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.

Monday, November 29, 2010


Since I haven’t even mentioned the Just 10 project in days and the title of this blog is Just 10, it seemed like a good time to regroup and refresh my devotion to the cause.

Including an autobiographical account seems outside this blogs mission statement.  To those of you eager to read more about the convent years, you won’t be disappointed.  I’ve got a lot more to tell.  Still, I do have to concern myself with straying too far from the focus of the Just 10 blog.  The connection between Just 10 and my seeming need to deviate from the  blogs main purpose were at war inside me.  I felt off track and that was troubling. 

There had to be a connection somewhere deep within my convoluted psyche but it wasn’t making itself apparent.  I was thinking about this as we sat down to dinner yesterday.  We celebrated Thanksgiving at Grandmas and then enjoyed our own private family feast on Sunday.  Since I’d spent several hours  preparing for this feast, I wanted to linger over dinner conversation.  Suddenly, between bites of turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, sweet potato casserole and homemade dinner rolls, my daughter looks at me and asks, “Mom, why were you a nun?”

I was speechless which is a rather rare occurrence.  Neither of my children has ever asked me this before.  My daughter seeing my difficulty in answering quickly assumed I was uncomfortable with the question.  I had to assure her that I didn’t mind her asking, I just didn’t know how to answer that with a quick sentence or two.  I told her that I was working out the why’s of it in my blog and that she should stop by once in a while and read it.  
“Maybe” I said, “We’ll both find out the answer to that question while I’m writing it.”
Surprisingly, this answer seemed to satisfy her for the time being.  We went on to share the thing for which we were the most grateful.  Without hesitation and with genuine honesty, we each said, “Each other.”

There are times when our behavior may indicate otherwise.   Each of us can do a great job tuning the others out.  We often take each other for granted.  We can assume the worse about the others motives.  Sometimes, we even treat each other more like enemies than family.  Yet, when we each face the thing for which we feel the most grateful, without a doubt, we all say, “Each other.”

And so, apart from the ego massaging that blog writing can quickly dissolve into, my writing also leaves a record for my children, if and when they care to read it.  In sharing myself and my thoughts with them, they get a chance to know more about me. Apart from the age difference and the different job description that accompanies, “parent” and “child”  my sharing should help them see that ultimately, we’re just a small group of fallible human beings trying to learn from our mistakes and trying to be better people than we were yesterday. 

Growing up I was often frustrated that the adults in my world were never comfortable admitting they made a mistake.   Now as a parent, I appreciate that appearing vulnerable or weak especially in the heat of the moment isn’t a comfortable place to be.  Fortunately, I’ve never forgotten how important it is to admit your mistakes and to apologize especially if it’s necessary to admit and apologize to your child. 

Over the long four day weekend,  I had several opportunities to put this belief into action.  Saying, “I’m sorry” when I’ve been too harsh, over reacted or am just blatantly wrong has gotten easier.  My children need this display of humility and remorse.  If I expect it from them, then I’d better by doing a good job showing them how it’s done.

Yes, it looks like I’m getting off track again.  It may be a big leap, indulging my need to write and passing it off as “worthy” Just 10 blog entries but in a very real way, my honest “baring of my soul” is opening the door to my children, my friends and my family.  I offer myself, foibles and all to you in the hope that you can see how open my heart truly is underneath all the blustering opinions and self-doubt.  In that open heart, I invite you in.  You can be comfortable here.  I’m not interested in judging you.  In telling my stories, I am opening myself to hear yours.   Your stories are just as important as mine, probably more so.  It’s okay to tell them.  We’re all learning together.    This is the heart of Just 10 and what it means to share lives together.

Just 10 is about finding time to honor each person’s story.  It’s about finding time to show others that you value them through your behavior.  It’s about admitting mistakes and trying again and again especially when it’s difficult.  It’s about learning to love against all odds.  The same is true of my story.  To everything, there is a connection.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Special Imaginary Friend

As a child, I was strong and stubborn.  My energy was a constant source of torment to my mother.  I seemed to always be in trouble.  Fear of God was used to control my lively spirit.  I was told that God was always watching me and God wasn’t pleased.  The angels assigned to me were keeping a big book on my misdeeds.  The book started out with snowy white blank pages.  Every time I did something bad, my angels would make an ugly black smudge in the book.  My book was full of ugly black smudges or so I was told. 

I put on a tough exterior to hide the fact that this was devastating news to my young soul.  It was the stuff of nightmares and I had many of them due to the passing of this misinformation.   This also fostered a deep sense of unworthiness especially in the imagined eyes of God.  I could never be good enough to be worth of His love.  I felt a profound shame at my failure.

For the first eight years of my life, we lived on my paternal grandparents  farm. They’d moved into town.  My parents moved to the farm and tended a milk cow and calf.  My uncles often visited to use the machine shop or to farm some of the acreage.  These 80 acres were a slice of heaven to me.  When things got tense in the house,  I would pack a snack of peanut-butter covered soda crackers, place them in a plastic bread bag and head across the pasture for the woods.  There I would spend hours playing alone.  Well, not exactly alone.  I had a special imaginary friend. 

This friend was the best playmate ever.  Kind, wise beyond his years, my imaginary friend was the child, Jesus.  As a child, this imaginary friend was as real to me as you are.  I spent hours in his company.  I told him my troubles and how I was always disappointing my mother.  This child, Jesus never took sides and always encouraged my understanding and forgiveness of others “who did not really understand what they were doing.”  We kept many little secrets.

Life in the woods with my imaginary playmate was not perfect.  Often I was visited by evil.  A tall dark and handsome man, wearing a Roman collar, often stood at a distance and watched us.  This man made me very uncomfortable and I shared my fears with my playmate.
“This man who looks good is not,”  he’d tell me.  “Don’t pay attention to him but also never forget he is there.”

Years later, I have many questions about my imaginary playmate.  I’m certain that I created him out of my own deep need to have a positive relationship with God.  The fear of God was too much to bear.  I was terrified.  I had to cope with the fear and did so by creating an alternate reality.  Good and evil were personified in the child and the man who lived in my woods.

 Lest, you fault my parents, it needs to be said that my parents did the best they could.  They grew up fearing a punitive God who’d been used to control their behavior as children.  They passed on what they had been told.  They did not know another way.  My desire to spare my own children this fear of God, kept me from sharing with them a God of love as well.   Their experience has been very different from mine.  They know very little of the faith that has been in our family for centuries.  I often feel like I’ve failed them.  I may have suffered emotional abuse disguised as religious teaching but I also experienced something wonderful. 

Even though my playmate was of my own making, I’ve often wondered if God really was there working inside me, using my imagination to show me something, He knew I needed.   Later, when I began first grade in Catholic school, we memorized questions and answers from the old Baltimore Catechism.  I was told by those in authority that if you weren’t Catholic you’d spend eternity in hell.  Inside, I knew they had to be wrong.  At six, I’d already learned to trust my own judgment and not blindly accept what I was told.  I knew that God had created humans with minds and I believed that God wanted us to use them.   He didn’t create us to be stupid sheep.  This belief was one that would get me in lots of trouble in the convent.  When I was six, I also had the good sense to keep quiet about what I really thought and believed.   Later, in the convent, silence would have been wrong.  I paid a high price for speaking out. 

The memory of a loving God was the one thing that helped me survive the experience.  When I gave up on myself, when the will to continue living was gone, the awareness that life, my life was a gift and that I didn’t have a right to extinguish that gift was the only thing that kept me alive.  A God of love was the author of life.  With life came responsibility.   Through a responsible caring for this God-given gift, I would find Love.   When I believed in nothing else, I still believed in Love,  the kind of love shown me by a certain imaginary playmate. 

While my relationship with the Church and organized religion has gone through many changes,  my relationship with a loving God as I understand Him has been almost constant.  By the time I was six, I no longer saw my imaginary friend, Jesus.   I did continue to feel His presence.  The man in black took much longer to disappear.  He continued to surprise me.  I would suddenly spot him on the edge of my vision.  He never got too close and always watched from a distance.  He continued to haunt me for years.  Even now, once in a while, I still catch a fleeting glimpse of him as he slips out of my sight. 

I’m well aware that my imaginary playmate and my personification of evil are creations of my own mind.  I can even acknowledge that my belief in a loving God and my experience of him is a coping mechanism.  I can grant that the agnostics may even have it right.  There might not be a God.  Despite this awareness, I still choose to believe in a loving God because my life needs this benevolent presence.  I also choose to believe in a loving God because it feels right for me.  There is no tangible proof that God exists.  You can study the logic of Thomas Aquinas’ proofs of God’s existence but without faith you’re left with only logic.  Logic is not faith.  Faith is belief in something without proof.  It’s the position of the underdog.  It’s what gives the underdog hope.  It makes life worth living even when life seems not to be worth it.  Faith is the banner that my team carries into the game.  Sometimes it’s all we’ve got.

Over the years, I’ve met many good people and a few not so good.  Some of the kindest humans I’ve known have not believed in God or practiced any sort of religious observance.  Some of the worst people I’ve known have proclaimed their Christianity for all the world to see.  Inside they carried hearts of darkness.  A few of them have vowed to live the life of a religious.  They taught me that appearances can be very, very deceiving.  This knowledge was hard won.  It is something that the convent gave me.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Word Resurrection

To break the monotony and to keep my readers guessing,  I'm posting another one of those super short stories I wrote during my personal short story challenge. (Stories of 55 words or less.)

Word Resurrection

In 2065, words can kill you. 
Undercover Language Enforcement Officers are everywhere. 
No questions, no evidence, the thrill of the kill excites them. 
Their eyes and ears are everywhere. 
They watch me now.
Downstairs my door shatters. 
I offer myself on an altar of words. 
Bullets tear life from me. 
I am free at last. 
Words are my resurrection.

More of the Story

Most people who know me or think they know me can’t imagine me as a nun.  The pieces just don’t fit.  Piety and reverence seem to be ever beyond my grasp.  The fact that it seems unlikely that I was ever a nun adds to the transformative power that my convent experience had on my life.

Telling the story of those years over 30 years later is not easy.  My memory is often hazy, sometimes deliberately so.  There are many things I don’t want to remember.  Yet, in the re-membering I put together the pieces in hopes that I’ll be able to see from a distance just what those years meant and how despite the pain, they serve me well today.

The emotional imprint of that time is still strong.  At times, it may cloud the facts but this is true of any life and the memory of things past.  My convent experience while unique to me is not really unique at all.  For anyone who has experienced a great loss, a battered spirit or a broken heart and lived through it, this story is also yours.

Chapter One

The Big Mistake

I remember the day I arrived at the convent.  Small suitcase in hand, my entire family and my beloved grandmother were there.  We all sat nervously in the fanciest convent parlor, the one usually reserved for bishops and dignitaries, waiting for my acceptance into the order from Mother Superior.  She wafted in as if on cue and gushed a little too enthusiastically, eagerly shaking my grandmother and my parents hands.  I stood wearing a loose fitting peasant dress that I had sewn for the occasion.  I remember having a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.  My mind was screaming,
“It’s not too late, go home now.  This is a big mistake.” 
I ignored this inner voice, the one screaming the truth at me.  How different things would have been had I listened. 

In that opening moment, I knew that I should run the opposite direction, run back into the life I was trying to escape.  I was too young to know and to appreciate the wisdom that lies within all of us.  I, who did what was expected, chose to ignore this inner voice.  For the next 2 years and ten months, not a day ended in which I did not regret this failure to listen to my heart.

To understand why at 21, when I should be eager to experience the world and all it offered, I entered a convent instead,  you’ll have to know more about where I came from and how it shaped me. 

Born the eldest in a family of six children, I grew up in a very small rural community that was populated by Catholic German-Americans.  This little rural town had a population of 325 for years.  Main street was a dead end.  Everyone knew everyone else in this sleepy little town called Sublimity.  Within the city limits there was only one church, the Catholic Church in a parish called St. Boniface.    St. Boniface was a German saint whose story sometimes seemed to get mixed up with the pagan god, Thor.  It would be years before I learned about Thor.  As a kid, I was all Catholic and so was everyone else in my small world. 

Both of my parents came from large Catholic families.  They grew up living less than 2 miles apart from each other as the crow flies (which means across the fields).  They knew each other as children in grade school.  They knew each others families and who was related to whom and sometimes the why of that relationship.    It was a bit like Walton’s mountain Catholic-style.  Yet, compared to Sublimity’s Catholic families, Walton’s mountain was populated by cock-eyed optimists.  

My grandparents grew up speaking German as children.  Their families were firmly ensconced in German culture.  They were pessimists who did not show affection lest it spoil their “kinder”.  Things were usually going from bad to worse.  Talk about feelings was “verboten.”  Despite this dour view of the world, and the lack of displays of affection,  they were fiercely loyal to their family.  Their family was their world.  It was my world as well. 

I grew up in the company of cousins and aunts and uncles.  We celebrated holidays together with both sides of the family.  One side was visited for dinner (lunch) and one side for supper (dinner).  Huge family potlucks were common place.  Weddings were big occasions.  Food and beer flowed freely.  Funerals were always followed by a feast as well and lots of reminiscing.  Baptisms were followed by a big meal for relatives.  Death was as much a part of life as the baptisms were. Food was part of everything.    Occasions often began with the celebration of a Catholic sacrament.  There was no other way, no other religion, no other way of being a family.  This was all I knew.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The God of Winter

Not having internet access at home for a few weeks, has given me little excuse not to start that book I've always threatened to write.  Here's my intro complete with working title. 

The God of Winter

Every story has a beginning that helps explain what comes after.  My story is no different.  When I was twenty one, I entered a convent and spent the next two years and ten months of my life with the Sisters of St. Mary.    For those unfamiliar with religious orders, Sisters are religious women dedicated to a life of serve in active ministry within the Church.  The Sisters I joined were teachers and nurses.  I felt called by God to teach, to become Sister Somebody.  I know that's hard for most people to understand.  Maybe, there is a secret career you've always longed for.  Imagine one day getting to do what you've only dreamt of doing, of being, only to be fired later.  Imagine how you might feel.  Not only was choosing to enter a religious order a career choice, it was a way of being.  It was the way of being that I desperately hoped would redeem me.

I didn't acknowledge it then but a lot of my desire to become a nun was born out of a deep sense of shame and feelings of worthlessness.  I wanted to become a nun because I wanted to find a way to feel better about myself.  Inside, I fought my decision.  Part of me felt like I was offering myself up on an altar of sacrifice.  This huge part of me didn't want to go.  This part of me, knew that it wasn't the right choice.   I'd long ago learned to ignore what I really wanted and to give myself to the plan of action that seemed to be for the greatest good.  Not because I was really that good.  I only pretended to be.  I did was what was expected of a good, Catholic girl who was a shy dateless wonder.  I desperately wanted an education.  I wanted a way out of the life I was living in my quiet small town.  Giving the world what it expected was the way I'd learn to cope with the horrible hollow feelings that had always haunted me.  So, I made the choice to enter a convent, convincing myself it was "God's will."  Sometimes, it's hard for me to believe that I ever believed that but I did.

Time and emotions have sculpted my memories.  Details are sometimes a bit hazy.  For years, my feelings  about this particular time in my life, made the telling of the whole story too painful.  When I left the convent with $1,000 to start a new life, I carried with me the trauma of many bad experiences.  I couldn’t talk about my life with the Sisters without shaking uncontrollably.  In time, the physical shaking subsided but the shaking of my soul continued for some time.  Occasionally, I still feel a slight tremor.

Over the years, many people have encouraged me to write about my life as a nun.  (Sister is the correct term for a female religious in an active order.  Nun refers to a female religious in a contemplative order.  Nun, however, is the popular word used to refer to both by the general population and I will often use it here.)  I avoided the task because I was uncomfortable revisiting the past.  It was too painful.  Time, the fabled healer, brought more struggles, more disappointments, the kind that threatened the very heart of who I was, who I am today.  Time and experience helped me discover that I had become much stronger than I’d ever imagined.  I’d learn to survive and to thrive despite great obstacles, despite leaving the convent, broken, heartsick and feeling worthless and rejected.

For this, I can take very little credit.  Life did this to me,for me and through me.  Life took the 2 years and 10 months I spent in the convent and used it to bring about my soul’s redemption.    There came a day when the pieces broken apart by my time in the convent came together.  One day, as I drove to work after kissing husband and children goodbye, I knew it was time to write a book about my convent experience.  I could hide the story no longer.

This is the story of my years as a member of a Roman Catholic order of religious women.  Upon entering, I spent 6 months as a postulant.  I “graduated” to novice, Sister Mary Carol, and after much struggle was allowed to make my first vows or first profession.  Walking away from the convent was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.  At the time, I could not understand how things could have turned out so badly.  I was totally convinced that God wanted me to live a life in service to Him.  I couldn’t fathom what God was doing or what he wanted me to do.    I felt lost.   I spent days crying, mourning the loss.   Over time, as, the daze slowly cleared, I began to feel betrayed and angry at God, blaming Him for a lot of the things that happened.    Only recently, have I begun to appreciate my convent years as an experience with the God of Winter.    The God I thought I “knew” was a god of summer.  I’m grateful for my summer god experiences but they can’t compare in depth and life altering power as do my experiences with the God of Winter.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

It's Taken Years

Today, inspiration is a stranger.   I search my mind for a topic that is both current and edgy.  Let's face it, that is rarely my style.  I've always been very out of touch with the current fad or fashion.  When young, this lack did not serve me well.    I used to hate it because I felt it separated me from the masses.  Always the last picked for a team, rarely invited to others' birthday parties, I felt hopelessly out of step.  I felt like I was missing out.  Face pressed to the glass window of life's candy store, I could never go in and shop for the sweet things others took for granted.

Within the last year or two, as middle life takes an iron grip on my "young" psyche, I'm finally beginning to understand that those things which once seemed to keep me apart were actually gifts.  Just because I felt  different and in many ways was different from many of my peers, I was not an island alone.  I was an island within.  Rowing over to the shore of another island was always an option.   Trading island secrets and sharing strengths always a possibility.

Last Thursday, five of us showed up for our monthly bunco night.  Instead of playing we opted to just visit.  It was a good evening of informative, sometimes humorous, sometimes surprising, girl talk.  I learned a lot of things that evening that I didn't know before, things I couldn't easily find out by reading, things best found by listening to another tell about their own experiences.    One of the things I miss most about my current job is the lack of time to develop meaningful relationships with co-workers.  Rarely, having time to talk with other adults about anything not directly related to the student or the subject, leaves me feeling a bit like an island unto myself.   I am often lonely. Having an evening to talk and listen to others was a good thing.  I only realized how much I really enjoyed it later when I acknowledge  how rare those moments have become.

Even though I might feel lonely and separate and in some ways I know that I am,  I also know that feelings alone do not define me,  I am always part of a larger group, whether they acknowledge it or not.  The reverse is also true no matter how much I might fight against or deny it.   It's taken years for me to figure this out.

So as I sit here in MacDonalds, watching young children act like monkeys in the enclosed play pit, that I sometimes dub "the mouth of hell" for reasons obvious to those who cherish peace and quiet, I have to admit that like it or not, those monkeys swing in the same jungle as I do.  As I watch the parents of these monkeys and find myself judging or critiquing them less than kindly, I had to admit that they too are my fellow travelers.  They are here on earth with the same basic rights as I.   We breathe the same air, we move through time and space in the same era, we struggle to be good parents, we all fall short sometimes.  We are in this together.

Sometimes acknowledging this connection comes with good  feelings.  Yesterday, we were able to share in the wedding of one of my cousins.  Sitting in the little church of my childhood, seeing so many familiar and older faces, was a good thing.  This place, this church, these people,  for all the good, bad and indifferent are a part me and I of them.  Even if I were to never return, this place, these people would remain a  part of who I am.  I can choose to focus only on the bad and miss the good things that were also there.  Yesterday, this wedding helped me see more of the good. 

Whether it's good times with relatives or watching monkey-like children swing in the "Mouth of Hell", there are always more things that connect us than separate us.  It's time I really joined in.   Turn up the music, I'm going to enjoy the sounds of the human jungle before returning home and insisting on peace and quiet.  We all belong.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Green Pastures Off the Grid

Since an unpaid bill stops our internet access and the unsecured wi-fi we were greedily using has been lost due to a neighbors move, I get to experience some time off the grid.  Well, at least in a manner of speaking. 

There is a big part of me that wants to give in to whining and bemoan my fate as one of the struggling working class but since pity parties are not oodles of fun, I'm determined to try something new.  I'm going to look for silver lining in this blustery rain cloud.  

I'm already ecstatic about losing our phone land line.  I really hate the telephone.  I've come to hate almost everything about it.  Not having it ring and make me feel guilty or freakish for hating this simple tool of technology, is a little slice of heaven.

As for not having internet access at home, this is actually a blessing in disguise.  Since the local library offers free wi-fi and so do lots of other public places,  I can stop by the library (one of my favorite places on earth) and check in with the world wide web but not have it take me away from my family when I could be spending time with them.  Having internet access at home offers a vehicle of escape that is often used and abused.  Do I really need to spend that much time playing Bubble Island?  No, I do not.

Honestly, as I think of it now, I could get used to this very quickly.  It would be wonderful not to have a  internet bill.  Now, if I can only convince my family that this seemingly "bad thing" is really a good thing in disguise.  Time to leave this hallowed library and spend some Just 10 time with the ones I love,  no computer, no telephone.  Who knows maybe I'll get really radical and try no TV.  Life is sweet.

A Human Mirror

Someone showed me something unpleasant today.  In listening to this person, I saw the trap that criticism and ridicule create for our better selves.  I could clearly see that people who criticize others or judge others harshly,  are feeling small and vulnerable.  People who are secure and happy with themselves don’t have the need to make others look small.  As I listened to criticism and judgment, I saw, all too clearly, that I am often critical or judgmental.  I did not like what I saw in this mirror.  I didn’t want to think about this during Just 10 time but I knew that I had to do so.  I had to make peace with what I saw.  More importantly,  I wanted to learn from it.

This need to feel superior to other poor saps, fools, victims or people of no or little  morals is an invisible cancer of the soul.   I have this soul cancer.   Soul cancer afflicts most of us.   Take for example,  reality shows.   I’ve long been fascinated with the popularity of “reality” shows.  I show great disdain for most of them and watch very few.  The ones I do watch on occasion  have the least merit.  I watch the “stupidest of the stupid” because these folks make me feel like a genius.

The “reality” of these lives is carefully orchestrated fiction.  The participants become characters manipulated by the camera, their own desire for fame or recognition and the minds of the viewers.    I’ve long realized that watching these shows makes me feel whole and normal.  That feeling is at least part illusion.  I can congratulate myself on my good taste, judgment, fortune and sense.  Compared to most of the people on reality television my life seems infinitely better.  Therein lies their appeal  They make me feel superior. 

I am not.  Granted, many of us show better judgment but showing better judgment doesn’t make me superior.  Is any human being really superior to another?  Is there not a intrinsic value within all humans that serves as the great equalizer?   If not in “reality” at least in theory?  What kind of world could we create if we started treating people as if that were the reality, that we are all equal, really equal.  What if we treated each other with the same respect we reserve for the most favored?  What if we approached any task, any problem with the mindset that we are all part of a team, each person equal in importance, each serving a vital role?

After peering into a human mirror today and seeing that I was part of the problem, that my own critical and dichotomous nature creates a problem where none need exist,  I began to consider what could be done to work toward solutions.  A discussion at lunch made the answer seem obvious.   As I ate lunch in the company of two other women we shared a common desire.   We wanted respect.  We wanted to be considered important members of a team.  This team consists of parents, teachers, administrators and staff all concentrating on one goal, that of educating children.  We expressed frustration over how adversarial and political education often becomes.  We spoke of the great team players we’d each worked with (or in my case, work with now) who treated us as if our contributions were valued and appreciated and not a form of paid servitude.

As I listened to my fellow staffers express frustration, I suddenly knew that while I may not be able to change another’s mind, I could choose to begin acting as if what I believed were the reality.   If I wanted to be considered a valuable member of a team focused on the education and welfare of my child and any child under my care, I needed to act as if this is exactly how things are.   I am a valuable member of a team.

I can continue to voice my objection, frustration, anger and grief but it will serve little purpose.  In fact, it will serve to work against the very ideal I choose to believe.  Teams that are inflicted with criticism, poor communication and lack of respect will not be improved if I add my own criticism and frustration to the mix.  Just as happened earlier, I saw clearly how I often contribute to the problem while all the while I’m cursing it.  If I fill myself with criticism and negative energy there will be little room for anything else.  It will make my day dark and depressing.  I will find frustration everywhere.  I have wasted years doing this.  Today, it was wonderfully and painfully apparent that I need to try something else. Ultimately, when all is said and done and I give myself to sleep at the end of the day, I can only be diminished, if I believe myself to be. 

As I looked into my human mirrors today, I saw myself clearly.  If I want respect,  I must treat others with respect.  If I don’t want to be judged, than I must not judge others.  If I want to be considered part of a team, then I need to consider others as part of the same team and drop any attitudes or behaviors that doesn’t serve that purpose. 

This will not be an easy task.  Since I have often lived the alternative, I’m ready to give myself completely to something new, something simple and yet so radical it could change the world.  Maybe it already has.  One by one we need to awaken and see it reflected back to us by another human mirror.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Champion of Worry

Worry seems to be a popular topic for me.  I spent a good part of Saturday sitting in urgent care.  Lower abdominal pain and some distressing symptoms made a visit the logical choice.  Since I'm a champion worrier, this was like the Worry Olympics for me.  I think I took home the gold.  In any case, my worry fest is not yet over and I have some lovely tests to look forward to.

 I spent the remainder of Saturday in a panic, whirling in a worry tornado.  In addition to bridges, demonic stuff and clowns, I am also pathologically afraid of cancer.  Of course, no champion worrier worth their salt, avoids blaming themselves for causing the things that happen to them.  I was totally freaking myself out, albeit quietly.  No need to panic everyone else in a 1 mile radius.  At least one good thing about my quiet worry fest, I prayed a lot that day.  Turning to a higher power seemed like the only sensible thing to do.

I don't know if it was the praying or the fact that my champion worry skills allow me to accelerate the worry storm so that it passes quickly but by Sunday I was almost back to normal.  I still read the Sunday paper obituaries and noted the ages of the dead.  Three were only 55.  This seems to be the age of facing my own immortality so I've been rubbing my nose in it for the last few years. 

Actually, as I think of it now, my innate ability to worry, (Genetically, I come from a long line of champion female worriers.) is directly linked to the hyperactivity of my mind.  On one end of the spectrum lies intense worry.  At the other end, lies a deliciously, creative mind.  Some might call this mind a bit crazy. Of this, I will provide evidence. 

Yesterday evening, we played games together as a family.  (Yeah, quality time!)  During the course of a normal game, I blurt out what's rattling in my head.  First, I came up with two new wacky sports, underwater aerobic golfing and underwater roller derby.  After my amusement started to wane, I got carried away with my dislike of gnomes.  That, too, I found very amusing so I decided to link the two ideas and created an Underwater Gnome Dome for my new sports.  Maybe if I were writing a cartoon like SpongeBob, there would be some use for my ideas.  That's not the case.  These zany idea are almost useless except that they did a wonderful job distracting me and totally delighted my equally zany kids who often find me hilariously funny.  I can be, although my husband might not always agree.  Sometimes, he just finds me annoying.   Sometimes I am, but that's a topic for another day.

It would appear that my capacity for worry is inversely proportionate to my capacity to be zany.  I think I can live with this curse/gift until some natural occurrence takes me out of the game.  Since no one gets out of life alive and middle age is a minefield of potential death, it would seem infinitely wise to get used to the idea and learn to live with a little worry now and again.  But right now, I'm going to give my Underwater Gnome Dome some more thought.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Lost and Found

At some point today, I decided that today's title would be "Lost and Found."  Then I tried to write about it and nothing seemed to flow out of my fingers and on to the screen.  Some days are like that.    I tried to find a catchy song that had the phrase in it and some words of deeper wisdom but I couldn't find anything.  I tried to link it to the book I'm currently reading, The Trace of Scarcity by Victoria Castle.  No luck there either.

The line in "Amazing Grace", "I once was lost but now am found." wasn't conjuring up anything that I could latch on to much less write about.  Maybe I was lost and not found.  I started to feel panic creep up my legs and threaten my solar plexus. . . where ever that may be.  I was lost.  I started to panic.  Age, however does have some advantages.  By now, I've panicked enough times to know the fruits of panic.  I also know it takes too much energy and that picking up the pieces after panicking can be messy and time consuming.  I just didn't want to go there.

Instead, I sat down with "lost" feeling. 
I said,  "Hello, I may not be thrilled to feel you but I know you've got something to say that I probably need to hear.  Please tell me why you're here."
The "lost feeling"  relaxed and smiled.  "I'm more normal than you think.  Lot's of people feel lost from time to time.  Feeling lost doesn't necessarily mean you are."
"Interesting.  Tell me more."
Lost took a deep breath, preparing to explain what must seem obvious.
"You can feel lost and yet be found at the same time.  You can be lost in one or a few areas in life but not really be lost at all.  I know it doesn't make sense but it is true."
"Hmm," I said.  I think I know exactly what you mean but I'm not sure I can explain it either."

What we believe about ourselves does not fully represent who we are.  Feeling lost may just be a way to tap into a common human experience.  It also may be an indication that one's gotten off track, that they have lost sight of their purpose, their raison d'etre.  That's what happened to me today.  For a little while, I felt lost not because I was but  because I had "forgotten" my purpose, my higher calling, my reason for being.  I'd stepped out of the natural flow of my life.  I was sidetracked as I often am.  I wanted to panic and probably would if I could have conjured up the extra energy.

Feeling lost was a wake up call.  It called me back to myself.  It reminded me that even though I felt lost, I really only needed to remember what is most important in my life, to feel found again.  "I once was lost but now am found."  Today's Just 10 with the feeling of being lost brought me back to myself.  Next time, the feeling comes to visit me, I will welcome it and listen to what it has to say.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Morning Message

Life has been hectic lately.  Having a day off during the week was such a nice bonus.  Waking up at 4:54 a.m. was not.  I staggered to the bathroom shuffling like Frankenstein with arms extented feeling for the wall.  All I needed were the bolts in my neck.  My first morning thoughts were not pleasant ones. Dangerous daggers of depression swirled in my mind and threatened to ruin my morning.  Then something unexpected happened.  I realized that I was ruining my own day by focusing on the dark side.   My morning Frankenstein self smiled at this thought.

All  I did was to stagger in to my day with a relaxed self.   Normally, I carry a lot of tension in my body.  My jaw is often set or clenched waiting for the next blow.  I have a knot between my shoulders, My stomach rumbles with anxiety.  First thing in the morning, I'm a wet noodle.  This state of wet  "noodledom" explains why my morning is often blessed with inspiration.  My body is relaxed and receptive. 

In this morning's inspiration festival, I also realized that if I could relax more during the day, I'd be able to tap into this peaceful relaxed state more.  There would be less living in high speed, less frustration, less exhaustion and a whole lot more enjoyment.  I've already found this to be true.  There are times when I have my wits about me and remember to let go and relax.  These times are not as common as I'd like.  It's time to take it up a notch and open the door and to let it in more often.

Surprisingly, my early morning inspiration festival was also visited by another thought.  Recently, our womens' book group had tried reading  The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin.  Individually, each of us seemed to be having a hard time reading it.  We'd put it off to the last minute.  We approached the book without eagerness to read more.  As we began to discuss what we'd read, we all seemed to be frustrated by how good Gretchen's life was to begin with.  She was much more organized than any of us.  Her husband and family all seemed loving and very supportive.  Gretchen was a successful writer.  Her life seemed untouched by some of the struggles we, three women, were experiencing in our own.  Becoming happier with her good life was and is a great goal.   Don't get me wrong.  It's a good book.  It would be wonderful if more people would make that an objective.  

The trouble was this just wasn't the guide book for us.   We needed a guide book written by someone with difficult problems in relationships, with no career, with financial woes,  someone who struggled to survive the days with some semblance of sanity left by bedtime.  We needed a book written for women broken by life but finding the hope to continue especially when the odds were stacked against them.  We needed a book written by women touched by bankruptcy, crazy dysfunctional families, divorce, depression, chronic illness, and a whole laundry list of problems, problems that make being happy a challenge.  We needed a book written by someone just like us who finds a way to capture the illusive "blue bird of happiness" and who also has the strength to let that bird go and fly free when it needs to do so.

This morning's wet-noodle-Frankenstein me realized that this might just be the book idea I've been looking for.  All that's left for me to do is to begin.  So, now,  I take a few deep breaths and tell myself, "Nothing is going to happen today that I can't handle."   but that is so status quo.  I think a moment and tell myself,  "Happiness lies ahead in this day, find it, enjoy it.   Today is all I have.  I'm going to make it a good one."  I think I have a book to write.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Trance of Scarcity

Some thing I read recommended The Trance of Scarcity by Victoria Castle.  I got a copy from the library and then avoided reading it.  Maybe I was afraid that something within it would require me to change my way of thinking.  Finally, I opened it and began to read.  There is so much wisdom inside, I can't digest it all.

For some time, I've been very aware that mid-life was giving me an incredible opportunity to reframe my thinking, to really question what works and what does not.   The Trace of Scarcity is giving me a lot to think about.  I share a piece of it here:
"Every day we are offered increasingly sophisticated strategies for surviving in a world of scarcity.  No one questions whether scarcity exists.  All such survival strategies share the same starting point:  They accept scarcity (lack of self-worth and lack of resources) as a fact of life, as the only proper orientation in response to the evidence.  But what if the truth were actually the other way around? What if our default way of thinking--maintaining the idea that scarcity is real--is the source of the conditions producing the "evidence"? Which one's the chicken and which one's the egg?
 Many years ago, Albert Einstein pointed to the limitations of the mind, saying that we can't seek to solve problems within the same mindset that created them.  To defeat this way of seeking we must become a little bit radical and impertinent.  I say radical because we try to crack an illusion, our denial often intensifies in order to protect our familiar reality" (Castle 25-26).
Since I'm already a bit radical and impertinent, I'm one step ahead of the game.  

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Something Evil

Warning:  After I wrote this I debated whether or not to post it.  It is rather dark.  Rereading it was a bit unsettling but this is what I felt and these were the words that came forth.  Bravely, I share again.

Something evil visited me yesterday.  It sat on my shoulder and whispered evil nothings into my ear.  We traveled together all day but I couldn't see it.   It ate at my soul like a vile cancer.  By evening, I was broken. Evil was winning even though it did not have a name.

I held it inside me as I went about my day.  It licked at my heart and mind with a lascivious hunger.  Once home, it dripped into my mouth and spat frustration at those I love most.  Inside, it had wrapped itself around my heart and soul like a python.  Love was lost in the constriction and so was I.  Still, evil did not have a name and I could not see it.  I wanted to lie down with this mystery and have it swallow me whole.

Time would not allow this nor would an eager young lady, alive with enthusiasm for her evening band concert.  My mind cast about for ways out.  Too much was at stake.  I sat in the van impatiently waiting to go on this undesired outing, hating the moment, dreading the string of moments to come.

I wore a face of stone as I waded through the bodies of noisy children and busy parents.  My face matched my heart as we found seats on the end of a row.  I wanted a clear shot at escape if it should prove necessary. I buried my nose in a book, a book about evil vampires.  It drained my weakened soul even further.  When the music began, it did not touch me.  Dead notes lay all around me.  I had become all that I hated, cold, numb, indifferent, drained of my life's blood.  I starred at the heads in front of me, feeling nothing. 

Just as quietly as the evil had come, the light crept up and sat down next to me.  Slowly, the notes began to pierce my evil armor.  Awareness flooded my mind.  At first, this awareness was a painful thing.  It told me why I was often so critical of others.  It made me see my insecurities for what they are.  I did not like what I saw.  I started to feel regret.  This regret heralded the beginning of my ascent from the darkness.   I was beginning to feel again and while unpleasant and painful, it was proof I was alive, proof that I cared, proof that somethings mattered to me.  Something evil was on the run.

When I was young, the devil was used as an ever present external force waiting to steal my soul and cloud the world's goodness.  Maybe the devil is less of an entity and more a personification of the absence of good/God.  Maybe the greatest danger to us doesn't lie without but within.  An evil within that is the absence of good is an evil that is a powerful threat.  It overtakes us unaware.  It numbs and blinds us to the glory that is also within us.  It destroys our belief in ourselves and that may one of the most diabolical attacks against our better nature.

In the end, this encounter with the absence of good made me more aware of how insidious evil can be.  I will be more wary the next time it comes to call

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Head Full of Doubt

Inside a cold metal capsule, I traveled across town, cutting into the fog.    The fog outside mirrored the fog in my head.   Nothing looked familiar.  Lost, inside myself, I struggled to find the way, cursing the fog.  My struggle against the fog didn't change a thing.  What if I stopped resisting?  What if I were to accept the unknowing, the confusion, the self-doubt?  Before I could give it much thought, the opening bars of this song began to flow out of the radio.

In the early morning fog, the lyrics spoke clearly.  I carried them with me all day.  I carry them now.  I can't tell you what this song really means.   I understand the spaces between the words.  What is not said is more than what is.   In the early morning darkness and fog, the light broke through.  My head was full of doubt but the road remained full of promise.

Head full of doubt, Road full of Promise – The Avett Brothers

There’s a darkness upon me that’s flooded in light
In the fine print they tell me what’s wrong and what's right
And it comes in black and it comes in white
And I'm frightened by those who don’t see it
When nothing is old deserved or respected
And your life doesn’t change by the man that’s elected
If you’re loved by someone you’re never rejected
Decide what to be and go be it.
There was a dream
One day I could see it
Like a bird in a cage a broke in and demanded that somebody free it
And there was a kid, with a head full of doubt
So I scream till I die and don’t ask for those bad thoughts to find me now
There’s a darkness upon you that’s flooded in light
In the fine print they tell you what’s wrong and what's right
And it flies by day and it flies by night
And I’m frightened by those who don’t see it

Monday, November 1, 2010

Short Story Fun Continues

A recent post outlined a short story assignment given the Freshman English class.   I wrote several different stories before moving on to the next shiny idea.  This story is based on an idea given me by one of the students.  He'd heard of a Japanese soldier who had spent years on an island in the South Pacific unaware the war had ended.  He'd heard a family member relate a plot of a B-movie they'd seen in which an American and Japanese soldier where stranded together.  It became the basis for his story and for this little one of mine.

The Pacific Theater

South Pacific sun bakes two men, once enemies.
Guns forgotten, as they build a raft.
They do not need words as they work to leave the island.
Action is everything.
When the raft floats, they celebrate together.
On the sea two days, a ship spots them.
A single shell hits.
The sea embraces them.