Friday, October 28, 2011

NaNoWriMo OhNo

The only way of finding the limits of the possible is by going beyond them into the impossible……Arthur C. Clarke

I like to make a reader cry. I also like to make her laugh until she spits beverages through her teeth. I enjoy eliciting all manner of emotion in an effort to move one to action, to move one to help, to encourage, to enlighten, to think and respond. I like to surprise the reader, to be all nicey-nice and then to just toss out a flippant f-word or two when she isn’t even looking. What?! Did she just say that??? And I can do that here. I can do whatever I want here.

The thing I like about this blog is that it’s mine, that there are no rules, that I can say what I want and do what I want and write whenever I want. I can move, motivate, encourage, inspire. I can say what’s in my head right out in front of everybody. I can not write at all for weeks at a time if I choose to do so. Blogs are great like that. But you know that I want to be an author, right? Ever since I was a little girl having my name on a book has been at the top of my Santa list. Unfortunately, sitting around in this cozy little blog won’t get that done.

I’ve had lots of great starts. I’ve written books, completed books, queried those books, even told others of my intent to publish those books. The problem is that, in the end, I trashed those very same books. Let’s just say I’m great with an idea, but often lack the necessary follow-through and hard-heartedness necessary to survive in the publishing world. I also tend to doubt myself into a corner until I am left there sniveling about what a wretched writer I am and that no one could ever possibly want to read what I’ve put to paper. I have goals and grand desires, yes, but I tend to sit around on my big fat aspirations waiting for that dream publisher to magically show up and tell me how wonderful my words are and that television appearance dates have been set and that a nice fat advance is just waiting in my name.

Well. No more. In just a couple short days, NaNoWriMo begins. National Novel Writing Month is intended to get the likes of me focused and driven and churning out one creative word after another. It’s an effort to force writers everywhere to sit that butt in the chair and get the fingers flying--fifty thousand words in thirty days. Insane. But doable.

So, I apologize in advance. My posts will be few and far between for the next few weeks and will mostly be centered on the writing process. I may include more swear words, fewer drops of sunshine. I may curse my talent, pull at my hair, speak in all manner of self-deprecating talk. I may worry the very letters right off this page. I may appear at times to dread the fact that you stand waiting for what I have to say. But know that you are my reason for writing. You are my cheer section minus the cute little skirts and pom poms. You are my encouragement, my motivation, my self-confidence shot in the writer’s rump.

And I'll be needing that shot in the bee-hind as fiction is really just not my thing. At heart I am a nonfiction kind of gal. Nonfiction, to me, is nothing more than talking. I can talk all day. I can express my opinions, reflect, regurgitate until the proverbial cows come home, but to try to tell a story? Well. Not so much. To pull together characters and plot and dialog and such requires possibly a skill set that I somehow lack, a talent I have yet to find. We shall see, sooner probably than I care to imagine. I have been itching, however, to test my limits, and what better way to do that than with the words I so love to use.

So practice those back handsprings and get that pyramid ready. I am lacing up my cleats and heading out to do the job I came here to do. I am not quite certain of the outcome, but in true Tammie fashion am nonetheless practicing my touchdown dance.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Your Story

I think everybody has a hurt spot. We walk around acting all normal and like our world is sunshine and that flowers are just growing out of our ass, like all is wonderful and fabulous and absolutely magnificent, darling, absolutely magnificent. Maybe that spot is something that happened in the past. Maybe that spot is retreating as a little girl to that tiny place you made for yourself in your bedroom closet, the place with the books and the blanket and the flashlight, the place where you could be safe and small, the place you could go when the drinking started, the place where you could hide from the fact that you were different from your friends, that your dad was different, the place where you could cry in your heart and nobody could see, nobody at all.

Maybe your hurt is happening now, at four in the afternoon on a Tuesday. Maybe you sit in the waiting area in your pretty white robe, leafing through last year’s copy of O Magazine, after having your breast mashed flat and handled by a twenty-something with icy hands and an even icier demeanor, snapping photos that will change the plans you had made for the rest of your day, change the plans, in fact, that you had made for the rest of your life, snapping photos that will make you want to run to those four kids of yours and hug them so hard that they nearly beg you to let them go, photos that will make you envision for the first time in your life your husband with another wife, hoping that that wife will be a good mother to your children and that she will love that man of yours as he deserves to be loved.

Maybe your hurt is neither of these. Maybe your hurt is your roommate getting you out of bed at three in the morning, telling you that your family is here to see you, telling you that they are ALL here to see you. You walk into your living room to the picture of your sister and your parents standing in front of you, your parents who have been divorced since you can remember and are never in the same city at the same time let alone your tiny apartment. They stare at you with tears in their eyes and their faces red and, you wonder if you are sleeping or if maybe you are awake. Then, in your bizarre dream-like state, you process that your brother is not with them. You’re screaming now. You’re angry. Confused. WHERE IS HE?! WHERE IS HE?! Your mother tries, but she can’t. She just can’t. Your sister manages to speak, but all you hear is “crash” and “died.”

Your hurt is your story. We cover these stories of ours. We bury them deep, not only so that we might smile and be friendly and pretend that we are getting through the day, but so that, eventually, we actually do get through the day. Sometimes, though, we cover our stories because other people are involved, because those people may not want us telling our stories. But your story belongs to you. No one can keep you from telling that story. No one can tell you that story is not real, that it is not yours.

I am telling you, however, that while your story IS yours, it does not belong to you. It is not about you at all. It’s about what you’re going to do with that story. It’s about the lives you can impact with that story. It’s about changing or validating the story of another. I was recently asked to share my own story. I was a nervous mess, feeling the need to puke and swear and cry all at the same time, feeling the need to make a quick exit never to return, not just to this room, but to this place, this place of hurt and pain and anger and embarrassment. An acquaintance happened to be in the room. She took my hand, looked at me, and said in the softest, most reassuring voice, “You need to tell your story. You need to tell it because we need to hear it.”

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

I Love You...pass it on....

Maybe we should develop a Crayola bomb as our next secret weapon. A happiness weapon. A beauty bomb. And every time a crisis developed, we would launch one. It would explode high in the air - explode softly - and send thousands, millions, of little parachutes into the air. Floating down to earth - boxes of Crayolas. And we wouldn't go cheap, either - not little boxes of eight. Boxes of sixty-four, with the sharpener built right in. With silver and gold and copper, magenta and peach and lime, amber and umber and all the rest. And people would smile and get a little funny look on their faces and cover the world with imagination. ~Robert Fulghum

Writing is nothing more than thinking, thinking way too much and right out in front of people. What I’m thinking right now is that there is far too much hate in the world, far too many evil words, evil acts, evil looks and not nearly enough hugs and smooches and smiles.

Honestly I think most of this stems from feeling ourselves in some way superior. I am right, they are wrong. It’s an us-and-them mentality. We’re uncomfortable with those not like us. Maybe we think them not worthy. We find them unclean, inappropriate, disgusting. We draw a line and say, On this side is who I am. On that side is who you are. If you are not interested in being like me, stay on your side and I will stay on mine. This just reeks of middle school cliques. I joined my daughter for lunch during one of her fifth grade days. She pointed out the different tables—Those are the pops (the popular kids). Those are the wannabe pops (the kids who think they’re popular, but in some way fail). Those are the guys who are really good at sports (apparently, they lacked the term “jocks.”) Really? Already? You stay at your table. I’ll stay at mine.

I am enjoying a nice sweet potato quinoa veggie burger on a fat organic crusty oat bread at one of my favorite lunch spots. I have given myself a day to clear my brain, to decompress, to help my soul find its way back to its happy place. When I feel especially overloaded in life I tend to go off by myself, to retreat, to shut out the world and all that it entails. If I were a pioneer or a woodsmen or a Girl Scout, I might go off into the woods for a couple of weeks. But I am not any of those. I am a suburban mom of four whose idea of camping is a nice hotel with a spa and continental breakfast, so I hike on my boots and head out, instead, to some distant mall. I hit the highway. I drive. I explore strange and foreign bookstores, wade through shops packed with lotions and shower gels and scents of all sorts, and forge my way into the thicket of latest styles at Victoria’s Secret. Yes, my suburban roots are strong, and they serve me well. When I feel the need for a respite from all my trekking, I take myself for a beautiful, nutritious bite to eat.

And so I sit jotting notes with my purple pen, taking in my surroundings so that later I can share with you. As I do, I notice the two women at the table beside me. They seem to be having a brain-picking session, mentor and mentee. The sage advisor is a fifty-something with shortish black hair and shortish black slacks. She does a fair job of pulling it all together, keeping up her looks after years of kids and work and marriage. The younger woman is maybe in her mid-thirties, skinny, not thin, but skinny and decked out in the latest fashion. She, apparently, has been an at-home mom or is recently divorced or has been let go from her job (I am getting all writerly in my imagining here, as I know none of this for certain) because I hear that now she is at a point where she would like to figure out what she is doing with the next phase of her life. Hence, the brain-picking. The two also seem to be on familiar terms as I overhear a bit of juicy gossip and would like to know more about what Kathy did or did not do with her boyfriend or ex or boss—well, geez, could they be a bit louder and just a tad more clear--but at this point the younger woman puts her hand to her mouth and whispers so that eavesdroppers might not hear, but still loudly enough for someone at a nearby table to pick out the word “stalking,” and so this leads me on a whole different set of imagining and I am only sorry that I do not write fiction so that I might use this wonderful bit of material, but, honestly, I digress.

The conversation leaves me thinking about my own life. Not the stalking part, but the what-am-I-doing-with-the-next-phase part. I have been at various transition points in my life and feel that once again I am greeting that old friend, Fork in the Road. I am at a good spot for me, yes, but I am doing not nearly what I could, given who I am. I teach, and I write, and I love both. I do. But I am operating at only half speed. I am a book with chapters left unread, a map with roads yet to explore, a Christmas tree with presents still to open. What, in the words of my falafel-pita-wrap-with-gorgeous-pickle-spear-on-the-side lunch neighbor, am I doing with the next phase of my life?

Hmmm. I am reminded again of the hate that fills this world. I am reminded of the shortage of hugs and smiles and have a great days. And I am wondering if spreading insane amounts of peace, love, and compassion to all is too big a goal……

*peace and love………pass it on…………

Monday, October 24, 2011

Maybe You Will Write

< insert Twilight Zone music >

I am in my public library, kids crawling all over me, my kids—one on the hip, two at the train table, and one on the floor with puzzles, dinosaurs, and various hand puppets of storybook fame. I have been at home with these four since my oldest was born, committing my time to play groups and parties and picnics with ducks. You should know that I am not the at-home mom sort. I am impatient and selfish and bossy at best, but these are MY children, darn it, and I’ll be damned if anyone else is going to raise them.

My husband and I have struck a deal. He brings home the green, and I see to the care and feeding of these little minds and souls. The deal has worked well to this point, but I am feeling lately that itch to get back into the heels-and-hair world of work. I am feeling the need to stretch. I am feeling the need for more. But more what? Having never really established myself in a career pre-plastic pants and burp cloths, I am at somewhat of a loss as to where to fling myself. I am a compass without its needle, a one-way sign without the arrow. I am Dora without her map.

In true Tammie fashion, I grab a couple of Sharpies and a giant white board and chart my life. What have I done with my time? Work, volunteer, hobby. Did I like it or did I not? Why? Why not? What exactly was it specifically that I liked about it, the people, the position, the product?

As I chart, I begin to see a theme. What I like:

Substitute teacher--the varied schedule, the flexibility, the thinking-on-my-feet-ness, the being in charge

La Leche League leader—the creativity, the learning, the thinking on my feet-ness, the being in charge

Sunday school teacher—the flexibility, the learning, the creativity, the thinking on my feet-ness, the being in charge

Girl Scout leader—the varied schedule, the flexibility, the learning, the creativity, the thinking on my feet-ness, the being in charge

Mary Kay consultant—the flexibility, the varied schedule, the creativity, the being in charge

I have always put myself in front of a group of people in a teaching or counseling role. I have most enjoyed in my life being in the leadership position, being in charge, helping others to get to a more positive place, whatever that positive place may be. Ok, so fine. I like a group. And I like being in charge of that group. I like moving people, in an inspirational, educational kind of way. So what now?

Maybe I will teach.

This is why I have come to the library, to get some quiet brain time so that I can ponder the possibility of putting myself once again in front of a class. Only I have run into an old acquaintance and we are chatting instead. I explain to her my dilemma, wanting to go back to work and not knowing for what. She suggests that maybe I will write. Maybe I will write? How does that even fit into this conversation? I have in no way even clued her into the idea that I do, in fact, put words to paper and that I deem a career doing such to be right up there with every little boy’s dream of becoming a professional baseball player, a beautiful idea, but not at all likely. Still, I entertain her notion as I am enjoying the verbal exchange.

At some point our children begin to show signs of needing food and sleep and a toilet. I gather the pile of titles my four have collected and head upstairs to the checkout, putting together a mental resume for that teaching position I am certain I will have. In line, the older gentleman behind me engages me in small talk. He is short and hunched at the shoulders and full of white hair. The hair has a mind of its own and sprouts in totally inappropriate places. The man is unassuming and bookish with glasses that slip down his nose. If I had to guess, I would venture to say that he is a retired professor, probably of English literature or philosophy or something like that. I am generally a good guesser. He comments on the pile of children’s books and asks where mine might be. I tell him how I am back in school now and have plenty to read and that I am working on my masters degree but not sure what exactly I want to do with it. “Maybe you will write,” he says without any context as to my subject of study or previous profession or childhood dreams or any such useful information as that. “Maybe you will write.”

The clerk needs my attention. I stack the books on the counter for her and turn back quickly to interrogate Mr. Mystery Professor. He is not there. He was in line, with books, behind me. Now he is nowhere. I look. I look, but he is not there. Was he ever?

I know that I will teach, yes. I am certain of this. But, maybe, maybe I will write.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Poverty to Pixie Dust

pixie dust


a substance or influence with an apparently magical effect that brings great success or luck

ORIGIN 1950s: from the magic dust that enabled humans to fly in J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan.

A friend suggested the other day that, perhaps, my beloved pixie dust is not real. Well. He didn’t exactly use the word “perhaps.” While we are much alike on many issues, I am going to have to veer paths on this one. The problem with pixie dust is that it’s fun and fluff and light and happy. Some people have issue with that. Nothing about it can be observed or quantified. Nothing about it is based in reality. It’s the stuff of fairy tales and children’s play. It’s all in the head.

Fine. Crush my dreams.

Let’s look first at the definition (I like that pixie dust has a definition. That makes me smile.). Seems this wonder of mine is “a substance or influence with an apparently magical effect.” Let’s come back to that part later. For now, let’s focus on the fact—can I call it a fact?—that pixie dust brings great success or luck. You should know that I don’t believe in luck. I know. Here I am trying to convince you of the existence of some sprinkling twinkles that light up the world and yet I am running around shouting, sorry, Virginia, there is no such thing as luck. I don’t believe that life just happens to us regardless what we do or don’t. I believe that life, a good life, happens through hard work and determination and perspiration, lots of perspiration, and other very unladylike, but incredibly necessary terms.

I believe that we make our own luck, that we go looking for a change, and that we then make that change happen. We make that change happen with words like resiliency, optimism, grit. We make that change happen with elbow grease and gumption and a smidge of pigheadedness. Nobody ever gets out of a bad place by sitting in it and complaining about being there. No, we get out of a bad place with every bit of fortitude we have. If we are smart, we will also utilize huge amounts of pixie dust.

And just like luck, we can’t sit around waiting for that pixie dust to show up.

It’s like chocolate. Some people go to the specialty stores and pick up the tiniest little chunk in the shape of some nut or flower, tied with a fat red grosgrain ribbon. Me? I load up on mine in bulk at the warehouse store. Same with pixie dust. I’m not holding out for something special. I want loads of the stuff every day. I’m going out looking for it, tossing it in my cart quick before the mom with the whining kids and the list a mile long beats me to it.

But it helps to know what you’re looking for. So. Back to the first part of the definition—pixie dust: a substance or influence with an apparently magical effect.

Maybe pixie dust as a term is too out there for some. Maybe we should call it opportunity, synchronicity, circumstance. I would go the fate, fortune, karma route but that would get me into just as much trouble as the flying fairy dust. I believe that sometimes circumstances are such that a window of opportunity opens, even just a crack, at just the right time. This is where reality, or rather determination, comes into play because that window can sit open forever, but if we fail to see it, to do anything with it, then our lives continue on as is. That said, if we are being smart, we don’t sit around waiting for open windows to show up out of nowhere. We go out searching for them. Yes, we attack our bad situations with determination and persistence and grit and every bit of elbow grease we can muster. However, sometimes even that is not enough to change a life, sometimes all of that together isn’t even close. Sometimes we need the right circumstance at the right time with the right people and right opportunity. But if we go around with our eyes closed and our mouths spewing words of regret over our sad, sad lives, then we never see that tiny breath of fresh air. We never even notice that it's there.

Sadly, we are just not set up as a culture to help some people live that American dream, to get out of that bad situation, to live a better life. Sometimes even with desire and trying we get much of nowhere. Sometimes we need that open window, that sprinkling of magic.

Sure, reality is important. But, in my world, pixie dust is reality. Sometimes it’s the only reality.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Essay or Not to Essay?

I recently attended my thirtieth high school reunion. Let’s get past that number for a second and focus on something entirely different. I caught a ride to the event with a friend. On the way home, she looks at me and asks, “Do you think there’s an essay in any of that?”

This is how it works. I never know what will strike a thought and what will not. I was certain, for example, that a blog post would follow that night. Lord knows there was enough material—the grown man showing his ass for the camera (YOU know who you are), the goody two-shoes downing her first shot (later to be plastered, no pun intended, all over Facebook), the guy who came all the way from Norway just to hang out with his former high school buddies (he came to see his family, too, of course, but, you know) But, no. Nothing. That’s how it goes. I immerse myself in all this rich material, then absolutely not a thought on the subject. Sometimes what I think will strike up an essay fizzes out like the flames of a Fourth of July bonfire.

I passed a little girl on my walk the other day. Her grandmother had her tricycle, the little girl’s not the grandmother’s, on a leash. My curiosity got the best of me. What in heaven’s name would a pink princess tricycle be doing on a dog lead?! There must certainly be an essay somewhere in THAT. Seems the two-year-old’s mother had just had a baby. He turned two weeks today. Grandma had come from out of town for a few days to help with the house and the new big sister. Seems the little cutie couldn’t make the entire ride the day before and Grandma’s arms got tired of carrying said tricycle. Hence, the lead. Hmm. Maybe Grandma should add a few full side planks to her yoga routine. Beyond that, I got nothing.

In the same light, I was certain the girl coming out of my local bookstore would strike a creative thought. She wore absolutely the most flamboyant purple pajama bottoms I have ever seen, complete with red and yellow circles all around. Nothing. But I’m holding onto her. She may come in handy later. These little bits of life don’t always inspire writing on the spot, you know. Heck, I’m still writing about things that happened nearly forty-five years ago. That’s just how it works.

Writing is simply processing life. You keep your eyes open and soak in your surroundings. Like this—Right now I am sitting at a window seat, my favorite, in that same bookstore as the girl with the purple pajamas. Only she isn’t here at the moment. Who is here is a guy who has the nastiest, loosest, grossest cough I have ever heard. I am throwing up my venti chai just a bit in my mouth. I hate that phrase and pull it out only when necessary, but believe me, if you could hear this guy you would know what I mean. He should leave. He should really leave. A Jets fan is passing the window. I know he’s a fan because of the t-shirt he wears. He’s all buff and such so I’m guessing it’s not just a case of I got this shirt at a garage sale for a quarter, but I really don’t like the Jets. Still, I’m wondering why he’s in Michigan if he’s such a Jets fan. The barista is new by a couple of weeks. He’s doing a great job, remembering names and drinks, and wanting to impress. His former employment was in fast food and while he is definitely fast, he needs to work a bit on the image that is that green apron and black t-shirt. I’m describing. I’m putting you where I am. This is all that writing is. Mostly.

The actual processing part of writing is what happens after you mash up all those descriptive pictures in your head and come up with meaning. What does this mean to me? How does this impact my life?

It’s not always what we are directly looking at, either, that stirs the thought, what we are focusing our energy on, that causes us to reflect.

I’ve written an entire essay on my butt, or one’s butt, rather. I just happened to write it from my perspective, but as always, intended the message to be more global. I’m amazed at and fascinated by attitudes on physical beauty and related struggles women endure throughout their years. I’ve penned a few posts on underwear. I think there are a lot of life lessons in the lingerie drawer. That’s a rich, rich source of material and reader reaction. And don’t even start me on breasts! That would just lead me down the path of total digression--fun, fru fru, and fabulous--but digression nonetheless.

I haven’t written, yet, on a friend’s heart attack, but I have reflected. Because now, in my world, heart attacks happen to real people not just my daughter’s classmate’s mother’s husband’s co-worker’s friend, but MY friend. A friend who eats like me, works like me, and moves like me, maybe even moves more than I do. That’s a bit too close.

We spend so much of our time organizing our days, planning our years, studying for that prime job, working toward retirement. We think that all of that big stuff is “where it’s at.” And to return to my friend’s question, “Do you think there’s an essay in any of that?” Yes, I do, but the words never come from where I might think. It’s never that thing I’m directly looking at that sparks the idea. It’s never the big stuff. Life and writing don’t happen on the sidewalk itself. They happen in the cracks.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Wide Load

It’s an off-kilter crown kind of day. I just cannot decide if I am in my manic state or my depressive state. I alternate, you know, between the two. Sometimes life is wonderful, I love everyone, and I literally feel as if I am truly walking on sunshine. I mean, I’m not clinically manic. I don’t spend shitloads of money and have wildly inappropriate sexual relations with people I don’t even know, but I have my good days. Then come the days where I’ve given up hope, I have no idea where I am headed with my life, and I honestly could not tell you what the point of my existence has been. I’m not quite sure right now where I stand. I’m not ready to close all the blinds and withdraw into myself and yet, I’m feeling a bit lost, out of sorts, not quite my chipper self.

I’m thinking my expectations may be set too high. For some, it’s ok just to exist, just to live out one’s time, just to show up in order to check off being there much as the prisoner tallies up the days on the cold stone prison wall. The problem is I’m not a just-showing-up kind of gal. That’s just not me. Sometimes I wish it were. Then, I think, I would be ecstatic every day having far surpassed my standards. Then, I think, life would be good and not quite as confusing as I make it out to be. Just showing up is easy. Striving to carry the heavy load, to do that which others dare not, to go above and beyond what is expected—THAT is not so easy, THAT is excitement at its best, THAT is a life lived, THAT is something for which to pat oneself on the back.

An example. And pardon if I seem to digress, but stay with me.

I am sitting on my front porch working on an essay, feet up, iced tea at hand, and cool breeze on my face. Various neighbor activity keeps me mildly, and may I say pleasantly, distracted. The young family next door is assembling the home’s first basketball goal, a breath of life to a house that has stood too long silent of the wonderful sound of children’s Smurfy little voices. A mom and daughter walk by with a Doodle-something on a leash. Cars pass, much too fast for my liking, but I absolutely refuse to be one of those old women who shouts at them from the curb to slow their asses down. Secretly, though, I am wishing someone would be that old woman as they are definitely going to hurt someone or something. Then comes zipping along an elderly fellow on a moped. He is scrawny, but in a muscular, fit kind of way. He, I know this from my two-second observation as he passes my yard, eats lots of lettuce and walks a mile every morning. He gets plenty of sleep and has a family who loves him. He, in turn, loves them and loves life and meets his buddies in the coffee shop every morning just to gab and shoot the breeze and nurture these life-long relationships.

Now let’s go to a different day.

I am teaching downtown today because it is Friday and that is where I teach on Fridays. As I cross through a major intersection, I turn my head to check for traffic. I catch a glimpse of a woman a tad older than myself on yet another moped. Gutsy, I think as I pass, to drive one of those things in the middle of afternoon traffic. But the visual that stuck with me was of her, not of the vehicle. It was as if she, herself, were the vehicle with two tiny wheels protruding from the underside of her body. She, and again I know this from that tiny glimpse I sneaked at the light, she watches evening soaps, eats an insane amount of potato chips, has never stepped foot in a gym, had a free week once but failed to use it. She makes and delivers baskets for church members who are in the hospital, in the nursing home, in the poorhouse. Her children never come to visit, and she is certain to share this information with anyone who will listen. She has high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes. She’s dieting, always, but really, never.

The moped in the first story is just showing up. Any moped could do that job. I don’t want to be that moped. I want to be the one in the second story. I want to be the one that looks at the job in front of her and says, Holy shit! I have no idea how we’re going to make this work, but hey, let’s do it. I want to take on the biggest challenge I can find and then fly down that road as if it ain’t no thang, just buzzing along and shouting, Look at me world. Look at me go!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Why Do I Not Want to Die?

I had a dream last night. Actually, I have dreams most every night. And I remember them, a lot of them. I used to be really into looking up the meanings, interpreting, deciphering my life based on my nightly stories. Then I jumped into other more serious interests like astrology and past lives. But I had this dream and it was disturbing and so I looked it up.

In the dream I am at a picnic and am standing under the pavilion. I see an owl swooping toward me. I am afraid, but in luck because he misses and lands in a nearby tree. I am in a panic and talking to my mother in a frantic voice. She tries to calm me, but I will have none of it. I feel my heart racing, my palms sweating, my breath quicken. He swoops again. I crouch in fear. This time he does not miss. He lands on my back and I can feel his talons clutching me (do owls have talons?). I can feel him grabbing at me for real not just in my dream. I can feel it in my sleep much as one might smell a dream smell or hear a dream voice as if it is really happening. I can feel the clutching at my back. He is trying to lift me, trying to carry me away. I am not sure if he is attempting to carry me with him in flight or if instead I am his prey. I will have none of it. I hold on to the ground with everything I have. I hold my place in fear for my life. Then I wake up.

I am unable to let go of this dream. It stays with me like the collection of those I have that I could describe to you right now, those that have somehow maintained their spot in my brain, bringing me smiles and laughter and good memories. I like having good memories from dreams. I like dreams that are encouraging and inspiring and funny and silly and sometimes prophetic. I don’t much care for owls clutching at my back.

And, so, in my distress I turn to my trusty dream dictionary for some comfort. At first, indeed, comfort is what I find. An owl in a dream is a sign that one is tuning into her inner awareness, honing her intuition, getting in touch with her psychic self. She is expanding her level of consciousness. Wonderful! Exciting! As I read further I see that owls signify wisdom and insight. They, too, can be synonymous with death. Excuse me? Read that last part again. Death? What the hell?!

My scientist self says never trust one source. And so I explore other dream interpretation sites. I know. Don’t even talk to me about talking science and online dream interpretation in the same sentence. The other sources are very comforting. Owls, indeed, signify wisdom and an expansion of the self and opening to all that is intuitive, signals a connection to synchronicity and psychic awareness. Cool. I am liking this and secretly thumbing my nose at that first site. I check one more dictionary source just to round out the number. It is all about death. Owls are dark and represent a passing. Be careful in your excursions. Lay low and don’t take any unnecessary risks. So. I’m going to die? I want a re-do.

The more I thought about the dream, the more I wondered. Why am I so afraid to die? Dying is after all a side effect of birth. We all do it. So, why am I so afraid, besides the obvious fact that it’s scary as heck?

I did almost die once. I was six. But I had no children and really didn’t understand the whole concept. I’m older now, with a family and a good knowledge of how the whole life and death thing works.

Some of you will say, but oh, the afterlife. Some of you will go on and on about how wonderful things will be when we move from where we are to where we will be. But what if we don’t? But, oh, we will and it will be just grand, just stunning and spectacular. Yeah, but what if it’s not? But it will be. It is written. Yeah, but what if it’s not, even if it is written? I’m not saying I don’t believe. I’m just saying I question. And so I ask myself, why do I not want to die? Again, besides the fact that it's scary as heck. That’s a cop out answer. That’s like one of those answers you put when you’re trying to bullshit your way through an exam. I wanted something real. And so I asked myself again, why do I not want to die?

I love a Steve Jobs quote that goes, "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am
 about to do today?"

I think that’s my answer. I am just now understanding the importance of arranging my life so that I am doing the work I feel I was put here to do. I am just now embracing the idea that I can love my life and smile and laugh and lift others up. I am just now dismissing from my days all the crap, all the stuff that others put there and insist is necessary. I am just now understanding that most things in life are optional. I love to bake. When I do, the recipe inevitably contains a few optional items. Usually these are nuts or dried fruits or chocolate chips. Most everything else is required and has a definite purpose in the end product. Not so with life. I know that now.

I am reading The Art of Non-Conformity. The author, Chris Guillebeau has stretched my brain. Good thing because it was getting flabby from lack of imagining. In the book, he refers to an exercise he came upon once that has one designing a perfect day. If you could design your perfect day, what would it look like? And pardon me for not getting to the root contributor of this idea but his name escapes me now and I cannot, for the life of me, find where I read this. But it’s there. And the concept is lovely. Most of us wake up, have a cup of coffee or two, head to work, spend out our eight hours, come home, make dinner, help the kids with homework, go to bed, wake up and do it all again. And many of us don’t even like those jobs we’re spending all those hours with. I’m always fascinated at the people who complain about Mondays. Ugh!, they say, Monday again. How did this happen?! I just want to grab them by the shoulders, give them a shake, and say, Hello?! It’s happened every single week for the last forty-eight years. Where have you been?! You need to get a new life!! This one is not workin’ for ya!

My perfect day: I would spend my morning enjoying a latte and some laughs with a friend. For the afternoon, I’d grab an iced tea and head to my front porch with my laptop and some thoughts on something I had seen or heard during the day, an essay just waiting to happen. I’d write until my eyeballs felt ready to explode. Then I’d throw on my sneakers and head out to the woods for a nice long walk, enjoying the birds and the butterflies and all the beauty that is nature. Dinner would be beautiful and nutritious, feeding my soul as much as my body. After, I would spend out the evening with my husband and children playing board games at the kitchen table, laughing hysterically until we pee our pants and spit drinks out through our noses.

Why do I not want to die? I don’t believe I am finished. I believe I have work to do. I believe that work is helping others to see how they might arrange their lives so they love their days, how they might arrange their lives so they feel good about themselves and about others and about the world in which they live.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Thank Ya JEE-sus!!

I feel I need to get some religion. I am feeling like the sheep that has strayed—a bit naughty, deaf to the Lord, caught up in my own self.

I have not been to church in four months. There. I said it. And, like the diet that never starts tomorrow, next Sunday will not be the Sunday I start planting my butt again in the pew. I am headed out of town with a friend. We are returning to her hometown, which is in a state I have never visited. She is helping me reach a goal. After our little trip, I will only have four states left to explore. Instead of mouthing hymns, breaking bread, and bowing my head in prayer, I will be nurturing a relationship, soaking in the beauty around me, and spending a moment on the open road in quiet reflection. I’m going to count that as church.

Every day I pray, thank you for the gifts you have given me, please put in front of me opportunities to use those gifts to do your work. Every day I pray this. Every day. And yet, I am thinking now about that woman crouched and huddled together with her daughter inside the bridge, seeking shelter from Chicago’s not-quite-yet-bone-chilling winter. I wouldn’t let my dog sleep on the nasty blanket that covered them, let alone throw it over myself. And yet, I walked right by. I am still thinking about that, still wishing I had given her a bit of change or perhaps my coat, even. I could have given her my coat. It would have been easy enough to duck into Macy’s on the next corner and pick up a new one. But I passed her by.

I am reminded of the story of the man who prays to God for help in the midst of a flood. The man stands on his rooftop waiting for God’s help. Various rescuers pass, asking to give him a hand, but he refuses saying that he is waiting for God and certain that God will help him. When the waters become unbearable, he prays again and asks why God has deserted him. God replies that He sent a boat and a helicopter and all those other rescuers, but the help was turned away. I am not unlike this man. I pray for these opportunities to do good work, to use the gifts that are inside of me, to throw the blessings in my life back at others so that they, in turn, might throw them out again. I pray. And everyday the opportunities are all around me and yet I fail to see or, in my selfishness, I refuse the opportunity. Like the woman.

I have been given much in my life. There’s a quote that goes something like this, to whom much has been given much will be expected. Much has been given. I’m not talking position or salary here. I have those things, yes, but mostly I am talking sustenance. I have known hunger and poverty. I have been cold when others were warm. I have known the humiliation of that look from others, that look that says with no words, you are disgusting to me and not worthy of my time. I have felt the anger at living a life that was not of my choosing, the life of a child born into the likes of joblessness, a long series of decrepit homes, teenage pregnancy, drinking and drugs and dropping out of school. I am not in that life anymore. Much has been given. I never have to think, how will I feed my children? I never have to pack in the middle of the night to leave a house because I am too far behind on the rent and have no money still to pay. I never worry about keeping my family warm in winter, splitting wood to build the fire to heat the house because the electric has long ago been shut off. A man I have never met paid for much of my college education. I can only say thank you by giving to others, returning the gift, as he is no longer living. Much has been given.

Some of my more Christian friends—Is that a term? More Christian? I feel it is. Not that I think so, but I believe others think so. And I’m just not versed enough on the Bible to find the spot that says I go to the right church, the Lord’s church, and I spout off about God every minute of every day and I suck up to the Lord every chance I get and I am certain to let others know when they are sinning, sinning being defined as any action deemed unacceptable by me or any of my fellow church members, and I am of the right color and of the right ethnicity and of the right socioeconomic status and I would never, under any circumstance, consider intimate relations with ANYONE who is of my same gender, so therefore, yes, I am more Christian than you—anyway, some of my more Christian friends will be horrified that I have spoken as I have in this essay. I’ve been a bit blasphemous (especially that last part, whew!, THAT’S gonna get me into some trouble). The truth is, I am not unlike anyone else. We all have inside us much to offer. Much has been given from the start. Even the things in my life I saw as painful and unfair, even those things I know now, were gifts. I have food and clothing and shelter now to spare and others have none. I know what having none feels like. I know the difference a coat or a blanket can make. I know the difference a simple piece of bread can make. I have been blessed, too, with love and compassion and kindness where others know only hatred or sorrow. Much has been given. I see now that it’s my turn to be the one doing that giving.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Giving As I See It

I believe the best giving happens when selfish and selfless learn to coexist. A selfish soul has nothing to offer the world. He does, but he won’t give it. He is too focused on his own pleasure. It is like the man who accumulates wealth, but who hoards it. He does a very nice job of decorating the vault, but for what good? The man who is selfless to the point of self-neglect, on the other hand, becomes the martyr, becomes the soul who loses himself, who fails to love himself, in loving others. It is the man who feeds himself first, rather, the man who keeps himself strong and nourished, vibrant and energized, who has much to throw out at the world, who has much to offer. It is the man who knows what fuels his soul that is able, then, to go and fuel the souls of others.

What fuels YOUR soul?

As for me, I need long walks in nature, watching the birds, the butterflies, breathing in all that is green from the tall grasses to the rustling leaves, soaking up the warm sunshine on my bare shoulders, and, corny as it sounds, becoming one with all that is around me, sending out my innermost wishes to the Universe itself. I need mornings in a coffee shop with a latte and a really good friend who makes me laugh. I need books, lots of books, and plenty of quiet alone time to read those. I am sure to include large amounts of side-splitting fun and peaceful reflective moments into my routine each day. Selfish? Yes. But I am fueling my soul. If I get these things I am a happy girl. I have made significant deposits into my personal well-being account, and I have much from which to draw.

I know what I need, and I know what I do. I know when to say no so that I can more often say yes.

I do not make copies. I am not very good at it. Please don’t laugh. It’s true. But I will sit in a tiny student chair in a dimly lit elementary school hallway with some other mother’s seven-year-old, a seven-year-old who is struggling to put sounds to words and to put those words to sentences, a seven-year-old who is struggling to find the joy in reading. I will sit while this child points a finger at the page and follows along with her failed attempts at reading. I will sit, sounding out with her and following along with her, encouraging and praising. I will sit, and I will be energized. But I cannot do this if I am in the faculty lounge waiting for forty pages of busywork to finish printing.

Neither do I do meetings. They bore me. Incredibly. They suck the very life from my entire being. But I will stand for as long as it takes with a student who is struggling to stay in college, who is struggling to keep up his grades, who is struggling just to finish the class, struggling because of life issues, real life issues, not made up issues like Grandma’s third funeral or a nasty pretend case of the flu. I will stand with the student whose father is losing the fight against cancer, whose father is wetting himself and lashing out and dispensing the last of a father’s life lessons to his son, whose father is days from death and has no other family but this twenty-year-old boy who stands in front of me. I will stand for as long as it takes to help him to find his strength, to help him to know that even with this strength it is ok to cry and to struggle with letting go of this man who raised him when his mother wouldn’t, when his mother turned him away and left his life for good. I will stand with the forty-year-old single mother, the very mother who aged out of the foster care system and at eighteen was shown the door, the mother who withstood years of abuse and neglect and who is crying in front of me though she tries very hard to hold it in, who is crying now because she has heard nothing in her life but what is wrong with her, what she cannot do, what she is not capable of, what she will never amount to. I will stand with her. I will stand for as long as it takes and help her to find the light that is inside of her, to help her to see all that she has to offer, all that she has to give. I will stand for as long as it takes, but I cannot do that if I am sitting in a swivel chair listening to a khaki-pantsed full-of-himself go on about procedures and process and the latest incentives for productivity.

It is never wrong to say no. If you say no to what sucks the life from you, you can say yes to what you are here to do. And it is never wrong to love yourself. If you love yourself, you will never tire of loving others.