Susan Kiernan-Lewis

How to Make “Passionate Living” Job One

I wanted to make the announcement that I am moving much of my blog content to my other blog at Wordpress and hope anybody following me here on tumblr might think about following me “over there.” I’ll still keep this blog up on a weekly basis since I create content here that is less compatible with the Wordpress one, but just thought I’d give you the option!

 Meanwhile, I also want to introduce an awesome website that I go to daily for inspiration and joyous tid-bits called TruthBeautyGoodness. I already tweet links to this  now and then but you really need to know about it yourself so you can get the good stuff at the source.

 As for the “Passion” curate, as per usual, either click here to get to all the awesome articles or on the photo, itself, and remember: life is about lighting your jets and blasting off into the unknown. Here’s hoping these articles help provide the spark.



How to Make “Passionate Living” Job One

I wanted to make the announcement that I am moving much of my blog content to my other blog at Wordpress and hope anybody following me here on tumblr might think about following me “over there.” I’ll still keep this blog up on a weekly basis since I create content here that is less compatible with the Wordpress one, but just thought I’d give you the option!

 Meanwhile, I also want to introduce an awesome website that I go to daily for inspiration and joyous tid-bits called TruthBeautyGoodness. I already tweet links to this  now and then but you really need to know about it yourself so you can get the good stuff at the source.

 As for the “Passion” curate, as per usual, either click here to get to all the awesome articles or on the photo, itself, and remember: life is about lighting your jets and blasting off into the unknown. Here’s hoping these articles help provide the spark.



When our heroes track mud on the living room carpet

Seventeen years ago, I found an awesome book called Simple Abundance by Sarah Ban Breathnach. I have worn this book out, underlined it, typed whole sections into my smartphone over the years, mined it for never-fail gems upon which I have launched many a blog post. I remember loving her voice, her assuredness as I re-read her words of wisdom, much of it researched by great writers and thinkers, explorers and doers in history and enhanced and made current to our lives, our time by Ms. Breathnach’s own gentle voice and common sense perspective.

It’s not hyperbole to say that she touched my life. I found comfort and balance in her words and reached for this book often. If you’re not familiar with it, she gives an essay for every day of the year and while she mostly speaks to women, her essays cover everything from raising children to digging out of credit card debt to finding your passion to cooking a simple meal.

Today, I looked up the chapter where she addresses Spending Habits. She wrote: “One of the greatest gifts my husband has ever given me is the ability to think before I spend. This is how savers behave. Savers don’t get a high from recreational shopping. Savers don’t shop in order to make themselves feel better…Today, be willing to gently explore your life-energy expenditures. Don’t blame yourself for bad choices. Do attempt to make better ones. Most of our problems in handling money stem from unexamined patterns rather than from uncontrollable urges.”

Okay. Very nice, and as true today in 2012 as it was when she wrote it in 1995. You might have read this in last month’s O Magazine, it’s so current sounding. In fact, Ms. Breathnach appeared on Oprah’s show 11 times.

Which is why I was so shocked to discover that a few years after selling 7 million copies of Simple Abundance, Ms. Breathnach ended up divorced, broke and sleeping on the couch at her sister’s. (As a writer, myself, this is definitely not how one dreams that being a mega-bestseller author will end up.)

We all have heroes that fail us. We are all human. I get that. I think it’s remarkably gutsy to write a book saying you have researched all the answers and then go on Oprah eleven times to underscore the point.

And then trip.

My hat is off to her for trying in such a big way. In fact, I may currently be even more impressed with Ms. Breathnach than I was before her fall. It’s one thing to be all Yoda and wise when you’re sitting in your comfy middle-class home when you don’t have to worry about a day job because you have a working husband. It’s quite another when you’re homeless, in debt up to your eyeballs and jobless.  Here is one Phoenix, however, I have to believe is destined to rise from the ashes.

Not surprisingly, she’s got a new book out about her journey. But for me, I think I’ll pass. Don’t get me wrong, my hat is off to her and her unsinkable Molly Brown ability to fashion opportunity out of failure, but I’ve gotten a few years under my belt since I last looked outward for my heroes. Today, I’m looking closer to home for that and sorting out the codes and values that define my life the old fashioned way: by trying to live them day-to-day instead of reading about them.


To Get Where You’re Going, Look Where You’re Going

There is probably no group of people on earth who has more quotes relating to living your life than do horsepeople. I could be wrong about that.

There is, for example, the one about the outside of a horse being good for the inside of man.

There is the one about how to jump fences on horseback which really applies to anything in life that you tackle that’s a little scary but worth doing. It goes like this: “Throw your heart over first, and the horse will follow.” The point about that one seems to be that if YOU’RE not sure you can jump that five-footer, you’ll inevitably translate that doubt to your mount and he’ll ensure you don’t jump it. When judges grade a jumping competition and a horse balks or refuses a jump, it’s the rider they look at for hesitancy. They tend to figure that if the horse is physically capable of jumping the fence but doesn’t—it’s pilot error, pure and simple.

Like anything in life, you gotta believe it before you can do it. And horses are amazing the way they can mirror how you’re feeling. But for all that, the point I wanted to make today is that when riding, you, as the rider, really must look where it is you want to go. Ideally, this is right through his set of ears like a kind of organic scope. You don’t look at the ground, obviously, although new riders often do because they want to make sure everyone’s feet are going where they should. 

Riding a horse is a delicate balance. You are not just a sack of feed up there for the ride (or at least ideally not.) When you turn your head, the horse feels it, the horse reacts even if just a little bit. If you are looking down, instead of up, or to the left, instead of to the next line of jumps, that’s where the horse is now looking too. Which, since that’s not where you want to go, is not a good thing. I suppose everyone has a saying for this since it’s a universal adage. “Keep your eyes on the prize,” etc.

Kristen Lamb, whose book, Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer, has this section in it where she interviewed some NASCAR drivers for a piece she was doing and they, basically, told her they try not to look at places they don’t want to go…like the wall, for instance. It seems that in professional driving as in life and in horseback riding, it’s important to zero in on where you’re going.

I love it when universal truths really are universal.


How to Market Your Book in Every Way

I’ve scoured the Interweb (as they say in the UK) to find every possible up-to-date article and blog post to help with the age old (and making us old) process of marketing our books. Since most of us are writers first and marketers, maybe tenth, (surely you’re a lover, mother, knitter, snowboarder and a bunch of other things FIRST before marketer?) we need every bit of advice we can get.

So here you are! Break out of the box a little and push that title. It’s not as much fun as having a full on root canal, granted, but it will reap so many more benefits. (Okay, no hate mail from dentists.)

Cheers! Until next time…remember, either click on the picture, above, or right here to access the articles.


Organize Your Life Like You Would Your Closet

In a perfect world.

I am going to go out on a limb here and tell you something about yourself that you probably know but may not: You can’t do your best work, your best thinking, your best anything if your world is a cluttered, chaotic shambles. I know it makes a good story to say that you can create brilliance out of a maelstrom but it’s bullshit.

I don’t care what it is you’re doing: baking a cake, writing a chapter, digging a flower bed or applying makeup, you need a tidy, everything-in-it’s-place platform from which to work, or the result will not—repeating here—will NOT be the best it could be. I am as bad as anyone for dining out on how I used to make a pie, do flash cards with my five-year old and write a scintillating inciting incident for my mystery series all at the same time. Today? I can only imagine how good that chapter would’ve been if I’d just had TEN DAMN MINUTES TO MYSELF. Oops, didn’t mean to yell.

The five-year old is now sorting through college offers so he no longer serves as any kind of excuse for not doing my best work. But the point I’m trying to make is that an organized mind, an uncluttered desktop, and a quiet house really do make a difference to your end result.

It is worth the extra fifteen minutes it takes to pick up the dirty clothes, tuck the breakfast cups in the dishwasher, wipe up the water the cat dribbled and put all your (metaphorically) sharpened pencils in their pencil cup before you tackle whatever work you have on your schedule. Even if it doesn’t feel like it’s directly related to the work you’re doing, the feeling of an organized world prompts a settled, organized clarity in your thinking that can only enhance whatever it is you’re trying to do.

I once read an article that said people who tidy up after themselves and put away their tools when they’re finished are actually more relaxed and chill than the Oscar Madisons of the world. Let’s face it. It’s one less thing to worry about if you already know where that overdue gas bill is or if you can fling open the front door to an unexpected visit from the minister’s wife without embarrassment. These kinds of people are much more serene than the slobs of the world. I don’t care how much someone brags about being a slob, when they walk into their apartment and it’s a disaster, they die a little bit. If nothing else, just the thought of not knowing exactly where the remote control is would make anyone churlish.

You might want to check out Maria Menounos’ very stylish and not-a-bit anal “The Every Girl’s Guide to Life.” Ignore the dorky name, it’s really got lots of great tips in it, like:

1.     Keep only what you need (now that’s a concept we could all use)

2.     Buy only what you need

3.     Make sure everything in your closet has its own place

4.     Get a toolbox. Stock it. Return tools to it.

5.     Get a label maker. Label scissors, tape dispensers etc with “Return to kitchen” or “Return to Susan’s office”

6.     Skip one major vacation and have a hot tub installed instead. Then enjoy mini-rejuvenations and spa experience on a daily basis!

7.     Do the laundry before it’s overflowing

8.     Tape inventories to pantry doors so you know what you have

9.     Do all errands and grocery shopping on ONE day each week (this cuts down on grocery bills big time)

10.  Keep all your favorite cleaning supplies (what?! You don’t HAVE favorites??) all in one place, in a handy bucket

Before you know it, you’ll be mid-way into 2012 and these habits will have gelled into a tidy house, a straightened desk and an orderly mind. All of which are absolutely essential to creating magic every day—whether that’s mothering, writing or whatever it is you do that defines you.

Life’s messy.

Step one. Pick up your clothes.


Do I Know You From Somewhere?

I’ve lived in thirty-five different places in my life.

I’m an ex-Air Force Brat, and living in temporary quarters and moving about so much—especially as a child—led to a constant stream of new schools, friends, new rules and situations.

But how I viewed my experiences as a military dependent and how they shaped me as an adult was totally rewritten the day, about fifteen years ago, when I picked up the autobiography of Diane Fossey. In her introduction to her book, she wrote about a rare neurological condition that she suffered from called prosapagnosia.

Before that moment I never knew there was anything wrong with me but when I recognized in myself the condition she described—so many hundreds of things about my life—my past and my present—began to click into place.

Prosapagnosia is a fairly uncommon genetic brain anomaly manifested by the inability to remember faces. Visual recognition is generally considered to be the most basic of human abilities, one that I not only never had, but I assumed everyone else was pretty much the same.

I thought everyone:

·      struggled to place characters in a movie as they came in and out of the scenes

·      would be hopeless about picking someone out of a lineup (because naturally they all looked identical)

·      had trouble recognizing themselves in a mirror 

I honestly thought everyone was like that.

I can meet someone, spend the entire evening with them, laughing, talking, sharing personal experiences, and if that person gets up to go the restroom— I will not be able to recognize them again when they reappear five minutes later.

Not even a little bit. Not even a hint. 

Can you think of a more disabling condition for a child who averages two different schools every school year?

How many potential girl friends did I piss off in high school when it looked like I was snubbing them later in the school cafeteria after a great chat session in class that morning? I wasn’t stuck up. I just couldn’t recognize them again.

Prosapagnosia, also called “face blindness” is genetic. My youngest brother has it, too. In men, it’s often manifested by the constant selection of women who are extremely tacky or outlandish in their dress and makeup: trailer-trash tarts. This makes sense when  you think of it: if most women look alike to you, how much easier to remember one if she’s already standing out from the rest? For the same reason, all my friends in high school (and I apologize ahead of time if any of them read this) were either extremely fat, suffered from disfiguring acne, had gi-normous breasts or were in some other way distinctive from the pact. Pretty women are the worst. They totally all look alike. No offense to anyone who fits the description but there is a certain type of woman that is virtually impossible for me to tell apart and that is the typical tennis-Mom: blonde, athletic and, unhelpfully, dressed in tennis outfits.

Good-looking guys weren’t much better.

When I was single, every date I had with a guy was like a first date. If we met and I agreed to go out with him, when he came to pick me up, I never remembered his face from the initial contact. (Could he have switched places with a roommate who also wasn’t horrible looking? Sure. I’d never have known.)

Once my brother and I became aware of the condition, we both began to develop individual methods for remembering people: memorizing their outfits if we just needed to remember them for a day, or consciously noting differentiating facial characteristics.

Any situation, like at church for example, where people wear name tags is an incredible boon to me: it puts me on equal footing with all the normal people. I become much more relaxed and friendly.

The fact is, trying to fake that you recognize someone almost always ends badly. Either my face shows how much I’m struggling to remember who the hell they were, or I say something that indicates our last meeting obviously didn’t rate enough to be recalled by me.  

Why not just tell them of my handicap?

Because most people do not find it believable that you could totally forget an evening of sitting and laughing together—and the next day walk right by them. They assume that you are being rude.

It’s hard to explain to someone who doesn’t suffer from it how you can study someone’s face and then, minutes later when they leave, it all just dissolves away like scrambled eggs off of Teflon. 

How relieved I was to discover that my son had not inherited this ultimately anti-social condition. Instead, he would often serve as my “seeing-eye dog” as we met up with the parents of his many friends. As he would see them approach, he would quickly tell me under his breath: “That’s Joe’s Mom, Mrs. Dansen.” And I could take it from there.

While face blindness has been an extremely frustrating situation for me, there was some relief when I realized that I was not, in fact, a racist for not being able to tell African-Americans apart. Up until I realized I had an affliction, I assumed that I fit the unfortunate definition of a racially intolerant person. If I’d really thought about it, I would’ve realized that it wasn’t just blacks that looked alike to me, but everyone. 

I think, like any handicap, you get used to it, you re-route your habits to accommodate it and you stop wishing, uselessly, that you’d never had to deal with it. You, in fact, become stronger and more empathetic as a result of it. And I think that’s a pretty big pay-off for a little social embarrassment now and then.






Life Calls for Passion First

Back again with a sampling of articles from around the world that were curated to help you bounce out of bed ready to tackle the world and give it your best! Since your best always starts when you’re passionate about something, we’ll begin there!

As usual, click here or on the photo above to go to the site and then just click on whichever article strikes your fancy.

Remember, it’s great to be alive and it’s sugar on your berries to have something that makes your toes tingle besides.

Have a great week!


Time Travel Made Easy in 2012

When you think about some of the reasons we read, I believe that being transported to another world must rank pretty highly. For me, anyway. I don’t dislike my life but I do love to escape to some place very different from it. This visit to a different world often coincides with my interest in time travel—something I  can’t easily do with a Delta Airline ticket but I can do with, say, any of Diana Gabaldon's titles!

On the other hand, there have been a few counties in my life that were awesomely exotic to visit and also, in a small way, offered a taste of the experience of a different time, too. No offence to France or New Zealand—two of my most favorite countries in the world and two through which I’ve travelled extensively, but, at least in the sixties and the eighties, travel to either country could  easily make you feel as if you’d travelled back in time about twenty years. Depending on where you travel in France or NZ, you still can. (I have Kiwi friends who tell me today (with some annoyance) that times have changed and they have all the same GAP stores that I do in Atlanta.)

But my point is that there was a time, when I lived in New Zealand in the mid-eighties where I felt like I’d been dropped into an episode of Masterpiece Theatre. And we’re talking one of their Victorian period piece set dramas, not Inspector Lewis. While it’s true I’d spent the last five years living in a shopping mecca with easy access to Nordstroms, Macy’s, Saks Fifth Avenue and the like, when I moved to Auckland there was only one department store (called Farmers) in the whole of the largest city of the country, and that looked like it’d been plucked from Macon, Georgia. In the mid 1950’s.

For me, it was charming. It was delightful. (Besides, you could always mail off “back home” for stuff you really needed.) And it was an opportunity to live in a time that my parents had lived in, to experience life in a slower pace. Once, when I was having lunch with some colleagues in Wellington (I worked at Ted Bates advertising agency in Auckland) one of the men told a story about a rustic inn he’d stayed at on his honeymoon somewhere in Greece. He talked about how the little bar-restaurant he and his bride frequented kept serving them cold dinners. When I asked why the proprietors didn’t just pop the meals in a microwave, he looked at his pals at the lunch table and said: “God, I love Americans.” (BTW, said in a way to mean NOT.) Then he looked at me and said: “I make $82,000NZ a year and I don’t have a microwave oven. Does anyone at this table have a microwave?” He then looked at me. “Do you have a microwave?” (Naturally a microwave was one of the first things I’d acquired after moving to NZ but I did think he was making a super BFD of the whole microwave thing and so took the opportunity to switch the subject as soon as was feasible.)

My deduction was that possibly it was easier for Americans to experience time travel than those from some other countries. (Which, now that I think about it, might logically mean that people from other countries who visit the States would be able to experience travel to the future! Which would also be quite nice, I’m sure. ) (Okay, pls hold all hate mail, I’m KIDDING.)

Has anyone else had the feeling that they were going back into time (or into the future) when they visited a foreign country? Was that something that added to the experience for you? If so, I’d love to hear any stories you’ve got!


When Memory Lane Was Land-Mined

There was a best-selling novel a few years ago by Diane Setterfield called “The Thirteenth Tale”  in which the author—and the protagonist in the book—states that everyone tends to mythologize his or her childhood. I think there’s some truth to that but I have to say there was a three-year period in my childhood when I didn’t need to make up or embellish the things that happened to me. And most people have difficulty believing me when I tell them my story.

(The above photo is my older brother and me walking in downtown Vogelway in the mid-sixties. We were as confident and sure of ourselves as brash young Yanks in an occupied land could be.)

I was nine years old the first time my eleven-yr old brother placed a live bomb in my hands. I was living overseas as a military dependent in post-war France with my parents and three brothers. My Dad was the acting commanding officer of Chambley Air Force Base, an American air base situated in Alsace-Lorraine.

The unexploded bombs my brothers and I found—and we found dozens during the year we lived in France—were the result of an allied bombardment in November 1945 when the 8th Air Force dropped a total  of 3,753 tons of  bombs in our backyard in one day…resulting in what surely must’ve looked like a demented Easter egg hunt 18 years later when four Boomer kids went on the ultimate scavenger hunt.

A few other memories in my scrapbook at the time include:

The fact that I went to a French Convent school—built in the 1300’s—where I spoke only French.

I got my first kiss from a French boy in a stone washhouse built by the Romans in 300 AD.

When I was ten, I was shot at by an angry French farmer who patrolled his vineyards in an effort to keep pests out (read: wily American kids.)

I once tripped over a dead body in a snake-infested World War II bunker that my brother and I discovered and were trying to fix up for a clubhouse. (The Mouseketeers was real big back then and we were absolutely a product of our culture.)  It was a skeleton, wearing a molding German uniform. Showing an early entreprenurial streak, my brother tacked up a sign at the entrance to the bunker selling tours to the local French kids—”Ten francs to see the dead kraut.”

When we moved to Germany, I had a full-scale castle in my backyard—built in the 1200’s—complete with  dungeons, stone balconies and  towers—that my brothers and I played in nearly every day of the two years that we lived there.

We moved back to the States when I was 12 at which point I began a fairly conventional adolescence, but  I’ll always be grateful that there was a time in my childhood when I was not only allowed to discover the world on my own terms but  I was able to experience history and true adventure as a part of my daily round without exaggeration and without mythology.