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.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Enough about Me

Arriving at Friday, I realized that I'm really tired of writing about myself.  I'm too fascinated by the workings of my own mind.  Today, I had to listen to a substitute teacher talked about himself in much the same way as Catherine O'Hara does in this skit.  Within 30 seconds, he'd talked about cards, losing his mother as a child, being a former salesmen and teaching people to look others in the eye.  He lost me after 30 seconds.  He kept talking.  Getting away from him was my main objective.

Was I looking into a mirror  of myself?  It wasn't a pretty reflection.  So instead of droning on about some thing or another,  I'm going to poke a bit of fun at myself via this old SCTV skit.  Then, I'm going to spend some quality time with my family.   "Just 10, Here I come!"

Thursday, April 28, 2011

This is It

Reluctantly, I roll out of bed and realize it's Thursday and not Friday. Groaning, I create a tiny inner cheerleader who in a pompom waving frenzy chants, "Get up! Get up! The d---a---y awa--its y--o---u u u!"
I imagine loading a shot gun and taking aim while the cheerleader jumps out of the picture. I groan again, get up and stagger toward the shower. While the water warms and my eyes blink in the light, I hear, "Surrender. Surrender."
I groan again. If it were only that simple.

Lately, I've been lost in layers of emotions. Grief and relief are partners. They spin around my head like a pair of mismatched dancers. I watch frozen in disbelief. My family has fought to gain some of my attention but I've been a thousand miles away. I see their lips moving but I don't know what they are saying.

Again, I groan. I could use a vacation, some where warm and sunny, in a land of few worries. That is not an option. The words "Surrender Dorothy" float by like a banner pulled behind a biplane. Wait, the shower isn't over yet. Kenny Loggins voice breaks into the biplane scene. He sings, "This is it! Your back's to the corner. This is it. Don't be a fool any more. No room to run. No where to hide."
Stopping myself in mid groan, I realize that Loggins has nailed it.

Good, bad or indifferent, "This is it."
The uplifting melody carried me through my morning ritual. I sit at the breakfast table pen in hand. The wicked witch from Wizard of Oz flies across my mind writing "Surrender, Dorothy" with the smoke streaming behind her broom. I stare up at the words. Behind me, the disembodied voice of Loggins sings, "This is it. You're going no further."

I have a day to get through, people to help, a family to love, a life to rise to. Wishing this life were something else won't change a moment of it. Time to face the music. "This is it, Loggins. I'm right behind you."

This is it

There have been times in my life
I've been wondering why
Still somehow I believed
We'd always survive
Now I'm not so sure
You're waiting to hear
One good reason to try
But what more can I say
What's left to provide
You think that maybe it's over
Only if you want it to be
Are you gonna wait for your sign, your
Stand up and fight
This is it
Make no mistake where you are
This is it
Your back's to the corner
This is it
Don't be a fool anymore
This is it
The waiting is over
No room to run
No way to hide
No time for wondering why
It's here
The moment is now
About to decide
Let him believe
Or leave him behind
But keep me near in your heart
And know, whatever you do
I'm here by your side
You said that maybe it's over
Not if you don't want it to be
For once in your life, here's your miracle
Stand up and fight
This is it
Make no mistake where you are
This is it
You're going no further
This is it
Until it's over and done
No one can tell you what you know
Who makes the choice of how it goes
It's not up to me this time
You know
There comes a day in every life
This is it
Make no mistake where you are
This is it
You're going no further
This is it
Until it's over and done
This is it
One way or another
This is it
No one can tell what the future holds
This is it
Your back's to the corner
This is it
You make the choice of how it goes
This is it
The waiting is over
This is it
No one can tell what the future holds
This is it
You're going no further

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

I Got Nothing

Wads of crumbled paper sit beside me awaiting their fate as recycled paper.  Today, I feel like I don't have anything to write about.  Words fail me. I curse at them.  They laugh at me.
I open one of my rejected pages.  I wanted to write about a line from a silly Steve Martin song.  When I tried to find a clip of Steve doing this routine on  there wasn't one.  Instead, I did find this cute little red-headed boy stumbling through it.

Lately, I've had the word, "obsequious" pop into my head off and on throughout the day.  It's in a line of this song, "be obsequious, purple and clairvoyant."
I couldn't remember what obsequious meant so I had to look it up. I kept seeing a purple octopus/jellyfish creature with a stupid smile and assumed that I watched too much SpongeBob. says:

ob·se·qui·ous [uhb-see-kwee-uhs] 

1.characterized by or showing servile complaisance or deference; fawning: an obsequious bow.

2.servilely compliant or deferential: obsequious servants.

3.obedient; dutiful.
"Be obsequious, purple and clairvoyant."  

To be clairvoyant would be nice especially as a potential source of income.  Purple is a pretty color but not a good skin color.  Come to think of it, a purple-skinned clairvoyant could generate some serious cash. But, obsequious, that isn't something I'd like to become.  I wish I could confidently announce that I wouldn't be obsequious for any price.  I'm just not sure that that is true.
If I had to be "obsequious, purple and clairvoyant" and be rich the rest of my life.  I'd do it.  For the right amount I'd be fawning, servile, dutiful.  I wouldn't like it but is it really so different from what I already do every day? It's easy to put a high price on dignity and self-respect but when push comes to shove and some degree of survival is at stake selling out is the lesser of two evils.
Half of my brain wants to digress and start ranting about the perils of poverty.  I'd like to rally the common people so that we could experience the strength that comes in numbers and solidarity.  If all us poor and close-to-poor  (All those who are a paycheck away from homelessness.)  were to pull our money out of the huge corporate banks, or boycott the less than ethical companies or. . . Whatever grass roots movement I dream up would be anarchy.  Besides, I can spot this as a digression.  Just as I write this a new song begins on Pandora.

I get lost in the words.  My train of thought derails.  How can I get back on track?  This song captures my feelings, the ones I've been avoiding.  I've played nice all my life. Well, at least most of my life.  A lot of the time, that's come at a price.  Inside, I've often felt that I've sold myself out for something of questionable value.  How often I've smiled on the outside, while feeling that sick sinking sensation in the pit of my stomach?
I've played nice but I also realize that there have been many times when I took a stand, spoke out, showed my true feelings or beliefs and suffered the consequences.    They've only added fuel to my tendency not to trust other people, to avoid really sharing myself with others, to be obsequious and try to stay on the "right side" of the powers that be.

How can I ever make sense out of two very different songs?  What am I thinking?  "Be obsequious, purple and clairvoyant" are soon followed by. . "I'm as mad as hell.  Not ready to play nice, not ready to back down."  Obsequious is a fun word to say.  Knowing what it means may even make me appear smart but being obsequious and knowing it feels pretty horrible.  Yet, sometimes it's necessary to survive.  I am angry, at myself, the world, other people, fate.

My intellect doesn't believe in fate.  I'm afraid that my heart sometimes does.  The English class I'm in every day has been studying two famous star-cross lovers, Romeo and Juliet.  We know from the start that they are doomed.  Today, we watched the death scene from the 1968 movie version.

I started this play really hating Romeo.  Juliet's naivete was easier to forgive.  They are hopelessly impractical, young, dramatic, foolish.  I judged Romeo to be fickle and maybe even bipolar.  I hated the halting and poor reading the students gave the bard's lines.  The assignments seemed monotonous.  The 1968 movie version the class watched is often very dated in technique, the musical scoring etc.  Still, I will always love the theme song.  I found myself hating this play, this version and still loving it in spite of myself, in spite of everything.  

When the two silly children, impetuously take their own lives for the sake of love, a love that seems incomprehensible in its sudden onset and its passionate expression, practical me thinks, "What a stupid choice."
Yet, all the while, my heart understands what the play is trying to tell me.  I worry that I might not get through this scene without shedding tears in front of a class of wriggling teens, the same age as "fair Juliet."  These same aged teens see Romeo and Juliet's choice a rash and foolish one, yet many of them remain interested and transfixed by the story, by the teacher's explanations and her love of Shakespeare.  How can this be happening?

"Be obsequious, purple and clairvoyant" Romeo and Juliet.   The Dixie Chicks have got your back and so do I.  Life isn't lived in neat straight lines.  At least not for most of us.  It's messy, contradictory, full of changing moods, thoughts and beliefs.  We can and often do, hold two or more opposing things in our heads and almost always within our hearts.  We over act, over react as often as we fail to rise to the occasion or be true to ourselves, our causes, our beliefs.  Most of us have a few enemies, hopefully outweighed by our supporters, but not always.

Some times when it looks like we don't have anything, we really have some thing. . . some thing we don't always see, feel or understand but some thing all the same.  In a whirlpool of Steve Martin, Romeo and Juliet and the Dixie Chicks, a picture emerges.   Each of them came into my day bearing gifts.  Not all these gifts are wrapped nicely or appreciated by me.  Often gifts such as these are wrapped in a flaming brown paper bag that no one wants to find on their door step.  Finding it makes me angry.  I curse fate.  I blame myself.  It takes me time to see that in having nothing, I still have some thing.  I have only to learn to see these flaming gifts with a new set of eyes and with an open heart.

Thank you day for bringing me "obsequious, purple and clairvoyant"  for Dixie Chicks and Romeo and Juliet.  You reminded me that I do have something found in between all of you.  You reminded me that life is not experienced with the head but with the heart.  You reminded me that I am a work in progress and some days are just harder than others.  You reminded me not to get too hung up on figuring things out, finding the answer, judging others.  You showed me a world found in nothing and that nothing can never really be.

Monday, April 25, 2011


"Monday, I'm not ready for you."

I struggle to stay awake during the first hour of my work day.  A certain point behind my left eye starts throbbing.  I take off my glasses and give myself completely to rubbing out the ache with my fingertips before I realize that I'm doing all this in public.

Exactly, what is in this spot that it should ache so?  I soon discover that the front lobe, an area of judgment, foresight and voluntary movement is in the front of my brain.  I'm pretty sure that area isn't working at full capacity this morning and doesn't have a reason to hurt just yet.  Ah,  Broca's area. . . not only does this handle the spoken word, it also handles the written word.  I feel a certain pressure to come up with something to write about.  In my mind's eye, I get a mental picture that looks kind of like this:

If that doesn't explain a headache, I don't know what does. 

This pressure to come up with a topic, something meaningful and relevant is a pain this Monday morning.  I'm trying to connect my headache with some higher meaning, some greater relevance and significance.  Maybe a headache is just a head ache (even if it looks like a brain explosion.)  No symbolism, no greater relevance just a pain in the head.

Maybe this is exactly where its relevance lies.  Maybe it's relevant because it isn't relevant.  (If you don't have a headache before reading that sentence, you might have one now.)  Not everything is pregnant with meaning.  Things happen, situations are what they are.  Life isn't always neat and tidy like a novel or a blog entry.  Things don't begin and end with me.  Not everything taunts me from the sidelines of life and dares me to unlock the mysteries of existence. Some times things just are.

Reminding myself that I'm not the center of the universe comes as a relief.  The next logical question becomes, "Am I the center of my own inner universe."
Followed by a quick, " Do I want to be?"
Addressing the pain behind my eye, I toss it these two questions.  Pain devours the question without a thought.  I stand blinking as I stare at this vacuum, I have just created.  I now longer feel a headache.  I'm not even sure I feel a head with a brain in it sitting atop my shoulders.  Blink. . . . blink. . . I stand at the edge of an abyss.

Finally, these words rise to the surface, little air bubbles escaping a black primordial ooze,  "It doesn't matter."
This is not spoke by the voice of apathy.  Instead, this voice sounds like good old-fashioned common sense. "Forgetting oneself is the beginning and the end of our being."
The voice adds these words and takes me to another region of my brain, that of old memories.  It is here that I am momentarily detained.  I sit and watch.  Apparently, the martial arts action of the Kung Fu television show does not trigger nostalgic memories in the same way that the moments of confusing contradictory "zen" dialogue do.  I begin to replay a mental episode much like this:

My headache leaves as quickly as it came.  I realize that I've found something to write about after all.  I write about nothing.  It might be Monday but I've had much worse.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Morning Shower

 By now it's pretty obvious that I do some of my most interesting thinking while taking my morning shower.  The explanation would seem quite simple.  During my morning shower, my night brain is slowly awakening and is being replaced by my day brain.  I like my night brain better.  So, the best 10 minutes or so of my day is spent pondering the mystery of my life during my morning shower routine while night brain slowly gives way to day brain.

Unfettered or defined by clothing, a sleepy and some what dizzy me (thanks to the lingering gift of the Christmas shingles) climbs into a warm shower and lets the focused stream of water gently bring me to my senses.  Seemingly deep thoughts begin to visit my awakening brain. 

This morning, I had two solid insights or thoughts about myself and my place in the universe.

1.)  I feel compelled to write and to share it with others because in the act of doing so, I discover myself.

2.)  I am an extraordinary individual and so is most every body else.  The problem is a whole lot of people haven't discovered that about themselves and I often forget.

About the first. . .I often wonder if my public blog is a new form of embarrassment.  Shouldn't I be a little more guarded. . . a little less willing to bleed in words?  In the same thought, I'll also start wondering how to increase my readership. . . how to make my writing more relevant, more marketable. . .  Somehow the words keep coming.  They have a life of their own.  I am a mere conduit.  I rarely know in advance where they are going to take me.  I'm just a bystander.   The words march by.  Their value, their worth doesn't really matter.  They simply are.  They walk along side, ahead and behind me, graceful squiggly lines, symbols that string themselves together to form a meaning that is usually a complete surprise to me.  They create me.  I find a home within them.  This home is ever changing.  It's never big enough to hold me but it's home all the same.  I live here.

There are a lot of voices encouraging the practice of journaling.  I add mine to it.  If you feel at all inclined, write.  You don't have to share it with any one.  I know that like me, you'll find yourself in your words.  Patterns, themes emerge in your life that you never knew existed.  By writing about your thoughts and feelings, you will find parts of yourself.  It's a wonderful way to spend Just10 minutes with yourself.  It won't always feel wonderful.  Sometimes, meeting yourself in your words is painful.  It is a pain that serves a higher purpose.  Embrace it.  Write about it.

As for the second shower revelation, this odd thought often flits across the sound stage in my head, "You are an extraordinary individual."
I'm always the first one to argue with this.  "There you go again.  I don't feel extraordinary.  Actually, I feel a little less worthy than most people most of the time.  How full-of-yourself can you get?"  I have a tendency to mix pronouns when I talk to myself.  It makes perfect sense to me.  When I call myself, "you"  I can distance myself from the subject.  "I" gives me ownership.  Ownership isn't always a comfortable thing.

This morning, in the shower, I own myself.  I quiet the nay saying voices of self that crowded my head.  A calm quiet voice speaks over the dark void.  "You are an extraordinary individual.  Most people are.  They just need to discover this about themselves, accept it and start living as if it is true."  This I buy.  It feels right.

By now, my hair in a towel turban, I'm staring at myself in the bathroom mirror.  I line of frothy toothpaste drips from the corner of my mouth.  The eyes that look back at me are a combination of my mother's and my father's.  I see the imperfections, my wrinkled and flawed skin, the new creases in the corners of my eyes.  I also see my dimples, the welcoming softness of my expression even with the line of toothpaste.  "It's ok to enjoy being yourself, at least once in a while."
I know this is true this morning.  All the imperfections are not erased.  They are just part of a larger package.  They are not as important as my strengths.  How often I forget this.

I let my wet hair down and comb through it.  The gray is easy to see in this morning light.  They pop against the dark chestnut brown of my wet hair.  I smile this morning.  I like how my hair looks with these streaks of gray.  I smile at my reflection.

The morning continues to unfold like so many other Saturday mornings.  As I hurry the kids to get ready to run errands, I find myself losing my cool.  A system that I devised to help my son, failed to be followed.  My concern over what this means in a larger world dominates my better self.  I scold him.  It's my fear talking.  Less than a half hour later, my daughter fails to listen and process my explanation, one I was giving to try and make her life easier.  Again, I scold her but this time her father joins in as well.  All of us overreact to the situation.  We reach our destination in an angry silence.

Taking a few deep breaths, I try to regain some of my morning shower peacefulness.  Our daughter walks away to avoid us.  Her body telegraphs her anger.  I take a few minutes and suddenly find my feet walking toward her.  I bend down and quietly say, "I'm sorry we got off on a bad foot this morning.  Your father and I overreacted."
She looks at me with an open face.  I add, "It might be a good idea to say you're sorry to Dad."
She paused and pulls back,  "I don't feel like I did anything wrong."
I say, "Sometimes, a simple I'm sorry really helps make life easier.  Sometimes, it is the bigger person who can say I'm sorry."
The openness returns to her face and I spontaneously kiss her on her forehead and return to the details of  my Saturday morning errands.

Yet, I wonder where my words came from.   This must be some of the extraordinary aspects of myself.  I managed to get out of my own way long enough for it to take over and shine through.  "Yes, I am extraordinary.  My job is to remember that, go with it and to learn to open my eyes to the extraordinary in others."

I haven't been very good about acknowledging what a lot of the world has been observing this time of year, Lent.  Easter is tomorrow but this morning I'm very aware that it's Holy Saturday.  As this holy week, slides into Easter morning, I feel the hope of the reborn, the resurrected. Morning shower you've been very, very good to me.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Tomorrow is Another Day

I'm reading a book I hate but can't put down,  The Half Empty Heart by Alan Downs Ph.D. As I read it I often see myself in the pages.  I'm not comfortable with what I see but I can't look away.  In the evening, I'll sometimes read a sentence aloud and share it with my husband.  He roams these pages, these truths just like I do.  Maybe it is this that binds us most closely.  We approach life in similar ways.  Often we see pieces of the other in each other's eyes.

Yesterday, I read about self sabotage.  I really hated this chapter.  I've written one like it with my own life.  After reading several of the more profound sentences out loud, I turned to my husband and with a plaintive voice whine, " If you realize you've been doing this, sabotaging your life and you have been doing it for years, how do you catch yourself in time to stop yourself from doing it again?"
His head vigorously shakes a "no" and he says, "I don't know.  I just don't know."

I wanted him to tell me "How", to throw me a lifeline, provide a neat formula, plot a plan of action.  He did none of those things.  How could he?  In one breath I say, "I'm one of the cagiest people I know.  I can fool myself better than anyone.  I can justify almost anything in my own mind.  I don't want to do that any more.  I want to stop but I'm afraid I'll fool myself again."

My words hang in the air just above our heads.  They form a fragile line.  I reach for them.  They are just out of reach.  The meaning of the words has split our quiet evening.  Up until this moment,we've sat watching mindless TV.  We've busied ourselves, he with crossword puzzles and word jumbles, me with knitting instructions, recipes and reading this dreadful book.  Neither of us want this painful truth to break into our ordinary evening.

We try to distract ourselves with old Game Boys.  We each pick one up and play.  In between the repetitive noise that surrounds explosions and flashes of light, I pilot my spaceship through a universe full of hazards and certain death.  I don't last long in the fantasy world.  My spaceship is an easy target.  I am obliterated quickly, again and again.  This world is no place to hide and I know it.  I close the Game Boy and turn my attention to the confusing mob of characters in an unknown show.  I don't know who any of them are.  What's their back story, their motivation?  What's the point of the show?

I start to pepper my husband with questions.  He reacts a little like an old grizzly awakened rudely after a long winter slumber.  "I don't know," he says.  "I just don't know."

I know I'm being annoying but I can't seem to stop myself.  I know he can't know.  I want to connect.  I want the space between us to be full of sounds that mean something.  I don't know how to say that.  I don't know how to define what I want.  A lifetime has been spent separating myself from what I want and how I feel.  This can't fit in the space between us at least not tonight.

I try. I stop asking questions he can't answer.  I watch the show.  "I'd like to live in that town,"  I say.
Pictures of a pretty English coastal town flash across the screen.  Sheep graze in green pastures.  A cluster of buildings hug the hills that drop into a calm, teal sea.  A warm sun touches all.  "Yes," my grizzly partner says.  "But think of how wet and rainy it really is most of the time." 
He and his pessimism have crashed into my own.  Frustration rises and threatens to move my tongue.  I swallow quickly.  It tastes too familiar.

I sigh and say, "I'm tired and feeling very needy.  Will you come to bed with me?"
Normally, I go to bed first, leaving him with an hour of quiet solitude before he joins me.  He is more night owl than I.  "Sure, I'll lie down with you for a while."
Together we lie down in the dark.  The sheets feel cool against my skin.  I curl up slightly and concentrate on warming a small circle of comfort under the sheets and within my own heart.  I reach across the space between us and rest my hand on his chest.  His distant warmth soothes me and I quickly slide into sleep.

As my breathing slows and deepens, I think to myself, "Tomorrow is another day. . . another chance to try again. . . to feel again. . .to make mistakes and learn again.  I'll think about this again. . . tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Lost in My Mind

Worry crawled in the shower with me this morning.  I can think of  many things I'd rather find in my shower: Tom Selleck, Fred and Ginger, Rin Tin Tin. . .unbridled joy.  I spent a good part of the morning trying to shake this worry.  It held on fast.   As I eat my breakfast in front of the news, they broadcast a long shot of one of the Portland bridges.  I think,  "It would be really awful to be driving on that bridge when the big earthquake hits.  Maybe it'll hit right now."  I wait for the image on my screen to shake.  I start counting down from 10 -- 9 -- 8 -- nothing 2 -- 1 -- 0.  Still nothing.  Oh, so it's not happening now.  Maybe later today, next week, next month, maybe.

I try to distract myself by checking Facebook and my e-mail.  The computer is very slow.  I think, "Great it's got a virus.  Now what?!"  I recognize this as a form of negative thinking and try and change the channel.  I leave a little early for work, trying to give myself plenty of time.  Apparently, everyone else on my route decided to leave at the same time I did.  "Am I going to be late?" 
Just that quickly, I start to wonder if I'll be hit by another car this morning.  I become more vigilant and try to guess which of my fellow motorists might be my collision partner.  If not a car, then surely a meteorite.

By this time, I've reached the school zone I pass through every day.  The school speed light is not flashing.  Is it because I'm early or is the light malfunctioning and a motorcycle cop, almost hidden from view awaits my speeding?  I slow to 20 mph and then wonder if I'm going to make some driver behind me angry.  In this rage, he raises an imaginary sawed-off shotgun and takes aim at my head.

My worry is out of control.  I'm forced to ask, "Why? What is this insane worry trying to hide?"
I try to tell myself that I've got some real things to worry about but I can smell this as a cop-out from a mile away. 

By now, I'm sitting at the intersection right before school behind a line of cars and buses.  We begin the elaborate give and take of right-of-way and haltingly move forward.  The kids in the back of the bus in front of me are suddenly and keenly interested in something just to my right.  I look.  In a stranger's front yard an older couple sit in a large yard swing.  They appear to be in an intense conversation in an intimate moment.  The woman sits cross-legged facing the man.  The man sits facing straight ahead.  Head down he squints at the sun.  Is he smiling or crying?  I've seen enough.  I feel as if I've seen too much.  I blush and look back at the bus just in front of me.

The teens in the back of the bus are craning their necks to get a better look at this early morning moment between strangers.  From amidst the busy bobbing heads in the bus, a familiar face emerges.  We recognize each other in the same instant.  She slashes the air around her with vigorous waving.  My motions match hers.  We both wear big smiles.  She mouths the words, "I love you, Carol."  It's a code for her acceptance, her desire to connect.  She wears her heart on her sleeve and I realize that I do love her for that but I do not and some how can not mouth those same words back to her.  On the outside, I still smile.  Inside, I cry a little.

I wonder if I lack the capacity for this feeling.  I feel emotionally stunted this worry-filled morning.  It is as if the proverbial, breath-sucking cat has climbed on my chest as I slept and stole my capacity to feel from me as surely as it sucks the breath of infants in the nightmarish cradles of their own doom.  Just that quickly, I see worry for what it is.  It's a smokescreen, an earnest diversion that keeps me preoccupied and in the dark.  It tries to substitute as a feeling.  But what is it, really?

No longer expecting the big earthquake, Armageddon or a meteor falling from space to land on my van, I am left alone to face a problem that now has a name.  I am afraid to feel.  I've heard this before.  I've have known this before but never with the clarity that I seem to know it this morning.  Within seconds, I'm falling in pitch darkness.  Spinning in a familiar downward spiral of fear, anger, sadness and joy, I am lost in the well of feeling that suddenly opens up and I am falling.

As I fall, I realize how familiar this place is, this sensation.  I take a deep breath and let go.  After years of struggle, I am finally learning not to fight this dark well.  I may find myself in a frightening free fall of feeling but I've been here before and lived to tell the tale.   Falling still, I know that I am falling into the depths of my own heart.  At 7:38 a.m.  on April 19, 2011, it is about time.  In the darkness, I steal a look at what might lie below me.  A dark curtain slowly opens and reveals a mirror.  A distant source of light illuminates this mirror.  In it, I see myself, flailing as I fall.  This is what I'm falling into. 

I continue my day without the worry that woke with me.  There are many real concerns in my life and they have nothing to do with meteors.  Worry won't change any of them.    More important, than money and the hundreds of problems the lack of it brings,  going through life without being fully present, without feeling all there is to feel would be the greatest loss of all.  Instead of losing myself in my mind, I try losing myself in the day, in the moment. I begin falling into me.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Sweet Bird of Youth

This was me in the summer of 1984.  I was 26.  Ah, sweet youth.  Sometimes, I really miss you.

There are a lot of negative things about aging.  Your skin distorts and you start looking more like a lizard or reptile than a human.  Chicken neck begins to rear its ugly head.  You develop wrinkles in places you never expected.  You look into a mirror and the person that looks back at you is so much older than you believe yourself to be.

You can no longer pull an all-nighter without some serious consequences that are about as close to brain damage as you want to get.  You learn how to fall asleep sitting up while watching TV.  More foods disagree with you.  You find reasons not to stoop down or pick things up off the floor.  Birthdays can actually be depressing.  You wonder,  how can you still think your young on the inside when the outside packaging is screaming middle-aged or senior citizen. 

When AARP started mailing me junk mail, I was offended.  I'm not ready for this stage of life.  I'm too young for this.  I don't know who that person in the mirror is but they are way older than me. 
"Slow down, time!  You've got the devil on your back."

The days start to flash by with a wild ferocity.  This can't be happening.  I'll wake up and I'll be 26 again.  The world will be new and fresh.  Life will lay before me, a pretty ribbon of opportunity.  I'll have so many options.  I'll dance until dawn.  I'll reach for the moon and when I fall short, I'll simply try again.  There will be enough time to do it all, be all, see all. 

But this is not a dream.  In the morning, the face in the mirror reminds you how quickly things pass.  The mirror's image looks as you with sad, knowing eyes,
"Seize the day" it says.
"Time passes so quickly.  Time has its limits and so do you.  Accept.  Enjoy.  Don't waste a moment."

It's easy to get lost in the details of the day.  Seizing the day, is often forgotten.  It is harder for the older mind to hold onto anything for too long.  It's easier to forget, to lose track.  This proves to be a mixed blessing.  Sweating the details, worrying over the unimportant is much harder when the mind keeps losing track. There are just too many other more important things taking up the space between the neurons.  Forgetting does have an upside.

There are other benefits that are more valuable.  We trade our youth for a greater perspective.  Things that we once thought so important are no longer a concern.  Simple things take on greater significance.  It takes less to make me happy.  I am so much more tolerant than I ever was when young.    I can sit and enjoy the antics of youth, full of gratitude for the gift of a larger perspective all the while enjoying the enthusiasm and intensity of the young.

As a child and young adult, I was so shy and afraid of what others might think.  Age has given me a great gift.  I often completely lose my self-consciousness.  I am more at peace with who I am, flaws and all than I ever was when young.  "When I am old, I shall wear purple". . . and it won't bother me that others might stare.  I won't care.

When I was young, I had my youth.  There were more options because I had more time to waste.  Now, time is at a premium and it gets more precious each day.   Now,  I scan the news paper obituaries like my parents did before me.  Death seems to come so early for so many.  How far is it away from me?  

Despite the wrinkles and the scary old woman that stares back at me from the mirror, the best gift age has given me is a greater satisfaction with self than I would have dreamed possible when young. I know that the details of my present life make this seem very ironic but it's still true. As much as I sometimes long for the energy of youth, as much as I sometimes long to have the ribbon of opportunity unfurl before me in a seemingly endless line, the gifts of middle-age have been worth the sacrifice of youth.    Life beckons,  I'm burning daylight.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Armchair Therapy Thursday

Disclaimer: Please, note:  I am not a therapist nor do I play one on TV.  I do, however, dispense therapeutic advice and diagnoses from the comfort of my scruffy brown recliner.  I call this practice: Armchair Therapy and am declaring today Armchair Therapy Thursday so that I may share some of my insights into the human mind.

I am an armchair therapist.  From this position I have dispensed my psychological wisdom (or is it pure hokum?)  Here are a few of my favorite armchair psychology pearls:

Celebrity Dissociative Disorder
Tiger-Man Syndrome
My Rocket is Bigger Than Your Rocket (a form of primitive cognitive distortion.)
Sandbox Thinking
Flushing One's Mind . . . or Changing the Channel
"You're-crappin'-on my-happy" (A form of proactive negative thought repellent.)
"What is wrong with them?" (Another strong defense mechanism and that let's you crawl into the heads of others while avoiding one's own.)
"I'm-better-than-that thinking"  (It's nice to feel less messed up than the reality TV stars.  I'm sure that why they continue to have a viewing audience.)

My list is a lengthy one.  Occasionally, instead of analyzing unsuspecting celebrities and strangers, I will use this Armchair Therapy in the service of my own psyche.  Yesterday, I created my own brand of "music therapy."  I was sufficiently impressed with the results of my own limited pseudo-clinical trial, that I share it here with you.

The sky was painted a battleship grey as a steady rain poured over my so-called spring.  I wore a leaden overcoat, anchored to earth by a pair of grey concrete overshoes.  Suddenly, a mood-lifting miracle poured out of my radio:  Fleetwood Mac's "Go Your Own Way."  Without a moment's hesitation, I crank up the volume and start moving to the music.  I shed my leaden overcoat and concrete overshoes and run naked into Happy Town.

I know why this song makes me happy.  It takes me back to 1977 or 78.  The world is a wonderful maze of highways and byways to the owner of a cute little 1972 Toyota Carina.  The Carina is on the right.

I loved this car like it was a sister.  It was my compact, economy love.  I could fill it with gas for less than $5.  It had an AM/FM radio and a wonderful little bin under the glove box.  I stocked it full of supplies for impromptu picnics.  Sure, the fan belt sometimes slipped and squealed and a sharp turn to the left could send a few of the wheel bearings howling but its flaws only added to its charm. 

Within my little capsule to freedom, I could take off and explore the world beyond our little town.  I'd crank up the radio loudly whenever a good song played.  When I hear Fleetwood Mac's "Go Your Own Way"  I'm skimming over the roads alone in my cute little car.  The windows are down.  The waves and dips in the county road I'm on make me feel like I'm flying.  My heart expands and takes the world in a warm embrace. Ah, the power of memory and a single song. 

There are a few other songs that put me back in this particular driver's seat and always lift my mood:

"Carry On Wayward Son" by Kansas
"Only the Good Die Young" by Billy Joel
"More than a Feelin"' by Boston
"Jesus, Is Just Alright" by the Doobie Brothers
"American Pie" by Don McLean
"Theme from Rocky" Bill Conti
"Fanfare for the Common Man" John Williams
Star Trek Movie Theme Music -- Jerry Goldsmith

My selections may be completely wrong for you but they are what make me feel happy.  If  a simple song is all that it takes, turn up the sound,  I'm ready.  "Do you hear that rain?  Crappy April?  Dark, foreboding skies?  Mortgage holders?  Sullen Teen Agers?  I've got the happy music in me.

Play it again, Fleetwood.  Turn up the tunes and get happy.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Possum Invasion

And now, for something completely different. . . Possums are planning to take over the earth!  Don't let their small size fool you.  They have been secretly gathering and are now bolding appearing where they haven't ventured before.  At night they creep in our back yard and look in our windows.  They have anger in their beady little eyes and are plotting revenge in retaliation for being our road kill for years.

Recently, they've even ventured in our front yard and waddled up our drive way.  I'm sure they were projecting a mental barrage against the humans living inside.  I could feel their evil thoughts.  Don't think they are not clever.  Just look at what they've been doing.
They've been hiding in cans to get inside our homes.

Possum Special Forces (PSF) have been busy training. 

These evil monster have even been disguising themselves as human babies.  Their evil knows no bounds.
Beware.  Do not take this lightly.  If we humans had been road kill for some master race of alien overlords, we would be plotting their overthrow.  Wouldn't we? 

Remain vigilant.  The PSF may be operating in your neighborhood.  It's only a matter of time before they rule us all.  If you're still not convinced, look at this.  This is their youth group, the members of the future PSF.

O, the horror, the horror.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Hallelujah Anniversary

Tomorrow is our 15th wedding anniversary.  I want to write about this occasion but I find it very difficult to put into words.  This morning as I wrestled with words, trying to pull the right ones from the verbal soup in my head, one of my favorite songs starts to play on the car radio, "Hallelujah" written by Leonard Cohen.

My head struggles to really understand this song.  It is more complex than it first seems.  . . "the baffled king composing, Hallelujah."  The baffled king is the fallible, King David.  It is also me.  David has always been my kind of hero.  As a young boy, he is the shepherd who fights Goliath and wins.  David is chosen by God.  Saul plots his death but the love of Jonathan, Saul's son, and the people warn David and he escapes with his life.  As an adult, David is a man that sends the husband of his lover who is pregnant with David's child into battle to be abandoned in the battlefield and killed.  David is larger than life.  So are his problems and triumphs.

David suffers the consequences of his sins.  He also remains blessed by God.  I think of my own life and relationships.  How I help and sometimes hinder others.  How they help and sometimes hinder me.  I hear this song this morning and it captures how I feel about our anniversary and our marriage.  How can I put that into words?  ". . . the baffled king composing Hallelujah."  What my head doesn't know and can not describe is known and understood by my heart.

The music rises and falls.  It dances in smooth graceful circles.  The sound is melancholy, repentent and yet heavy with poignant memories.   This morning the words of the song show me the sacred in the profane and the profanity within the sacred.  This morning it knows how I feel even when I do not. . . "from his lips a broken Hallelujah."

These last few years have been almost biblical.  I often feel more like Job than David but today, I am David.  I am conqueror.  I am victim.  I am sinner.  I am God's chosen.  All these things are true at once.

My thoughts and memories rise and fall with the music.  They reach a crescendo of feeling that spills into my day and eventually onto this page. . . "from my lips falls a broken Hallelujah."  These last 15 years have been quite a ride.  Our lives have not been dull.  Sometimes we stumble through life together and sometimes apart even though we remain side by side.  Marriage has shown me the heart of paradox.  It has broken me open in ways, I would never have anticipated.  I have shed tears because of it.  I have known the greatest joy because of it.  Life provides me with constant opportunities to decide how I will live out my commitment.  Each day, I say, "I do" again.

 Years ago, I saw this statute when the Vatican Art Exhibit toured North America.  If marble could breathe, this David would have.  If it could talk, what tales would it tell.  I stood before it that day filled with feeling and very few words.  Within the statutes presence, the museum goers spoke in hushed tones.  We were in the presence of something sacred, something that could not be captured in words or fully contained within marble.  Life, art, touched those who stopped to take it in.  I too have been touched and sculpted by this marriage of 15 years.  I say, I do again.  "Hallelujah, Hallelujah." 

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Tribute to My Daughter

A week ago today, my daughter turned 13. I am very proud of the young lady she is becoming. Her sunny disposition and outlook is a constant blessing. She is so low maintenance that she doesn't always receive her fair share of attention. While she is aware of this fact, she doesn't seem to hold it against us.

Where I am cynical and sarcastic, she is almost always kind and forgiving. She has a wonderful ability to accept people as they are. She's become my moral compass, encouraging me to be better than I was before. She is a delightful human being.

Not long ago, it occurred to me that she possesses many of the character traits of my maternal grandmother. Gram tended to be a happy person. She didn't waste time bemoaning fate or the darker side of life. She rarely spoke ill of another. People were naturally drawn to her. She was a calm, happy presence. 

Sometimes, I expect too much from her, projecting my own "femaleness" on to her.  I try to fix what's wrong with me by expecting her to be better than I am.  This seems a rather common dynamic between mothers and daughters.  Sons are less complicated.  They seem to require more maternal involvement.  At least mine does.

I will be ever grateful to my first born for opening my life to the love between mother and child.  She has been a gift that keeps on giving.  As I sit here now, trying to find words that can give adequate tribute, I can't find them.  I realize that I can do a better job feeling gratitude for both my children.   Life gets busy, I feel tired and hurried.  I don't always honor my children as the gifts they truly are.  Sometimes, I fail to take the opportunities to actively guide and nurture them.  Sometimes, I'm locked inside my own head, distant and unavailable.  This I want to change.  I'm a good-enough mom but there is room for improvement.

Time to get back to a more regular practice of Just10.  We need to spend quality time with each other especially now.  The connections we have with each other will be what sustains us.  It really doesn't matter how much money we have or don't have.  What matters is how we experience each other.  The more positive, loving experiences we have together the stronger we'll be.

My simple plan is to make sure I spend 10 minutes with each family member and following the guidelines I created when I first hatched this idea.  I'm going to also add a simple practice that the cynic in me has long resisted.  Every day, I will begin it by thanking God for my children and husband.  In the evening during our dinner meal, we'll each share at least one thing we're grateful for that day.  I'm beginning to understand that what you focus on becomes your reality.  It's time to turn a kinder gaze on life, on my life.  My daughter has been lighting the way.  It's time to learn something from her.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

My Creative Son

Today, I'm at the library with my number one son. On the way over he asked, "Can we have our ten minutes now?"
This question is usually followed by his asking, "What do you want to talk about?"
To which I reply, "I don't know, it's your dime."
Once we get this formulaic ritual out of the way, he begins talking about almost anything.

Today he said, "I think I get my writing skills from you. I'm a good writer, when I want to write. Sometimes I don't. At school, they mess up my creativity by making me stick to a plot."
To this I reply, "I know what you mean."
He then asked, Do you ever mistake a cat for a fox? I really want to see another fox so sometimes, when I'm looking, I think a cat is a fox for a second. It's not but I keep looking."

Sticking to a plot, an idea, a point isn't always an easy thing, especially when your mind floats from one topic to the next. My number one son, is one of a kind. Sticking to a plot or idea is hard for him unless it's important to him. For something important he is very focused. This is great if we both agree on what's important but we often see importance very differently.

Recently, he was having a lot of trouble at school. He'd been assigned several new assistants who just didn't mesh with his style. When I'd ask him what was wrong, he said, "They just don't respect me. They treat me like a special kid."
How do I tell him that he is a special kid but that being a special kid can't be an excuse? It seems a rather subtle distinction. It's not.

Number one son is not a typical functioning kid. He never has been. While only hours old, I knew that he was not like most other babies. When he looked at me, I could see it in his eyes. He'd be keenly aware of his surroundings for a while (about 20 minutes). After taking everything in, he would turn his gaze inward and shut down. The world was often too much for him. The noise, the sights, the smells were overwhelming.

He didn't talk until he was well past his 2nd birthday. I began to wonder if something was wrong with his hearing but I knew there wasn't. I wanted some explanation as to why he had yet to speak. When he did start talking, it was in full sentences. I think the first thing he ever said was, "Mom, when are we going to eat?" He'd ask that same question over and over, following me around the house from room to room. Without realizing it, I'd drift from room to room hoping to shake him. When he was three, I had to ask the pediatrician if his behavior was normal. The pediatrician seemed to have been waiting for my question. Soon we were meeting with a panel of experts who tested my son. The panel decided to go with Aspergers as a diagnosis. It opened more doors. A lot of his behavior's fit. A lot did not. He really was too unique to be so easily defined.

He still is impossible to define. He has some social blind spots. He has less emotional armor than many kids. According to the school, Asperger's no longer qualifies him to receive special ed. He is now granted special ed due to a diagnosis of bipolar disorder.

Labels can be hard to carry. I've tried to explain to him that some things will always be hard for him but that he has talents and gifts that are his alone. The world needs people like him, who think outside the box. Sometime, the "inside-the-box thinkers" need a fresh perspective. Most importantly, I've tried to teach him that while his diagnosis/label helps define him in some ways, it is not an excuse and it's not who he is. It's not a free pass to act less than honorably.

My clever-as-a-fox son sometimes tries to use his "specialness" as an excuse. Last time he was tested by the school psychologist, his IQ was a 140. I had to wonder if it might have been higher if his attention didn't wander so easily. He often matches his wits and cunning with those who are much less wily. When these are authority figures, it doesn't always go well for him. His life isn't easy.

I'm not as smart as he is but I understand him. We seem to have a supernatural connection. If I awake during the night unable to sleep, within minutes, he awakens and finds me. The other night we both had a nightmare at the same time.
Sometimes he says out loud what I've been thinking.

As I sit and write these words, I try to decide what to write next. Do I express my concern for this child who may be too attached to his mother to really connect with kids his own age? How do I help him fly on his own without leaving him feeling abandoned? My mind drifts back to our Just10 minutes this morning. Maybe I'm trying to force a plot upon his story. Maybe it is I who needs to learn to be more of a flexible thinker.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Sharing the Bittersweet Paradox

Lately, I've felt like I've been walking a tightrope between hope and despair.  Part of me wants to be strong for strength's sake.  Loved ones depend upon me.  I depend upon myself.  The weary part of me wants to give up.  It is drawn into a litany of "what ifs" and "I'm not good enough."  In the bottom of a well, I look up for signs of life above me.  I see nothing.

Thankfully, perceptions are not always accurate.  Feelings sometimes lie.  This morning, I opened up one of the many books I drag home from the library.  I'm a book glutton, always looking for more.  Yet, in my silly gluttony, words often jump off the page at just the right moment.  This seems less coincidence and more of a message sent just to me. 

This is what I read this morning in the book: The Exquisite Risk by Mark Nepo.

"One of the great difficulties in our human journey is our struggle to withstand and penetrate the nature of  [this] paradox.  So often, we fall to one side or the other, spending much of our energy either trying to avoid our suffering or being trapped in it.  When avoiding our suffering, we enter the colder realms of numbness and addiction.  When trapped within the labyrinth of our pain, we are subject to reenact the tensions of our suffering over and over.  In this struggle, not just to endure our suffering but to penetrate it, we can so easily slip from facing life and become actors in the drama of our bleeding, running from what pains us or constantly reliving it.  For sure, we all experience both the avoidance and the reliving, yet, when blessed,  we're able to drop below our pain and our avoidance of it, and briefly taste the joy at sorrow at once.  Moments like this give us a glimpse of the underlying freshness from which all feelings get their power.

It was Carl Jung who said, "Neurosis is the substitute for legitimate suffering"  What I think he means is that we tend to occupy ourselves with worrisome activities and preoccupations in order to divert ourselves from the necessary task of feeling what is ours alone to feel.  Rather than feel our loneliness, we run nakedly to strangers.  Rather than feel the brunt of being abandoned , we will construct excuse after excuse to reframe the relationship.  Rather than feel our sadness and disappointment, we will replay the event to ourselves and other like a film with no ending.  It is this cultivation of neurosis and all its scripts that feeds the drama of our bleeding"    (Nepo p. 34)

These words cut straight to my heart.  My heart understood what my mind had forgotten.  In that moment, I decided to sit quietly and wait for hope and despair to meet.  Restlessness left me.  Gone was the desire to run from my feelings.  My mind has expected to face unbearable pain.  The pain that filled the space was mine and mine alone.  It was bittersweet and tolerable.  One side pain, one side peace, satisfaction, hope; they existed side by side within.  I sat with the silence and then got up to start my day aware of this exquisite paradox that I am, that we all are.

Words have not come easily lately.  I wanted to write something upbeat, funny, inspiring, helpful.  Instead, I feel like an empty void.  It's hard to be funny when you're feeling sad.   I wanted to be rescued from my life.  I wanted to run from the cold hard reality of losing our home, of expecting not to have a job much longer, of not being to provide adequately for my family, from all the disappointments and aftershocks of misfortune. 

It is a heavy load to carry.  As much as I try to reframe my experience and wring some thing positive from it, there are times when circumstance warrants sadness.  As much as I try to soldier on, the truth is sometimes it's really hard.  Sometimes, I feel very sad about all that has happened and will happen.  Unfortunately, I have swung back and forth between denial and painful rumination.  It hasn't been helpful.

What seems to be most helpful is to simply admit it.  To sit with the feelings and let them tell me what they've come to say and then to honestly share them.  The sharing helps me make sense out of what seems senseless.  In between the feelings falling onto the page, a faint picture begins to emerge.    If I remain patient, honest and open, I begin to glimpse something wonderful hiding behind the sadness.  Together they make up the fabric of life, of my life.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A Month Without the Gods

 Yesterday, while reading, I stumbled across Japanese mythology's "month without the gods."  This phrase fascinated me and I wanted to learn more.

Here is what Wikipedia says:  "Kannazuki also Kaminazuki or Kaminashizuki) is a traditional name for the tenth month in the traditional Japanese calendar.
The name can be translated literally as "the month when there are no gods". In Shinto tradition it was said that the eight million gods of Japan left their shrines and congregated annually at Izumo Taisha. There the month was known as Kamiarizuki, "the month when the gods are present".

There is one god, Ebisu or Hiruko, who is the god of fishermen, good luck, workers and the health of children.   He is a happy fellow who was born disfigured or crippled due to his mother's transgressions during the marriage ritual.  Hiruko literally means "leech child".  He struggled to survive.  When he neared his third birthday and still couldn't stand, he was cast into the sea in a boat of reeds.  He was found ashore and well cared for by his new people.  Their care of him helped him survive many hardships.  He grew bones and was able to stand.  Although still crippled and slightly deaf, he was made the god, Ebisu on his third birthday.  Since he remained happy, he is called the mirthful god.  I love how he is happy even though rejected by his own mother.  I love how he misses the summons to leave earth because he is hard of hearing.  I love how he remains available during the "month without gods."

I've been trapped in my own "month without the gods."  I needed to be reminded that "gods/God still walks among us, just like one of us or maybe even "less than one of us."   I needed to be shown a way to triumph over my limitations and handicaps.  I needed to "grow bones" so that I can stand.  Thanks, Hiruko for limping into my day.

Monday, April 4, 2011

No Envy, No Fear

The inspiration fairies that live in my head have been on vacation.  Today, as I was searching for solace among the pretty things caught on the world wide web, I came across this song.  It spoke to me on a rainy, Monday.