December 2008

We were notified we’re being audited by the IRS. Our accountant said this was strictly “random,” a statistical audit pulled from a social security number and the IRS uses this kind of audit to help decide whom to audit in the future, with more target, I guess. “Sometimes they only want to look at one thing; sometimes they want to see every piece of paper,” our accountant told us.

Perhaps because we’ve been audited before though not this “random” kind; perhaps because of the mellowness of the pneumonia that has kept me down this month, I didn’t panic. It’s just another little bump in the road and one we can deal with. On the scale of things, being audited is minor. Having a roof over our heads, being able to pay bills, having work to which one is suited and perhaps even a gift to give away, those are wonderful things for which we are truly grateful this season.

Random thoughts have come my way this month even before the audit announcement. Watching news reports from Mumbai, India brought randomness to mind, how someone being in the wrong place at the wrong time can change lives forever. Grieving is rarely planned for. It comes in response.

Another random act: Jerry got a speeding ticket, one of only two in his lifetime. He was allowed to take an on-line class as part of his fine reduction and since he’s not computer literate, I had to register him and I’ve ended up taking the class with him. It’s been interesting to read statistics about attitudes and beliefs and behaviors that can end up in fatal accidents and just how many could likely be prevented by traveling the speed limit among other things. In Idaho, for example, 70% of fatal accidents occur on rural roads and because of speeding. Being hit by a drunk driver may be less random than one thinks, too.

My cold that usually morphs into bronchitis if it worsens instead became pneumonia. Random?

I read an article about randomness too. Writers think about randomness a lot, wondering if becoming an overnight success is really something one can cause to happen or if in fact the success of a particular writer getting published at all has very little to do with the quality of writing, the degree of promotion, or any number of other things we try to work into our equation but in fact may be, well, more random than we’d like to believe. One comment in the article came from a businessman who noted that “Fifty percent of my marketing/advertising budget is wasted. I just don’t know which 50%.” And so like the rest of us he tries new things.

A new book called Outliers explores success and one comment the author made is that more successful people as in millionaires etc. were born in 1955. Bill Gates. Also the founder of Apple, born in 1955. Random? Luck of the birthday? I remember reading once about successful women. It was said that women who succeed are told it was because of market forces, the right timing, etc. And if they failed it was because of poor planning, inadequate skills. Yet men who succeeded at some entrepreneurial venture were told it was because of their great planning, their wonderful skills and if men failed, it was because of "poor market conditions, bad timing over things they couldn't control." Hmmm, gender as part of random success or not?

Like many of us, I struggle with random and try to scoop it. I’ve contracted for book trailers to be made for both the Aurora quilt book and the new novel A Flickering Light coming out in April. That’s new for me. They’ll be up early next year on YouTube and other sites, hoping for exposure. We’re still going to send postcards out. Do they work? Do they remind people to call their local bookstore or library and see if the book is available? Who knowsJ

I’m talking with my publisher about publicity, what part of the country should we target, what audience, what’s the best use of my time, that sort of thing. We do what we can and yet, just as with the Aurora book that will go on sale on the 16th, things happen. Who could have predicted that having the book come out just before Christmas in the long run was better than if it had come out at the original date, last September when the economy and election were on everyone’s mind and a book about quilts and community and craft most likely wasn’t. (Except on mine, of course J)

And the pricing, at $17.99 that had seemed low for a lovely hardcover photographic book now seems wonderful and will make it more likely others might be able to purchase one to give as a gift. Something lovely under twenty dollars! And aren’t those things just well, random?

Take my walk this morning. The weather was glorious. Blue, blue sky, geese chattering in the rimrocks, weather reaching sixty degrees. I felt up to walking, finally, after this bout of pneumonia that continues on still though I’m much better. Bo was elated! He did his happy dog dance, swirling and swirling, short tail tucked under as he raced around the yard, returning to see if it was real, I was actually going to open the gate and let him out and walk with him. Oh to be able to make someone so happy just by being present! I don’t walk as much as I should outside for a reason I’ll get to so Bo saw this as a special treat.

We headed down the road, past the goat. Bo waited at the crossroads to see if we’d turn to the river or up the hill. I chose the river (a random choice to Bo I’m sure but to me it was because it was downhill!). Matt arrived about then, let his dog out who joined us, we three happily making our way to the river’s edge.

Where the Russian Olives are planted in double rows and we’d thought were burned out by the wildfire several years ago, there is now an almost park atmosphere. Matt trimmed the trees last summer and the grass is lush. I could see where deer have made it a place of choice: close to the alfalfa field with good cover and the river gurgling beyond. Deer probably drink lots of water, something I’m supposed to be doing. A nest hangs from one of the trees. The light breeze left us in this quiet. It is perhaps the most restful place one could be on a lovely End of November morning.

I made my way around the field beside the river. Bo sniffed, checked back in, dug for gophers, plunged into the water. We walked back up toward the barn where Matt worked on the swather. He planned to drive up to the house and pick up Jerry whose back was hurting lots this morning, so I got a ride. Funny how not having to walk that extra footage back up the hill seemed like a special gift of sorts with my breath so short and just being tired from coughing. Dogs piled in, we headed home and breakfast, pulling burrs from Bo’s fur before making our way inside.

But I was beat for the rest of the day, just read mostly and slept. This is not a good sign but it is better than it was. I’ve had lots of time for reading and napping this past month, and for thinking and yes, a little praying too.

I noted that my foot hurt afterwards. It’s the foot damaged in the plane accident (such a random thing, wasn’t it?) and while I’m so grateful I can walk on it at all, I do know that I sometimes put off taking the dog for a walk on the ranch because the ground is uneven, the rocks slick and that foot is not solid. I’ve fallen more than once (broke my arm, remember?) and usually afterwards that foot aches for quite awhile. So I’ve preferred the treadmill. No rocks to adapt to.

But it occurred to me that while the uneven ground can be dangerous, so can a flat surface. Earlier this month I fell and hit my knee on the curb outside the convention center in Portland. The leaves were slick and I think I didn’t raise my foot high enough because I keep favoring that bad foot. Or maybe it was just a random act of clumsinessJ

Anyway, after the walk, I realized that the constant adapting required of walking on uneven ground has likely made that foot stronger than it otherwise would have been. I’m not sure it makes great gains on the treadmill at all though my heart and blood pressure have improved. But I know that foot would not have improved to the point it’s at if I hadn’t put some pressure on it, hadn’t made myself do what is uncomfortable. And the fact is that walking where there might be problems doesn’t mean there will be problems.

My time with the dog, breathing in the fresh air, listening to the river and geese, walking without coughing for a time at least, gave me great peace so I didn’t even think about the foot until after I came back and felt the ache, the throb of discomfort.

Maybe my foot would have hurt anyway. Who knows? But I gathered a little understanding about why Jerry sometimes pushes himself through his own pain, at risk to greater injury at times but also because to not do so means he would end up “doing nothing” as he puts it. At 78, I could never say he is a man who does nothing even if sometimes the things he chooses to do drive me crazy (like remodeling the living room two weeks before Christmas!) Still, the Aurora book is evidence that we can work together on a creative venture and live to tell about it.

Besides, taking the dog for a walk regardless of the weather, ignoring the possibility of pain, looking for what treasures I might just find making my way beside the river, seems a joyous gift I can give myself. Finding joy doesn’t have to be random. I can choose to place myself where that opportunity can happen even if it means sometimes risking pain.

I do the opposite of random well. I plan a lot even though Churchill once noted that “planning is essential but plans are useless.” Life happens. Yet something fortuitous can come from planning. Today it was a reminder that after twenty-four years, this landscape continues to bring me joy when I enter into it, when I risk again discomfort, unknowingness, do what it is that I can do without always knowing the outcome.

I suppose that’s why I write as well. It’s a pretty random occupation according to that article I read. It brings with it sometimes haphazard moments of delight (seeing old friends in San Antonio and Houston, having a book arrive and look wonderful, one that Jerry and I and friends from Aurora and beyond have struggled over for three years, meeting a new author (Glenda Burgess) whose memoir The Geography of Love I highly recommend, spending a weekend with a friend while participating with a book festival) as well as times of pain (bad reviews, poor writing days, falling down on the city streets of Portland, arriving home with pneumonia, having to cancel events because of it, feeling like a slug for a month wondering if I’ll ever feel like myself again.)

We can’t control the randomness though it must be human nature to try.

This month especially I'll hang on to Paul Tillich’s observation that as humans one of our life lessons is to come to terms with how little we control. Being here at all on this ranch reminds me of that lesson: we control mostly our attitudes and behavior in response to living.

That’s where I am today as we enter December, this last month of 2008. We can only do what we can, look random in the eye and keep going, trusting that the path we’re on is not one we walk on alone. And if we should be reminded by some random act, a stumble, a bump in the road, that we might want to change our course, then my prayer for each of us is that we'll have the courage to make that change, even though it means stepping into the unknown and risking a little discomfort along the way.

There’s always the chance that we’ll make some dog do the happy dog dance and find ourselves smiling at what power we have to bring joy to the dog and to ourselves.

Make it a great month!
Warmly, Jane