• Martha Clark Scala

Should Isn’t Always a Dirty Word

Updated: Jan 8

January, 2020


An Exception to the “Rule” of Minimizing Shoulds


Have you noticed how life keeps handing us opportunities to learn, and re-learn important lessons?


Ten years ago, the topic of Out on a Limb’s December blog was Shoulds are a Killjoy.


The current month’s blog could have been titled “Wash, Rinse, Repeat!” How humbling.


This time, my “teacher” was a doggone potato peeler.


One of my food prep jobs over the past weekend was to peel, then boil, a few potatoes. Seems like a simple task, right?


There was just one problem: I wanted to skin the spuds with the trusty peeler I’ve used for years. But no, I said to myself, you should use that new potato peeler you got for Christmas.


Unfortunately, that should ruled my decision-making. Moments later, there was a gash on the tip of my left ring finger that ultimately required medical attention. (The killer potato peeler may get donated to Goodwill quite soon.)


I blurted out, via text, to a friend, “Shoulds s*ck!"


They do! If I’d just stuck with my preference, rather than obeying the should, my finger would be intact, and I wouldn’t have lost some valuable weekend time in a visit to Urgent Care. [continued below]


Why Assemble a Life? An Interview with Author and Artist, Martha Clark Scala


Pardon this interruption! I'm not going to say you should watch this video, but if you would like to learn more about what motivated me to write Assembling a Life: Claiming the Artist in My Father (and Myself), you might want to take a look. My totally biased interviewer is a dear friend since college days, Sue Murphy Murray. Comments and feedback welcome!


Should Isn't Always a Dirty Word [continued]


I came away from this experience asking, “What is the lesson here, Martha?” It’s not really about the peeler; it’s about those danged shoulds. They killed some joy back in 2010, and they still do now. If we ask ourselves, “When have I done something I didn’t want to do, but felt that I should,” what is there to learn from those occasions? What happened? What didn’t happen?


Outcomes aren’t always rotten but allowing shoulds to run our lives and our decisions can be a recipe for misery, resentment, and a lot less joy.


Since this peeler incident, I’ve made a mental inventory of recent situations in which I’ve done what I felt I should do. Often, this was due to a desire to please someone else. The byproduct is that pleasing oneself takes the back burner. (And yes, yes, I know, sometimes we do need to please others . . .)


Can a should ever be useful? Helpful? Or even joy-inducing?


I like to think the answer is a resounding Yes! What if we say to ourselves something like, “I should listen to my own preferences and honor them, above all?”


Wouldn’t we all be a bit happier?


I know I’d have all my skin on the tip of my left ring finger. What skin do you need to save?


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Attention: SF Bay Area Readers!

Found Words, Found Wisdom: How Writing a Memoir Helped Me Discover That Happenstance is More Than Mere Coincidence


I will be the featured speaker at the monthly meeting of California Writers Club – SF/Peninsula Branch on Saturday, January 18, 2020. The meeting is from 10am to Noon, at Sequoia Yacht Club, 441 Seaport Court, Redwood City, CA. Tickets are $10 for members/$15 for non-members/$5 for students, and you can register here.


Prompts For Joy

This month’s Prompts celebrate the joyful talents and playfulness of James Corden who is the tireless host of The Late, Late Show on CBS.


Click here for a bit of irony in Corden’s duet with Alannis Morissette.


Click here to recall the big news of Alicia Keys being the host of the 2019 Grammy Awards. It’s another fun duet with James Corden.


Click here for all previous Prompts for Joy.


Pictured Above


The light is coming! Dawn in December, Palo Alto, CA.




"When Martha took to the role of collage artist and began to 'assemble' her dad’s life into book form, she gifted us with both a family history/memoir, and a guide. Many of us find ourselves wishing to connect the various factoids and anecdotes we’ve heard about relatives who are no longer with us, but it can be intimidating to say the least. This book is a good place to begin for inspiration."


~ Judge, 27th Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards


To purchase the premium softcover or e-book versions of Assembling a Life, click here.



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