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.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Just Shoot Me Now

(This photo shows Maria Callas playing the part of Medea.)

Some days I don't want to take Just 10 for myself or any one else.  It can get in the way of my denial.  The veil of optimism that I force myself to wear slipped this morning.    Depending on others for shelter is not an easy thing to do especially with two children and a husband who are also suffering the pangs of loss.    We spent the weekend at moms.  She was an excellent and gracious host.    Unfortunately, we got a small taste of what looms in our future.  My mantra became:  “Just shoot me now.”

To accept dependence with grace and dignity is a very tall order.  I am humbled before the task.  Life is not for the faint of heart.  The life I have is not the life I wanted or thought I wanted.  This is not a chapter I would have written for myself.  If I wrote it for another I would make sure it had a happy ending.  From where I stand now happy endings would seem to require an act of God. 

For some reason, as I write these words I remember the ancient Greek Play, Medea by Euripides.  It tells the tale of a woman scorned.  Married to Jason, Medea reacts violently to the news of his betrayal.  She kills her two sons.  At the end of the play, she prevents Jason from holding the bodies of his sons by suddenly appearing in a flying chariot (deus ex machina) that whisks them away and out of his grasp.  In the end of Medea, the chorus says, 

"Manifold are thy shapings, Providence!
Many a hopeless matter gods arrange.
What we expected never came to pass,
What we did not expect the gods brought to bear;
So have things gone, this whole experience through!"

When I re-read these lines, I could see why the current situation echoes Medea somewhere deep and dark in my psyche.  When I first read Medea, I was introduced to the “deus ex machina.”  This is a literary term that refers to the sudden appearance of an unlikely thing, person or event that solves a problem that looked impossible to solve.

Wikipedia  (It not as cheesy a reference as you might think) defines it as:

[from the] Latin: "god out of the machine"; plural: dei ex machina) is a plot device whereby a seemingly inextricable problem is suddenly and abruptly solved with the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability, or object.

If it worked for Medea, might it work for me?  I seriously doubt it.  God doesn’t seem to really work that way.  Years later a dude named  Samuel Coleridge developed a term,  “the suspension of disbelief” that readers or audiences need to utilize in order to lose themselves within literary works that display plots or plot devices that have little basis in reality.  Bet you didn’t know you were going to get an English lesson today.

“The temporary acceptance as believable of events or characters that would ordinarily be seen as incredible. This is usually to allow an audience to appreciate works of literature or drama that are exploring unusual ideas.”  (Thanks to this web site for this succinct definition.

Both devices fail me now.  I am left alone with the stark unpleasantness of our current situation.  I cower before it.  Hope does not spring eternal.  I struggle to resurrect it.  May be another day or another time.  No deus ex machina here.

I am not Medea.  I can not sacrifice my children for revenge.  It would be a waste of time to nurse feelings of betrayal.  And yet, there is a part of me that feels betrayed.  My life isn’t supposed to play out like this.  This is worse than I expected.  No chariot appears to whisk me away.  My disbelief defies suspension.

In the background, one of the Star Trek movies plays on TV.  Star Trek story lines are wonderful examples of the suspension of disbelief and of the deus ex machina.  I still find most of the stories delightfully compelling.  It’s always been a way to avoid reality.  When I was thirteen, there was a moment when I was sure that when I grew up I could get a job as a communications officer on the starship Enterprise.  Reality has a sharp and cruel bite. 

In the world of Star Trek, characters display an exotic mixture of weakness and strengths. They demonstrate what it means to be human and humane.  They pose the possibility of a brighter future.  They show an earth and many planets combined in a federation of unity. Still, they are not free from hardship, battles or enemies.  The fate of the universe sometimes hangs in the balance.   They muddle through the timeless battle of good against evil, of man against himself, of man against nature.  They deal with fantastical powers and situations.  They expose characters who are totally involved in life. 

I envy these characters their fiction.   I look at my life and shudder as I try not to escape it.  My soul wants a holiday.  I don’t want to feel this sadness.  Concern for my children results in my having less patience with them.  The irony is not lost on me.  I want to dull my senses to the pain they feel.  

At first, I try and use these words to escape.    They aren’t having any of it.  Instead they make the problems clearer. “What would a hero do?”  I argue with this idea.  I don’t want to be a hero.  I want someone in fiction to do it for me.  

“Beam me up, Scotty!  This planet is hostile.”

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Figment of My Imagination

Ah, the life of a lowly staff assistant.  Today, I started to wonder if I'm really a figment of my own imagination.  Increasingly, I feel invisible.  People seem to look right through me.  I've spent almost an entire school year at my job and only a few people actually know my name.    I greet them warmly and try and learn their names.  I even make sure to say hi to the janitor.  This is a person I prefer to have in my corner.  You never know when such a connection may prove valuable.   Unfortunately, learning the names of their employees, seeing them and greeting them isn't a skill that comes easily to those on the top of the local food chain.

They do have a lot on their plate.  Between students, parents and staff they are pulled in a lot of different directions.  Working with a class of employee that is invisible may be a coping strategy.  How can they know that I'm not that different from them?   It's easier to make hard decisions that affect employment, housing, food on our table when you don't see the people you're impacting.

A gaggle of English teachers hold private court.  They look at my entrance into the room as an intrusion.   They can't know that I have as many or more credit hours in English as they do.  Their circle isn't as elite as they seem to think. Their education is not a protection against poverty.  Circumstances, fate, bad luck, bad choices aren't magically kept at bay.  Education isn't the garlic against the vampires of life.  Wait! Those are figments of my imagination as well.

Today, I wanted to find out what hours we will be paid for on two upcoming late-start days.  We've been told that on the last two days of school we will be paid for 2 of the 3 hours the students will be there.  We are to  adjust our schedules accordingly.  Since other staff don't know what is expected of the two late start days, I had the audacity to ask.

Me:  "J.  Do you know what hours we're expected to work on the late start days next week?"
J: (If looks could kill, I'd be dead.) "Is your student here then?  If so, then you'll be here."\\
She turned her back to me.  I should have walked away.
Me:  "I'm sorry but I don't really understand."
J: (With another deadly look.) "Doesn't your student need you?"
Me:  "He doesn't require constant supervision and he is capable of taking a test on his own."
J." Well, I don't know then.  I think you're supposed to be here."
I was starting to feel a hole burning through my solar plexus.  The invisible death rays from her eyeballs were beginning to take a toll.  I didn't have an answer and now I was beginning to have a hole in my psyche. I felt small and very insignificant.

I never got a chance to express my real question, "How many hours can I count on being paid for on those   days?"   I was embarrassed to ask it that directly.  I didn't want to betray how desperate things are.  I didn't want to have be concerned with a pay for an hour or two.  I didn't want it to equal how much gas I can buy and how many miles it will take me.   I'm not trying to be a slacker but I don't want to work for free especially when I'm already invisible.  It doesn't give me anything to deposit in the invisible bank.  Wait, I'm not invisible.  I really don't exist.
When the classified staff kept finding the staff lounge used for other activities, it was suggested that I contact the person responsible for scheduling and let him know that it was affecting staff members.    I've never gotten a response.  I expected as much but I'm still disappointed.  Maybe I really don't exist?  Maybe my body is trapped in a coma prison or maybe I seem brain dead and my mind has created this life for me to keep me occupied while people argue over whether or not to pull the plug?

At lunch today, I sat with a woman my age.  Her face is lined with exhaustion and resignation.  She works closely with a child that is very limited.  Day after day, she cares for this child.  The teacher she has worked with all year does not believe in addressing her by her name.  She is reduced to the word: staff or aide.  I smiled and told her, "How do you like being called the "n" word?"  We laughed only slightly.  This hits too close to home. Being invisible or not existing is preferable to this.

 Kindness costs so little but could yield so much.   Even if you don't feel it, act kind any way.  Life will become a lot easier.  Smile.  Notice the garbage man, the senior citizen greeting you at Wal-mart or wiping trays in some fast food joint dressed in a ridiculous uniform.  You never know if some day you'll disappear and a simple act of acknowledgment or kindness will bring you back to life.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Call me a glutton for punishment.

No, I'm not referring to the song, "Both Sides Now".   Sister Ruth had the 8th grade class learn and sing it.   It's not a bad memory.    What I am referring to my desire to learn more about my economic class through reading.  The library contained a book by David K. Shipley called The Working Poor: Invisible in America. Once spotted, I had to check it out and bring it home.  It's not the cheeriest of reads.  It is, however, strikingly informative.  I've been wallowing in some pretty grim statistics. 

As fate would have it, as I've been reading Shipley's book, I also read a New York Times article about a new book by Martin Seligman called Flourish.  Seligman is considered a founder of the positive psychology movement.  He came up with the term s"learned helplessness" to describe the conditioned response to arbitrary or inconsistent punishment and reward.  Shipley has noted this phenomenon among the poor.  I've had personal experience with it. 

 So how can a person, living below the federal poverty level, looking forward to learning how to live within a small trailer upon losing their home, without a lot of job prospects due to age, training and economy, how can that "person" flourish?  Flourishing seems a pretty ambitious goal.  At the very least, how do I look at the bright side in a situation that doesn't offer up a light side very readily?

Seligman, has formulated a set of five crucial elements of well being.

1.) positive emotion
2.) engagement (the feeling of being lost in a task)
3.) positive relationships
4.) purpose and meaning
5.) accomplishment

Seligman says, "Well-being is a combination of feeling good, as well as actually having meaning, good relationships and accomplishments."
Now, if I identify money as THE accomplishment, I'm in a heap of trouble.  If, instead, I use a positive viewpoint to define accomplishment more broadly, then I've got something to work with.

Seligman's ideas slap up against Shipley's book once again.  Flourishing for the poor would not seem an easy task.  It might even seem an impossible one.  Human beings rarely fit neatly into any theory or definition.  Working class individuals living below the federal poverty level aren't easily sorted into myths or anti-myths regarding how they got there.  The reasons are often varied and can't be attributed to just bad choices or outside circumstances.  In most cases, it's an elaborate interplay between self-inflicted and unjust systems and biases that continue to perpetuate "the of cycle poverty". (I'm sure I've read or heard of this some where but I've been referring to the set of circumstances and psychological profiles that combine to keep the poor "spinning their wheels" in the muck and mire of inadequate income as the cycle of poverty long before I rejoined the ranks of the poor.)

Seligman surprises me when he notes that people for whom good fortune comes too easily also experience "learned helplessness".  So both the poor and those with "too much good luck" experience the same feeling.  Apparently, it's not about the achievement.  It's about the path one takes to get there.

It is safe to assume that people hovering near or below the poverty level aren't racing out to pick up a copy of Seligman's Flourish.  Probably even fewer are reading Shipley's The Working Poor.  Who wants to rub their nose in their own misery?    Are the ideas and information provided by these two different books without merit?  What can be learned here?

Just suppose that as a society, we shift our focus.  We alter our definition of success.  We learn to value the things that are non-material, not financial.  Instead of the big house, new cars in the driveway and great vacations away from high powered jobs, we define accomplishment by the amount of personal satisfaction the things we do give us.  We value the quality of our relationships and not the quantity.  What if we define our worth, not by what jobs we have or what measurable achievements we've made but by who we are and how much enjoyment we find in life through the expression of our unique strengths and spirit?

If both rich and poor alike can experience "learned helplessness" the financial piece seems irrelevant.  As much as I'd like this "revelation" to take me to the bank with a huge deposit, I can't kid myself.  Being poor in America isn't the same as being poor in a third world country.  In some ways, it's worse.  Our dominant culture is awash with advertisements preaching to us about what we must have or buy in order to make our lives better.  We labor under the American Dream trying to achieve it when in reality few ever do.  It's very existence can make us feel like failures and hopelessly inadequate.  It's time to try another way.  It's time to redefine success and what it means to be satisfied in life.  Once the poor and the wealthy work together to dissolve the arbitrary and imaginary walls that separate us, we can devote ourselves to the advancement of all people and walk confidently into a brighter future.  One can dream can't they?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Ten Minutes

"Mom, Can we have our 10 minutes now?" A small voice asks from behind the driver's seat. 
I sigh quietly and turn off the radio.  I don't like having Just 10 minutes while I drive.  I can't give complete attention but some days are busy and a Just 10 while driving is the best I can do.

"What do you want to talk about?" he says. 
He often begins this way.  It's become part of the ritual. 
I reply with my standard response, "I don't know what do you want to talk about.  After all it's your dime."  I always say this. 

Beside me in the passenger seat my husband snores quietly.  Behind me and to my right, my daughter's head rests against the window.  She is also asleep.  It's just my son and I who are awake.

My son asks, "How was your Saturday?"  He'd spent the day with dad while daughter and I spent the day and night at Grandma's.    I provide a quick and simple summary.  "We stopped in Salem and got your present." 
I know he'll be especially eager to know we did this.  His birthday is tomorrow.
"We ate lunch, drove to Grandmas, went into Stayton and checked out the library and stopped at the Dollar Tree to buy wrapping paper and a card.  What did you and Dad do?"
The ball is back in his court, where it should be.  He provides me an equally concise summary of their day.  He is just picking up momentum and begins bouncing from topic to topic.  I listen with one ear only.  I note how automatic my driving is becoming and promise to pay better attention to son and to road.

The boy in the back seat suddenly asks, "Are you tired, Mom?" 
"Yes," I say.  "I'm really tired."
I think back over the busy weekend, how much work and upheaval we created.  We'll be moving down to my mothers for the summer months, maybe longer.  This last weekend, we began the transition.  The magnitude of this move feels overwhelming.  I can't wrap myself around it.  I swing from being hopeful to feeling crushed.  This swinging is exhausting.  How can I prepare myself, let alone my family for this challenge?  There is no guidebook.  The fall from middle class into poverty has been both slow and abrupt.  The farther we fall, the harder it is to climb back up.

"Mom," says the voice in the back seat.  "Sometimes, I hear someone call my name but no one is there." 
This I know well.  I spent my childhood being called.  I'd sometimes convince myself it was God and remember the story of how God called Samuel in a whisper and how Samuel was advised to respond.  As an adult, there are still times when I hear my name being called.  Since sane people don't hear voices, I tell myself it's my imagination.  At least, that's what I chose to believe.  I am not Samuel.  I tell myself that the voice comes from within that it's calling me, my better self forth. 
I tell my son none of this and say, "Yes, I know what you mean.  I heard my name called when I was a kid.  Maybe, it's our way of letting ourselves know that we need to pay attention to who we are."
"Oh," he says. 
Moments of silence follow.  I turn my attention to the road in front of me.

"Are we in Salem yet?"
"No, honey.  We passed Salem about 1/2 hour ago.
"Oh," he says.
"Mom.  What is the weirdest thing you've ever seen with your own eyes?"
I have to give this some thought. 

"Oh," I say.  "This is really weird and it was probably just my imagination but this has always stuck in mind." 
I know this has captured his interest.
"Tell me," he says.
"Well, " I say.  "When I was still little and we lived on the farm, David and I were playing Church in the dining room."
He laughs.  "Why were you playing Church?"
He finds this very amusing.
"Think about it a minute," I say.  It makes sense.  We went to Church.  Everybody we knew went to Church.  We went to Catholic school."
"Yes," he says.  St. Bony Face." 
He laughs again recently having discovered that B-O-N-I-F-A-C-E could be given a different pronunciation.
"Well," I continue trying to reel him back in.  "The mass is high drama.  It begs to be reenacted."
"Oh," he says.  "I see".
I know he doesn't really get it at all but wants me to continue the story.

"We were playing and I looked up and saw this misty, smoky shape in the center of the room.  It didn't look like a person or anything but it was there hovering in the center just like mist or smoke does.When I went to get my mom, your grandma and came back into the room, it was gone."
"Cool!  Do you think it was a ghost?"
"Hmm, maybe.  I think it was probably just my imagination.  I've never forgotten it.  It seemed pretty weird at the time and a little weird still.
I quickly ask him, "What's the weirdest thing you've ever seen with your own eyes."
"I haven't seen anything weird yet.  I'm still waiting."

We continue the drive in silence.  I am lost in my thoughts.  I feel anxious about the unknowns that lie ahead.  The thought of the work involved feels exhausting.  I am overwhelmed.  I slow the van slightly before entering the curves as we drive into Portland. 
From the back seat, my son says, "I don't like these curves.  They make me nervous."
"Yes, I know.  I feel the same way, " I say.
I lean into the curve and the van moves deftly within its lane.  I keep pace with the other traffic, the weather, the road as it lays itself out across the landscape. 
"Lean into the curves and close your eyes," I say.
"Ok," I hear from the back seat.
We flow homeward, smoothly and with a gentle, graceful rhythm that I hadn't felt before.
I think of all the minutes past and the minutes ahead and realize they can only be lived one moment at a time.  All the worry, all the anxiety is often just fear of the unknown, of one's self, of life.
"Lean into the curves," I say to myself. 
"Lean into the curves."

Saturday, May 14, 2011

In the Belly of the Beast

This entry is a lot darker than some.  It may also be a lot harder to understand.  I'm not sure I really understand it completely.  It demanded to be written.  Things are not always upbeat and positive for me.  I have days when I struggle with my inner demons. This last week was a very difficult one for many of us in my family.  My husband and I got into a nasty argument.  I lost my temper with my son and screamed at him.  I was very ashamed of myself and wondered how I dare write about listening to my family members and children when I could act so badly.  I had to force myself to sit down with these unwelcome feelings and make peace with them.  This entry is the story of that struggle.

Some emotions are so raw that you can't swallow them.  Instead they swallow you.  Last night I sat in their belly.  It's a frightening place to be.  I want to walk confidently into each  tomorrow but some times I fall overboard.  I struggle against feelings that I hate.  The more I struggle the harder my life can be.

In my mind I have a standard, an ideal that I reach for.  Some days I do a good job.  There are other days when I am swallowed whole.  Darkness envelopes me with a savage swallow.  I try and count my enemy's bones. "1-2-3. . ." I lose count and begin again, "1-2-3-4" and forget.  "1-2-3-4-5."  My heart spins and falls, gracefully spiraling down the darkness.  Could there be a raw and savage beauty here?   I sense it but can not see it.

Exhausted, I don't want to fight any longer.  I collapse into a pool of acid and half-digested chunks of life.  My cries echo against the belly's walls.  They shout tales of loneliness, abandon. They spew curses at fate and fortune.  They shake their fists at God and demand to know why.  Only silence answers.  It points the blame at me with a stone-like silence.  I rise to bash my soul against it.  Finally, broken and defeated, pieces of me lie at my feet like shards of broken glass.  This can not be mended.  There are too many pieces.

I fall into a dreamless sleep and awaken in the dark.  I begin the work of cleaning up the broken pieces. There really is nothing else to be done.  I remember a quote long forgotten, "Broken again and again upon the sea, the moon mends so easily."
The words spill into the wound left by last night's pain.  It cleanses.  It purifies.  It forgives, if but just a little.

I am accused and accuser, judge and jury, angel and demon.  Today becomes an atonement for all the days before.  On the altar of life I am the sacrifice.  I raise all that I am and let go.  Broken pieces fall to earth.  The Light and the Darkness dance in worship.  I drink in all that is holy and damned and offer it back again.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Great Depression

English class was spent talking about the Great Depression.  It's background for reading Of Mice and Men.  It all feels too close to home.  The teacher uses a Powerpoint of old photos.  They leave me feeling bleak and empty inside.  I'm an old leather work boot dumped into hot water to flavor a questionable soup.

As one photo of poverty and despair fades into the next, I imagine stills from my own life.  Sometimes my expression has matched those of the people in the photos.  In their faces I see pieces of myself.  They look back at me with my own eyes.  This kinship with the antique poor is a heavy one to bear.

This burden presses down on me.  These are moments of lead.  The desire to lift this weight by telling the tale of its existence is especially strong.  I want to stand before the room and free myself with a simple act of expression.  
"Hello, my name is Carol.  I carry the heavy burden of poverty."
In my mind, the room embraces me.
"Welcome, Carol" they all say.
But this is only in my mind.  No one really knows my secret.

As I leave the classroom, I tell the teacher, "You know it's not so different now."
Yes," she says but it's just a polite off-putting consent.  With an awkward glance, she keeps the dam of words from breaking.  I say something meaningless and walk away.  I feel more empty than I did before.

The words I can not say aloud still press and surge within me.  I remember the images of the poor and how their faces were frozen in a singular moment.  Might they have smiled or laughed some moments before or after their faces were captured forever in time?

I fight to accept the fact that the void separating me from them no longer exists.  The memory of the lines etching their expressions opens into the deep canyons of my heart.  Some where from within the depths, I hear:
"That which does not kill me makes me stronger." (Nietzsche) I mutter a soft curse at these words and damn them to an eternity in hell.  A fitting end for something that opens onto fields of great pain.

More words float up from below:"This is the hour of Lead--, remembered if outlived"   (Dickinson Poem 341) I cling to these new words as if they were my only life line.  I climb over them, struggling to find a way out of the pain and darkness that a few old photos have opened up.  I curse them, the darkness, poverty.  Anger and loss wash over me.  They baptize me with fire.  From the ashes, I slowly rise.  "This too, shall pass,"  I say to myself.  "This will pass."

I paint a smile on my face.  I will not match those photos expressions.  That costs too much when I have so little left to lose.  Survival may depend on a single smile.  Inside, I give the one-finger salute to fate and begin the fight against the odds.
"No photos today, please.
No photos today."

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Chi Chi Maldonado's School of Likability

Chi Chi Maldonado is a character I created when my work day was confined within the walls of a cubicle.  She was a hot soccer mom private detective with some mad cap adventures.  She amused me from time to time.  Little did I know that Chi Chi is slang for a woman's breasts.  Most of my co-workers did.  No wonder they found her amusing.

This morning Chi Chi suddenly showed up in my shower.   I'd forgotten all about her.  She is no longer a hot soccer mom PI.  She's now a "life enrichment facilitator."  She's opened her own school called, "The Chi Chi Maldonado School of Likability.  She tells me that it's a smashing success.

I ask Chi Chi, "So what's up with this likability thing?"
You could tell she really loved my question and the chance to talk about her work.
"Honey, I'm so glad you asked.  You know how some folks are so likable that you can't help being drawn to them?"
"Yes," I say.
"You know there are some folks who aren't very like-able?"
"Yes, "  I say again.  I just wish she'd get to the point.
"Tell me which one of these types of people do you want to work with, live next to, marry or just pass on the sidewalk?"
"The likable one." I say, stating the obvious.

"A lot of good people get caught up in their own lives, heads and problems.  They fail to do the simple things that would make their lives and the lives they touch easier and more enjoyable for all those involved.  I just help them find their kinder, gentler selves."
She pauses and begins again.

"People are a lot like children.  You have to keep reminding them, guiding them, encouraging them or they lose their way.  That's what I do at Chi Chi's School of Likability.  I remind them who they can be and how much easier their lives will be if they focus on being more likable people."
She looks at me hoping for some sign that I understand.  I nod.

"I've got ten principles of likability," Chi Chi says.
I have to ask, "What are they?"
She smiles a smile so wide I'm afraid her face can't contain it.
She winks and says, "Honey, I thought you'd never ask."

"Number one:  Good manners are the extra virgin olive oil in the skillet of life."
I struggle not to roll my eyes.  She's got to be kidding.
Trying not to lose me she adds, "They're good for you and keep things from sticking together."
I nod politely.  I do have a few good manners.  I try to use them now.  I really just want to run.

Suddenly: Chi chi says, "Number two" and starts singing, "R-E-S-P-E-C-T"
Again, she smiles a face-cracking smile. 
"It's more than a great song by Aretha.  Treating others with respect will make you a guaranteed people magnet."
Inside, I wonder, "Do I want to be magnetic?"  I'm not so sure.

"You're going to love this next one," she says.  I groan on the inside.
"Number three:  Use your ears more, your mouth less.  Enough said."  She moves to number four.

"Number four: Develop X-ray vision."
This is a super power I find rather disturbing.  She quickly adds, "You've got to look past what's on the outside and learn to see what's underneath."
Is she making sense?  She may not be crazy after all.  Let's face it.  A name like Chi Chi doesn't inspire credibility. My thoughts are soon broken by . . .

"Number five: Wear the other person's shoes." 
I think of podiatrists everywhere experiencing a huge increase in their patient loads.
"You've got to put yourself in another's place.  You've got to learn how to see the world from other people's perspective." She gives me a sly wink.

"Number six:  Never take anything seriously, especially the slights of others."

She quickly follows with, "Number seven: Make everything important."
This contradiction is enough to make my head spin.  I feel like Linda Blair for a second.  My head does a 360 and I spew green vomit.  Fortunately, all this stays in my head.  I look up.  She is still talking.

"Number eight:  Let them see you sweat.  Your imperfections, your humanity can make you more likable. Perfection makes people uncomfortable."
Air brushed models everywhere must  quake for fear of their livelihood.. 

How did we get to number eight with my cynicism still in tact.  I'm really not very nice.  I see the red line measuring my likability plummet.  It'll be a cold day in hell. . .  Chi chi looks at me and for the first time she seems to be looking into my soul.  The scales fall from my eyes.  My fear of not being likable is a cynical chasm between us.  I begin to cross it.  She gestures toward me with a graceful extension of her arm.

"Number nine: Smile," she says.  "It's a great face lift."
My wait for number ten is interrupted by a strong knock and voices on the other side of a door.  The crowd begins to chant, "Chi Chi, Chi Chi, Chi Chi. . ."  She moves toward the door while never losing eye contact with me.  Her eyes are smiling.

"Number ten:  Never miss an opportunity to love." she says.
She opens the door and steps into the waiting crowd  wearing her face splitting smile.  The day shines brightly.
As she leaves I say, "Thanks, Chi Chi" and I mean it.  I just might have to take her course.  She could teach me a thing or two.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Ribbon Candy

"Excuses Stop Here."  That's what the poster in front of me says.  I stare at it while running my finger tips up and down the metal spine of my spiral notebook.  In the back of my head, the theme from Love Story begins to play, "How do I begin to tell the story. . . "
The opening sentence begins to play in an endless loop.  It folds back on itself.  I see images of the hard ribbon candy we'd find under the Christmas tree on Christmas morning.

I hold the candy up to the light and admire the colorful swirls and folds.  It's too pretty and too hard to eat easily.  Some pieces taste better than others.  Some taste better than they look.  All tease my tongue.  The loops play across the taste buds with a texture that intrigues as it taunts.  Nothing else tastes or teases like this.

This is how my life feels.  My life is like a box of broken ribbon candy.

When I write, I pour these bits and pieces into a clear glass dish and hold it up to the light.  It helps me like what I see.  All the broken bits and pieces form a kaleidoscope of color.  I can pick out flashes of color and subtle hues but the dish with all its pieces forms something beautiful to me.  It is my art.

"How do I begin to tell the story of how great a love can be?"

I pop a piece of ribbon candy in my mouth and ponder the telling of the tale.  As I write this I pause and trace the edges of my lips with a fingertip.  My attempt at definition is futile.  There is much about me and my life that I can not put into words.  I savor the candy.  It starts to cut into my tongue.  Too much of a good or a bad thing isn't helpful.  What will tomorrow bring?

"How do I begin. . . "

. . . to wrap my head around a future that I can not imagine, at least not well?  For years, the need to be prepared trapped me in a prison built of fear.  Now, the walls are dissolving like ribbon candy.  Life gapes before me.  Instead of stepping on something solid, I step out into thin air.  Fear is a luxury I can no longer afford.

"How do I begin. . .?"  Again?"

The sky says, "The same way you've begun before."
Have a piece of candy.
 Life can be a beautiful, sweet ribbon of color that doesn't always taste good.
Some times too much can make you bleed. Yet, all these broken pieces, all the sharp edges and pretty colors are yours. 
You must hold them up to the light and take it all in.
Excuses Stop Here."

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Three a.m.

This was begun Friday morning during breakfast and finished Saturday afternoon at the library.

 3:00 a.m.  The clock winks in the dark.  It is still early on Saturday morning.
"Wait!  Is it really Saturday?"
I filter through the sleepy memory of last night's television programs.  I went to bed before 30 Rock began.  It's not Saturday.
It's Friday.
One more day to get through before enjoying the simple act of sleeping in.
I drift back to sleep and awake again at 4:30.

I awaken again at 5:36.
Red numbers pierce my sleep.
In between the numbers, I cram my dreams.
These dreams work hard.  They want to help me adapt to the changes ahead.
They play out different scenarios and begin to change my brain.
Changes filter into my heart and soul while I sleep.
A less than idea future becomes more acceptable.
"It won't be all bad." the dreams say.

Apparently, not every part of me is on board with this idea.  Waking me at 3:00, 4:30 and 5:36 a.m. is part of its game.  It keeps me anxious.  So many things can go wrong.  So many challenges and adjustments to make.  I wonder if I'm up to the task.
"Can I really do this?"  I ask the question and wait for a reply from some where, some one.
I am answered by silence.

"Well, I know what the options are. I tell myself,  "I can do this.  I can let this make me a better person.  I can  rise to the occasion.  I can make this an adventure."
How I want to believe these words.
I think I write them here to convince myself.

Today, I read the dust cover of a new book in the library.  It spoke of the dangers of creating an e-personality.  An e-personality is the persona that some people create online.  It is not an accurate representation of the real person behind the words or image.  It's easy for many people to get lost in this false image of themselves.  It is not genuine.  It hurts more than helps.

At first, I read these words and worry that I am doing this.  Then, I realize that not everything I read is true.  Not every dust cover can define me.  How can it when I struggle daily to define myself?

No words can ever really capture a person.  How can they capture me?

And yet, why shouldn't I try?  If it weren't for my words, my In Just 10 project, I would often lose my way.

My words are a starting point, a launching pad, a port in the storm.  They give me a place to rest and a place to begin again.  They encourage me.  They help me see the best in myself, in my family, in my life.  Words are tools.  With them, I am chiseling stone into a statute.  With them, I am sculpting my life.

I sink into these words and phrases.  They enfold me like a soft warm quilt.  I sleep sounding and awaken after a peaceful night.  Words call me forth.  I rise to their occasion.

Friday, May 6, 2011


Lunch arrives

A nap would be more welcome.
A new face greets me in the lunch room.  It is an eager one. 
I look away longing for the familiar and the quiet. 
The new eager face wants to talk.
The kinder person at our table for two invites her to join us.
The face seeks an audience and with no prompting begins to talk.

" What do you think the weather is going to do?" she opens.

We each politely reply with words of little consequence.

"I remember the year my son was born.  It was 1993.  It rained and rained that summer.  I hope this summer is not like that one.  It was awful.  It rains too much here any way. . . ."

I lose interest.  My attention finds a new focus. 
Soon, I realize that I have no idea what the eager face beside me is saying. 
I tune back in.
A finger attached to a hand, attached to an arm extends half way across the table.
It points directly at a piece of  cake.

"You've got cake for lunch" she says.
"Yes," the kind one replies, "I got it at Winco."

"My son went to Winco to buy cat and dog food for me. . .My dogs love cat food.  My cats shouldn't eat dog food but my dogs love cat food.  It's like doggies hor d'ouevres."

The eager face says all this without taking a breath.
Only this last sentence is remotely interesting to me.  I tell my mind, "Run."
It does.
The screen door slams shut as it leaves. 
I'm young again.  It's summer.
The shouts of cousins filter through the hot summer air.
We're at Grandma's.
We run from the house in just the right intervals to keep the screen door constantly slamming for several minutes.
I hear Grandma's laugh.
She stands in the kitchen in familiar dress and apron with a dish towel in her hands.
Her tight white curls frame her face, like a soft, fuzzy halo.
Her smile lights up the world.
I smell freshly baked bread.
My day dream is clouded by a feeling of loss.
Inside, I hear myself say, "I miss you, still, Gram. . . after all these years."

But, I am at lunch.

The woman beside me speaks still.

"I used to fly for my job.  I didn't like to fly but I had to fly all the time.  Sometimes flight attendants break their necks during turbulence.  You'd think they'd be smart enough to sit down and put on their seat belts.  You should always wear a seat belt, you know.  I always do."

It's no wonder my mind keeps wandering off. 
Can you blame it?

I look at her face for the first time.
I'd hoped that by avoiding eye contact I could some how quiet the rush of words pouring from her mouth.
Lack of eye contact has no impact on the flood of words.
Bits and pieces of sentences float along a swollen river of sound.
So too, do old memories.
I see her mouth moving but hear not.
I watch her.
She can't read body language, or faces, or eyes, at least not very well.
I pity her.
Pictures of broken-necked flight attendants float in my head.
I pity myself.

I look down to the apple I'm eating.

Time seems to stand still.
I begin to plot an escape but discard the plan.
I can't leave the kind one alone to face the torrent.
Suddenly almost in mid sentence, the talker rises and says, "I've got to go."
She moves awkwardly out the door.
That quickly she is gone.

I look at my companion and say, "She sure enjoys talking."
She smiles and nods vigorously.  Her words, however, are tired and resigned.
"Yes, she does" she says.
We exhale at the same time and enjoy a minute of silence. . . before the bell.

Lunch is over.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Leaving the Goat out in the Rain

"Life isn't about waiting out the storm.
It's about learning how to dance in the rain."

At the end of the workday, I found these words written on a classroom whiteboard.  They were attributed to Anonymous, that entity that seems to get some of the best lines.  These words made me feel like dancing.  In the moment they summed up the meaning of my life and presented it to me in a neat little package.  Wouldn't it be great if every day ended with the perfect summation?

The fact that they rarely do made the quote even more meaningful.  Not having the day end with a cherry on top, whipped cream and nuts is part of living in the storm.  After all it's often "a dark and stormy night."

Once in grade school, Vickie L, wrote in my autograph book. (The autograph book is a relic of the past, I'm sure.)

"The night was dark and stormy
The billy goat was blind.
It bumped into a rosebush
and lost it's "Never mind."

All these years later, I remember those words as if they were just written.  On the surface they appear simple and inane.  "Could they hide great poetry?"
This, I doubt.  I suspect what they really hide is a deeper meaning.  In this way, maybe it's not so different from great poetry after all.

How often I have been the blind billy goat stumbling in the dark.  I am lost, confused, assaulted by life.  I struggle to stay upright in the storm.  I just want to find my way home to comfort and warmth.
All it takes is one rosebush and I lose my "Never mind!"  I curse the storm, the darkness, the rosebush, my blindness and myself.

What if the stubborn billy goat accepted the darkness, the storm, his blindness and the rosebush all as given?  What if he dressed for the weather, got a guide dog and learned to sniff out rosebushes?  This would be one clever goat.

What if the goat were to use the stubbornness it's famous for as a stubborn refusal to accept its grim fate?  What if this goat were to learn to dance in the rain?  The goat inside me crashes into the words on the whiteboard.

"Life isn't about waiting out the storm.
It's about learning to dance in the rain."

The real me, the deepest me, knows these words to be true.  I feel them in my skin and down into my bones.  The words connect with my experience.  My body and soul sings in response to their touch. They echo through my arteries.  I exhale them when I breathe.

I sit and enjoy this feeling without analysis or judgment.  Today, I am dancing in the rain.  A blind goat in a raincoat dances beside me.  The rosebushes surround us.  We laugh at their beauty and their thorns as we dance.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Headline: Ink Spilled Over Fatal Beauty

This week, I've gone through the ink from a new pen.  I'll start writing (I often write my entries out the old-fashioned handwritten way.)  but none of my scratches bear fruit.  I tire of them and toss them aside.  I'm a giant boa constrictor with a giant undigested ball of words stuck in my middle.
Since that doesn't provide a very pretty mental image, I'm posting this picture here.  It makes a boa constrictor seem like a beautiful creature.  Maybe they really are and I just haven't learned to appreciate their beauty.  Might that be the topic that breaks up the undigested mass?

This topic burns brightly and I skip pen and ink and rush straight to the keyboard hoping to catch a ride on the tail end of inspiration.  Soon, it's obvious that I missed my ride.  My killer boa seems to have found another mass of undigested words to swallow. 

For a few moments, I sit still; no clacking keys, no great burning ideas that insist on being written.  Tired of waiting, I chase after my boa, my fatal beauty.  I need to look at it more closely.  I'm sure it hides something, something that I desperately want.  It must also know why the words have failed to visit me through ink or keyboard.  "Curses on you, Fatal Boa Beauty!  Damned, Writer's Block.  I've got a rhythm to maintain.  Don't fail me now."

And yet, they fail me.  I think of the spilt ink and then of spilt milk and the crying over it.

WaaaaaHHHH!  In my mind, the milk sours within seconds and I inhale the memory of this sharp acrid aroma piercing the moment.  Ugh. . . .  My head starts to feel like this:

Now that my skull has met a tragic ending, the milk and ink have been spilt and I've wrangled with my inner boa,  the words begin to come.  They fall out in fits and starts.  The spaces between them, pregnant with hope and despair.  They lurch through time and space and filter out my fingertips and onto the screen.  How magical this process might seem to the medieval knight travelling in time or the Cro-Magnon female tending meat roasting over a fire?

In their world, I would be a goddess who could transform thought into odd symbols.  My words upon the computer screen would give me a power they would not understand.  Would I be as powerful as an ancient fertility goddess?  My physical resemblance to said fertility goddess does not elude me.

This resemblance brings me to my knees.  Humbled, I sit before the blank page and wait.