not fancy, so maybe that meant he is
13) good with money.

He also
14) paid for dinner without complaining about his
15) regrettable inability to find or
15a) keep a job,
or his
16) “aching back.”

and at the gas station he
17) thought of I might want something
17a) actually offered to get it, and then,
17b) PAID for it. And
17b) even though he forgot it at first, he later remembered my Coke, and even
17d) went back in a second time to get it and then
17e) brought it to me in the car,
17f) without me even having to ask for it like I usually have to do with every little thing, or for that matter,
17g) complaining he’d had to spend his hard earned money on something so frivolous as a soda.

He then
18) took me to the fanciest bowling alley in San Diego, oh, and opened the door for me
19) paid for two games
19a) and my shoe rental

And just in case it happened, and so she could get to an even number, she left one slot open for the possible,

20) wrote my name down first on the score card (*true gentleman*)

So far, this was a very superior score indeed. Going so well, sure, but, who knows, with my luck he’s probably married… or Catholic. She wondered what was worse for a God-fearing Pentacostal woman, dating a marrried man, or a member of the ‘idolatrous cult of Catholicism’. Well, nevermind. For now, she’d just try to have fun, and see if he turned out to be a decent guy, for starters. She’d had enough of the cheaters and the lying dogs of her dismal history. Yes, she was much wiser now. She would not truck with anything less than a decent, honest man, if there were any, and she was pretty sure she’d spot anything else right off. After everything, her cheater/liar/loser radar was on high alert these days.

After about twenty minutes, he entered the front door, waved at her, and without thinking, she waved back his shoe at him. Oh no. Her holding up his shoe like that, mid-air. She was trying to save him a moment at the shoe desk, to show she had his shoes, but that was probably not so lady-like, maybe. “Fiddle faddle,” she scolded her hand right out loud, and then inside her mind, put the dadgum shoe down!  But he didn’t seem to mind her waving his footwear. He waved back, touched the counter with a little tap and smiled at the shoe clerk, paid her for their games and shoes, and sauntered in that easy-breezy way of his over to her in Lane 12. His hair, or maybe it was his shirt, seemed somehow messier. There was that winning smile, those kind eyes, that lilting hello – the same one he’d greeted her with at the door when he picked her up. Both her embarassment about the shoe-holding, as well as the slight irritation over his delay, disappeared when he smiled at her. She couldn’t help it – he just seems nice. He sat down next to her, his knee touching hers, barely.

“Sorry that took a bit longer than I thought.”

And then, as she hoped he might, he went to the green plastic chair at the score card desk and settled in. She watched on the overhead projector and went a little happy inside to see the shadow of his hand writting her name first, his careful, engineer’s handwriting even spelling her name right.  Well, I’ll be.  She reached over, subtly, to her envelope and placed a checkmark next to:

20) wrote my name down first on the score card, like a true gentleman

and, she added quickly, even though it was an odd number,

21) spelled my name right 

She wasn’t sure where he’d even seen her name written but, well, he knew the spelling, and that’s got to count for something. As he was finishing writing her name, he paused during the last “e”, his shadown hand on the projector stopped. She looked down from the overhead to smile at him appreciatively, but he was looking back at the front door, and his smile had disappeared. His mouth was rigid and tight. His brow was furrowed, deeply; his jaw muscles were rippling. What was that about? Was he really about to leave again? Or maybe he didn’t like her name – why did her mother have to get all creative about the name thing. In school she’d been accused of being ‘uppity’ with that name, though of course it wasn’t her fault that her mother had weird taste in words.  Hm.  She couldn’t throw stones. I did pick the first and last name of the baby – that’s right, yours truly again – off a shoebox.

Her date turned back to the overhead and she looked quickly up again. The shadow of his hand moved to the next slot and wrote his name, but then stopped again, and she watched his shadow finger erase it. She looked at him again. There, out the door again, was his attention. She turned again to the white image above her, and his hand, which scribbled down only his initial: K. When she looked at him again he was staring at the card and seemed preoccupied. Maybe he was bored. Maybe he hated bowling. Maybe she should have written their names down herself. He looked again briefly at the door, then, as if the ceiling had been removed and light streamed into the bowling alley, he turned back to her and it was a sunny springtime day on his face. There. The big, happy smile, as if he’d waited all day long to see her.

“Well, now, lovely Marthe,” he said, and gestured toward the alley, “Ladies first!”

Well, hallelujah, you just can’t get enough of gallantry these days.

As she was stepping up to her third turn with the ball (she’d impressed him with her first two, both strikes), she was concentrating on the exact spot on the floor where she always stood to throw – just between the first and second arrows on the right, as this worked best for the well-honed curve which she always threw. She was also thinking about her backside, wondering if he was noticing her figure, and she hoped it was at least a little appealing to a man anymore, since she was only a few years out from the birth of her fourth child. She turned her mind back to the ball and the pins ahead, and was swinging her arm back to throw when she heard a commotion behind her. She released the ball anyway, sure to nail a strike one more time. But the noise behind her distracted her so much that she curved the ball too hard to the right, throwing it into a slow, meandering spin down the alley. She turned to see what was so important behind her. The rack came down behind her and took away the ball she’d thrown badly and the poor, toppled pins that had been in its way, due to no fault of their own.

That was when she saw the sheriff.

He was running – running! – from the front door to the desk, saying something to the clerk, leaning in for the answer, looking toward their end of the building, looking and squinting, and then running again. For a moment it almost seemed as if her were running toward them. Her date was looking up at her through his brows from behind the glaring projector, and its unforgiving, humorless light struck him hard against the side of his mouth, which was not smiling. His jaw muscles clenched again. Strangely, he did not even turn to see what the commotion was behind him.

The Sheriff was careening toward Lane 10, two alleys down, when the shoe clerk yelled,

“No, no, keep going!”

The Sheriff whipped down the steps and behind the desk at Lane 11, past the other bowlers, past the orange bench, knocking my mother’s purse onto the floor (now, that’s just uncalled for). He spotted my mother’s date, who still hadn’t looked away from her eyes. The Sheriff descended upon the scorekeeper like an angry bear, grabbing him hard by the arm and pulling. His badge threw a painful glare into my mother’s face as her eyes widened and her mouth dropped open. Her right hand was still poised in mid-bowling, and she forgot they were suspended in mid-air, for all the world appearing ready to catch a tiny little bird flying away from an eagle.

“Get UP, you sonofabitch!” the sheriff bellowed at her date, who still gazed at my mother where she stood, her mind blank, as if she were witnessing an unfolding car accident. Another ball down the alley pummeled hard into its vulnerable, waiting pins, and my mother’s mind was torn between the sound of them being clubbed into submission (that’s a strike for sure), and the clattering sound of his plastic chair hitting hard the linoleum. The sheriff pulled  him up so hard his seat fell over backward, clanging as it hit the floor and tumbled onto its side. The man she had been with all evening said nothing, but simply stood and placed his hands behind his back. With two terrible ratcheting clicks, the Sheriff clamped handcuffs onto her date’s wrists.

“Wait, what?  What’s going on here?”  This she said so quietly only the air right around her mouth heard the question.

There was simply nowhere in my mother’s innocent mind that this scene was ever going to make any sense, especially when a second officer appeared from the darkness, coming straight for her (now where in tarnation did he come from?). Out of the inky dark shadows behind the Sheriff came his eyes, bluer-than-blue, etching holes in her mind with the way he was looking at her, as if she were a deer and he were headlights. Though she couldn’t hear it, her torso was leaning backward, hard, aching to run down Lane 12. Her muscles were screaming to her to run somewhere, anywhere. Danger, danger, danger!  But her astonished feet seemed to be the only ones with common sense  tonight, and they stayed glued to that polished wooden floor, right between the first and second arrows on the right side of lane 12.

Her name was a rocket fired from his lips into the air between them.

“Ma’am, are you Marthe Johnson?” He was in front of her now and his hand was on her arm.

“What? I – yes, I think so – I’m…”

“And you have been in the company of this man tonight, is that correct?” His grip tightened a little and her eyes relaxed; tears were coming. He came so close, she could smell the fresh, wintergreen gum in his mouth. Her mind, twirling in a little dance of fog and fear, thought this would be a good time to consider that he might also like the fresh taste of Wrigley’s.

“Would you like some gum?”

“Ma’am, this is no joke. Have you been in the company of this man tonight?” He pointed toward her date. She shook her mind away from the fog bank.

“I’m sorry, yes, yes sir, I have. Is there a problem, Officer?”

“Oh, there’s a problem, alright. Mrs. Johnson, you are under arrest for murder.”

That’s right. Murder. All endless night long, my mother was investigated for murder – the one her date had committed at the gas station as she waited in the car. He had entered the store, closed the door, and shot the young clerk in cold blood. My mother heard nothing and knew nothing. He took the money from the till and sauntered out, calm as a Kansas Sunday school on Wednesday morning. With the mind of a true sociopath, when he returned to the car and realized he’d forgotten my mother’s Coke, he calmly returned, obtained the drink, stepped over the dead man, and returned to the car.  The brother of the murdered attendant entered the scene a moment later, and saw the body, the blood, the cash drawer, and the yellow car leaving the scene.

As they drove to the bowling alley for the remainder of their date – and the last few minutes of freedom her date would ever know – only K.P. was aware they were being followed. He told her to go ahead and start without him while he went to the car, but he had forgotten nothing in the vehicle. He’d seen the dead man’s brother following them, and when the outraged man arrived, K. hauled him out of his car and beat him thoroughly, leaving him in a bleeding heap. He then went inside to bowl a few relaxing games with the young mother of four, with her dainty feet in their tidy red shoes (a little too tight). This she learned throughout the many hours in which she was interrogated that night.

She was allowed one call, which she placed to my babysitter. She was very sorry but “Would you mind staying late?  I’ll be home as soon as (they’re done questioning me for murder I can’t believe this is happening) I can.   My mother, Mrs. Marthe Johnson, she who had never even run a yellow light, was confused, flabbergasted, and clueless about this true nature of this man or the events of the evening. She was released that night, but her date was not so lucky. He was tried and convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.

As for my mother, of course, she was never charged with anything except the crime of trusting some truly despicable men. Her date would receive the prize of a forever-view behind bars, but my mother would receive the more entertaining and lifelong prize for the Worst Date Story Ever. No really.  . Ever. We even have the newspaper articles to prove it.

Eventually my mother ditched the psychopaths and married my step-father Bob, who made giant fudge sundaes, taught me to photograph falling jelly beans, put spiders outside in glasses, hated bowling, and never murdered anybody.

He was truly the Nicest Man Ever.

No, really.  Ever.

-Anjani

P.S.: The moral of this story? Our past needn’t be our future. Oh, and be sure you give your lawyer’s number to the sitter.

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The Deliberate Freedom of Imperfection

The Deliberate Freedom of Imperfection

Praying woman, with twigs

And She prayed. ©2014 Anjani Millet

Twig Prayers

Many years ago, after twelve years of owning my own photographic business,  I lamented that I’d never done the one thing I was told all Good Photographers once did: Assist another photographer to learn the ropes.  So, with my business at a stalemate, I decided it was me that was the problem.  I found another photographer, asked if I could meet with her, showed her my portfolio, asked if I could be her assistant.

She laughed and responded with, “What the hell?  You’ve been a working photographer for twelve years?  Why are you here?  Oh, I know what it is.  You have what I have, which is the crippling Expert Syndrome.  You think you have to be perfect, and an expert, and if you aren’t perfect or an expert in EVERYTHING, you freeze and nothing you do is good enough or even good at all.  Listen: you are already a working photographer.  And my competition. This is silly!  Go out and be my competition!”

Eventually crippled by my own doe-in-the-headlights self-doubt and perfectionism, I left my career behind, sold all my equipment, and entered a completely different field. I turned my back on what I’d spent years building.

Well, I’ve returned full circle to photography, and writing, but that perfectionism had amazing staying power and never left, though I did. I face that dragon again now.  Zoom forward to a month ago and another interesting reflection from a friend.  He noticed my crippling perfectionism too, and gave me an assignment.

He told me of a student who was so crippled with perfectionism that her professor assigned her the task of writing – and turning in to him – the very first draft of a paper.  If he found she’d edited it, he would fail her from the class.  Wow!  My friend said, “You are just like that. Here’s my assignment for you: you must make a plan that is deliberately imperfect and do that plan.”

So, this week, with my first presentation at a museum, I chose to present knowing full well that what I was about to do was imperfect, and do it anyway. I discovered that I didn’t die, and no one else in the room did either.  My one suffered renal failure as a result of my imperfect introduction in this talk, and the slightly unsure wrap up of the story.  It was imperfect, but I did it. Despite that, one man in the room told me my writing had answered a question for him that he never been able to articulate. He said this: “I want you to know that what you wrote really meant something to me, personally.  You helped me understand something about my place in this world. Thank you.”

If that is the result of humble but shared imperfection, with its wobbly, nervous introduction and a not-perfect wrap up, I’ll take it.

-Anjani

Click here to visit the full Twig Prayers Gallery

 

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An (Almost) Arresting Sunset

None of us realized that resting somewhere in this vast amber meadow was a little yellow bird and a big, black SUV. The police pulled the big machine up behind our cars, blocking us in, and bellowed from their windows to go back to our cars immediately.  I was elated to have gotten that last shot, and wondered what the hell was happening.  

As we handed over our ID’s and registration, the shorter of the two short men informed us that we were trespassing into a protected area, due to the presence in this meadow of an endangered species. From under his authority-imbued eyebrows, he informed us that we were on Federal land, and could potentially be arrested for trespassing, or heavily fined, or have our cars impounded, or all of the above.  The second stood on the far side of my car, looking in through my passenger window.  He seemed to be willing my camera, pregnant with amber-lit shots and waiting in the front seat, to give up its secrets.

They were tough alright, with their black car/crewcuts/uniforms/guns. But even a bad ass cop looks less fierce when, after I ask him what exactly is the name of the endangered animal, answers a little meekly, “Oh, well…I believe it’s called a Streak Horned Lark.” Turns out this little lark is on the “proposed” list for endangerment, but is not yet.  Good news!  It was obvious we were only there photographing, and had no idea we were potentially harming any birds. We had followed back roads and simply did not see the signs.  

After 30 minutes, we were duly and sternly warned and free to go, and given instructions about how to purchase a permit for the future. In the meantime, we walked away with beautiful, sunset shots from the God Hour, and I was pleased to know there are police out there patrolling on behalf of innocent birds nesting on the ground.  As it turns out, the bird has been proposed to be endangered, though is not official yet. Nonetheless, one mustn’t cause unnecessary tweets of the actual variety.

The Streak Horned Lark is lucky to have bad ass cops, a gorgeous, open meadow, and plenty of God Light every single day.  That’s a beautiful thing.

If you’d like to learn more, click here for a bit more information about this little bird – the original kind, strictly tweeting offline.

-Anjani

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Frighten Yourself Daily: Mastering Alacrity

Frighten Yourself Daily: Mastering Alacrity

On June 30 of last year, as my contract at an I.T. firm was ending, I decided to start writing in a more focused way, and not return to my job behind a desk. I wanted to return to my roots and career as a photographer and writer. So, I promised myself to write for 15 minutes every day before breakfast, starting on July 1. I began with one single sentence as a writing prompt.

By July 15, I attended a writer’s conference, and heard that I could present my book idea to the editors present; someone told me to tell them my book was 50,000 words, an average novel’s length, and I decided right then I’d complete those 50,000 by the end of that month. I had written only about 1,300 words by the day I “pitched” to the editors, and to my astonishment, they loved my book idea.  When I told them I guessed it would be 50,000 words, they told me to aim for 80,000.  By July 31 I had written 80,000 words – a few hundred pages of a book.

By September I had a rich relationship with the characters in my book. I felt more than a little astonished and frankly a little freaked out by how much this had taken over my life, this creative process, freaked out and in love with writing a book. I put the book to sleep for the winter in January to focus on photography, and have begun to turn my attention to  integrating the two together now.

I just found this note yesterday, at a time when I find myself frightened again, still, to leap into my own greatest dreams.  My main character, Georgia, told me this, when I had hit a wall in September:

“I think you frightened yourself with your speed and alacrity.  Frighten yourself again. How can you do that?  Make a goal to frighten yourself every day with your powerful progress, creation, and mastery.  Yes, I said it… mastery. What would a goal of mastery in writing look like?  What do you want to master in 5 years?” 

-Georgia

a·lac·ri·ty   

/əˈlakritē/

Noun: Brisk and cheerful readiness. 

Synonyms: readiness – willingness – eagerness 

In building a business and a life as a photographer and writer, or as any artist, or anyone with the dream to truly live the life they dream to live, focusing on projects and business planning is one important way to approach the future. But this is another. What do you want to truly master?  What will blind you with amazement at your own “speed, alacrity, and mastery” in five years?  One year?  After dinner tonight?

 And by the way, I want to have loved mastering it by that date, not just plodded through. 

Today I leave for 4 quiet days in the forest, on my own, to deeply reflect on my future self, and figure that out. When you are an artist, you yourself are the business. Starting with your own mind and heart is the beginning of the deepest kind of business planning.

What do you want to master in five years?  I hope whatever you decide, you find the deepest joy in getting there.  I’d love to hear what you dream of being and doing!

Warmly,

-Anjani

 

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The Tale of the Thieving, Smart-Aleck Pug

The Tale of the Thieving, Smart-Aleck Pug

My dog Henry was telling me all about how he swiped the New York Times Sunday crossword and completed the whole thing in pen before I got out of bed. “Yeah, sure, that’s just hilarious,” I said…Copyright 2013 Anjani Millet

© Copyright 2012 Anjani Millet; All Rights Reserved. 

 

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(Gently) Opening Our Hidden Rooms

(Gently) Opening Our Hidden Rooms

Putting things we’ll be sure to find them is the magic formula for ensuring we’ll never, ever see them again.  It’s the fault of the earth’s gravitational field, I’m sure of it, because those things get sucked into some far away universe, or under the couch, or in some weird terrifying blend of the two.

But we do it with our thoughts, hopes, and dreams too, as well as the beliefs we want to run from; for instance, we squirrel away our fears that we are failing ourselves, or wasting our time on this job/relationship/mortgage/book.  It’s too hard to look at, the possible badness or wrongness or hopelessness.  This is hiding the truth of ourselves from ourselves in order to avoid sensations of shame, guilt, hopelessness and sorrow. There’s one more useful reason though: avoidance of the truth of why we do things allows us to simply do what we really intend to do anyway without directly confronting head-on why we feel we shouldn’t.

This sort of self-deception is how most of us put on so much weight over time, avoid unpleasant phone calls, put off paying bills – but worse yet, it’s also how we put our dreams on ice. This is where we avoid our own avoidance but also, so much worse, we avoid our own successes.

This is not surprising, this avoidance. Aside from a basic sense of self-criticism lurking barely beneath the skin for most people, honesty has come to have a brutal connotation in the last 30 years, especially when it comes to the relationship with ourselves.  Thanks to the self-help movement of the 70’s and up to today, self-disclosure has taken on a sense of beating oneself into a bloody, honest pulp.  “Ego” came to be seen as a bad word, and the idea that we should be more forthright with ourselves did, sometimes, involve painful disclosure to a highly critical listener.  Baked in here is so often a real lack of compassion for the reasons we hide things from ourselves, and what to do about it. I’d suggest we often don’t understand why we do things because we wait to understand them before we’ll allow compassion – but perhaps assuming a better stance might be compassion first, knowledge second.

Besides, if it’s true that we grew up on the African Savanna, hiding from things is in our DNA.  Perhaps we need it.  Perhaps if we don’t have enough stealth in order to survive, we just make up danger and we ourselves become both the lion in the tall grass and the gazelle innocently drinking.

I recall attending a required “growth” seminar for work once in which a woman was dissolved into tears in front of 600 attendees as she was “confronted” with her own sense of failure by a teacher who did not know her and did not love her.  He certainly was not going to be around to pick up the pieces when this thing was over with and she hated herself more than when she woke up that morning, her secrets and fears now smeared into the invisible social marketplace with a brutal public flogging.  I do not think this sort of pain and self-disclosure make for happy bedfellows, not long term. In other words, it’s not a sustainable sort of honesty – nor a sustainable happiness.

In the spirit of a gentle and encouraging movement toward happiness, it’s worth considering that a more frank discussion with ourselves about our little avoidances could actually be helpful.

Consider writing down everything you are lying to yourself about.  Every little deception.  The avoidances.  The things you’d rather not know. Put this somewhere that no one else will see it, and promise yourself you will be so soft and gentle and just “talk it over” with yourself, like you might with a kind friend.

Try having a moment’s meditation with yourself; imagine yourself seated in a beautiful meadow, full of flowers.  Invite yourself to drop in; picture yourself strolling into the field, happy and content, and sit down across from yourself.  Feel yourself there to be a great friend to yourself; you can be if you aren’t already.  Explain to your newly arrived self that you would like to understand a few things, no pressure, and ask yourself to assist you to understand what matters you may be keeping from yourself, or avoiding; things you are a little afraid to be totally honest with yourself about. At this juncture it’s not a bad idea to promise that this conversation is “confidential” between you and you, although at a later date you might find there are things you need to discuss with others, although maybe not – remember, this exercise is not to encourage more running from what’s true.

Talk it over, ask for clarification without justification, and chat about whether it’s possible that anything of things could see the light of day – within yourself.  When you’re done, make that list of everything you are deceiving yourself about.  Everything, small and large; every major and minor infraction toward yourself or others. This can include the good stuff!  It’s not always easy to be honest about the things we’re good at or have done well.

When you have your list written down, do nothing with it – not yet. Thank yourself for your bravery and candor, put the paper in a very safe place, or burn it. Know that you understand yourself more now, and this can never be a bad thing.  Discuss this with no one unless you have an agreement with yourself to do so.

Try this again once a month for 3 months and see what you feel in your life now that your self-relationship is building more honest trust – always a good thing.

Softly, softly, as they say in Australia.  It’s the only way to climb a thorny mountain.

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