Smoke and Mirrors

Susann Hayden discusses an ongoing quest to quit smoking cigarettes and traces the clues that may lead to kicking the habit.


Lucky for me that heroin is illegal. Otherwise, I probably would have smoked it at some point to quit smoking cigarettes. Buddha knows, I have tried everything else: gum, patches, pot, Xanax, raw cookie dough, exercise, meditation, tearful promises, urgent prayers, psychotherapy, hypnosis, tough love, goal setting, reward, punishment, abrupt withdrawal, tapering off, locked rooms, 3 day fasts, 3 day tranquilizers, relaxation tapes, 50x magnification spa mirrors, lollipops, inhalers, screaming, sobbing, self-loathing, begging for help, books – just to name a few. When the facts and inspiration from reading doesn’t help me, I suspect there may be a deep-rooted psychological block to overcome.

For the life of me – the literal Life. Of. Me. – I have not been able to conquer this hideous habit over the years that I have been actively trying. Until maybe last week. A randomly chosen movie – Dead Again – featuring Robin Williams as a former therapist, had one line that clicked into my subconscious and made me think about the subject differently. Early in the film Williams’ character coolly observes a private investigator – played by Kenneth Branagh – and says to him, “Do you want a cigarette?” Branagh replies, “No. I don’t smoke.” A few lines later, Williams says again, “Here – take a cigarette.” Branagh retorts, “Why do you think I want a cigarette? I am trying not to smoke.” Williams explains, “Look. There is no trying to quit. You are either a smoker or you’re not. Think about it. And when you decide, you’ll know what to do.” I could easily answer that question: I am not a smoker. Why on earth have I spent so much time and effort to sustain a habit I don’t even like? Psychological issues usually trace to the beginning of a behavior– some tangible episode/event that sparks a behavior change. This weekend, I strolled down bad habit memory lane once more to prove my suspicion that I am not a smoker.

Parental Influence? My dad never smoked; my mom was a social smoker. Both of their fathers had smoked and dad’s had died in his fifties of emphysema. My mom’s dad – a small town sheriff during the depression – was shot to death by the town drunk in a little town in Georgia when mother was five years old. Mom remembered him as a tragic romantic figure, with a head full of black hair and a cigarette dangling from a full bottom lip; over time he came to be personified by Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind – mother’s favorite book. My mom smoked during weekly bridge games and Friday night dances at the country club. She also smoked a couple of cigarettes every New Year’s Eve. The woman could literally take a year smoking one pack of cigarettes. Each time, my father would have a conniption fit and lecture all of us on the evils of smoking.

This was in the seventies, before the real evil of mass produced cigarettes was even known…to the public. But, my father remembered the devastation caused to his depression era family when the patriarchal bread winner had to take to his bed permanently with a terminal case of lung disease leaving six children to fend for themselves. My mom had more of a denial mechanism: her father was cut down by the malevolence of alcohol and ignorance. She never saw her dad wrinkle and wheeze from a long life of cigarettes. My siblings never really took to cigarettes; it was just me who faced that demon. Maybe we are predisposed to an addiction gene, but clearly I cannot look to my family for the cause of this plague.

Youthful Indiscretion? My first cigarette was five cigarettes. They accompanied my first drink: Jack and Coke in a railcar suite at the Chattanooga Choo-Choo when I was barely thirteen years old. At this age, I was a freshman in high school. Everyone else seemed so much older. When the girlfriend of a senior at my high school asked me to keep her company in Tennessee for an overnight away soccer game, I jumped at the chance. She was great to me that weekend; she introduced me to alcohol and cigarettes, talked me through the pitfalls of being a female in high school, held my hair when I got dizzy and sick that night, and never said a word about it to anyone. She set the bar really high for my feelings that what I chose to do was mine to do and deal with accordingly. I didn’t smoke or drink again for a year. When I did, it was in defiance of my boyfriend who thought smoking “wasn’t ladylike”. I smoked my way right to a break-up, then quit again for the rest of the school year.

I would have let the smoking chapter end, but my dad heard about my smoking a couple of months after I stopped. He prepared a long chat with me – drove out to my boarding school on a weekday – egads! – and told me that if I didn’t quit he would remove me from school. I was outraged at the heavy handed tactics, bummed a cigarette from a classmate walking by the window of the family sedan dad and I were conversing in, and lit up on the spot. I smoked off my nose to spite my face. Then, I smoked for a few more months to show my dad who was the boss of me. But, I really couldn’t stand it, so I quit again for several years. What could have ended right there as a youthful indiscretion/rebellion crept back a few years later.

Social Pressures? I am an introvert. I hide it really well, like my corporate training taught me. But, I unwaveringly enter any social gathering looking for the chance to skip outside to smoke a cigarette – alone. Outside, there is usually some other soul like myself who I will talk to over my American Spirit; as an introvert, this one-on-one conversation is infinitely preferable to me. The only times in life I have ever had more than two cocktails was when I could not escape, like a cocktail party or a presentation day for work. People will press drink after drink on you while telling you all about the wickedness of something else. Socializing within these confines is a soul sucking situation for me.

I became a professed teetotaler by my junior year of college; nobody forces non-drinkers into bawdy conversations. But, I was singing in a bar to pay for school, so I took up smoking again to find a way out of talking to the customers in the clubs where our band played. Ironically, no one ever pressured me to smoke to be cool. Smokers are generous with cigarettes; they will always give you the last one out of their pack. But, no one ever pressed a cigarette on me. So, while there are social pressures for me associated with smoking, they spring from inside myself. I have adapted aberrantly with cigarettes, so I can’t blame social pressures for my smoking any more than I can blame society for people’s fascination/obsession with loudmouths, drunks, and self promoters.

Oral Fixation? Definitely. Thank Allah I never had much of a taste for alcohol, because I have rarely spent a moment of my adult life without a coffee, diet soda, juice tonic, or glass of ice water in my hand. My mom did breast feed me and I loved her very much. So, yes, I don’t at all discount Freud here when I think of my need for oral reinforcement when feeling upset or anxious. Since having gained and lost the same 15 pounds throughout my entire life, I believe my family when they say that they can always tell when I am happy because I’m healthy and fit. When I am not happy, the pounds go on and no unclaimed cigarette lying around is safe from my clutches. This epiphany from the movie happening at this point in my life seems to point to a successful oral substitution change to something healthier for a while, like carrot sticks or Nicorette gum. There’s some hilarious patter in the Gwyneth Paltrow/Ben Affleck movie Bounce, where Gwyneth Paltrow takes up smoking again to wean her off nicotine gum. Sadly, my oral fixation may be that pronounced. But, as I am aware of it all of the time now, it seems to be lessening dramatically on its own. Time to move on to the next excuse/reason…

Emotion Mitigation? When I quit smoking, I alternately cry easily or fly off the handle about almost everything remotely inconvenient or imperfect. I know smoking helps me hold back a lot of my feelings. I am honestly afraid of the physical and mental energy I have when I am not smoking. I quit for ten years starting in graduate school. During that time, I ran five miles a day, played racquetball incessantly, started a new career, and moved to the big city of Atlanta. There was no time or reason to think deeply or smoke cigarettes. Then, I switched to a job that would lead me to living and working in Europe. During that time, I also married and became pregnant. And, waiting for that baby to arrive was when the smoking bug hit me again. I made it through the end of that pregnancy without smoking, but it was touch and go. Once my son was born and would only drink from a bottle, that’s all I needed to light up for another ten years. My time raising my son was golden. Work and marriage were horrendously stressful, though.

Smoking was also much easier. Europeans don’t think about cigarettes the way Americans do at all. And, their cigarettes are not as full of drain cleaner,, and extra addictive poison sludge like those in the U.S. So, I started again. When I moved back to the US, I stopped once more later for several years when I was happily ensconced in a completely different job. But, then, after a lifetime of friends who didn’t smoke, I met my future husband and he smoked like a chimney. We talked and smoked and smoked and talked. It was heavenly. I fell off the wagon again.

See how I wrote two paragraphs without acknowledging the important discovery I made in the first sentence of this section? Cry easily, inconvenient, imperfect. Those issues all come from early childhood: scary big sister, Type A personality from birth, shameful Bryan’s Song crying jag at six years old, having to hold my bladder too long at elementary school because of an overwhelmed second grade teacher, pathological need to score 100 on tests, training for track every day in all weather, dancing en pointe, tendency to have head in the clouds reading books and singing along with record player until sibling revolts snapped me back. Okay… So what if I spend four weeks crying while I am not smoking? Who cares? My husband won’t harass me about it, nor will the computer. I live in the city now in a tenth of the space I am used to inhabiting: everything is inconvenient. If I focus on improving/embracing this period of change, then I won’t need the smokes as a crutch to prop up my denial of my discomfort right now. Imperfect? Um, yes I am. I do tend to hide that from even my closest intimates: I am supposed to be the person who always has the answers. If I stop doing/being that, I bet I will stop being stressed out over things I don’t care about and stop smoking. I am writing full time now; the only answer I know and want is to keep doing that.

Behavioral Habit? At this point in life, I absolutely have to quit and have needed to for a while, now. If you smoke, you know what I mean. I have the lung capacity of a hummingbird. My face shows the signs of a day of heavy smoking; it also rosies right up when I forego the habit. I smoke so as not to eat when I am nervous. I smoke to punctuate something good happening or something bad. I wash my hands and brush my teeth all the time. Smoking is robbing me of time – a moment here, there, and everywhere – that is not going to come endlessly anymore. I must stop and identify the feelings propelling me to light up every time I change gears. When the urge is purely physical, as it will be for the first couple of weeks, then I can use my inhaler. When I want to use the behavior to celebrate writing a chapter or working out (I know, it’s pathetic), I could find another way to behave right there in the moment that suits the non-smoker that stands tall at my core.

Conclusion? I am not a smoker. I am a generally happy person in the middle of a lot of change and transformation. I do want to live for a good, long while. I am not a self-saboteur. I will use these mirrors from my past to cut through the haze of smoking. My sister lives 4000 miles away! I can do this. It has been 36 hours since I started writing this and since I have had a cigarette.  Please leave any comments, tips, cartoons, advice, etc. in the comments below. Thanks for listening and cross your fingers for me.


Valentine’s Day

In this wry essay, Susann Hayden looks at the differences between love and romance.


The specter of Valentine’s Day is upon us again. Woo hoo. Valentine’s Day is one of those holidays I find inequitable, cruel, and nothing akin to the feelings I can have for other people, places, and things. Christmas spirit comes every year to everyone; it’s democratic. Deep magic can happen at Christmas to the poor and disenfranchised, the lonely and the lost: just ask Ebenezer Scrooge or the Grinch. Anyone can be moved – even saved – by carols, twinkling lights, good cheer, and elves of all shapes and sizes.

But, Valentine’s Day is much more subjective. If you are alone, you must be inadequate somehow. If you don’t get flowers, candy, or a card, your relationship must be passionless. If you have no parents or friends or lovers, there is no enchantment for you. If you just lost someone dear to illness or violence, Valentine’s Day is invasive, at best. Must we always be expected to appreciate someone else’s happiness without feeling the absence of our own? Romance is cyclical; I get it. Tis better to have loved and lost, etc. Better luck next year. Whatever.

Maybe it is the way Valentine’s Day brings the meaning of love under the spotlight that really bugs me. I am in love and someone loves me. I love my life-sized stuffed panda – my writer’s mascot – who guards me through the lonely hours at the computer. I love Coca-Cola. My son loves me and I love him. I love lamp. Forrest Gump knows what love is; I can’t seem to get my head around it.

I used to love Valentine’s Day. Every year in elementary school, we would bring a shoe box from home and spend an afternoon decorating it with paper hearts, lace doilies, and glittery stickers the teacher spread out on a large, low circular table in our classroom. We would finish by writing our first names on our valentine mailboxes in carefully scrawled block letters. If you were an unfortunate with a first name shared by others in the class, you would have to include the first initial of your last name after your first name, guaranteeing a little less allure for your vessel. Who wants to swear undying love and a giant Reese cup to Karen L. or Ted P.?

Every year, my mailbox would overfloweth. Every year, I was surprised by the fancy, ardent valentines I got from little boys who spent the rest of the year throwing sand in my face. Even on Valentine’s Day, it was routine for a small heart-shaped Whitman Sampler box from the drugstore to be whipped at my head by some little caveman in our homeroom. I was always stunned, but never very flattered. Even then, I had a cold heart to the random acts of love violence from little men. I never once got excited to make a valentine for a boy; I was much more excited about carefully opening the box of valentines my mom and I would choose for me to give my classmates and my teacher. I would spend hours sorting my colorful paper greetings from best to worst and my girlfriends accordingly. Most of the boys in my class would get the leftovers and undesirables. My teacher usually got assigned the biggest and prettiest card, the one-off different from all the other valentines in the box. From those simple beginnings of sorting and assigning, I think I gave myself a distorted view about love.

No one told me to sort the cards. No one told me to choose the box of cards that most expressed myself as a person. My mom and dad didn’t buy valentine cards or gifts for anyone but each other and us kids. My brother and sister were a lot older than me; they were experiencing the holiday inside the complicated rituals of teenagers. Other kids – including my son, Parker, decades later – were very quick and clear in their choices.

My son liked Batman, ergo the Batman cards were his choice. When we opened that inaugural set of Batman Valentines when Parker was in first grade, he read and methodically sorted the eight types of valentines included in the box into eight neat stacks. Then he shut his eyes and had me write each kid’s name on a valentine as he visualized his way around his classroom. His instructions for my inscribing were easy: pick the top valentine from each stack, 1-8, sign “from Parker”, then start over at the first stack again. Valentines, Go Fish – it was the same process for him.

By 2nd grade, we were like socialites with a seating chart. That year he liked Buzz Lightyear, so Toy Story cards were purchased in early January; let all the losers with bad parents get stuck with Strawberry Shortcake or Hot Wheels. This time, I was relegated to carefully gluing wrapped candy to the cards after Parker had arranged and signed them. All the girls got Jessie, Bo Peep, and Rex cards; all the boys got Buzz, Woody, and Mr. Potato Head. Slinky and Hamm seemed to be in the neutral gender zone, though I noticed Hamm was definitely dispersed to kids my son didn’t know very well. What did this mean? Was he a genius with Orwellian sensibilities – a super intuiter of potential swine? Was he a misogynist for assigning the wishy-washy character of Rex, the self-loathing dinosaur, to girls only? As the late afternoon wore on I discovered that in the space of a year, he had developed all kinds of methods for arranging and categorizing gender and likeability: “MOM! I don’t have enough Jessie cards for the brown haired girls. MOM! I don’t have enough ‘tato heads for the funny guys in my class. MOM! You can’t tape a pink sucker to that Buzz card.” Elementary school is a tough gig of being introduced to people and relationships. Whose brilliant idea was it to introduce a love holiday into the mix? No wonder adults are so mixed up about romance and intimacy.

Through my teenage years and early twenties, I spent Valentine’s Day with assorted boyfriends and love interests. Those were sometimes sweet and sometimes awkward occasions filled with sterling silver jewelry and musical cards, romantic picnics and surprise concert tickets, hot kisses and knee-weakening hand holding. But, it never felt like the days I had learned to anticipate from elementary school: no sudden revelations of love, no giant candy boxes from secret admirers, no new, immediate best friends. I spent a couple with girlfriends drinking fruity cocktails while swearing off males and romantic love of any kind. We didn’t mean it. We always ended those evenings swearing to do better next time: to notice deep flaws and intimacy issues as soon as they arose, to be better listeners and nurturers, to get sharper haircuts or different clothes so we would stop being deadbeat magnets, to trust our instincts, to play the field before getting too close, too fast. We broke hearts, too, don’t get me wrong. If the opposite of love is indifference, then we certainly were blithely arrogant and ignorant of many a potential, suitable mate and probably stood in our own way of finding intimacy and connection. After all of that structured, appointed build-up of romantic love as a kid in school, were we unreasonable to get more scared of intimacy and more dreadful of the big day where anticipation would meet its match?

I gave up on love and passion after having my heart broken before I was thirty. Until then, my one true love were my parents and I just didn’t have the same depth of feeling in friendship or romance for anyone else in life. I tried, but no one ever matched up to my family’s consistent support and care and it just didn’t seem like it was enough to commit myself to giving a huge bag of affection and constancy for the linty mints of others. Then my dad died and, soon enough after, my mom died and I kind of buried my heart alongside them. And all of those great childhood days like Valentine’s Day I tossed in, too.

It is said that you always find something when you aren’t looking. When I least expected or was even thinking about love, Cupid’s arrow struck me with someone I never would have bet would have been my soulmate. I had my first real Valentine’s Day in decades the first one we shared together. He brought balloons, breakfast, a singing bear, and a big red velvet box of candy into our bedroom and woke me up to tell me he loved me. It felt like elementary school all over again. He was handsome, funny, kind, intelligent, artistic, and sexy. I adored him and felt like I was the luckiest person alive; he made me feel engaged and hopeful again about love and everything else. I married him five years later. The distance between that first Valentine’s Day and our subsequent marriage was where we had to work out all of our childhood notions of romance and love. After that first Valentine’s Day, we didn’t celebrate another one. And, as this one comes around, I just don’t know what to think of romance or of love anymore.

Romance is fun. It is passionate and twirly and nervous and bubbly. It is discovery and listening and empathizing and feeling united in a depth of emotion. Romantic love is like existing in a parallel universe; everything seems shinier and prettier, fresher and perkier than it did the day before you were in love. Romance is surprising, exciting, sharing, and optimistic; romance is the question. It is the previews before the movie; it is the amuse bouche. Courting and wooing are meant to take time; the feelings building are to be savored. Rushing means you are filling a hole; taking time means matching levels of feeling to actions. Romance is also narcissistic; it can be hurtful and obtuse. Romance is sexual; it is quivering and hardening. It is sensual and it is exotic and it feels absolutely unique. It is chemical and it is physical. It is walking in the rain without needing an umbrella; it is riding a Ferris wheel without looking at the view. It is Chinese take-out with fortune cookies and chop sticks in the bag. It is consuming and it is urgent. Romance is castles and gestures and roses and rose colored glasses.

Romance is fantastic and every relationship should have a grand start with it or an early period of it, at least. Romance also finds its way back in love through growth and change. Since newness and unexplored territory is part of the seduction of romance, it can be reignited just by progressing as a human being. Insignificant change is not the same as evolution; romance blossoms into love with the strong catalyst of time and adaptation. Because, more than anything, romance is a promise of the future that delivers instantly – and fleetingly – in the present.

Love answers the question of romance. Love is the future that romance promised; it is the destination of chivalry and courting, but it is really just the beginning of a much longer, much more involved journey. Love is a Thanksgiving dinner and the nap afterward. Love is an invisible force that is felt like a constant hum in those sharing it. It is warm and liquid. It is the brass plaque on a park bench dedicated to beloved wife and mother. It is there in a lost job, an illness, a windfall, a new baby; love is unconditional. It is deep trust, deep affection, and deep knowing. Where romance is Christopher Columbus, love is Abraham Lincoln. Loving someone makes you a better person: a saint, an architect, a true friend. Love makes you kinder, more patient, more understanding, and more giving than you would be without it. It makes you want and believe that everything you are is and will be sublime. Love is supportive; it is protective, generous, nurturing, and constant. It encourages and, sometimes, carries. It cannot be chased, captured, kidnapped, bought, demanded, or taken; it has to be earned by preparing the heart, mind, and soul for its arrival. Two people can learn to love together; it’s a process that has no clear beginning and no end. Love is hard and it is painful. Love endures and love stays. Love is a miracle.

Some people may be falling in love this Valentine’s Day and others may be falling out. Some will be reaffirming the passion and romance that started a long union; others will be mourning the loss of their beloved because life can be inexplicable that way. Some will be looking for love in all the wrong places and others will be begging a Hallmark shop owner to stay open just five more minutes. Wherever you are this February 14th, Happy Valentine’s Day.

To my sweetest husband, especially, I love you. XO

My Emerald Year

Susann Hayden kicks off a brand new blog with a light-hearted free association of her 2016 horoscope.

According to astrologer Susan Miller, this is my emerald year. An emerald year is rare and fortuitous – the best year that can happen. It is when Jupiter, planet of gifts and luck, enters your Zodiac sun sign and stays 12 months. It happens every 12 years and sets the stage for the next 12 years, since it takes that length of time for Jupiter to orbit the sun. Fantastic luck, happy coincidence, being in the right place at the right time, and getting profound help from like souls, are all hallmarks of an Emerald Year. One of the loveliest aspects of Jupiter is that there are no penalties with his visit. Unlike the dreary taskmaster Saturn, planet of hard lessons and forgotten karma, Jupiter’s benevolence and gifts are free of charge. You just have to be open to receiving and building on them in the best way you can. Jupiter’s cycle is the time, as well, for your true love to come into your life. Jupiter’s goal is to make you happy, so it is important to dream big during his visit; you must seize the chance to visualize, take steps, and realize the life you want to create during these years. Jupiter’s visits are so rare, that I, as a Virgo, would have to live to the ripe age of 96 to get all eight of them in my sun sign this centennial.

After a decade of big events and transitions, I have been really excited to find out about this year that started last August and will continue to September of 2016. I thought I better make the most of it. So, after a little free association and research about emeralds, I discovered the following.

Emerald, the Gemstone

Emeralds are fascinating and rare. They are distinguished by their flaws; scientists can tell where individual emeralds originated and how they evolved by the different types of irregularities in color and clarity they show. According to a wonderful website on gems called Crystal Vaults, emeralds are part of the Beryl group of gems, which are colorless until they react with other elements; in the case of emeralds, those reactive elements are vanadium and chromium. Interestingly, those elements were originally very far apart from each other on earth. So, imagine the thousands of years and violent landscape change and natural evolution that had to occur on the planet for these two elements to move close enough together to beryl to form emeralds and you get an idea of their sort of mystical place in the gemstone family and their believed power and esteem. Emeralds have been around since ancient times: Incas, Aztecs, Egyptian pharaohs, and Indian maharajahs all revered, mined, and wore emeralds. Now, these gems are found primarily in Africa and South America and excavated routinely and professionally. Leonardo DiCaprio will never have to make a movie about exploited Africans killing each other for emeralds; no De Beers type corporation has ever designed a worldwide advertising campaign to assert that any woman who doesn’t get an emerald from her fiance is not really loved or valuable.

Emeralds according to Astrology and Religion

In astrology, emeralds promote understanding and intellect and empowers the wearer spiritually. Emerald wearers are led to “a peaceful and triumphant life adorned with the flowers of delight.” Writers benefit from wearing them, as do most types of artists. The emerald is entrusted with keeping a relationship strong and everlasting when given to a lover by her beloved, then worn around the waist. Great health, prosperity, and success for Virgo – my specific sun sign – along with a happy and respectful long life come from wearing emeralds. In fact, only Geminis and Virgos should wear emeralds – on the pinky finger of the right hand… on Wednesdays only…and, optimally, at sunrise. For early Christians, the stones became symbolic of the resurrection – a rebirth into a fresh, new life.  Wearing emeralds is thought to improve eyesight and removes the blindfold from the scales of justice, so she can see more than facts. The emerald is intuitive. Possessors must never give away an emerald or it will bring great misfortune to them; Virgos have a problem giving too much. As do I.

Emerald Green, the color

Green is the calmest of colors. Emerald green is considered one of the most beautiful colors. Though we all learned early in school that green was not a primary color and that blue and yellow combine to make green, it turns out that was only true for painting and printing colors. “In the RGB color model, used on TV and in computer screens, [green] is one of the additive primary colors, along with red and blue, which are mixed in different combinations to create all other colors.” One could argue that green is more modern a color than that lightweight, upstart hue: yellow.

Still, green is everything old and new again. The word green comes from the same German root word as ‘grow’ and ‘grass’; the Latin root viridis gives us words like ‘verdant’ and ‘haricots verts’ (green beans, en francais.) Chlorophyll is what makes everything flora in nature look green; when oceans look green, it’s because the blue rays from the sun’s spectrum are absorbed and an abundance of green plant life or run-off sediment from nearby rivers in the seawater makes the wavelengths appear more green than blue. Either way, the color green in nature is a direct result of the sun’s light, whether by instigating a process like photosynthesis or by providing light rays that add color to our world.

Mona Lisa wore green, which symbolized she was not of the nobility; leprechauns wore green to distinguish themselves from the French aristocracy. When clothing more clearly represented social status, green was worn by the upper middle class: bankers, merchants, and the gentry. In Eastern culture the color green has very positive connotations, primarily indicating fertility. In the West, it is associated with nature, youth (or inexperience), spring, envy, and sickness. It is also thought of as a safety color: green lights, green cards. It is the color of the modern environmental movement as it represents a naturalness and sustainability. Political groups and products are often marketed as being ‘green’ or environmentally friendly.

Green is the most important color in Islam and is represented on almost all Islamic country flags; Muslims believe green represents the lush vegetation of Paradise. It is also associated with Ireland from the Gaelic period. (Gaelic people were once French!) I like France, so this must be my Emerald Year connection. I have cultivated a lush garden – my Paradise – and have exalted being on the ocean since childhood, so there is much potential synergy with the color green for me this year.

Seattle & Wichita are both Emerald Cities

I live in Seattle. Seattle is spectacularly green; that’s true. Even the blackest thumb can grow anything here, which is a testament to the large number of bad weed growers. But, the people are not unique or spectacular in any way that I have found. If green is the most serene color, then perhaps Washingtonians have become immune to it. The state is known for the Seahawks, serial killers, and suicides, and the motto seems to be, “For Me and Mine and Give Me Yours”. But, I digress – there is no connection here for exploration of My Emerald Year except to try and bloom where I am planted so I can leave the state and never have to return.

Wichita is also known as the Emerald City. I have never been to Wichita, but it is in Kansas. It is not the capitol of the state – that would be Topeka – which means a good place to dig potatoes; who would trade that gem for a name like the Emerald City? I also recall that Glen Campbell sang about a county lineman in Wichita who is still on the line and wants me for all time. Clearly, my true love this year could be some sort of utility worker. Ultimately, though, the tie-in here is that Kansas is the setting for Frank Baum’s books on The Wizard of Oz.

Oz, the quintessential Emerald City

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was published on my birth month and day, September 1st, in 1900. In it, a farm girl named Dorothy is conked on the head during a tornado and dreams of a great adventure to a magical land where she gets fabulous sparkly shoes, meets fascinating new friends who really seem to get her, and where she spends her entire odyssey trying to return home, to dig potatoes maybe. Oz – The Emerald City she must locate to find a great wizard with the powers to get her back to the farm – turns out to be a surreal destination clouded in an allusion of emerald color and where she and her friends find out from the great and powerful wizard (who is also only an illusion of smoke and mirrors) that they each had the power to be, do, or have what they wanted inside themselves all along: a brain, a heart, a home, the nerve. If anything, the Wizard provides a paradigm shift that allows for acknowledgement, enlightenment, and self-confidence. Oh, I hope that is what my emerald year brings.

Upon reflection, it seems that my Emerald Year is set to be quite wondrous and wanderous. The gemstone facts provide clues that I should be happy for my flaws; unique imperfections represent a long, full life in constant evolution. I am proud of the long journey and tectonic shifts that formed me; I will trust in my own wisdom more and realize that the divine and beautiful really does come from within. My true love gave me a sapphire for our wedding this past August; I have also gleaned that it is imperative to receive a big emerald from him as soon as possible…

All of the number 12s in the first paragraph alert me to the cycles I am completing and the new one beginning this year. I am blessed to be building a brand new life from the ashes of my last; hopefully, my books are as best-selling as the New Testament. It is also clear I must be careful not to give away all of my earnings this time. New genres of  writing will be my ‘primary’ color of income. I don’t need to start with outdated past learnings – blue and yellow – to create.

And, like Mona Lisa, whether I become famous or infamous, I will never pretend to be something I am not; I will be natural. Most of all, unlike Dorothy, I will be open to new adventures, people, and places; I will refrain from pulling back the curtain too fast on some of the magic that comes my way. Home is where the heart is, after all; I will stay present in my life, wherever it takes me, every moment this year. And, if I really work hard and look for the opportunities that Jupiter brings my way, maybe I can spend another Christmas in Paris. Viva la Jupiter!