This project's goal is to give each family member and myself just 10 minutes of unconditional positive regard every day. All attention is focused on the other person for those 10 minutes and only positive comments or thoughts are allowed. Just 10 minutes often becomes much more. Try it and see. You'll find the Just 10 guidelines on the right side of this blog.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Subtle Application

"If you were to have ten minutes of my undivided attention, would you want it?"
Husband answers, "Yeeeessss,"  drawing the word out in hesitation.
Genius that I am, I realize that I've put him on the spot.    Part of me couldn't resist messing with his head.  He is the catnip to my Cheshire Cat.  I've got him in my sights.
"The next ten minutes are all yours," I purr.  "Go" I say, smiling a mischievous grin.
I'm feeling the power.   I watch my husband shift uncomfortably in his chair.  The only sound he makes is a puzzled, "ahhhhhhh."

Pitying him, I turn off my laser of focused intensity.  Small talk often bores me and I have a terrible habit of verbally hitting people over the head.  Worse yet, I sometimes enjoy their discomfort.  The best things often take time.  "Patience", I tell myself.  Turning my gaze away from him, I allow the space between us to be filled with an easy silence.

His words come slowly at first.  I listen.  My eyes occasionally look into his but not for too long or too intently.  I don't want my words or actions to stop the flow of his.  This is a mistake I frequently make.  Words come too easily to me.  After years of silence, I seem to be making up for lost time.  I can talk about almost anything and a few things with some intelligence.  Words push against my tongue and tumble from my mouth in a chaotic waterfall of sound.  This waterfall often surges over others, their words lost in the frentic torrent.

I remain quiet and alert.  It takes effort.  Listening is a skill that I need to practice.  I hold my tongue hostage. Slowly, the words begin to fall from his lips.  A steady trickle gives way to a steady stream.   I bless him with my attention, often too rare a thing.  His words bless me more.  They bless the patient waiting, this carving out a quiet space, this simple  time spent together.  The Just 10 project brings many blessings.  Words can not adequately capture my gratitude and the joy that the most simple conversation can bring to an ordinary day.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Fatal Flaws

Books and I have been friends even before I could read.  As I got older books allowed me to escape the reality of being a nerdy introvert in a world in which being popular seemed to be everything.  Over the years that world has been broken open many times.   Each time something new blossomed from among the broken pieces.  Each time the breaking was a painful process.

Today, as I stood in the shower, I thought back to a simpler time in my life.  A time when I was young and entranced by the poetic justice of the ancient Greek playwrights.  I remember the term, "fatal flaw" and thought of the hubris of Oedipus.  I thought about the simplicity of having a fatal flaw and of being able to pinpoint it and save myself a world of hurt.  All the while, I scanned the shower and noted the mildew creeping in the corners of the shower door.  "Out out, damned spot."  Real life is messy.  It would be so nice to apply literary analysis to the events of a life and come up with a neat conclusion.  Something about which one could develop an A+ deserving paper or thesis.  Life rarely cooperates with such simple analysis.

As I rinsed the shampoo out of my hair, I remembered a privotal moment.  I was sitting in a graduate class on the Bronte sisters.  The professor had just given an inspired lecture.  I was daydreaming about the day when I would join a faculty at some small college.  Someday I would be opening up the world of the Brontes to a student like myself.  The dream abruptly ended.  I found it ironic that I could imagine discussing the "life" about which others wrote, without daring to live my own.  In that instant, I saw that I had dreams of being an academic because it would afford me a layer of protection.  It would be a noble vindication for avoiding a real, genuine life.  I could devote myself to the analysis of literary character's lives and completely avoid living my own.  The ivory tower of higher learning would become the tower to my inner Rapenzel. 

At this point in this story, one might say that my fatal flaw was lack of confidence.  I sabotaged my academic career with self-doubt.  Depending on who writes the story that may or may not be true.  Yet, today in a shower plagued with mildew in its corners,  my choice to live an authentic live seemed the best choice.  Don't get me wrong.  I'd dearly love to have the respect and prestige afforded a college professor, even if that respect and prestige is held only in the minds of a few.  I'd love to have the salary, even though that salary is meager when compared to the salaries of business executives.  I'd love to live in a quaint New England town in a house centuries old.  That life, that story belongs to someone else.   

My story is one of hard work, of many failures and disappointments, of friends loved and lost, of desiring things that escaped my grasp, of dark years pierced by an hour or two of light.  In my story,    I've cleaned toilets in Alaska.  I've been forced out of a convent.  I've dropped out of grad school twice due to lack of energy, money, stamina, time.  I arrive at 52 years of age with no retirement, living below the poverty level, in a house I can no longer afford.  Yet, I look at this life and know, without a doubt, that my fatal flaw would be found in not embracing it.  All in all it's been a rather amazing life.  I've served bishops and I've served a table full of old farmers.  I'll take the old farmers any day.  I've moved irrigation pipe in the fields and I've written a much praised paper,  an literary analysis of Le Morte de Arthur.  I felt just as satisfied moving pipe as I did understanding medieval lit. 

At times, I do beat myself with the whip of regret.  Fortunately, this flagellation never lasts long these days. There are too many things to do, dishes to wash, showers to scrub, clothes to wash.  Are these mundane tasks less important?  Might they be more important that literary analysis on days when clean dishes, clean showers and clean clothes are necessary? 

I loved college.  I loved my major.  I love that I can think about Oedipus and Macbeth while contemplating mildew in my shower.  This world desperately needs more educated people, more critical thinkers.  I would have been an awesome professor and yet, I don't regret my choices especially the bad ones.  They were all part of my life, a life that I walked into eyes wide open.  My life is messy.  It is grounded in the mundane, in pain, struggles and disappointments.  Honestly, it doesn't look like much right now.  Yet, appearances can be most deceiving. 

If I were said to have one fatal flaw, then for years that flaw would have been looking for something outside myself to save me from this life.  I awaited the "knight in shining armor".  He, she or it would save me from myself.  With this outside help, I would become all I was meant to be and more.   I thought that I needed saving.  My fatal flaw was failing to see that my life, just as it is, is saving me all on its own.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Death of a Drama Queen

Today, I harbor a murderous intent.  Time to plot the demise of the Drama Queen.  She lives inside me.  She loves to make mountains out of mole hills.  She craves attention like a heroin addict craves smack.  She'll kill me if I don't kill her first.

You can blame a zen priest for driving me to murder.  His name is Marc Lesser.  He wears many hats beside that of zen priest.  It is the zen priest hat that leads to my undoing.  In a simple book called, Less, Mr. Lesser mentions a famous dialogue between two leading teachers in sixth century China.

"One teacher asked another:  'What is the Way?'  This is another way of asking--How can I live a happy, meaningful life?  Or, How can I find real freedom?  The other teacher responded, much to the first teacher's surprise, 'Ordinary mind is the Way."\
I find this to be a wonderful, encouraging answer, as well as a terrific way to cut  through our ideas and assumptions.   This is not the answer that was expected or assumed, then or now. Ordinary mind is the way.  Just trusting, or returning to,our ordinary mind is the way to find happiness and meaning!  To find satisfaction, composure, and results -- we don't need anything extra, fancy or special.  We don't need to do or add more; we need to do less!  We just need to let go of some of our assumptions, particularly our thinking that freedom and happiness lie someplace else, or during some other time, or with some other mind.  Instead let us be guided by our inclusive, playful, mysterious, and plain ordinary minds."

The Drama Queen hates Marc Lesser.  She hates all zen priests with a passion known only to drama queens.  He makes the ordinary sacred.  To the Drama Queen such thinking is blasphemy.  The Drama Queen races on stage full of emotion about what's lacking in life.  The key to happiness just lies beyond her grasp.  She is exiled in a life of sad longing, bitterness and failed attempts.  Her failure and sorrow become a heavy, blood-red, velvet robe that she must wear during every performance.  She hides a dagger in the stage curtains.    Will she use it on herself or on another?

The last few weeks, as I've struggled to adapt to the change in jobs, as I've tried to let go of my sadness at being "force to do something against my will" the Drama Queen as been too close.  She's robbing me of the satisfaction that is present in the most ordinary of days.  The Drama Queen is a wily opponent.  She wears many disguises.   She often fools me with her reasons that sound so logical.  She takes up the banner of causes easily.  They hide a less-than-noble motive.  The Drama Queen must die.  I must carefully plot her murder.  It must be the perfect crime, harming no one.  The ordinary awaits my acknowledgment.  It beckons me to enjoy it.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Motivational Speaker

I feel like Matt Foley today.  Chris Farley's portrayal of the down-on-his luck man who became a motivational speaker makes me laugh no matter how many times I've seen it.  Matt Foley ends up motivating people but probably not in the way he intended.  Most folks don't want to end up "livin' in a van down by the river."  Matt Foley is the quintessential antihero.  He is the loser that lives in all of us.  While I laugh, I also see parts of myself, parts that I'm not eager to see.   I need a heavy dose of laughter before going "spelunking" in my psyche.

Sometimes that loser feeling is a tough one to shake.  It's been following me like an old nasty dog that keeps nipping at my heels.  Maybe the dog has rabies.  Before enduring painful treatment, I've come up with my own little strategy to keep the dog at bay and avoid possibly contracting the dreaded rabies.   During my workday, trapped in high school freshman flashbacks, I'm going to pretend that I'm on a secret mission.  I'm collecting information and experiences to prepare me for what lies ahead.  Maybe I don't need to pretend.

Shaking the stereotypical ideas of what constitutes success in life is difficult for me.  I can talk big but I still often judge a book by it's cover,  my book, my cover.  The last few weeks,  I feel under utilized.  I  embarrassed that I seem to be a classic underachiever.   It's been really frustrating to know that the teachers often make some big mistakes in the classroom and that I don't have the status or the credentials to effectively communicate my concerns.  Ah, this sounds like a very familiar place for me.  No wonder I'm frustrated.  The person who is the biggest source of my frustration is me. 

Maybe being Matt Foley isn't the worst thing that could happened to me.  Maybe I should stop fighting the feeling and just let myself enjoy it for a while.  Saving the world can wait for another day.  So can writing a great novel.  I'm just going to enjoy being me, classic underachiever, antihero, seemingly a loser.  It's sounds like the best place to begin.  I'm not going to fight it.  Tomorrow, I'm going to take every opportunity to just enjoy it for a while.  After all, isn't that the best way to come out a winner?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Who Shall Lead Us?

The cold that my children have is now threatening me.  It wants to take up residence in my head.  Grumpy is barricading the door but the cold keeps on knocking.  In other words, I'm not in the best of moods.  That probably contributes to my developing the one-word theme for today.   That word is "frustration." 

As I struggle to discover what secret formulas will solve the major riddles of my new job, I have yet another concern.  Within the last three school days, I have heard several different teachers make some significant errors in what they are teaching the students.   While I don't expect teachers to never make mistakes, these errors are big enough to create a problem for students who will probably need the correct information in order to past the state-mandated tests.  Here are the errors:

1.  When adding a negative number to another negative number, you get a positive number as an answer. 

In multiplication two negatives make a positive.  Can't explain why, but in addition?  Even I, with a major case of crippling math anxiety knew this one was probably wrong.  I came home and researched the answer before listing it as a winner in this week's major error search.  It's a secret game I'm playing.  The secret has gotten too heavy to carry solo.  I come home and rant to my husband often while researching the correct answer.  After all, I want to have some proof  I'm not the only one thinking it's wrong.  The good news:  It's making me feel  passionate about my job.

2.  In the sentence:  Two brown ponies pranced playfully in the sunny meadow. Two is not an adjective.

The last thing I want to do is shake up the teacher.  They've got a lot on their plate.  I am full of sincerity here.  Still, this grammar faux pas took me by surprise.  I had the word, "two" pegged for an adjective and was really curious why it didn't qualify.  I couldn't help asking.  Teacher said, "No, "Two is some other kind of word."  I asked,  "What part of speech, is it?" He replied, "A modifier."  Intrigued, I innocently asked, "Is that a new category of some sort?"  (In retrospect, I see that this question could be interpreted very differently than I intended it.)    Teacher said, "Yes."

This "new" categories for English language parts of speech bothered me.  I went to the library and found a book on grammar.  A book published in 2001, if you're wondering.  In cases, like this, in which a number further describes a noun, the noun which it modifies, that word is an adjective.  By now, I'm starting to feel ready for Jeopardy!

3.  I was told that the word "I" is a noun.  It is not a noun.   It is a pronoun. 

Today, in at least one small classroom, it became a noun.  I asked,  "If "I" is to be considered a noun why not "me" in another sentence?"   Apparently,  the word "me" was not given noun status because it was a possessive pronoun.  I can't wrap my head around the logic but didn't pursue the point further.  I am not the teacher but I could be.    I've actually taken more college level course work in English, than those English majors who took education courses to earn teaching credentials.  I think that's a secret I best keep to myself, if I'm to get along with people.  All the education method courses in the world won't help prevent errors like these.

I am plagued with a dilemma.  I have to help my students finish homework and do assignments.  Sometimes, the teachers don't know the correct answer.  Sometimes, students are required to put down the wrong answer in order to "get it right."    Worse, yet, I really like these these teachers as people.  They bring a wonderful spirit, enthusiasm and often intelligent sarcasm (a "language that teens speak fluently) to their classrooms.  In many ways, these students are lucky to have them as teachers.  They can't be expected to teach what they don't know.  Who is in charge of the standards that safeguard the quality of the education the teachers are receiving?  Most of these teachers (the teachers in my sample are probably between the ages of 25 and 30) are products of the same educational system that they now help shape.  We've failed them.

I make mistakes every day.  I know there are some mistakes in this short entry.  Editors really don't get paid what they are worth.  You can still be a genius and not know every grammar rule, etc.  I really don't want to start casting stones at good people who've chosen to become teachers.  Teaching is another honorable profession that doesn't adequately compensate the brave men and women who dedicate their lives to help shape the minds of the future.  Therein lies the crux of the matter.  Teachers are shaping the minds of the future.  We need to care.  We need to pay attention. 

Now, if only, I knew what I need to do.  I could really use a Just 10 walk. 

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sunday Morning

After Great Pain

After great pain, a formal feeling comes--
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs--
The stiff Heart questions was it He, that bore,
And Yesterday, or Centuries before?
The Feet, mechanical, go round--
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought--
A Wooden way
Regardless grown,
A Quartz contentment, like a stone--
This is the Hour of Lead--
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons recollect the Snow--
First - Chill - then Stupor - then the letting go--

Sunday morning:  Before I get out of bed, I feel the weight of frustration wrap around me.  It's a dirty gray bathrobe.  I shuffle out of bed.  My feet wear imaginary bunny slippers, filthy bunny slippers. Sadness mats their dirty pink fur.   I shuffle down the hallway to the kitchen.  Making coffee requires an unusual amount of concentration.  My mind wanders away like a naughty child.  It create lists of all the things I need to do.  Wadding the lists into balls of paper, I shove them into my ratty pockets.  I try to forget about them.  Noisy children scamper by.  Their energy taps into my anger.  How can they be my children on this grumpy Sunday morning?   I growl at them to stop.  The day is already too long. 

The rain is at fault, tapping into my sour mood with its muggy torrents of yesterday.  I grieve the death of summer.  Breakfast sits in my stomach like a stone.  I know what I must do.  Walk.  I want to run from myself this morning.  In my head, I hear "the only way out is through."  I hear this often.  I can not argue.  Truth is often quite simple.  If only I could be so simple.  Another thing to mourn on a Sunday morning.

Leaving the house, I suddenly look up.  Emily Dickinson walks beside me.  She looks me in the eye and says, "First -- chill, then stupor--then the letting go."  You are right, Emily.  I start walking.  Quietly, inside my head I say, "Let go, let go, let go, let go".  It's my walking mantra.  I lose the robe and slippers.  Adorned in comfortable clothes, I enter my day.  This day is new.  The fact that I  don't feel like welcoming it begins to make it even more valuable.  I tumble this idea over and over in my head.  It fits neatly into the spaces between the words, "let go, let go, let go."  Inside I hear the knell of the funeral bell.  It tolls for expectations.
Expectations cut into the heart of contentment.  They make the letting go impossible.  I drop them.  They spill into an oily pile alongside the trail.

Crossing the intersection, I look up and see a familiar stranger, my puppy dog man.  He smiles eagerly and although he stands still to wait for me, he vibrates with energy.  Looking into his eyes, I see the happy elves dance between his ears.  I whisper to myself.  "I bet he's had a traumatic brain injury."  He greets me as he always does.  "How many miles are you up to?"  I do not know.  I know my answer matters not.  This is his way of opening the door to announce his own mileage conquests.  He grips a bright neon tennis ball.  His fingers work the surface of the ball as his words spill out.  He smiles broadly.  Happy dancing elves twirl wildly behind his blue eyes.  I coo politely and complement his stamina while denigrating my own.  He screams happy.  Is he too happy? May be.

This chance meeting awakens a sleepy happy elf inside my own head.  It lunges onto the dance floor and begins a lazy waltz.  Branches of wild berry bushes reach for me beside the trail.  I alter my course ever so slightly, taking in the sweet, wild smell of wet ripe berries.  Suddenly, directly in front of my face, an orange and black-striped spider hangs on a silken thread.  He almost became a quick morning snack.  I veer off course again giving him the room to be a spider on a damp Sunday morning.  I let him be.

This awareness fills me with a hopeful satisfaction.  I know that when I get back to the house, I won't put on the ratty bathrobe of depression.  I won't shuffle through my day in old  bunny slippers.  In letting things be, I've allowed myself the sadness while still allowing myself the freedom to move on, freedom to enjoy happy, grinning strangers, the freedom to allow spiders to hang in my path without batting them aside.  I have learned to go around.  I am letting go.

On the way home, I call again to Emily Dickinson.   "Please walk beside me again.  I want to thank you." Today, her poem took on another meaning for me, a more hopeful one.  I, who in the past had often used poem 341 as an anthem for a black mood, realized that underneath it, hope lies waiting.  Death to self, to a finite way of thinking or being is a letting go that can open the door to something else.  Pain isn't an end, especially not a dead one.  It can give birth to new meaning, if I only learn to let it be, to let go.

I bring Emily into the house with me.  I pull out a chair for her next to my keyboard.  I search through the first lines of Emily's poems trying to find the poem, poem 341.   I once thought I knew it so well.  As I scan the list of first lines, her wisdom leaps from the list and into my heart.  She was a depressive jewel.  She knew darkness and isolation well.  She also walked with God in hope.  She gave me hope on a muggy Sunday morning.  I hope she'll walk with me again.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

It's the Wrong Size

On Thursday, I stumbled through the day with a life that didn't fit.  It was too small.  I kept tugging at the edges of it trying to get it to cover me.  Life screamed back, "Fat chance."
Tears threatened my eyes.  I've been working so hard to maintain the proper positive attitude, to keep a "stiff upper lip", to display grace under pressure.  None of that seemed to matter.  Here I was walking around with a life that didn't feel right, a life that just would not fit.  What was I doing wrong?  Why was it the wrong size?  When did this happen?  How long has it missed my noticing?  Questions without answers on a rainy Thursday.

I tried to blame the rain, my hatred of the wet and the damp.  When it rains, I'm transported back in time.  I stand on a crowded city bus, my arms heavy with books.  No one offers me a seat.  Clinging to the strap, I do an awkward two-step struggling to keep my balance.  The other passengers stare ahead, their faces frozen masks betraying only mild disdain for the rainy world outside the bus windows.  Their wet coats and hair smell like a wet pack of wild dogs.  Every time it rains, I warp back through time and space and smell the raw smell of wet humans.  It never makes me smile.

A constant cloud hovers over me.  It haunts my day.  I feign interest in the world outside me.  I'm only pretending.  My life feels too small.  I don't want anyone else to see me wearing this ill-fitting life.  Frantically, I scuttle around, trying to find a place to hide, someplace quiet, dark, safe.  Nothing.  I am exposed for all the world to see.  I doubt the world will be kind.  Already it feels terribly cruel.

I carry this feeling around for several days, like a heartache.  This morning I escape for my Just 10 walk. The trail is oddly quiet and when I meet fellow travelers.  There are no familiar faces.  My loneliness is underlined and printed in bold letters.  Scenes from my week flash across my mind.  I attend freshman classes with my student charge.  He is almost mute.  I study him, reading his body languages.  He has two areas of interest.  I gently wedge my foot in the door.  Slowly, I'm beginning to get through. He is getting used to me.  He tolerates my presence.  He even looks to me for rescue at times, yet he has enough awareness to be embarrassed by me.    He doesn't know how much I can identify with him.  Apparently, while in the womb, I brushed up against the stone of Aspergers.  The chalky grit of its genes latching on to my DNA.  I see my own childhood, my adolescence under a microscope.

On Friday, we find ourselves at a mandatory pep assembly.  My student is a frozen statue.  So was I at his age.  I hated pep assemblies with a passion.    Why was all this noise and stupid behavior expected of the young.  Why didn't I feel what the others all seemed to feel?  I felt embarrassed by my peers and at the same time desperately wanted to feel what they felt.   My soul was an icebox.  I was hopelessly lost in myself and very afraid.  My life didn't fit then either.

Adolescent was insanely hard on me.  Miserable and afraid, I became a cutter before I had any idea of what that was.  I thought I was the only one who eased the pain of being me by carving into my skin with a razor blade.  I desperately wanted to feel something even if that something was pain.  Trapped by responsibilities and expectations, I isolated myself on an island of one.  I look at my student on Friday.  He, too, sits on island of one, a different island than mine but still alone.  Friday, I realized how smart he was under all that silence.  I began to understand what traps him there.  He needs help building a raft.  There is a world out there that he has to live in.  He needs to learn to survive while honoring himself and his unique view of the world.

I left the house this morning wearing an extra large shirt to hide my too-small life.  As I headed home from a walk where everyone was a stranger wearing a new face, I looked up to the foothills in the east.  They beckoned me toward them, a magnetic pull on my iron heart.  "Come walk in our forests, wade in our streams and see what's on the other side.  A new chapter begins."  I struggle to let go of the old, of the familiar.  I struggle to get used to the new fit and feel of my new chapter.    I have felt this before.  In time, things will get easier.  Purpose and meaning will fall out of the chaos of the new and unknown.  The feelings of uselessness and frustration of early this week, fell aside somewhere on the trail this morning.   Life may be the right size after all.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Wearing my heavy shoes, I clomp into my day.  I'm having a hard time remembering if this is Wednesday or Thursday morning.  On the drive to work, the song,  Someday played.    This was the first time, I really listened to some of the words.  I walk to meet my student companion.  The words from the song slide around my sleepy head.  I allow myself to feel the weight of my shoes and to let them ground me.  It feels good.

My heavy shoes are brown Doc Marten sandals.  They sat forgotten under a table at a church rummage sale.  Their tag said, $.25.   I never wear them without remembering what they cost me.  Smiling,  I remember my little consumer victory.  Their worn patina only adds to their charm.   Consumerism, capitalism, materialism and a handful of other assorted 'isms have always played for the opposing team.  When life is a game and everything is at stake,  I'll cheer my heart out for the underdogs.  It's my team.

Another set of underdogs shuffles into Developmental Math.    A simple quiz awaits them.   Their bodies announce their reluctance to really give themselves to the task at hand.  They comply begrudgingly.  I take this time for my private Just 10.  I think about my heavy shoes grounding me this morning.  Suddenly, the word, "electricity" flashes across my mind.  Neon letters pop, crackling against the darkness.  Grounded electricity is a good thing.  Not grounded, a danger.  My electric spark needs grounding, this morning, most mornings.

My thoughts drift to the larger picture.  Hovering somewhere in the stratosphere, I take a mental picture of the tiny speck below that is me.  In a heartbeat, I tumble back to earth.  My thoughts are consumed with what ties me to this earth, the good things that ground me.  Things like the people I love, the friends that make me laugh, a fuzzy robe and slippers on a cold morning, the smell of freshly baked bread.

My heavy shoes did their job.  They made me aware of my connection to the earth.  Their weight a solid reminder.   My electric moment in the stratosphere fed my love of the creative sparks that occasionally arc across the trails of my thoughts.  Such thoughts gave birth to the Just 10 project.   It keeps me anchored in much that same way as my shoes.  When I drift off, Just 10 brings me back.   When I "live my life out loud" writing on the Just 10 blog, I'm constantly reminded of my priorities, the connections to the people I love, to the friends I care about, to a simple life that can come alive with meaning.  Someday, I may not need the reminder.  Giving myself and my time to the people that matter most may come effortlessly.  Until then, I'm grateful for the reminders, for the chance to start over again every time I drift off course.  May be, someday.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

To Build a Fire

Some days, it's hard to rub two words together long enough to start a fire.  I long for the warmth of a great idea. Today, I'd settle for just a good one.  Words often ignite easily.  This is not one of those days.

Even though, the flame of a good idea doesn't move me now, it seems very important not to abandon the craft.  I sit shaking the words off reluctant fingers.  Slowly they seep through the keyboard and onto the screen.  Being driven by words on fire is a great and wonderful thing but maybe writing in the cold is the better endeavor. 

I've often read that when a person finds their passion, time flies. They work almost effortlessly in a zone of almost magical productivity and absorption.  I believe in the existence of this zone.  At times, it has been the zone, I inhabit.   Yet, most of my life has been lived outside it.   Bludgeoning my peace of mind with the absence of the zone or passionate intensity in my life, I have often kept misery company.

This afternoon, I sat with  misery for a while.  Bemoaning the things that my life seems lacking.  I'm not able to spend my day doing what I love most, at least not at this time.  Misery was lousy company.    I couldn't sit with her long.  Instead, I looked around,  at the restless bodies and knew that most, if not all of them, would choose to be doing something else, somewhere else, if they could.    Thinking, outside myself, I understood that a good life requires that each of us spend time doing things we would rather not. Misery is not mandatory.  It is optional.

Over, the years, I've wasted a lot of valuable time complaining.  . Time crawls   I am stuck in the mud of unhappiness.  Now that I have children, it's painful obvious how complaining gets in the way of getting things done.  Complaining, self-induced misery, often takes more time and energy than the dreaded task.  I point this out to my children frequently.  They hold a mirror in which I see myself.  I don't always like what I see but I have learned much from my young complainers. 

So, tonight I write, when I would rather not.  Misery does not hold me hostage.  Instead writing when the fire doesn't burn is good practice, good discipline, and a good idea.  I can choose to dread it or I can give myself to the task.  Now, it is done.  The fire will burn another day.  Today, I kept moving to keep from freezing.  I have to keep moving in order to start the fire another day.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

California Dreamin'

The weather this morning had temperatures that hovered around perfection. It reminded me of the weather in Chula Vista. We spent 7 years in sunny Southern California. There are many things I do not miss but I will always miss the weather. It's been said that San Diego has some of the best weather on the planet.  Temperatures in Chula Vista stayed close to 70 degrees most of the year.  On Christmas and Thanksgiving we barbecued our turkeys in the back yard.

Many of the locals complained about the occasional rain.    Average San Diego rainfall at the coast is 9.9 inches a year.   Since I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, with endless varieties of rain, I figured that they were just ignorant.  Even then, their complaining surprised me.  Short rainstorms were almost always followed by hours of sun on those rare days when it actually rained.  I did learn not to drive in the rain.  I, who, had driven in all kinds of inclement weather learned to fear the demolition derby that came with wet highways.    You can't safely drive over 80 miles an hour on freeways, slick with days and weeks of oily build up, flushed with a new rain.  It was one of the things that Southern Californians do that earns them the title, Idiots.

We were only in San Diego for a few days,  I was behind the wheel of my front-fenderless, brown  Saab.  Suddenly, Andy screamed at me,  "Step on it!  You're going to get us killed."  I promptly burst into tears and yelled back, "You don't have to be so mean about it."  To which he replied with great volume,  "I'm sorry.  I just wanted to save our lives.  You have to be more aggressive."  Fortunately,  I learn quickly when survival is at stake.  I learned how to drive like a Californian.  Once in a while, that skill still comes in handy.  Andy was right even if his delivery lacked sensitivity.   Hesitation is much more dangerous than quick action.  I do mean quick.

When we had days off together, we'd often head north to LA.  We especially enjoyed going to Anaheim and Disneyland.  I think it's wasted on kids.  You have to be old enough to appreciate it.  On these trips north, I usually rode shotgun.  (Not literally but I understand now why someone would.)   It was my job to watch for brake lights in the slow lane.  Since some of the freeways have six lanes or more and since all of the freeways have speeds of 70 to 80 miles an hour when traffic is moving, my job was an important one.

You could be hurtling down the freeway at 75 miles an hour, when traffic ahead would suddenly stop.  We soon learned that there was an warning in the form of brake lights in the slow lane.  Once brake lights appeared in the slow lane, within seconds brake lights would light up across each lane in turn.  It was almost like synchronized swimming.  I'd sit on the edge of the passenger seat, my feet working my imaginary brake and gas pedal, watching for those brake lights.  These trips were also lessons in the swerve-to-the-left  manuever.  Often, while racing along in the fast lane, traffic would suddenly stop.  Cars following closely (and everyone follows closely) need a bigger stop zone.  If you were traveling in a lane that had an opening to your left when the traffic halted, you'd brake and angle toward the opening to avoid rear-ending the car in front.  The first few times I witnessed this, it took a while to get my heart back in my chest.  Over time, I got so used to it, that I'd use it myself.  Much better than a fender bender.  It was also an extra kick of adrenaline in a land where fast-paced is a way of life.   Lost in crowds of millions, adrenaline assures you that you are still alive.

During our California years, I flew home to join my mom and dad at a family reunion in Idaho.  The first day or so in Grangeville, Idaho was difficult.  Everyone was so slow.  Clerks chatted with customers.  Perfect strangers were polite.  Cars stopped to let you cross the main street through town.  This behavior was unexpected.  How dare they?  I was suffering from an acute case of culture shock.   In Southern California, the average fast food worker or retail clerk acts upset that they would actually have to wait on you.  When perfect strangers in Grangeville, Idaho were polite,  I was suspicious.  What did they want from me?  I'd warily clutch my purse and watch their every move.  Fortunately, I adapted quickly.  This was the way to live.

Once Andy and I had children,  we became disenchanted with the few remaining pluses of the Southern California lifestyle.  It's a fun place to be single or childless but we found that it wasn't the place we wanted to raise a family.   We had a good life there.  We both worked.  I actually worked for a division of Harcourt Brace, General Cinema,  the publishing/media giant.  My job had a fancy title.   I was working in a job of which many English majors only dream.  Truth is that for me it was a crappy job.  I was a prisoner on the 19th floor of a downtown skyscraper with a cubicle for a cell.  More like hell.   The corporate world earned my disdain here.  One day, I walked off the job and never returned.  A dramatic and unexpected move that I have never regretted.   I never will.

Gone are the days of jobs with fancy titles that give the illusion of a career.  Gone on the days of road trips up to Disneyland,  Los Angeles, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara.  When Andy worked for the airlines, we often flew around the country.  Spent time back East, weekends in San Francisco, back to Portland to visit.  The children that we both desired and welcomed changed our world.   We've made many sacrifices. 

When Pacific Northwest weather blesses us with days like today, I'll remember how wonderful my weather once was all year round.  Then, I remember why we moved back and what proves time and time again to be the most important thing in our lives.  Even now, with everything so uncertain,  I can remember Southern California and our life there fondly and still believe that we made the right choice.   No regrets.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Temple or Outhouse?

As a product of a parochial school education,  I often heard that "we should treat our bodies as temples."  This morning as I pushed a less than enthusiastic me outdoors for my Just 10 walk, I ran into a sobering fact.  I've been treating my body like an outhouse.  After several seconds of useless mental self-flagellation, I knew that my negative opinion of myself would only compound the problem.  Time for encouraging thoughts and a concrete plan.   Yet, I felt discouraged.  I've often come to this same realization.  My behavior has not radically changed.  I have watched an ample muffin top, replicate into a second and possibly third fold of  unwanted fat.  Why?

This simple, one-word question deserved some honest thought.  Lately,  I've watched so many friends and loved ones struggle with some difficult and often dark problems.  I've focused on them out of concern but also in an attempt to avoid my own dark corners.  It was often easy to see what others should do or what they were avoiding.  It was a lot easier to focus on them then it was to focus on what I could be doing.  This morning I left the house aware that I've been running from myself.  As much as I would have liked to lose my problems somewhere on that trail, I knew that this morning I had to walk toward them.

Conjuring up a good full-time job for my husband doesn't lie within my powers.  Making loved ones lives easier, their minds less troubled lies beyond my grasp.   The dance of avoidance has enthralled me.  It's winding down into a silly polka.    I've been bandaging my own hurts, my stress with food.  I'm a wad of sweet cream filling wrapped in a delicious, flaky butter crust.   Karma has kicked me in the keister.  I, who often quipped that many of my older female relatives were built like German beer steins.  How my physical shape resembles them now.   If I must resign myself to a beer-stein figure, I shall, but I need to make it the healthiest beer stein I can.  I've done a poor job.    Just this week, I inhaled little spiced gum drops as a medication for a day of frustration.  I can see the better choices I think others should make while being blind to my own.  This morning, I awoke with splinters of light shattering my self delusion.  The time  has come to tear down the outhouse and start building that temple.

This morning, almost home from my walk, my shoe came untied.  I avoided stooping, solidly planting my foot on the stone walls surrounding the neighborhood.    My fingers felt like fat sausages.  These weren't my hands.  These hands belonged to my mother or grandmother.  I watched as I fumbled with the laces, hands swollen, fingers slightly gnarled.  These can't be my hands, but they were.  They are.  I realized then that if I am to make positive changes in my own behavior, I must accept what I am, where I am and the whys of it without making excuses.   It's a lot easier to get lost in self-recrimination.  It becomes a smoke screen for not taking action.  Admitting the problem is an important first step but I'm stuck there.  Talking about change without doing the work to make change possible.  This was precisely, what I could see in the problems of others.  The obvious solutions to their dilemmas seemed clear to me.  I felt  frustrated for them.  Sometimes, I didn't always conceal this frustration.  (J. and N. my apologizes for not being the best listener.)     I was getting too close to a nerve. The harder it was to tolerate others struggles, the closer I was to realizing that I was ignoring my own problems, refusing to begin acting toward solution in the only arena in which my actions would have the greatest impact.  We humans are funny that way.  I'm funny that way.

The outhouse has to go.  It's time to start uncovering the temple.  Its rather old, rough around the edges, not as pretty as some but it's my temple.  The position of caretaker is open.  It's time I applied.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Forever Young

We love Napoleon Dynamite. Thanks to the movie, the 80's song, Forever Young plays in my head from time to time. During today's Just 10, I thought about the lyrics and youth. I used to comment that I wish I could go back to high school with what I know now. My wish came true, as true as it could without a time machine. I now walk the halls of high school only this time I'm getting paid to do it. The other great thing about my job is that I'm an advocate and assistant for those kids who think outside the box. Sometimes way outside the box. The students I work with are on the autism spectrum. I'm their advocate, coach, faciliatator and surrogate mom.

These atypical students conjure up memories of my own teenage, angst-ridden years. Adolescence was pure hell for me. As I walk among teens now, I see that this is a rather common experience. Not all are as anxious or frightened as I was but the concern with being accepted absorbs much of their time and energy. Those that say they don't care often care the most. Those who have a hard time fitting often feel a gaping hole of hurt. Their lack of social skills traps them in the mire of human relationships. They don't know it yet but for most of them, their time will come.

When I was a teen, I didn't know that nerdy four-eyed girls have a place in the world. They can learn to like themselves and their glorious "nerdiness." They can reach a state in which they are comfortable in their own bodies, in their own heads. They can and, often do get married, have children and lead the lives the popular kids seemed to take for granted. Dateless wonders are not doomed to a life of loneliness. As teens, the popular, the nerds, the delinquents and the misfits, race through the halls and demand immediate attention and answers, they "scream" that patience is a virtue that the young know not. They suffer from the illusion of knowing it all. Time will show them that they know almost nothing. It is what time has shown me.

Once in a while, I have a moment of envy. I see their young skin and wish I could erase the lines and wrinkles. I see their energy and feel my fatigue. I see them leap and touch the ceiling and wish I had the slightest desire to jump. I, who no longer wish to tie my shoes. Yet, when I consider the worries they carry, the things to which they give so much importance, their awkwardness, their lack of experience, their naivete, I realize that this is their time to be teens. I have already lived through my physical youth. Now is the time for me to allow my mind to become young, to hunger for new knowledge and information without losing what time and experience have given me. This can be a dynamite combination. It is the best of both worlds. On the outside, I am middle-aged but on the inside, I am forever young.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Juggling Just 10

Now that the kids and I are back in school making time for Just 10 with them is more important than ever. It's also a lot more difficult.

This evening I started to lecture them about how much of a mess the house is and how I need their help more than ever. As I sit here now, I feel a little foolish. Do I want my children to remember me as the mom who lectured them about housework or the mom who took time to sit with them and really listen to them every day?

Apparently, my memory is worse than I thought. So it's time for the index card reminder. This is what my card will say: Make time for Just 10 with each family member and myself every day. I plan on taping one on the mirror in our bathroom, one over the kitchen sink and one near the computer. The one on the computer is going to be the most critical. I can spend so much time doing a lot of nothing on the computer that I'm beginning to suspect that there might be an insidious and evil form of mind control at work. "Something wicked this way comes."

When I worked in the high school health room, more than one student lamented their parent(s) devotion to the computer and bemoaned the lack of face time they received from said parent. I listened and understood the behavior of all involved. After a day of work, there is something wonderfully compelling about the virtual world. We have the illusion of control. Real life constantly shows us how little control we have. Those of us with children know first hand that we can't really control our children. Guide, motivate, create consequences, and cajole but we can't control the independent spirit and power to choose that lies within our children. If I can control with whom I chat, what I view or which game I play, I can feel a little empowered if only in the virtual world.

The time I devote to controlling the mouse and cursor is not always time that is well used. It's too easy to get addicted to a substance or activity and miss out on living a real life. Now, if we could only develop games that helped us become better people, better parents, better partners, better employees and employers.

Maybe, the first step is deciding how to better utilize this tool, this computer and it's wonderful access to the world wide web in the service of a better life one with more fulfilling relationships. Limiting time spent away from my family seems the best place to start. Time to log off and make time for Just 10.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Pink Panty Mafia

There are a few new bosses in the neighborhood. Three little hoods that are all under four feet tall. They set up what looked like a normal little business, a lemonade stand. The lemonade stand was just a front for extortion. As soon as the Pink Panty Mafia set up their neighborhood stand, I was suspicious. "Buy our lemonade," they bellowed. Three little girls who did not act like ladies.

My son was drawn in by their siren song. He wanted to patronize their fledging business. He shook a dime out of his "Good Choice Jar" and was one of the first, if not the first and possibly their only customer. Several days later, he met the Pink Panty Mafia in the cul de sac. They were hungry for more cash. Three girls corner him on a dead end street and tell him, "You ripped us off. You didn't pay us the full $.10. We want more money." Puzzled by their demands, he couldn't understand how they mistook a dime for less than $.10. "It was a shakedown," I said, explaining that these young ladies were simply trying to get more money from him. "If they bother you again, send them to my door. I'll be happy to talk to them."

The neighborhood has been especially peaceful the last few days. My son is still confused. The Pink Panty Mafia seems to be keeping a low profile. I've cautioned him to avoid these "young ladies." "Playing with them is dangerous business," I said. "Their strong arm tactics are not welcome here." These three business women give me Whitney/Mankato flashbacks. In California, we lived on a circular street that decorated for Christmas. At Christmas time, our neighborhood was overrun with tourists, over 17,000 of them. Tour buses would make the windows rattle. Kids ran wild through the lawns. I started to worry about a law suit. Someone tripping over a decoration while trespassing. We'd invited them in with our cheery decorating. I began to have doubts that decorating was really a "gift to the community." When one of the residents of our lovely circle, developed serious health concerns and worried about ambulance response time, he was practically lynched for suggesting that the circle reconsider decorating.

That was enough for me. Christmas really isn't found in garish decorations,badly painted, plastic dwarf-sized nativity sets right next to dwarf Santa's train with nightmarish elves. My spirit of Christmas was found in helping ease a neighbors mind. So I decided not to decorate. Thus began the metaphorical cross burning.

One Sunday morning, as I returned from Church, four frightening neighborhood women cornered me between my car and the car door. I was also five months pregnant with our daughter. "Didn't I understand that I had to decorate. The neighborhood had decided. If the president of the United States says you have to do something then you have to do it. Same thing in this neighborhood." I wasn't sure what country they lived in but the last time I checked, I was living in a democracy. Not decorating hadn't become illegal or had it? Their grasp of politically-correct behavior seem severely handicapped or "differently-abled."

The flawed logic and strong arm tactics sealed the deal for me. I wouldn't decorate now for love or money. These women were nuts. They had a huge emotional investment in Christmas. Reason was on holiday. Our elderly neighbor, Evelyn came out on her porch to keep an eye on the posse. She was afraid for me. Not too long afterward, we lost Evelyn to emphysema. Evelyn, your kindness that day meant so much. You were a class act. I was scared but I would have been more scared if you hadn't had my back. (You were also the only house that really decorated with any style. The rest of us didn't hold a candle to you.)

I'd stepped out of the car on a beautiful winter day in San Diego (Chula Vista) and suddenly was thrust into The Twilight Zone. When I finally escaped, I ran inside, pulled the drapes and called Andy at work. With a quavering voice, the tears beginning to fall, I said, "You won't believe what just happened to me." Later, I got mad. I was more determined than ever not to be bullied.

Seems there are bullies everywhere. I'd like to think that I've gotten feistier since then. Having children brought out more of the grizzly bear in me. I have no patience with bullies, especially penny-ante thugs still in grammar school. "I've got a history, Pink Panty Mafia. You harass my son again, and your parents are going to receive a little visit."

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Secret

Yesterday, I found a DVD copy of The Secret. This was an immensely popular book so I had put off reading it. I reserve my greatest scrutiny for what is popular. While viewing the film, my critical eye was not disappointed. The librarian who checked me out, commented positively about the film. I was anxious to discover for myself. Today, during my Just 10 walk, it was all I could think about.

Believing that our thoughts contribute to our reality is not hard for me to grasp. But, to imply that by focusing on what I want in a tangible, physical world, I will attract it to myself, worries me greatly. The film gave the example of a little boy who wanted a particular bicycle. He looked at the picture of this bicycle every chance he could and focused on having it. He was surprised by receiving the bicycle as a gift from a relative. The film uses this example as a manifestation of the "law of attraction." If a child really wants something and is looking at the picture and talking about it all the time, wouldn't the people around him know that? Wouldn't they be apt to give him what he wants as a present? Did his wanting it manifest the bicycle or did it just alert those around him as to what would please him?

I stopped the film after this. I didn't need to see anything more. Of course all the speakers in the film shared this perspective. They wouldn't have been in the film if they did not. Many of them were authors of self help books or inspirational speakers. These authors/speakers seemed to have figured out that if you make the purchaser of your books or ideas solely responsible for successfully applying your principles, you absolve yourself from all responsibility. If the reader fails to manifest or attract the desired object or state, they have only themselves to blame. The speakers use their own examples of material success as proof. Isn't their material success directly related to others accepting and buying their ideas? Don't the masses of the seekers of wisdom and assistance, pay for their swimming pools and exotic vacations? Isn't their more to life than the acquisition of wealth and material goods?

Marketing a book and idea as "The Secret" was a smart business decision. I reserve the right to question its wisdom. Is that idea really helping people? I truly believe that our thoughts affect our perception. Thoughts are in control of the aperture of our inner camera or inner eye. If I approach the world with largely negative thoughts than that is how I'll perceive the things that happen to me. If I perceive everything that happens to me as an opportunity to learn and to grow, than that will become my personal reality. We can choose to utilize the benefits of cognitive therapies. We can adhere to the idea of a Jungian collective unconscious. The world is big enough for both ideas. Yet, when I accept that if I focus on wealth or a desired possession long enough it will appear in my life, my inner alarm system goes off. To my way of thinking we've entered the realm of magical thinking, a land where Santa, leprechauns and tooth fairies roam wild and free.

The Secret
does provide some insight and inspiration but it fails to consider the many variables that can affect outcome in life. Life has had a funny way of giving me something very different from what I desired. I often cursed the darkness and felt cheated only to discover much later in my journey that what I received was actually a gift, an opportunity to grow into a better person. If I had gotten what I wanted my life would be very different. I may have wealth and recognition but I wouldn't be the person I am at this moment. Poor, overweight and with a less than bright future, I still wouldn't change the events along my journey for the world. I like the person my life has made.

There have been many times when my view of past events was less than positive. This was the type of self-destructive thinking that poses the greatest danger. I truly believe that there are many things in life, in my life beyond my control. This doesn't have to be a bad thing. It certainly means I'm not the center of the universe. Bad things, failures, disappointment aren't personal failures in thinking. Their reality often stinks. I don't have to like them but they do provide an opportunity for growth that success can not. It is my failures that keep me humble, keep me anchored firmly in the world, keep me reaching for the next.

If there is a secret to life than maybe is that life is full things that we don't understand completely. It's not all up to us or to the power of focused thought. We shape the quality of our lives by how we perceive it. We do attract much of what happens to us by our perceptions, yet, much remains beyond our control. We are not ultimately in charge of how our journey plays out. Everything can point us to a better self, a greater love. Life is an amazing adventure. I'm not leading the trip. The trip is leading me.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

With Us

At 9:23 a.m. the weather was perfect for a walk. My feet longed to feel the trail beneath my shoes. My heart longed even more. The last few weeks have been challenging. I couldn't figure out why the beginning of this school year was so difficult for me. Inside, I was frustrated, struggling. I was not my own best friend nor a friend to any one. My universe had imploded and I was trapped on a dust speck of one, just me. This morning on my Just 10 walk, as I stepped off the inches, the pieces started to fall into place. Each time I met a familiar stranger on the trail my world began to expand. I was not alone on my dust speck. I had to look up to see. People were all around me.

My father died ten years ago on Labor Day. I hadn't realized that the anniversary was affecting me until my sister, Janet, posted a note about still missing him. Reading it, my eyes filled with tears. When Dad, died my son, Andrew was only 3 months old. The needs of the living outweighed the need to grieve. For several years, after my father's death, every time I heard an ambulance siren my eyes would fill with tears. I knew I hadn't really taken time to miss him. This morning I tried to walk with him again.

I still talk to many relatives that have left his world. My grandmothers often visit me in my dreams. Always I'm a bit surprised to see them. They appear at a family gathering. I sit down next to them and tell them, "You're not supposed to be here, Grandma, you're dead." They always smile and then with a tone of solemn authority correct me, "Just because we're dead, it doesn't mean we're not here. We still care, we still love and in that way are very much alive and always with you with all of our family." Of course in my dreams this is totally normal and I accept their statement as fact and go about enjoying their company.

When I think of those that have gone when I'm awake, I connect with a very different consciousness. Death has altered them. They are transformed, not of this world yet still concerned with their families well being. I often toss a prayer to them, usually begging for their assistance. They say very little but I feel them, patient, watchful, loving. While I still feel my father's love, a transformed more unconditional love, I rarely hear him speak in my heart. Today on my walk, I felt like I needed to hear him, to be reassured. Life has been hard. It's harder to keep smiling, to hope, to move forward.

He walked with me, hovering at a distance, a bit too far for me to really grasp. I felt alone. As I walked, I began to remember the morning that my father died. The phone woke me from a deep sleep. My father had come to me in my dreams. In my dream, I was on a world tortured by natural disasters, a companion and I kept narrowly escaping death. I looked back to see horrible devastation and destruction everywhere. I wanted to give up. Escape seemed impossible. I spotted a ship loading survivors. I raced toward it. Just as I was walking up the gangplank, I looked back and saw my father. He was old, leaning on a cane. He wasn't going to reach the ship before it set sail. I went back to help him. He smiled and said, "No, it's my time but it's not yours. You must get on that ship. I will be just fine."

For once, I listened to him without question. From the deck of the ship, I looked back. Through my tears, I could see my dad waving good bye. Smiling he said again. "I'm going to be just fine and so are you." When the phone rang and woke me that morning, I already knew why my mother was calling This dream helped prepare me for the loss. I still cried at his funeral. Saying goodbye was not easy.

At the luncheon after, I passed my infant son to many arms eager to hold him. Life was going on for me. It would be alright. This is the message I continue to receive from my father. It's the message I received this morning. I was less than satisfied. "Dad," I whined, "What does that mean? Ten days from now, ten years, at my death?" Silence. I am alone with my thoughts. My awareness of all that have gone before hangs around the edge of my awareness. I want more. I want reassurance. I want a miracle to knock me off my feet. It doesn't come. I know that this is just as it should be. My time for transcendence has not yet come. I am firmly anchored to earth, to being human and to all the problems that are rooted in my human limitations. A miracle would knock a crater in my path. It is not meant to be. I must keep going, sometimes stumbling in the dark.

As I turned the final corner before returning home, I realized that my walk and my attempt to get reassurance from loved ones who'd gone before, had been rewarded. No miracles, few words, my heart was only slightly lighter, my worries still with me but there was a subtle difference in me. My world had gotten bigger. I was no longer trapped in a universe of one. I was not alone. Love walked with me today, a love that conquers death. This love will be with me as I face what lies ahead. Thanks, Dad. I know you're still with me. Everything will be ok.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Everybody Hurts

Overall a good week but a challenging one. Today, I need a musical interlude and a reminder that everybody hurts sometimes.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

I'm So Sane It's Crazy

Despite a few reports to the contrary, I'm the sanest person, I know. It took years to get here, to that place of enjoying the fact that I'm often more than a little nuts. A few almost supernatural occurrences reinforcing my inner voice's good sense didn't hurt. It's ironic that the basis for this confidence is the acceptance of all my crazy parts but that is exactly where my sanity rests.

During the last few months, I am occasionally surprised to hear my inner voice say, "Trust yourself." Sadly, my first instinct is to argue with that voice. The good news is that I know that's the crazy part of me arguing. I step back and let the volleys between the two sides begin. They fight it out with me as a spectator. The spectator is the sane part. When I step into the battle I start to lose it. When I remain detached, interested in the outcome, fascinated by what's exposed on the inner battlefield, I'm in my sanest place.

So let's get down and dirty with a real life example, ripped from the pages of my day. First day of school for all of us: Two return rather reluctantly as students. I return as employee (and life student). One has to get the kids out the door in the morning and then find a way to fill his day. We've all experienced a radical change in schedule. Our day is largely controlled by forces outside us. There is some necessary attitude adjustment on everyone's part and such adjustments don't come easy.

Returning home, I'm tired, physically and mentally. I'm soon joined by tired children, a dog that can't figure out where everyone has spent the day, and a husband that seems to feel a bit left out. Within hours, I want to be a single lady. The dog won't stop begging. My son seems to have developed hives and won't stop fussing and Big Mr. A seems more argumentative than usual. Initially, I just want to snap back at all of them. I indulge that part briefly, with less than positive consequences. Then in a flash of crazy inspiration I start to hear good ole Rudyard Kipling:


IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
' Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!

This wacky brain flash helped save my day. I'm not interested in being a Man, or a son, by the way, but you get the drift. As long as I was trapped in my own head and my own fatigue, things were heading downhill fast. When Rudyard's poem entered the center ring of my mental circus, it was my salvation. This is where having a crazy three-ringed circus of a mind is actually a huge benefit. It's making connections and seeing patterns in ways that help lift me out of my limited and often grumpy self. I start to hear "If" in my head and I'm off in India with Riki Tiki Tavi or Mowgli. Even though Rudyard never made it to my top 100 favorite authors, he shows up today and helps me out. Thanks, old chap.

As long as I stayed trapped in my own limited perspective, I was not at peace. I had to let loose the fetters on my imagination to be inspired. I had to detach from all the "stuff" happening around and within me to gain perspective. I had to be a spectator before I could reenter the arena with a better chance of survival. This is a delicious madness. May tomorrow be touched by more of the same. Right now, I'm going to sit down and give my family some much needed Just 10. I see how much they need it.