2020, The Year of Focus

Photo by Kari Shea on Unsplash

Last year was the year of simple. I spent my time pursuing what brought joy to my life. It was happy chaos with no rhyme or reason. I had no strategy. It was very spontaneous. If a task or thing was mundane I attempted to avoid it or dispose of it. I changed my wardrobe and donated things. I planned days that made me happy using a pencil and paper calendar. I was semi-successful.

This year will be more organized. It will be what I call a Focused Simplicity. It is a three-step process that should, in my best estimate, take me all year to master.

Step One: I will build on last year by continuing to…

If a thing, food, or service does not bring me joy or if I do not cherish it, I will remove it from my life.

I will only do the tasks that are necessary or bring peace and happiness to my life.

Step two: I will add the focused part…

When something positive or negative happens, I will choose to celebrate it, enjoy it or deal with it, at the moment. I will be present in mind, body, and soul.

Step Three: I will devise a plan to focus my time and energy on what is important.

This year will be a little less chaotic and a little more planned.

Here’s to Focused Simplicity.

~Lori O’Gara

Thank you for your time. You can see more of my writing here or sign up for the O’Gara Inner Circle here

You Do Not Have to Suffer

Photo by Milada Vigerova on Unsplash

Life is a struggle. Will you have pain? Yes, that is true. However, there is so much more to life. We, humans, share joy as well as pain. There are happiness and sadness that happens. We learn from all of it.

I saw a quote that made me shake my head and ask, “What the actual craziness is that?” Yes, I said it out loud. I read it again and the next thing that came out of my mouth was, “What the hell?”

Here let me share it with you and then we can discuss it. I should tell you upfront I do not know who the person is that is credited for saying it. She responded to my reaction kindly. She is most likely a nice woman with great ideas; however, this idea, not so much.

Here it is…

“Your most valuable gift is connected to deeply rooted pain in your life.” — Amy Beth

I understand what she is going for here. Use your pain to help other people who are suffering similarly. It isn’t the actual pain that’s the gift, but the gift is connected to the pain. Therefore no pain, a less valuable gift to share with others.

My issue with the idea is two-fold. “Most valuable gift” and “pain” are not exclusive.

The value that you add to a family, church, or community, your gift, is not required to be rooted in pain. Your gift should be rooted in your creativity, imagination, joy, love, and compassion. Perseverance through or victory over pain is always a relatable experience but rooted in pain as a catalyst is not a requirement.

Do not tell people that you are not worthy of sharing a gift with the world if they haven’t had some sort of emotional trauma.

This sort of glorifying pain is why depression in teens and young adults is at an all-time high. Studies have shown a connection to this generation’s unique relationship to digital technology as a factor in the increase. By tossing arbitrary quotes and memes about mental pain out there on social media, you add to the collective conscience that negativity is a safe place, mentally, to operate in day to day.

Can we not tell the already teetering generation that pain is mandatory? Please.

Yes, shared experience is how we connect to other souls, but to tie one’s gifts of the spirit to pain on an elevated status of importance is damaging and dangerous.

~Lori O’Gara

Thank you for your time. You can see more of my writing here.

P.S. If you send me a letter I will write you one back.

What are the Pieces of You?

Painting by Pammy (Art by Pammy)

We, humans, are made of many pieces. We are multifaceted creatures physically, emotionally and spiritually. Humans have a physical body that houses their souls. You have a human body, you are a soul.

Where were you when you learned you are a soul?

For me, it was not in church though I spent a lot of time in one. Church taught me rules, not spiritual formation as was claimed to be the lesson. I was raised mostly in a Southern Baptist church. My mother was relaxed coming from the Peace and Love generation of the sixties, but my grandmother who we lived with a big chunk of my childhood was strict. My Me-Ma loved me, I have no doubt. If someone said to me that their grandmother does not love them I would be surprised. As a mother and grandmother myself it would be impossible for me not to love my children. My grandmother put discipline on the same level as love. If you love your children you teach them with discipline.

Grandmothers are often portrayed as kindly small gray-haired women who bake a lot of cookies and give tons of hugs. That is me for sure without the old part. My Me-Ma was all those things too, with the addition of a mean streak.

I have shied away from writing about my childhood out of respect for the dead. Now that I am at a comfortable age that allows me to not really have a concern with what the dead thinks about me since I am closer to meeting them than I am being a child, I have allowed myself to voice that part of my past.

Sometimes we, humans, elevate the dead to a status of sainthood that the living did not deserve. We see all the good in our memory but forget the bad. The faults of a person are either forgotten or exaggerated in our memories. I guess my memory doesn’t work that way. I like to think I can remember facts as truth. Maybe I forget some things, but not much. I can remember the good and the bad. My long term memory is one of my assets; however, my short term memory, not so much. I can remember all the way back to my second birthday at Me-Ma’s house. I can remember what my Dad was wearing and some of who was there. I can remember my dress and the toys that I loved. Now ask me what I ate for dinner last night and I have no clue.

At my grandparent’s house, Sunday mornings came with a whirlwind of bacon, eggs, coffee, dresses, fancy hats, painful shoes, and pantyhose. We, my cousins, aunts, uncles, and parents were expected to go to church every time my grandmother went if and when we were staying at her house. It made no difference if any of us were visiting for a weekend visit or a live-in situation. If Me-Ma said we were going to church, then we were going.

I was always expected to ride with Me-Ma in her Chariot, a long burgundy Buick with white and black houndstooth interior. Don’t put your feet on the seat getting in, Young Lady. I would sit upright, no slouching, a posture that stayed with me until bedtime on Sunday. God doesn’t like lazy and slouching was lazy.

First, we went to Sunday school. I liked that part. I was with other children my age. It was where I learned all the stories and all the songs. Sometimes there was even a treat.

After the learning hour, we filed into our pew in the main sanctuary. Not a bench, chair, or seat. No, it was a long pew. It had a length long cushion the same burgundy color as Me-Ma’s car only in velvet. I usually sat next to my grandmother, between her and my mom. My mother was on an end close to the aisle since she often played the piano. My grandmother sat where she could dole out breath mints or a soft rebuke, whichever was needed to make me or one of my cousins pay attention to the service.

Wait…wait …wait a minute. I take it back, Sunday School was my second favorite part. Listening to my mother play the piano was my favorite. I imagined the music in heaven sounds like my mother’s music. I was heartbroken when after my grandmother died my mother gave her piano away to a local small new church that needed one. What I didn’t know as a child that I know as an adult was that my grandmother insisted that my mother played piano in church. My mom had no choice. My grandmother’s death freed her of the obligation.

The sermon at the Baptist church was long. It consisted of a short passage of the Bible followed by a long speech about how something I was doing was wrong and this is why. Something like, See Bible verse of shame in the chapter corresponding to the sin. Sometimes the sermon was about the retribution of God. When I was young, I pictured God as a male and a larger more powerful version of my Me-Ma. God was the rule maker and maestro of my life and everything else. I did not belong to myself or my family, I was his. It terrified me.

What if I messed up? First, my grandmother would punish me with her switch or her paint paddle. You know the small strips of birch they give away free when you buy a can of paint? Then God would come down from heaven and strip me naked like Adam and Eve. He would send to me some desert to live out my days.

The stories about Jesus were different. He was special. He liked people who messed up. Jesus hung out with criminals, poor people dressed in dirty rags, people who climbed trees, and people who liked the ocean. I was all of those things. Yes, even a criminal. Once I stole a small toy cat from a Woolco display in the toy department. Jesus was alright with me because he liked naughty people.

I didn’t get that my soul was at the center of this learning and discipline. What I got from all the hours sitting on the church pew was no matter what I did I was not good enough for Heaven. I couldn’t earn my way there. I would always be bad, so I should just confess and get it over with.

My grandmother did not tolerate rule breakers, smart mouths, or slobs. She believed that if she was an unbending disciplinarian that her children and grandchildren would become respectable Christians.

Well, Me-Ma, I did become a Christian, more of the radical, unworthy, sinner type.

My Me-Ma also taught me that Jesus loved me. That I was a daughter of the King. That no matter what if I asked forgiveness Jesus was the way to forgiveness. She taught me that family is the most important piece of your life, only second to your devotion to God.

My Me-Ma sang to me and taught me the importance of setting a table full of bowls of yummy food for a family to gather around. She taught me everything I know about baking, quilting, respect and big warm hugs. The love of my soul came from what I was taught at the base of hearth and Sunday dinner table of my grandparent’s home. Love your family. Love your neighbors. Be kind.

It took years of searching, prayer, and good old fashioned common sense to put the two sides of Christianity together. I finally understand that what I was taught on that pew was not the love of God for my soul but the rules and tradition of man. Rules imposed on an unbound, limitless God. 
God does not limit love to us by conditions. Holy love is pure and unconditional. It is love for my soul from the creator that has nothing to do with my character.

Christianity is a piece of me. All of it. The terror of not being good enough, memorization of Bible verses, my grandmother’s insistence of keeping the Sabbath holy and dinner on the ground fifth Sunday fried chicken. Giving a quilt to someone who needs it and love them even if they don’t deserve it.

All of that is part of my soul. The part of who I am on the inside.

~Lori O’Gara

Thank you for your time. You can see more of my writing here.

P.S. If you send me a letter I will write you one back.

…did You Die?

a day without my device.

Photo by Viktor Talashuk on Unsplash

It finally happened. I picked up my cell phone and it was dead. I tried all the tricks, turned it off and back on about a zillion times. Nothing. I put it on the charger overnight. Nothing.

I did what any sensible working person does, I went to work without it. I knew I could go to the cell provider store and have them look at it after work. What I could not do was be late for work or call out to say I have a phone emergency.

At first, I was like a junky looking for my fix. At every stoplight on my long commute, I was reaching for my phone. At one point I considered it had fallen in the floorboard, then I remembered it was at home in my husband’s pocket. He was going to see if he could get it working.

What was I going to all day without my phone? No texting. No social media. No productivity. I needed to check my marketing outlets to see how my advertisements for my latest novel was progressing. I had to confirm the appointments on my calendar. How was I going to get through the day?

I had to rethink my workflow.

My calendar is also on paper, so I was good there. It could have easily been on my email client accessible on the desktop computer where all my marketing things live. I was able to check on all my work. Admittedly, not as often or as quickly as on my phone, but it was easy.

Then there is texting and staying in touch with humans. I used this amazing device called a landline. It is just for talking. I called to confirmed appointments, checked on family and the extra benefit, my husband called me a few times. I got to hear his voice throughout the day.

As for social media, I accessed it on my lunch hour and it took me almost the entire time to see what I had missed. This endless scroll brought to my attention that I have to weed out some of the groups and pages I follow. With limited time I realized that I went directly to the groups, profiles, and pages I care about and that number was significantly smaller than my total follows.

I had to use my brain to figure out how to access certain things, things that were usually at my fingertips. I had to remember things differently. I couldn’t pick up my phone and text a quick note to myself. I actually had to write it down. Then I discovered that if I didn’t write it down right then I forgot it a few minutes later.

During this day without my device, I discovered things about my self that I didn’t know or had chosen to ignore. Most notably, my attention span is short and stretched thin. My memory is terrible. My husband has a beautiful phone voice.

The funny thing is when I went to the store to get it fixed, there was nothing wrong with it. Turns out certain devices do not like aftermarket charging cables. I purchased a new charger and it works fine.

Overall the day without my device was not too bad and I did not die.

~Lori O’Gara

Thank you for your time. You can see more of my writing here or sign up for the O’Gara Inner Circle here

Don’t Use the Good Dishes

Photo by Jasmin Schreiber on Unsplash

Let’s pretend it is Thanksgiving Day and the turkey is in the oven. Your house is smelling like heaven to a starving man. All your family is there, well the ones you like anyway. Your job is to set the table.

Do you get the regular dishes out or the good dishes that are supposed to be for special occasions only?

Of course, you reach for the good plates.

That works for other people, but not for me.

If you have an entire set of dishes, linens, and other things just for special occasions, you should rethink your position. What if I told you there is another way?

I know, it goes against everything you were taught about good dishes and tablecloths.

Please, set down the one-hundred-year-old gravy boat that belonged to your great-grandmother that she bought with S & H green stamps, pull up a chair at the dining room table that is used for collecting mail and sorting socks and listen to me.

Don’t ever save anything for a special occasion, being alive is the special occasion.

You should be living life as if every day is a reason to pull out the good dishes. Why are you keeping all that stuff put away to use once or twice a year? So what if a plate gets broken. What is the worst that would happen?

You might cry for the loss.

You might not have a complete set to pass on to your children or grandchildren. What you will have is more valuable than any heirloom. You will have memories. You will have happiness.

In my house, we use all the dishes. When we use any item that belonged to someone I love who is no longer alive, I have a chance to share a memory that I may have otherwise forgotten. My regular days become I remember when and the specialness of that memory is passed on to the next person I tell.

The same goes for quilts, special furniture, and jewelry. When I snuggle someone I love in a quilt made by my grandmother’s hands, I can tell them about when I was a small girl and sat under the quilt rack listening to my grandmother hum and sing. When I wear a special piece of jewelry and receive a complement “oh that is a beautiful necklace.” I can share the story of sitting next to my grandmother as she decided what to put on the day she told me of her first heartbreak. When I sit in my grandfather’s favorite rocking chair and read a book to a child, I can tell them how my grandpa sat in the same chair and told me stories too.

Life is not about things. Things are replaceable. It is the love and memories that we should pass down.

If we spend time fretting about the gravy boat we forget to make memories with those in front of us.

So use the dishes on an average Tuesday. Watch a movie wrapped in your grandmother’s favorite quilt and let your children sit in the formal living room on the guest only sofa.

Live life as the special occasion that it is.

~Lori O’Gara

Thank you for your time. You can see more of my writing here or sign up for the O’Gara Inner Circle here

The Power of Stopping

Photo by Melissa Askew on Unsplash

I kept thinking I had forgotten something. You know that nagging feeling that something important is not getting done. Check the oven. No, it’s off. Pick up my phone. Nothing on the calendar. No waiting messages. Self-doubt and anxiety were disrupting my normal existence and interfered with my quality of life.

I decided that I needed to stop.

I stopped doubting myself. I stopped giving space in my head to the words that tell my soul that I am not good enough. I stopped trying to be all that I could be in a world that didn’t care about me.

I stopped worrying if my writing, my work, my effort was acceptable to the masses. I stopped caring about the masses.

I stopped looking for answers where there weren’t any to be found. I stopped looking for advice that I did not need. I stopped reading countless how to do this life of a writer. I stopped ignoring my gut responses and my soul whispers.

I stopped worrying about marketing my writing and finding readers. What do the readers want anyway?

I stopped going going going and I gave myself permission to be still. I gave my mind room to stop and rest.

I stopped.

The power of stopping is found in the refocusing of yourself. The power of stopping forces you to focus on the truth.

~Lori O’Gara

Thank you for your time. You can see more of my writing here.

P.S. If you send me a letter I will write you one back.

Kids These Days

Photo by Anita Austvika on Unsplash

Every generation has its version of this complaint. For my grandparents, it was, “Kids these days don’t know what love is” when my parents were part of the free love hippie sixties. For my mom and dad, it was, “Fashion? We had to wear homemade clothes. Music? We had to listen to one radio station. Don’t get me started about the television and only three channels.” When I wanted name brand jeans and begged for cable television so I could watch MTV when it was truly music television, this is what I got. Usually, from my dad. My mother was a bit easier for me to convince.

I am exaggerating of course. I am sure my parents and grandparents had legitimate concerns, especially about my generation. I look at teens and twenty-somethings these days and cringe at what I see. However, I also smile and feel proud of the things I see too. They deal with so many different things that weren’t even on my radar when I was a teenager and twenty-something. They are smarter and braver than I will ever be. Some are creative, brilliant, beautiful, peace-filled, respectable people.

What makes me shudder is the lavishness some parents go to make the teens and twenty years olds comfortable. I see teens with no responsibilities, yet have the latest and greatest cell phone. You know so mom and dad can stay in touch with them. I get it if they are driving age or spend a lot of time away from parents with after school activities. Does it have to be the iPhone X? My kid was happy with a Motorolla she paid for herself bagging groceries at the local market when she was fifteen. They get to do whatever they want, speak to adults however they choose and there are little consequences.

Let’s talk about jobs and living expenses. I see some younger folks living with parents well into their thirties. I see college kids going off to college with a car that mom and dad bought. Then moving into a house, not an apartment, not a dorm room, but a brick home complete with a back deck for social gatherings, purchased by their parents. Some of these students have jobs to pay for utilities, but often parents are footing that bill too. I am all for helping our children succeed. I know that some of these parents had to work for everything they have and they don’t want their kids to struggle as they did. I get that line of thought,

but…a house. Are you serious?

How is a child to learn to survive on their own skills and succeed if everything is handed to them?

Let me tell you a hard truth…

The struggle makes humans better.

I am not saying let your semi-adult children starve or live on the street to learn a lesson. Though, I have seen parents go to that extreme as well. Find the balance that teaches but does not enable. Buy some groceries sometimes, maybe offer to help on a utility bill. Then back off and let them do what they can. What you’ll find is your child, if you instilled values that are right, will figure things out on their own. When they need help they will ask for it after they realize they have done all they can.

My daughter is thirty-two. She is a full time stay at home mom with a husband. She is going back to school to get her degree. I am over the moon proud of her. She wasn’t always self-sufficient. Yes, she struggled. I helped a bit early on, but she picked herself up by her broom and flew without me. Yes, I stayed awake at night, still do some times worrying about her struggle.

I did the same thing minus the broom. When I was eighteen I decided I was an adult so I got married and had a kid. I had no idea how wrong I was, but I learned fast. I had a little bit of help along the way as I figured it out. I recently found out that my mother no longer stays up at night worrying about me. That is a recent development that she attributes to my amazing new husband, and I am fifty!

My daughter will tell you the tough love her dad and I give her was the best thing that happened to her. I have told my mother the same thing. It is hard not to give them everything they want and need. That is the struggle of the loving parent.

The key is finding the balance of not loving them into dependency.

Love your children as they grow up. Help them be the best productive members of society that they can be, but resist the urge to take the struggle out of their lives.

One day they will thank you for letting them learn how to take care of themselves.

~Lori O’Gara

Thank you for your time. You can see more of my writing here or sign up for the O’Gara Inner Circle here

Feel Free to Cause a Disturbance

Yes, art in all forms should make the person experiencing it feels pure raw emotion. It makes no difference if the art is visual, audible or sensory. To create feelings in humans is the sole purpose of art.

When an observer looks at a painting, reads a story, or looks at a sculpture, you take the same moment to look at their face. If the art does its job you will see emotion. It might be confusion or disgust. Not all art makes humans happy. Often art pulls emotion from deep in the pit of our beings. It reaches to the back corner of our souls and finds the small fragment that we tried to bury and ignore. It pulls it out in the open where it must be dealt with, good or bad.

The question is, will the artist have the courage to create art knowing it will create a disturbance?

If the artist is creating art only for financial gain that is not courage, that is greed. If the artist is creating art in a way that is guarded and restrained by criticism, that is compliance.

Listen up writers, YOU create art with words.

If you are writing strictly for money or to gain readers, you are not writing with courage.

No matter what your art, remain true to yourself and your calling. Don’t compromise to gain readers, admirers, listeners, or collectors. Take the time to know your people, yes, but to change your voice, your calling, your vision, your dream to create your way just to gain a dollar, a follower or a fan, is a copout. It is taking the low road. At the very least it is lazy. It is certainly not creating with courage.

I like money and readers just as much as any author. I will not write what is popular unless it is calling me to write it. I will not write what is trendy for the sake of sales. I write what is pressing on me to write. Often it is a character yelling at me to write his or her story.

Toni Morrison said, “If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, you must be the one to write it.”

Be brave. Create a disturbance with your art. Your people will find you.

~Lori O’Gara

Thank you for your time. You can see more of my writing here or sign up for the O’Gara Inner Circle here

Thank Your Haters

Photo by Alev Takil on Unsplash

I know it is difficult to even consider that your haters may be right. When someone is judging you the last thing you want to consider is that they may be on to something. I am not saying that those who criticize you are always right, however, let’s look at things from a different angle. I am going to thank some of my haters, right here, on this public platform, to show you that it is possible to learn something positive from the haters in your life.

First, I want to thank the man who said to me when I was a pregnant seventeen-year-old, “Your poor baby. Your child is going to suffer for your mistake. He will live in poverty all his life. You will be nothing more than a welfare mom.” Thank you for giving me the motivation to get an education so that I could provide for my baby a life other than living on welfare. Thank you for giving me the fire to prove you and many others that my child, a sweet girl, not a boy baby, by the way, will grow up to be successful and educated as well. Now, she is a thriving adult, fabulous mother and on her way to a master’s degree.

Second, thank you to that friend who turned her back on me when I needed her. Thank you for showing me that not everyone who says they are on my side is on my side. Thank you for showing me that real friends are few and users are many. It isn’t always easy to see them, but give them time, they will show themselves for who they really are. Thank you for making me see that I am enough for those who truly love me for me and not what I can do for them.

Third, thank you to that person who looked at me up and down and then said, “Why do you dress like that? Why do you have tattoos? You should do your hair differently.” You showed me that I am a unique individual. I know that not everyone approves of my lifestyle. Yout condensation showed me that I am brave to be me. I am not for everyone, but those who love me don’t mind.

The next time you get frustrated at someone who is treating you with disrespect, arrogance, or right out using you. Step up and learn the lesson. Thank that person. Forgive them, but don’t you ever forget how they made you feel.

Take their negativity and turn it into positivity for your life. Trust me, the haters hate it when you use them for good.

~Lori O’Gara

Thank you for your time. You can see more of my writing here.

P.S. If you send me a letter I will write you one back.

Complacency is a Killer

Did you ever run into a friend whom you haven’t seen in a long time and wonder what happened? You know the one. The one who you did everything with and were even maybe contemplating spending forever with, yeah that one.

What did you say the last time you saw them?

There are a million excuses…I mean considerations that you need to think about. There is the fact that most people work full time jobs, some have college classes, some have families, and some have all three. These life situations draw from your resources of time and money. Add to all of that the fact that family comes first and sometimes that family is not in the same town, city or village as you.

It can all be overwhelming…

and it takes work…a lot of effort.

Then what happens when this work is one sided? I mean one person calls, makes all the plans and the other person is just in it when it is easy for them?

It doesn’t mean that you and I love this people less than we did when we saw them all the time. We may even think about them every day…every single day…but come on, it is exhausting.

Wait, are you looking for expert advice? God, I hope not.

In my experience, when you take a break from being the one to put in the effort it takes to keep the friendship going and complacency sets in, the relationship dies.

Even if you take a break to focus on yourself or your family. Put one thing before the friendship and it is over.

OK, here is the advice I can give you. Take it or leave it for what it is worth.

Prioritize.

Make a list if you have too. Mine looks like this.

Survival of my family and me. Then others.

It is really that simple. If the other people in your life don’t understand, were they really your friends?

~Lori O’Gara

Thank you for your time. You can see more of my writing here.

P.S. If you send me a letter I will write you one back.