What if bears were made of marshmallow?
Would they melt in the summer heat?
What if policemen had to sing every interaction?
Would they give more tickets, or would stage fright keep them at bay? Would the number of arrests go down?
What if America adopted a four-day work week?
Would productivity go up? Would job satisfaction? Would hiring?
What if I had a clear channel to my story world and all its characters?
How much time would I spend there each day? Would I disappear into it, forgetting to eat, go to the bathroom or shower? Would they follow me back through, pestering me to help them through their problems, weeping and whining about the obstacles in their path? Would I ever be able to write “the end” and leave them there? Perhaps I’d need to be rescued—have someone from this side stage an intervention or a shamanic soul retrieval. Close the portal. Let me edit and publish and move on. I don’t know, but I’d like to find out. I’d like to be enmeshed in a story, writing furiously and thinking about the characters when I’m not.
What if gravity let up, just a tenth of a tenth of a unit of however they measure gravity?
Would it revolutionize shoe design? What about transportation? Would cars lose their grip on the road? Would we create higher doorways and steeper stairways? What would happen to hair stylists’ jobs? Or plastic surgeons’? Would the demand for boob jobs decline?
What if more people got on board with the practice of telepathy?
Would we be less celebrity obsessed and perhaps living with fewer bad habits? I imagine we’d all start living in integrity, just because it’s less work than trying to lie to the self and everyone else.
But now I’m back to marshmallow bears. Would coyotes eat them? Would they develop diabetes?
Marshmallow, Kate Ter Haar
Singing police, Elvert Barnes
Sky-high beehive, Francine
There are lots of studies about the harmful effects of noise. It raises our blood pressure, weakens our immune system, makes it hard for us to learn, undermines our emotional stability, and so on.
You’d think we would seek out silence. You’d think we’d crave it. Value it above gold. And while it’s generally true that wealthy people can choose to avoid living near noisy roads or train lines, few truly embrace quiet.
What are we afraid of?
Last year, when I told friends I’d registered for a 10-day silent meditation retreat, some flat out said, “I could never do that!” Others were okay with the idea of not speaking, then became sweaty and uncomfortable when they learned “silence” also meant abstaining from reading, writing, or going online.
This near-panic at the prospect of stillness raises the question, what are we afraid of?
Before the end of the third day of last year’s retreat, more than 10% of the attendees had quit and left. The day before the rest of us would leave, silence was lifted and conversations began. Some attendees related extreme experiences. One woman had cried herself to sleep every night. Another had had spontaneous past life regressions. But the most common experiences seemed to be anxiety and difficulty in quieting the mind.
Aside from some super-realistic, otherwise un-extraordinary dreams, my experience had no such drama. My body hurt like hell a couple of days from sitting in meditation. A couple of days I felt so bored I thought I’d shout “Are we done yet?” in the middle of a group sit.
Weirdly, the thing I found most difficult was avoiding eye contact with those sharing the retreat experience. Of course, that was part of the point of silence. In silence, we cannot compare our experience with anyone else’s. And in silence, we can’t drown our thoughts with words or music. We can’t escape ourselves.
Are you scary company?
Perhaps the prospect of being left to face our true self is what makes so many of us avoid silence. What if we don’t like what we find? What if, without the validation of other people, we discover we’re completely unlikeable? What then? How would we go on?
It can take awhile to learn to defuse our self-judgement, relax in our own company and release any tendency to measure our worth against the actions (and reactions) of others. I call this process “shoveling sh*t out of the engine room,” and I’ve been digging it for years.
Happily, there are lots of tools available today to help speed the process. An online search for “How to live in the present moment” turns up thousands of suggestions, resources and videos.
My summer of silent basking
This summer offered me a different kind of retreat. For two months, I lived outside a small town, house-sitting amidst five lushly wooded acres. My daily soundtrack: the fountain by the front door, the wind chimes in the backyard, my cat’s purr, the distant lowing of cattle that freely roamed the area.
No traffic sounds to speak of. No car alarms. No neighbors’ barking dogs, loud conversations or music. Most of the time, I was alone in a huge 6-bedroom house without so much as a single ticking clock or dripping faucet.
I slipped so easily into the bliss of my quiet surroundings, a trip to a nearby mega store nearly crushed me. The giant product displays, oversized banners shouting “Great Price!” in letters as tall as the length of my arm. The 50” TV screens showing the latest children’s film releases, while classic rock music hummed over the store’s sound system.
Make it stop!
I felt sick to my stomach. I urgently wanted to leave the store. In fact, by the time I rounded the frozen food aisles and headed for the checkout, I knew if I didn’t get out soon, I would descend into hiccuping tears like a frightened toddler.
How had I ever coped with my old life, I wondered, with all the big-box stores and traffic and daily noise? How could I possibly ever go back?
Perhaps I’ve learned too well the preciousness of silence, to be so sensitive to its disruption. But go back I did, back to big-city life. Back to traffic and ticking clocks and Facebook.
It hasn’t been easy. I tire more easily, and must make allowances to take care of myself. I’ve loaded a white-noise app on my mobile electronics, which at least masks other sounds—I let it play while I’m sleeping. And when I get a quiet moment, I revel in it, free of to-do lists or food or phone calls. Just. Being.
How’s your relationship with silence? Do you seek it or shun it? What would you do if someone offered you a 10-day experience of silence? What about a 10-minute experience?
Is your reaction different than it would have been ten years ago? Hmm. Interesting how things change. Maybe you and silence are ready to take your relationship to a new level.
Don’t worry. I won’t tell a soul.
Photo credit (shush): Mateus Lunardi Dutra
Drop in September 10, 12, 17 and/or 19 and read some Tarot with me. All skill levels are welcome. Even if you’ve never touched a deck before, we’ll get you on the road to greater intuitive clarity and confidence.
These are not formal classes set in sequence, so join us as you can. All you’ll have missed is some great camaraderie and a couple of fascinating hours exploring on the edge of what is known.
The cost is $10 per meeting. (Cash only, please.)
Find us at:
Sanctuary in the Village
501 Old Kyle Rd & Blue Hole Ln
Have a deck? Bring it. Need a deck? We’ll have a few you can borrow. See you soon!
So, maybe you don’t have movie-star good looks. Maybe you don’t drive a luxury car or live in a fashionable part of town. You can still feel like a VIP. All it takes is reservations at Bar Smyth in Dallas, Texas.
Don’t look for a neon sign or sidewalk seating. The entry for Bar Smyth is completely unmarked—part of its mystique. Announce yourself using the small keypad next to a nondescript door and you’ll be buzzed inside.
A dim hallway leads you to a narrow, warmly-furnished space that may have you checking the calendar to be sure you haven’t stepped back to a Prohibition-era speakeasy, or a Cold War-era covert rendezvous.
Menus? This place is too cool for menus
Your bartender visits your table with some questions, then disappears to concoct a beverage to appeal to your personal flavor profile. The results are surprising and exquisite.
My visit included two excellent cocktails. The first, shown here, was an Old Fashioned, crafted for me with grapefruit bitters, and tequila instead of bourbon. The second, a perfectly balanced Sazarac. (Hats off to Robert the bartender for choosing America’s oldest-known cocktail for me. I love a good Sazarac.)
Most of the others in our party preferred slightly sweeter drinks. Our bartender called on a variety of fruits, herbs and flowers to delight each of them in turn.
Bar Smyth sounds like fiction, right? For me, it sounded like my fiction—specifically Club Clandestine, in Going Native. Here’s how it breaks down:
Real vs. fictional VIP cocktail lounges
|Club Clandestine (from my novel, Going Native)||Bar Smyth (located on Travis Street in Dallas, TX)|
|Hard-to-spot entry||Unmarked entry|
|Bouncer asks for password||Secure, locked entrance|
|Dim stairs lead down to club||Dim hallway leads to club|
|Speakeasy/Cold War spy vibe||Speakeasy/Cold War spy vibe|
|Unforgettable night of covert, erotic games in the arms of a sexy hero||Outstanding cocktails in intimate setting, guaranteed to make you feel special|
All told, a remarkable evening. And I confess I’m glad to have friends who can assure me it really happened. Otherwise, I might wonder if, like Club Clandestine, I’d created Bar Smyth out of my own secret imaginings.
Shall I meet you there?
And then I realized we might not be talking about the same thing.
The alpha hero you can keep, thank you
My old idea of “alpha male”:
- Is accustomed to being obeyed
- Interrupts his lessers when they speak (and we’re all his lessers)
- Considers apologies a sign of weakness
- Takes control because he “knows what’s best for you”
In other words, a self-righteous jerk. In real life, I prefer to walk away from these types. If they appear in my writing, they’re secondary characters or antagonists, not the hero.
I like a hero who respects other people, even when he disagrees with them. I want him to make an attempt at seeing things from his adversary’s perspective, even if compromise proves impossible.
Do we need alphabetical labels?
Is respect an “alpha” or a “beta” characteristic? What about kindness? Are all nice guys “beta?” If I don’t know the difference, how do I choose romances I’m likely to enjoy reading? How do I tell readers what to expect from my books?
Before my brain explodes with questions, how ‘bout we accept “alpha” as a synonym for “prime,” as in first choice, or ideal. That way, there’s room for every preference.
The alpha hero I love
Here then, is my new idea of “alpha”:
- Lives his values, leads by example
- A knowledge seeker
- Doesn’t give up in the face of setbacks
- Admits his faults and overcomes his failures
- Fights to defend, not destroy
- Willing to grow and change
I have men like this in my life. I admire and adore them. Small wonder I seek similarly wonderful book boyfriends.
Your list may be different. I respect that. A wonderful thing about the romance genre is its diversity. And if you’re inclined to share, I’d love to hear about the type of hero that wins your heart.
Photo: Tambako the Jaguar