Dixie Darr

Archive for May, 2017|Monthly archive page

The Dinner Party

In creativity, Finding Your Calling, spirituality on May 22, 2017 at 12:46 pm

Name three people, alive or dead, that you’d like to have dinner with and why. This classic ice breaker is as revealing as it is delicious to contemplate. Here are my selections.

Studs Terkel wrote my all-time favorite book, Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do. This book influenced me more than all the sociology of work classes I took in college. One quotation, Most of us are looking for a calling, not a job. Most of us have jobs that are too small for our spirit. Jobs are not big enough for people” set me on a lifelong quest to find my calling (still searching) and probably made me reject the idea of having only one job. Originally published in 1974, the bestselling book examined people from all walks of life who were, according to the author, working “for daily meaning as well as daily bread.”

A Chicago broadcaster, Terkel listened to America and allowed us to listen, too. Five decades of interviews with ordinary and remarkable people will soon be available here. Meanwhile, you can listen to a few hundred of them here. You might want to choose his interview with my next dinner companion, Maya Angelou.

That Voice and the intellect and compassion behind it would be plenty to include her in my fantasy dinner party, but there’s so much more.

Bill Gallo of Westword had this to say about her:

The talents of Maya Angelou – she is or has been a teacher, memoirist, prize-winning poet, actress, civil-rights activist, editor, playwright, composer, dancer, producer, theater and TV director, and advisor to three presidents – range so far and deep that no feat she accomplishes could come as a surprise.”

Her dizzying list of achievements guarantee that she would be a fascinating conversationalist. I’d be happy just to sit back and let that voice wash over me. She’s all over the internet, but I recommend that you watch her read her poem, “Still I Rise.” 

My final companion would be my dear friend Reverend Sheila Johnson. Some people you just resonate with. You know the moment you meet that you’re going to be friends. It was that way with Sheila when we briefly worked together for a training company more than twenty years ago. Like the other two, she is versatile, gregarious, and real. In addition to her work as a hospital chaplain, she writes, paints, teaches and sews.

She makes me feel grounded and would keep me from going all fan girl with the other two, either babbling or struck dumb.

Plus, if I had dinner with Maya Angelou and didn’t invite her, Sheila would kill me.

At Leisure

In Books, Learning, work on May 19, 2017 at 1:42 pm

I didn’t want to retire. I even wrote a book about it, although it never got published – Don’t Die Wondering: A Guide to a Non-retiring Life. I suppose I could publish it now on Kindle, but I’d have to update it first, and I’m not interested in doing that, especially since I’m no longer working myself.

When I lost my last job, it wasn’t a surprise, but it wasn’t my choice either. I worked at home on my own schedule editing student papers and doing as much or as little as I wanted. Editing let me be hypercritical (a superpower of mine) without ever having to deal with actual people. I’m not what you’d call a people person.

The university decided that editors had to teach as well, and I was through with teaching. So that was that.

I was retired.

I don’t like the word because it makes me feel useless and irrelevant. Apparently plenty of other people my age agree. AARP uses only initials now to avoid calling its members “retired people.” Dozens of books have been written (and published!) to redefine our so-called Golden Years. They use words such as rewired, retread (there’s a lovely image) refired, reinvented, renewed, recycled, second act, and second wind.

It’s just a word, people tell me, but words matter. I just tell people to say I’m no longer working or better, I’m “at leisure.”

At first I was mostly bored. I went to museums, concerts, and plays, but at best, I was just filling time. At worst, I was killing time. I’m reminded of the saying, “I wasted time and now time is wasting me.”

It took four years for me to start feeling comfortable not working. I’ve found that Parkinson’s Law works just as well now as when I had a job. Leisure expands to fit the time available.

I suppose I could find a part-time job or volunteer, but all I really want to do is read and write and see my friends at church or the gym or for occasional lunches. This isn’t what I envisioned as a non-retiring life, but it suits me fine. For now.

One Thing Leads to Another

In Books, creativity, Learning, Learning Tools, writing on May 18, 2017 at 11:59 am








I’ve taken a circuitous route through life, with eccentric interests, oddball jobs, and curious relationships. The organizing principle is lifelong learning, so I suppose it wasn’t surprising that I chose to earn a master’s degree in Adult Education.

Two books by Ron Gross, The Lifelong Learner and The Independent Scholar’s Handbook, had captivated my imagination because I wanted to learn everything, and I preferred to do it on my own. While working on my thesis, I found another book that encapsulated everything I wanted in life. The Adult’s Learning Projects by Allen Tough describes the deliberate efforts to learn undertaken by adults of all ages.

He found that an astounding 98% of adults participate in an average of eight learning projects per year. Those he called High Learners spent 2,000 hours per year in 15-20 learning projects.

I have found that one interest inevitably leads me to a number of related mini projects. In fact, the independent scholars’ motto is “One thing leads to another.”

Here’s a personal example.

A couple of years ago, I decided to write a cozy mystery. Although I had never before been interested in writing fiction, I certainly read enough of it.

I started making notes and decided I needed to learn about writing fiction, which led to reading dozens of books (my preferred learning method) on the topic.

I learned to use Scrivener software for writers.

My story was set in the imaginary town of Mayhem Gulch, located in Clear Creek County, near Empire and Idaho Springs. Yes, I know Mayhem Gulch is a trail head in Jefferson County. Work with me, people; this is fiction. Anyway, that meant I had to learn about that part of the world. More books and a few trips to the mountains. Now I have a Facebook friend who lives there and has agreed to answer some of my questions.

My plan is for a series of Tiny House Mysteries leading to an online study of tiny houses and the people who live in them.

Since I want to draw the book cover, I need to learn how to draw and how to design book covers. I also want to draw a map of my fictional town.

Finally, I will have to acquire knowledge of indie publishing.

Unfortunately, all these side paths have distracted me from the original goal of writing the book. And I haven’t even mentioned the things I want to learn that don’t have anything to do with the book. You probably won’t be surprised that I’m now reading about how to juggle many projects.

It’s always something.

One Too Many

In Arvada, Auntie Flat, Denver on May 17, 2017 at 1:13 pm

English has dozens of ways to say “drunk,” more than any other word, which tells you how important a concept it is. I’ve written before that when I moved to Highland neighborhood in 1978, the area didn’t have the most stellar reputation.

A good part of that came because of the number of bars we had. Rowdy, sleazy bars, for the most part.

The one that was catty corner from my apartment, Eddie’s Dog House Tavern, reliably spewed drunks into the street almost every morning at 2 a.m. to partake in the liquor enhanced pleasures of public urination, littering, noise, fights and who knows what else.

My landlord, who lived upstairs from me, routinely called police reporting guns whether he’d seen any or not.

Meanwhile, I would just roll over and go back to sleep. Sometimes being oblivious to other people can be a good thing.

When I joined the neighborhood association, our highest priority was to systematically shut down nuisance bars. We always had representatives appear at hearings for liquor license renewal to testify about police calls and problems for neighboring homes.

As bars disappeared and the neighborhood climbed into the upper echelons of desirability, I moved to another up-and-coming area, Olde Town Arvada. The rapid development here comes about because light rail is on the way, this year they tell us. They told us that last year, too. While apartment buildings spring up on every available plot, I’m also starting to see old houses torn down to make way for two- and three-story townhouses, just like in Highland.

In Olde Town proper, the most prominent development is the increasing number of – let’s call them drinking establishments. We have retained a few old taverns and added three breweries, a beer hall, and a bourbon lounge. Almost all of the restaurants serve alcohol, and the School House Kitchen and Libations features over 1,100 different whiskeys.

Whenever renovation begins on another empty storefront, we wonder what kind of bar or brewery it will be. We were pleasantly surprised when the old motorcycle shop was converted into a credit union, albeit with the puzzling name of On-Tap Credit Union. As far as I know, you cannot get a drink there. Refreshing.

It strikes me as ironic that the same type of businesses that brought down the reputation of one neighborhood signal new life in another. Maybe the difference is in the quality of the well-lubricated customers – inebriated or stinko.

I think instead of trying to revitalize the Ladies’ Temperance Society I’ll just call for moderation. One more bar in Olde Town would be one too many.


In creativity, Learning, work on May 16, 2017 at 10:20 am

I’m old, fat, and a lousy housekeeper. I’m also smart, funny, and compassionate. I know these things because they play on a never-ending loop inside my head. Sometimes they’re more annoying than an ear worm of “Play That Funky Music White Boy” (you’re welcome) although most of the time I don’t even notice them.

The Buddha called this constant mental chatter monkey mind because it’s like a monkey swinging through the trees who grabs one branch and lets it go only to seize another.

For at least 60 years, advertisers have tried to manipulate our behavior by infiltrating our monkey mind and inserting subliminal messages into various media. Since then, almost everybody in the self-help field recommends using positive affirmations to reprogram our minds and help us make positive changes.

Seems a little cheesy to me, and although I’ve tried it off and on, I never could stick with telling myself “I believe in myself and my ability to succeed” over and over throughout the day.

And yet, there may be something to it.

Meet Jon Morrow, paralyzed from the neck down after being born with Spinal Muscular Atrophy and then suffering a horrendous car crash, Jon nevertheless graduated from college, built several wildly successful businesses, made millions of dollars and became something of an internet star.

I can only move my facial muscles,” he said, and he lived with a virtual gun to his head, the idea of living “in a nursing home bed somewhere watching TV for 15 hours a day surrounded by other people waiting to die. To me that is the scariest thing imaginable. Instead, he used his mind, which worked perfectly well.

He credits his success to listening to inspirational audio books and podcasts 4-8 hours a day and creating a new reality for himself.

Think about that.

What’s on your playlist?

Listen to Jon’s remarkable interview with James Altucher, another one of my role models.

The Promise

In spirituality on May 15, 2017 at 11:07 am

When I was about ten a voice told me that my best years would be after sixty. That had some fundamental effects on my life. First, I never worried about dying young, although I was never reckless, either. Knowing you’re going to live at least until sixty, you want to spend those years as healthy as possible.

Second, I never dreaded getting older. In my thirties and forties, my friends were astonished to learn that I actually looked forward to old age. One young coworker asked me what was the best time of my life. “My best years are ahead of me,” I said. Apparently she didn’t feel the same as she took her own life at 32. I still miss her. She would have been a terrific old lady.

More recently another friend wrote that she had gathered from my posts that “you’d prefer to be content than ‘happy.’” At first, I was offended. What did she mean I don’t want to be happy? Of course, I do. Then I wasn’t quite sure what the difference was between being content and happy, so I did some research.

We have a bluebird of happiness, and Disneyland is the happiest place on earth. Amazon sells 57 books on how to be happy. Several podcasts do the same. All storybook princesses live happily ever after. Economists measure gross national happiness, hold a world happiness summit, and measure which country is the happiest in the world (Norway). Bobby McFerrin told us to “Don’t worry, be happy,” and Pharrell Williams is simply “Happy.”

Still, researchers describe happiness as a fleeting feeling of having a desire met. Contentment is the belief that everything is fine just the way it is. Happiness requires a constant chase; contentment is a more even keel.

After the dark moodiness that characterized my younger years, that sounds pretty wonderful to me.

When I reread my friend’s note, I realized that she had also said, “you’ve found that contentment in your life and have the good sense to appreciate it.”

On my 60th birthday, I started nagging God, “okay, I’m ready. When are things going to start getting good?” Was it all some cosmic joke? Gradually, I began to realize that my life was turning out pretty well.

It doesn’t mean I’ve stopped striving to make things better, but if this is contentment, I’ll take it.

Mothers of Invention (not you, Frank Zappa)

In creativity on May 12, 2017 at 7:16 am

Please don’t wish me happy Mother’s Day on Sunday. I’m not a mother and never wanted to be one except to my various cats over the years, and we celebrate privately.

This can be a painful day for some of us without children, even if we chose that status. Remember there are also thousands (millions?) of women who have lost children or who were never able to have them despite their intense desire, fervent prayers, and modern technology.

Instead, I’ll choose to honor these women. Call them my spiritual mothers if you must.

Harriet Tubman – an American slave who escaped and became an abolitionist, humanitarian, and an armed scout and spy for the United States Army during the Civil War. She may become the first woman to appear on our $20 bill, doubtful under the current administration, but still refuses to smile in any of her photographs.


Rachel Carson – an American marine biologist, author, and conservationist whose book Silent Spring spawned the global environmental movement. Her writings led to a nationwide ban on DDT and to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Probably spinning in her grave.


Rosa Parks – her act of defiance in refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus to a white man led to her becoming the First Lady of Civil Rights. Throughout her life she insisted that the struggle for justice was not over and there was more work to be done. Boy was she right.


Jane Jacobs – an author, journalist, and activist whose book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities sparked a revolution in urban studies. Her focus on how cities served their inhabitants instead of architects and designers brought a fresh, community-based approach to city building. She’s the reason I want to study urban design in my next life.

Gloria Steinem – a writer, activist, and trailblazer for the feminist movement in the 1960s and 70s. She co-founded Ms. Magazine and the Women’s Media Center, an organization that works “to make women visible and powerful in the media.” When I grow up I want to be Gloria Steinem.

Bishop Karen Oliveto – the first openly gay bishop in The United Methodist Church. Her territory, the Mountain Sky Area, covers Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Utah and a small portion of Idaho. My bishop and a woman whose warmth and wisdom continues to win over her misguided detractors. It’s 2017, people. Grow up.

We All Live in a Yellow Submarine

In creativity on May 11, 2017 at 7:48 am

I’m claustrophobic, so I would never actually live in a yellow submarine or even a purple one. The image, however, is iconic and represents everything light and happy in life.

Written by Paul as a children’s song for Ringo, the most popular Beatle, to sing, it first appeared on Revolver. A happy ditty, it was inexplicably paired on the single with Eleanor Rigby, probably the gloomiest song they ever wrote.

It became an effervescent animated film wherein the Beatles travel in said submersible vehicle to save Pepperland from the music-hating Blue Meanies.

The irresistible image appears on all sorts of objects, including a large and difficult jigsaw puzzle. While I can’t have puzzles because my cat would knock the pieces off the table and try to eat them, I do own several other items.

A journal

A tote bag

Two Christmas tree ornaments – one for home and another for our church family tree

A lunch box (used as decoration only)

A testament to the lasting popularity of the image, Lego recently introduced a Yellow Submarine building kit. I’m pretty sure my cat would try to eat this, too, so I won’t be getting one. Nor do I need a mug, an aquarium ornament, a sheet set, a tablecloth, a tee shirt, a hot wheels toy or most of the other yellow submarine products available on Amazon.

I did, however, just order a decal for my computer and a tea infuser, which I discovered as I was researching information for this post. In this life, you can’t have too much happiness and joy.

Take Me to Church

In spirituality on May 10, 2017 at 12:17 pm

I started going to church because of Bill O’Reilly and the late Fred Phelps, two men with whom I agree about, well, nothing.

In the months following 9/11, I was searching for – something. I saw the always mean-spirited former Fox News host peddling one of his books on a late night show, and he said he went to church because he thought it was a good idea to work on his spirituality for one hour a week.

Okay, maybe I do agree with him about one thing, although I learned pretty quickly that participating in church life takes more than one hour a week.

My family did not attend church much when I was a kid, although sometimes we went to a Methodist church, and I was baptized Methodist. Feeling nervous and unsure, I decided to give the only Methodist church I knew of in North Denver, Highlands UMC, a try.

I had only one requirement for a church—I would not attend a church that preached hate.

My first Sunday at Highlands, a woman told me I should have come the previous week because Fred Phelps had been there picketing. When I didn’t immediately recognize the name, she reminded me that he was the head of the Awful Westboro Baptist Church. That should be the official name, don’t you think?

I figured if he was protesting Highlands, I had found my church home.

That was January of 2002, and I’ve been going ever since. I don’t miss very many Sundays. I came with a head full of questions and found a few answers and even more questions, which is fine. I’ve always been more seeker than seer.

I’ve learned that four elements form the Methodist faith: scripture, tradition, experience, and reason. That’s right. God gave us brains and expects us to use them. Nobody tells me what I should believe.

Neither O’Reilly nor Phelps would probably agree with either of those things, and they probably wouldn’t appreciate it when I thank them for leading me to Highlands, but I do. Thank you.

How the Light Gets In

In creativity, Denver, spirituality on May 9, 2017 at 8:21 am


A nasty hailstorm hit the Denver area yesterday afternoon, hurling golfball and baseball-sized ice bombs that dented cars, battered roofs, and wiped out gardens all over town. Some of the stained glass windows at my church took a beating.

Pastor Brad called in some help and cleaned up the glass shards and rainwater in the sanctuary, using press and seal plastic wrap for a temporary fix on the shattered panes. I’m a member of the Board of Trustees, a committee charged with caring for our building, so we will have to make some decisions about the repair soon.

That isn’t as easy a fix as it might seem. The stained glass windows were first installed around 90 years ago and fell into disrepair as church membership dropped and finances became precarious. We have rebounded over the past five years, and a successful capital campaign allowed us to begin planning for restoration and protection of our treasured windows. Just last week we submitted a grant proposal to help with this prohibitively expensive project.

That money won’t come through for months, but clearly we will need a more permanent solution than cling wrap before then. At any rate, we will repair the windows, and within the next year restore them so they’re ready to withstand another hundred years or so.

As I stood in the sanctuary and gazed at the late sunshine streaming through the broken panes, I thought of the late Leonard Cohen’s brilliant song, Anthem, that proclaims “there is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

And I couldn’t help thinking about the cracked and broken United Methodist Church (see To Love Somebody) and hoping the universe is letting in some light.