Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Who Gives a Flying Flip?

Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind. ~ Dr. Seuss

Know this. Life is too short to spend it worrying about what other people think. Having said that, one caveat. I’ve passed the majority of my days trying to be like others, trying to be the same, even when that same didn’t fit. I’m a sensitive sort. Criticism and negative words sting in a place very deep. My childhood did not exactly lend itself to conformity. At some point, however, I discovered that being me felt right, felt fun, was energizing and freeing in a way that nothing else ever was. Being me, without question, was what I was here to do.

Being me is sometimes difficult. I live in a world of sameness, of conservative views and even more conservative actions. I live in a world of suits and ties and voting to the right, a world where everybody looks like, well, everybody else. I live in a world of sidewalks and soccer practice and Saturday night cards with the girls. I live in a world of keeping appearances, of everything is pretty on the outside but falling apart on the inside. I live in a world where non-conformity is spoken of in hushed tones between innings at Little League games, during lacrosse half times, and while standing around with the other parents waiting to pick up a child from swim class. I live in a world where non-conformity is weird and different and something to which one should never aspire, at all, under any circumstance.

But here is what I’ve learned.

Not being me is stifling. Not being me is like wearing a turtleneck on a hot summer day. I am dressed, yes, but I am either going to faint dead away or completely lose it and strip naked right in front of everybody. There will be no pretty middle ground. There will be no appropriate action of any sort. And, yes, there will be much to talk about while waiting to pick up little Johnny from the next den meeting.

I am not suit and tie. Nor am I Saturday night cards. I am barefoot and sleeveless, a faded pair of jeans. I am curled up with a book and a good glass of wine. I am a walk alone in the woods or a solitary stroll along a sun-drenched beach. I am lost in my thoughts, never where I seem, and most at home when bucking a trend. I am reaching out, speaking my mind, helping those who others shun. I am home birth and family bed and nursing past two. I am strengths and loving life and fat glass of soymilk way past full. I am vegan, kind, a Buddhist at heart. If I never watched television again, I would be absolutely fine. I ride the line between science and not, insist on research, facts, figures of all sorts, yet entertain notions of twin souls, spirit guides, karma and past lives. I am married to the same man forever with no step-this or no step-that. I entered life a lefty, bucking the trend from birth. I am not suit and tie. I am not even close.

I am a study in contradictions, one of those tough classes you want to avoid but have no way around. I am compassionate, calm, go with the flow, but piss me off and I’ll wield my words to cut you to the ground. I am certain but confused, lighthearted but serious. I am thoughtful, and yet unthinking. I am language prim and proper, all dressed up, with the most delicious curse words sprinkled throughout. I listen quietly, absorbing, mulling, but have an opinion and know how to use it. I am bossy and pushy and must be in charge. I complain, and I whine, and when irked, slam doors like no other. And, yet, I am grateful and loving and have smiles to spare. I am Victorian grace, all laced up in corsets and collars with a hint of cleavage and a suggestive look. To know me is to wonder if you really actually know me at all. But this is who I am. And I must do it. Not being me serves no one.

When I am me, I love my life. I love others. I am strong and happy and eager to inspire. I am motivated to move, to empower, to encourage those others to love their lives as well, to be more of who they are, to be strong and happy and also eager to inspire. When I am me, I am a refreshing breeze on a blistering summer day. I am sunshine and smiles and a warm feeling in a once-cold heart. I am everything inside me just waiting to come out. I am learning and listening, a student of life. I am sharing and showing and shamelessly bold. When I am me, I am not a turtleneck on a hot summer day. I am sitting on a porch swing with a nice cool glass of sweet iced tea, laughing and loving and living my life. I am, in fact, life itself as life was meant to be.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Kindred Spirits

Sometimes you meet someone and feel as if you have known him your entire life. You don’t have to try to like him. You just do. You know things about him even before you know that you know it. You are content just being in his space. There is nothing awkward or uncomfortable about being together even though you may have just met. I am fortunate to have more than a few of these people in my life.

I’m not talking simply life partner here, although in my case it’s a fit. I’m talking about best friends, close siblings, good neighbors, a student, someone you meet through a friend of a friend.

Some of these people breeze through. They are out of my life as fast as they are in it, and I am glad for the connection. Others decide to pull up a chair and stay.

I am at a friend’s house. We are babysitting her grandchild, oohing and ahhing as only women who haven’t held a creamy-skinned bundle of newborn in over twenty years can do. In walks her daughter with two of her close friends. I don’t know these people, so introductions are quickly made. Friend Number Two looks at me and says, “And I KNOW you.” My head races through my mental people-I-have-met-in-my-lifetime directory. “No. I don’t think you do,” I counter. “Yeah. I’m pretty sure,” she insists. I have the memory of whatever animal it is that has such an excellent memory. Mostly my memory is best at useless bits of conversation, random facts on random issues, fourth grade state history, the bones of the body and, well, faces. “No. You don’t.” I am certain. Friendly, but certain. It’s a nice visit, and we spend a bit chatting each other up before the girls head out to do whatever it is they have planned to do. We say our goodbyes and Friend Number Two shoots me a look, a flip of the head, and says, with an irresistible smile, “Nice talking to YOU, babe.” She doesn’t know me, and I’m her elder. I’m thinking “babe” and that look she gave me are both a bit too familiar in this instance. Either she is coming onto me in front of her best friend’s mother, which is not an altogether unpleasant idea, or she really does feel the connection she insists she is certain of. I never see her again, but I remember this moment still and can’t shake the feeling that I have met up with an old friend and that a refreshing breeze has renewed my soul.

I am at an end of term get together, a pool party. Twenty of us instructors have spent the last year together brushing up on our mad teaching skills. Now we have joined with pie and pasta and potato salad in the name of patting ourselves on the backs for a job well done. I am introduced to the partner of the host. He is genial, relaxed, and as chatty as I. We think we know each other, but after running through the potential familiar sources decide that, no, indeed, we do not. But still we believe we do. Conversation is easy and engaging. The night passes quickly. We could talk forever and never get bored or tire of each other. I am sure of this. We end the party knowing that after we have parted we will remember how it is exactly that we know each other. But, no, we don’t. There is just that air of familiarity, that comfort level, that knowing, that never goes away.

Some refer to these kindred spirits as companion soul mates. Companion souls are those we have known in previous lifetimes, those we have shared our space with, those who have traveled with us on our journey through various incarnations. They are comfortable to us, familiar. We are totally at ease with them. Companion souls make for excellent friendships, close marriages, and strong parent-child ties. The connections surround us in good feelings, positive thoughts, and a cosmic version of a warm hug. We can be ourselves with these people. They know us. Maybe they come into our lives just to touch base and say hello, as did Friend Number Two and Pool Party Guy. Maybe they've come along to share the ride.

My oldest is in second grade. We have just moved across town. I have wedged my thirty-some-year-old body into a tiny student desk. I am listening to the new teacher share expectations about the coming year. I am also carrying on a delightful side conversation with another new-to-the-system mom whose family also just moved from across town. Unbeknownst to us, our husbands are sitting on a playground bench together this very minute, introducing themselves to each other while supervising our sprouting families. Little do we know this will be the beginning of a wonderful friendship for the two of us. We understand each other. We are comfortable together. We have no need to explain ourselves. Ever. Often, in fact, it is she who explains my actions and thoughts better than I. And, likewise, vice versa. We can talk or not, spend time together or not, and still it is as if we are never apart. There is a presence. We know that we have been together through many lifetimes, that there is a soul connection stronger than even we, kooks who entertain such notions, can comprehend.

I believe these companion souls exist in our lives to help us in some way along our journey. I believe they are here to guide us and entertain us and keep us company at both our highest moments and our lowest. I believe that we are together on this ride to learn from each other, to support each other, and to provide gentle encouragement and applause. We are a soul family and as such brothers and sisters in the game of living life.

Most days you go about your business without giving personal significance or life purpose or interconnectedness much thought, then you happen to meet someone and feel as if you have known him your entire life.

Friday, August 26, 2011

In Case of Emergency.........

I just clipped 2 articles from a current magazine. One is a diet guaranteed to drop 5 pounds off my body in a weekend. The other is a recipe for a 6 minute pecan pie. ---Erma Bombeck

An older essay, and just a little reminder to myself because that quote up there? Uh, yeah, it's SO me...........

Only about five percent of the people who lose weight on a diet manage to keep it off. Most will gain back the unwanted pounds within the first five years. Oh, good god of the almighty vegans, where is Kevorkian when you need him?! I did not go through almost a year of counting points, measuring out exactly one tablespoon of chocolate chips, fighting my way to the top of my Wii Fit Super Hula Hoop challenge, and enduring the most inhumane torture of all, stepping on a scale in front of another living being, for naught. I do not intend to be one of those ninety-five percent who regain that lost weight.

There is a certain pride a middle-aged mother of four takes in being checked out for the first time in years, even if it is in J. C. Penney. Forty pounds off a five-two frame represents enough difference apparently to warrant a second look. I am not giving this up. I am middle-aged, for Pete’s sake, not clawing at the coffin. All those years spent raising my children had me immersed in the whole mothering scene, negligent of my own appearance or needs. I’m ok with that. I can’t change what I’ve already done, but I sure as heck can put the brakes on said behavior in the future.

So in an effort to stay in the top five, keep my backend in my size six boot cuts, and steer clear of the granny panty aisle, I have declared a boycott on the following foods. You should know that there was a time when all of these may have shown up on a single day’s menu. And that still may happen, especially on that day when I open my email to see the tuition bill, this after the dog has thrown up cat crap following his litter box binge, my twelve year old who had no homework decides at ten p.m. that, oh, yes, indeed she did, and all the wrinkle creams in the world are not covering up the fact that no matter what my brain believes, my face, in fact, is just this side of fifty.
Foods I have locked in a little box in my closet marked “In case of emergency”:

• Monster size bowls of trail mix
• Deep dish cheese-less pizza from Chicago’s famous Giordano’s
• Purely Decadent Cherry Nirvana with chocolate chips, bananas, and nuts
• One of those huge baking pans of cheese alternative and veggie loaded vegan lasagna
• My own homemade double fudge chocolate chip brownies
• Bags and bags of original Fritos (one of my students said that, chemically speaking, Fritos are possibly the absolute worse food a person could eat………….he failed that class)
• My Starbuck’s venti green tea soy latte (but I keep the grande close at hand………..you know, for those little emergencies that are just a part of life)

I’d like to say that I’m breezing through my days now in a wistful sort of way, oblivious to the dietary change that shows itself on my plate. I’d like to say that my choices are more a matter of habit than excruciating planning involving much discussion on the part of the voices in my head, not unlike what might happen at one of those inane board meetings only here I am the only one present. But a confession like this, my friends, would be a flat out lie. Work. It is always work. When I was fat I thought about nothing but food. Now that I am thin, I think about nothing but food. Well, you know, a few other things, but mostly food.

And why, you may be itching to know, do I bother? I bother because I have been many times in that ninety-five percent. I have felt the thrill of victory, or of a second glance, only to return to that granny panty drawer. I bother because I am no fun when I am fat. I am tired and crabby and totally obsessed with food and not conversation. I bother because I want to continue to be a mother for a long time and not die at an early age--because, you know, that could still happen, it is still early--from some obesity related disease. I bother because I have decided that I count, darn it, and that I actually like myself, and that I’d like to continue liking me for quite a long time.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

I Love You, I Love You Not

Do you read as much as you breathe? Do you enjoy an open road, a sunny day, and a wide expanse of sandy beach? If you quit your job today would you feed your soul with travel and writing and long walks through rambling woods? Do you have an opinion on most anything and frequently feel the need to express it? Do people object? Do you care? Do you value education and kindness and compassion toward others, especially toward those less fortunate? Do you feel the world would be a better place if we all just got along and shared our toys? Do you love your family, live for them, know in your heart that you would, cliché as it is, lay down your life for them? Do you believe in a higher power with everything that is inside of you, live for the greater good, and yet the word “religious” makes you want to run vomit? Do you?

If you answered “yes” to any of these, nice to meet you. I think we’re going to be great friends. I think we’re going to be great friends because it is easy to like someone like me. And these are all me. If you answered “yes” to most of these, well, forgive me, but I may have trouble remembering where I end and you begin. We are so much alike that I couldn’t not like you even if I tried, that I might forget myself at times and merge into your personal space just a tad too much.

Or maybe you prefer the mountains and vast canyons to a salty ocean breeze. Maybe you haven’t picked up a book since high school and don't care if you ever do. Maybe the only travel you’re interested in is a trip to the corner market and only, then, when absolutely necessary. Maybe you believe that opinions are best kept quiet as are the owners of such. Maybe you believe that wealth belongs to those who are fortunate enough to have it, as does food and clothing and shelter. Maybe you don’t see the point in helping those “who won’t help themselves.” Maybe you feel that all those who don’t participate in your particular religion are going to Hell and are somehow not a child of God. Maybe. Maybe this is you.

If, indeed, this is you, I’m going to have issue with you. I can just tell you that flat out. We are not alike, and I have no desire to ever be alike. And, yet, here is the challenge. My heart tells me to have compassion toward all, to love all, even those who are not like me, even those who are hard to love. Some offenses, granted, are more tolerable than others. If you prefer the dry desert air to a sultry Southern afternoon, if you would rather ski the slopes on a frigid mid-winter day than walk barefoot along Northern beaches, well, we will have some great fun to chat about later, but vacationing together will never be on either of our calendars. If, on the other hand, you condemn entire groups of people for what they wear, what they believe, what color of skin they were born into, who they love, or whether they were born with a penis or a vagina, well, you and I are going to get into a skirmish or two.

So how, indeed, do I go about loving everyone, showing compassion toward EVERYone when I, myself, am condemning the groups who are condemning groups? I try to look at it like this. As a parent—and if you are one, you’ll know what I’m talking about here—there are days when your child can do no wrong. He holds the door for the elderly lady at church, does exactly what you ask him to do—the first time, plays with his little brother even when his friends want him to go over to their house, puts his dishes in the sink after dinner, and hugs you and tells you he loves you right in front of everybody. Then there are the other days, the days he pretends he never heard you ask him to take out the garbage, the days he has his little brother in a headlock and has to be pried off, the days he calls you names that even you’re embarrassed to say out loud, the days he throws every baseball glove in the entire house up onto the roof, the days you’d like to stick him in a box and ship him off to some exotic land, to any land, really, anywhere, anywhere at all. He’s my child, always. I love him, always. Without question. Some days he’s just more likeable than others.

Same with you who fall into the second group, I guess. I love you always. Some days, you’re just going to be more likeable than others. I know the good is there. I’ll just have to try really really hard to look for it. And at the end of the day, I may just have to think, let’s just say good night now and wish for a better day tomorrow. It’s easy to love those who are like me. And it’s easy, on the good days, to love those who aren’t. The challenge, as I see it, is to love always, no matter what.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Blow Sunshine Up My Ass

I just so love that phrase. It’s deliciously cheeky and irreverent, wickedly inappropriate. I love lines that catch the reader totally off guard, phrases that are unexpected and cause perhaps for a turn of the head and a pardon me? I love hurling words that make the reader gasp, bring hand to mouth and utter under her breath, Well, I never! Even though secretly I know she does.

If you knew me for real and not just on paper, you might never expect me to say such a thing, blow sunshine up my ass. Those of you who know me on paper have come to be acquainted with my occasional toss of the f-word, flip of the finger. You’ve come to look for my rants on underpants and bosoms and nice, or sort of hard to look at, back ends. Those of you who know me for real are sometimes surprised at this side of me. Sometimes. Those of you who know me are surprised at nothing.

On the surface, I am conservative and quiet, a rule follower and peacekeeper, nothing flashy or fun. I’m a mom. I’m a teacher. I dress in cardigans of solid colors, boring and nondescript. I drive a brown car, have brown hair, and am told constantly that I look like somebody else. Look a little closer, though, and you see the toe rings, the piercings, the willingness to try almost anything. You see a hint of what I have on underneath those teacher clothes. You see the rule follower who just can’t stick to any of the rules, who, when the going gets especially tough, throws her hands in the air, stomps her feet, hurls out a good curse word and creates her own rules, then goes on about her business in the most lady-like fashion as if of course this is how all the ladies meet with a challenge.

But if you knew me like those who know me know me, you would know that like the phrase we’re discussing I, too, can be deliciously cheeky and irreverent, wickedly inappropriate. I love the thrill of throwing someone for a colossal loop. You do not expect the words you hear to come out of such an innocent looking face. You do not expect the attitude, the sass, the flippant way I just spit it out as if it is no big thing, none at all. Never judge a book, I say. Never judge a teacher, or a mom, or a lady with brown hair wearing a brown cardigan. Or go ahead and judge, and then be wonderfully surprised.

Aren’t words great?!

As for the blowing sunshine up my ass, go ahead. I have absolutely no problem with that. I am all about having someone shower me with flowering words whether warranted or not. Of course, I’d rather have the warranted, but, hey, whatever. I’d rather have that fake sunshine, too, than real criticism, verbal daggers. Who needs that? That’s for people who live in reality, and I haven’t been there for a long time. Reality is for rule followers. Reality is for those with no imagination. Reality is for the boring, the staid, the always correct. Reality is for those who raise their eyebrows at me in the bookstore, those in the biography stacks who see me pissed at my husband, who witness me purse my lips in frustration, give him the evil eye, and then smack my backend good and mouth in anger, kiss it, mister! Oh, my, I see them thinking, she did that in public. Yes. I did. And it was fun. Deliciously fun. And it’ll be even more fun later.

Life is just too short to be lifeless. I carry with me always this gigantic word syringe. When listeners’ eyes start to glaze over, when said listeners can almost guess what I am going to say, when they are thinking to themselves been here, heard this, I pull out that syringe and inject the conversation with a bit of word fun, with a bit of zest and energy and enthusiasm and surprise. The whole experience comes awake, comes alive. The whole thing is just cheeky, irreverent, wickedly inappropriate fun. It’s life and conversation as should be, nice and naughty all at the same time, all brown cardigan on the surface with just a hint of black lacy push-up underneath.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

At a Stuck Spot

I feel like Fred Flintstone in that car of his. My feet are spinning and spinning, my mind is engaged and ready to go, I have a song in my heart and a dorky smile on my face, and the world needs to just get ready for me because here I come. But as I look around, I am exactly where I was when I started. I have, in fact, gone absolutely nowhere.

Ever been okay with your life? I mean, just okay? You like your life. You can’t complain. Everything is good. Very good, thank you. You’ve got a family you don’t hide from. You wake up wanting to go to work. You like your job. You’d choose it again if you had to. You like your friends, too. No one is currently on the need-to-find-a-way-to-drop-HER list. You get exercise and eat right like you’re supposed to, most of the time. You could stand to drop a few, but you’re really okay with where you are. And that’s the thing. You’re okay. You’re just okay.

I need something to move me, to send chills of thrill up my spine, to energize me, to rev my engines, to make me throw my head back when I finish and say, “FUN! Let’s do THAT again!!” Yeah. I need something like that.

Only I’m not supposed to complain, right? My life is okay. I’m warm and dry and have plenty of food. I have food to share. Hell, I have money to share. I love my kids, and they love me. I love my husband. He SAYS that he loves me. You can be more sure about kids than husbands, but let’s just go with that. I have a job I love. I have a job. Many people would love to be where I am. Many people would love to be close to where I am. So who am I to complain?

I’m big on the idea of using everything you’ve been given in the name of serving others. I’m big on not wasting talent, on maximizing your gifts, on throwing yourself out at the world in order to make that world a better place. I’m big on discovering who you are and then taking that who you are out into the world to better the lives of those who need their lives bettering. I’m big on leaving no talent stone unturned. And yet, here I am. Sitting on my big fat talent.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m tossing out little bites and nibbles. I teach, but two or three classes a term at most. I write, but unpaid and for a crowd of about thirty max. I use the gifts I’ve been given daily in my parenting and my friendships and in my marriage. I’m very clear on what those gifts are, so I’m good there. I’m very clear, too, on how I best express those gifts, so that’s not an issue. But, good Lord, could I not do a little more? Could I not pretend at least to try to maximize my giving? Could I not be so complacent and just act like I need to think about improving my skills so that I could throw more of my gifts out to the world?

The problem is that I’ve grown so comfortable where I am. It’s easy. I could do it with my eyes closed. Some days, in fact, I do do it with my eyes closed. Ok, so, most days I do it with my eyes closed. But is easy good? Well. Sure. Easy is good in the sense that it pays the bills, funds regular shopping trips for cute little cardigans and have-to-have flips, and puts fresh, local, organic food on the table. Sure. Easy is good. But it’s not going to move me, to send chills of thrill up my spine, to energize me or rev my engines in a way that makes me throw my head back when I finish and say, “FUN! Let’s do THAT again!”

No. It won’t do that.

I’ve heard it said that nothing great ever happens until somebody busts out of her comfort zone. Well, I’ve signed the papers and packed my bags. I’m leaving that comfort zone of mine. We’re just not getting along, and I see no reason to stay and try to work things out. I think we’ll both be better off without each other. It’s time for me to set off on my own and see what I’m all about without that wretched ball-and-chain to hold me back. It’s scary, I must admit. But a girl’s gotta know when to move on. And I'm thinking that moving-on time is now.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

When I Grow Up

I’m thinking about that commercial. A somber-looking fourth- or fifth-grader stands in a field or by a factory or on a bridge and in a very serious tone says, “When I grow up, I want to claw my way up to middle management.” Another adds, “I want to be under-appreciated.” “ Be a yes-man.” “Be paid less for doing the same job.” “I want to be forced into early retirement.” I think about my little girl self and what she wanted to be when she grew up. I wonder if she has compromised or if she has followed her dreams.

I always wanted to be a teacher and a mother. I knew that I would become both. I never even questioned the thought. I can’t say that this was a dream really. It was more just a fact in my head. Oddly, though, I never sat around as some girls do planning an elaborate wedding or writing down future baby names in curly letters, both first and middle names together and always to coordinate with last name of boyfriend at the time. I never did this, but I knew that I would one day need to think up those names. I knew, too, that I would teach in one form or another.

The need to teach is so strong in me. Even as a little girl I would sit my sisters down to play school. I would teach them their letters and simple words. I would give them worksheets and homework and, if necessary, recess (but only when they begged). One sister would raise her hand and ask to be the teacher. I would say that school was over for the day and that now we would play grocery store. I was the teacher.

It is never enough for me to sit in a group in a chair. I fidget, and I fuss, and I clock-watch as no clock-watcher has done before. As the instructor, leader, counselor, teacher, whatever, is speaking I am secretly scheming ways to become that instructor, leader, counselor, teacher, or whatever. I am most at home standing in front of a group, which puts me in the odd position of never really being a part of any group, never being one of the gang, but facilitating, instead, that feeling of community for others.

I can’t not teach.

I was a stay-at-home mom of four for twenty years. I parented much as I teach. I took my little classroom-by-birth on field trips to bird sanctuaries, hands on museums, dairy farms, art exhibits, nature walks, the zoo, and vacations of all sorts. I explained things, asked lots of questions, and sought out new and exciting opportunities for exploring, for learning, for connecting with knowledge of any kind. I threw myself in a similar way into volunteer opportunities. I put myself in front of any group in the spirit of whatever would be the cause of the moment---breastfeeding, Christian education, the building of young girls’ souls. I sought part-time work that gave me opportunity for leading and teaching, albeit on lip colors and eye palettes, but hey, I got to stand in front of people and talk.

And, sure, I’ve had jobs that involved compromise, jobs that did not contribute to my little girl dreams, but those jobs never lasted long. I refuse to put myself in a spot that I know is not for me. I worked day care once, for a week. I sold Jockey briefs and Gold Toe Fluffies for about a year. Those socks and underwear paid tuition. So did Hallmark greeting cards and Precious Moments figurines. Sometimes we do things because we have to, not because we want to. I made sure those things were temporary. Sometimes, too, we do things that aren’t us as a way of discovering what is us. Sometimes finding out what you don’t want to do is as important as finding out what you do want to do.

Would your little girl self be glad with the way that your big girl self turned out? I heard that once. Little girl selves are free and honest and have only your best interest at heart. They are untroubled with the worries of the world and see your life with clear eyes, unburdened by shoulds and have to’s and if only’s. They want what’s best for you, not for your neighbor or your mother-in-law or your best friend. Often, I think what’s best for you IS what’s best for your neighbor and your mother-in-law and your best friend. Maybe they don’t know it, but it’s true. It’s definitely what is best for society, given of course that what is best for you is positive and not in any way harmful to others.

My little girl self was very clear on her wishes for me. I was to be a teacher and a mother. I was to lead and educate, explain stuff and put myself in front of the crowd. I think my little girl self would be pleased. I think she would say, “That is enough for today. I will have new lessons for you tomorrow. Class dismissed.”

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Race

How do I stop living and wait to die? I see people do that. I see them plan their funerals as if they are family reunions complete with potluck dinner and Uncle Johnny saying a few words. I see them make arrangements for music and burial outfits and photo presentations and such. I see them look forward almost to this event they will never actually attend. I see them getting ready for their final days. I see the excitement in a weird if-only-I-could-be-there-to-see-how-people-mourn-me-after-I'm-gone sort of way. These people are not old. These people are my age. Pushing fifty or fifty-something. Why don't I know how to do this? And why do I feel it completely pointless?

To paraphrase and twist a bit a popular saying, don't bother sticking a fork in me. I don't think I will ever be done. I asked a friend the other day what he wants to do before he dies. He said he wants to live! With an exclamation mark. I told him I will assume that the exclamation mark changes the word a tad. I told him I will assume that he wants to do a smidge more than just breathe until he stops. Isn't that the whole point? Living life with an exclamation mark until the game is over?

It's sort of like a marathon. I run, and I run, and I run. Then when I am near the finish line, I look and say, "Well, hell, it's been a great race. I'll just sit down right here and start planning the victory party." Come on now. I think that's cheating a bit. There's more race to be run and more bagels to eat. There may be fellow runners who need my encouragement. They may be flagging a bit. I might have the words they're looking for to keep up their momentum. They may have something to teach me. We may both fuel each other, become great friends, and go on to inspire others. Who knows. But we can never find out the ending to that story if I am ordering flowers and booking a room.

Which brings me to the question of what exactly it means to live until I die. To me it is like this. Every day is a what-do-I-want-to-be-when-I-grow-up kind of day. Every day is a what-can-I-do-for-you kind of day. Every day is a day where I put myself out there for all of humanity, where I learn and I teach and I give back what I've been given. Every day is a day where I throw myself out at the world hoping that something is what someone is looking for. Every day. If I wake up and fail to do any of this, I have lost the exclamation point.

I don't want to lose that exclamation point.

To lose that is to have started party planning early. To lose that is to have missed maybe the most beautiful section of the entire course. To lose that is to have lost the race itself.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

I'm Great, You're Great.........sometimes

I'm not afraid to say what it is that I do well. I'm not afraid to say it because it's true. If you need someone to go out and learn the newest, the latest, the greatest, then sign me up. I'm on board. I'm on board before I even fully understand the program. Then I'm going to bring that information back and share it with you. I will expect great things of you. I will challenge you to be the very best you that you can be, to use up every single gift you've been given for the good of others. I will inspire you to throw your talents out at others to help make the world a better place. I will inspire you to do it, then I will expect that you will do it. Hence, my mission statement for my life: To empower others to move to a more positive place in their lives.

What is your mission statement?

What are you great at? What gifts do you have to throw my direction? I'm hoping you might be great at follow-through. I could use that. I need you. I need you, too, if you like to fix problems. My problems go in the trash. I run into a problem, I trash it. I move on. I would really love for you to come and handle these things for me. Fix them. Help me give life to these great ideas and projects that go out to the curb for Monday morning pick-up because I can't figure out how to fix the snag. Are you a people person? Are you great at schmoozing? At establishing relationships between apparently unrelated people? At cluing in to the feelings of others? At giving a shit about the feelings of others? Yeah. I'm not so great at those things. Help me out here.

I asked a group of people the other day "What are you great at?" Nobody said anything. Nobody was great at anything? I have a hard time believing that. I think nobody wanted to say they were great at anything because we've been taught not to toot our own I'm-absolutely-freaking-wonderful-at-this horns. Why? We need this information. It's sort of like reading an ingredient list. You look at me and say, "Oh, so here's Tammie. She's great at seeing potential, at shining that back to people, at encouraging, inspiring, and providing a nice little kick in the pants." I would throw that package in my cart if I needed direction and guidance and help seeing the possibilities of where I might go with my life. But maybe I'm not looking for that, maybe I'm shopping for a product that provides a cautious laid out plan, someone who thinks things through and considers all possible consequences of potential decisions, maybe I want someone to hold me back a bit, to hold back my impulsiveness just enough to make sure that I have all the information I need to make a project great. Maybe I'm looking for that. But how will I know you have that unless you tell me. I need the ingredient label. I'm not always a great guesser in the beginning, before I really know you. In that carnival game Fool the Guesser, you would fool me every time.

I'm not afraid to say what I do well. I'm not afraid to say it because it's true. And because you may need what I have to offer. If I offer what I'm great at, then you won't expect me to handle for you the things I totally suck at. Likewise, I don't want you doing something for me that you totally suck at. You know when there's an emergency and someone yells out, "Is there a doctor in the house?!" If that's me on the ground, please don't answer unless you're a doctor or you're great in an emergency with a cool head and skills to make a quick plan and execute it well. If you're one of those people who loses it completely, yells uncontrollably, and basically needs the emergency help yourself, stay away. I don't need that kind of help. So, I'll ask again and this time I expect some answers. I need to know these things.

What are you great at? What is it that you do well?

What is your mission statement for your life?

Friday, August 5, 2011


My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground upon which I stand. ~Thich Nhat Hanh

Do you believe in karma? Do you believe that what you throw out at the world comes back to you, sort of like a cosmic boomerang? That sometimes you have issues, unfinished business, with a certain person from previous lifetimes, issues that need to be worked out because of these actions you have thrown out at the world, and that this person you keep butting heads with becomes your teacher of sorts and that you will keep repeating the lessons until you have passed this class, that you will eventually, in essence, have to repay the karmic debt? For fear of putting myself into the category of weird, I think I believe.

To me, it works like this. We are all interconnected, all of us. What I do in my cozy suburban home impacts those I may never see, individuals living in impoverished circumstances across the world, maybe, or perhaps just the neighbor down the street. I help one person, or I harm one person, and because of that a chain of events occurs that leads to future good or bad, a chain that I don’t necessarily personally witness, but that happened because of something I did, some action I took or didn’t take. Cosmic dominoes, if you will. Maybe this comes back around full circle, maybe I see the consequences of my actions, maybe I am impacted in some way, maybe not.

I teach psychology at the local community college. For each class, at the beginning of the term I send around index cards. I ask each student to write down why they are in the class and to only share as much as they are comfortable sharing. Inevitably, each term I will receive at least one card that goes something like this: I am the first in my family to go to college. I want to help people, to make a difference, but I am not getting much financial support from my parents. I want to prove to them that I can do this. I want to prove it to myself, to provide a better life for my own kids than the one I had growing up.

I am struck by this every time. I am surprised always that it is not my name at the top of the card.

I am so strongly impacted by this because I am only able to gather the information at all, to stand in front of these classes as I do, due to a kind act from someone who will never know me. When I was in high school my father, among his many other jobs, sealed parking lots. He put the gross smelly black stuff over the top of the pavement, painted yellow stripes, and spread around orange cones to keep drivers off until everything was dry. It was embarrassing to tell my friends that he did this, even more embarrassing to have the giant red work truck all splattered with that black sticky crap parked in the driveway, but it was a job and it paid for food. One of his larger clients took a special liking to him and on finding that I was interested in college offered to fund my entire first year and a half. Had he not done this, I’m not sure that college would have happened. I could not take out loans or apply for grants for fear of my parents being found out by the government. I had scholarships, sure, but not nearly enough. And we were lucky to have dinner on the table, to add a degree to that would be pushing it.

Whenever I receive one of these index cards, I wonder how the cycle will play itself out. Will the student who stands before me go on, as I did, to teach others? Will she come to my aid one day when I am rushed to the hospital? Will she become a leader in the community and go on to inspire others to do great things? And, then I think of this man who will never know me and will never know her and will never know those she will lead or inspire or heal.

This would be good karma.

But sometimes, our actions are less than honorable. Sometimes we shoot out a flippant comment to a stranger that is meaningless to us, but that stays with that individual forever. Sometimes our words leave ugly marks on another’s soul.

I’m a smart girl. I am, but I am not always the most clued in to the feelings of another. I have crushed people with my words. I have crushed them both when it was my complete intent and when it was not the intent at all. I can run through town like a tornado in a trailer park and not have a clue what I have done. I have to believe that this will come back to me. I have to believe that those individuals will not take their absolute fullest out into the world because of something I have said. I have to believe that when I trash another or fail to step up for another that karmic debt will come back to bite me in the ass.

So, sometimes, when I am butting heads and getting nowhere at all, I think to myself what is the lesson here? Harsh as it sounds, there are those I drop from my life due to incessant negative behavior. I am not a fan of Debbie downers. I am not a fan of those who verbally attack huge groups of people. I am not a fan of mean. And yet. There are those I cannot strike from my life. There are those who irritate me to no end, who stand for everything I do not, but whom I return to again and again. There are those. What is the lesson I think to myself. What am I to get from this? What is the debt I need to repay here? What am I to throw out to the world now?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

How to be a Princess....Five Easy Steps

Being a princess is not about how you look or what you wear--well, maybe just a bit--but most importantly being a princess is about how you feel and what you offer the world! Let your inner princess shine!...........paraphrased from Disney’s Princess Protection Program

Assume an Attitude of Gratitude

“You are entitled to food, clothing, shelter, and medical attention. Anything else you get is a privilege.” Not exactly written for the princess-in-training, this message was penned for hard-nosed criminals the likes of Al Capone, Robert Stroud, and “The Birdman of Alcatraz.”. I like it. Being a princess is not about the lovely gowns, shining jewels and admirers falling at your feet. Well. Those things are nice, but they’re extras. As long as you have food to eat and something to wear and a tiara over your head, you should call it good. Thank the heavens profusely for even this little bit and take those blessings then and spread them out into the world for others so that they, too, may have food to eat, something to wear, and tiaras over their heads.

Life is not always what we wish it, but it is life nonetheless. We can choose to look for the good and focus on the beauty and leave the ugly lay where it will, or we can choose to wallow in our royal misery. It is the job of a princess to set the example, to teach, to lead. How else to do that but to say, “I may have twenty pounds to lose, but, hey, I have food to spare, I am not hungry,” “I may have lost my job, but now I have the opportunity to return to school and to spend more time with my kids,” or “Even though this is the most excruciatingly, most unbearably hottest day ever, it is green and lovely and filled with flowers and birds and butterflies and such.”

You should know that gratitude has been shown to improve health and well-being. Those who regularly give thanks for the blessings in their lives live longer and are healthier while they’re here. Not exactly boas and pearls, I know, but quite a perk nonetheless.

Adjust Your Tiara

I’ve heard it said that it’s not what happens, but how you react to what happens. Every princess has a bad tiara day now and then, a day when nothing can go right, a day when life seems all wrong, a day when the crown is just a bit crooked. I am reminded of that childhood classic Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. You will have these days. Check back to lesson number one.

Hone in on Your Superpowers

I could tell you all day what’s wrong with you. What if I told you, instead, what’s great about you?! Why do we princess types insist on beating ourselves up for what we suck at? Why don’t we ever say to ourselves, “Oh, p’shaw, that is for delegating. Sure, I totally suck at it, but somebody else does it really, really well. And they LOVE to do it. Now this, this is what I do best!! This is my very special job in all of the entire kingdom.”

A bit too arrogant sounding, perhaps? Not at all. If we’re going to a royal potluck and it’s all about dessert, you’re bringing the pie. I can’t make pie for shit. But, hey, I got the brownies. Why eat crap? We each have our specialties. If we focus on those, the food will be delish! Same with superpowers.

Believe in the Pixie Dust

Peter Pan: All it takes is faith and trust. Oh! And something I forgot.
Peter Pan: Dust!
Wendy, John: Dust?
Michael: Dust?
Peter Pan: Yep, just a little bit of pixie dust.

Hey, if it works for Tinkerbell, it’s good enough for me.

Fake it ‘til You Make It

Act as if. You are a princess already. You may not think it, but just pretend until you do. I know that sometimes you don’t believe you’re capable of such grand work. I know that sometimes you doubt yourself, you question, you cower in the corner beating your head against the wall wondering what the hell you were thinking to ever assume you could possibly affect any sort of positive change on such a huge worldy issue as this……ok, maybe that’s just me. But sometimes, I know, you’re scared shitless. Pardon my un-princess-like language. But, come on. We have work to do. Even for a princess like yours truly, life is not always all about me. I know, mais c’est vrai. A true princess is about her people (did you read the quote?). A true princess has work to do.

This work cannot be done if the focus is on the pretty face in the mirror. Nothing positive can come from dwelling on your fears and weaknesses. I learned once, in sales training, that sometimes you just have to get out of your own way. Sometimes you have to look at what needs to be done and say to heck with it, I can do this. No matter how difficult, I have the resources. Sometimes you just have to put those big girl panties on and do what you know in your heart you’re capable of doing.

As a sister princess reminds me every day (I keep her words posted to my fridge for those times I forget about that tiara on top of my head):

"Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear. The brave may not live forever, but the cautious do not live at all. From now on you'll be traveling the road between who you think you are and who you can be. The key is to allow yourself to make the journey."…….from The Princess Diaries