Saturday, December 15, 2012

My Take on Gun Control, Sort Of


Wise words came to me yesterday in the form of a very gentle verbal slap in the face. Sometimes we see the flaws in the life of another easier than we see those in our own. Flaws? Me? I am so busy preaching gratitude for what is, compassion for self, and tolerance for positions other than one’s own and, yet, I was not turning that mirror toward myself. I was living for something that was not, shitting on my own head, and refusing to acknowledge any perspective other than my own.

Is it so much different when we profess concern for another in the name of God, and yet talk about how wrong that person is in thought, action, or deed just because he or she does not believe or does not believe as we do? I love you, but only if you are like me. I am a Christian, after all, and the right kind of Christian at that. But it’s okay. I’ll pray for you.

Is it so much different when we proclaim love of our country, concern for our brothers and sisters in citizenship and yet spew vile words in the name of compassion? I have never been so afraid for the future of my family and those I love. This man does not belong in office. Those who voted for him will regret their decision. The country is coming to ruin. What will become of family values, the sacrament of love and marriage, the word of the Lord? This man is evil and has done nothing for the good of our country. No? And what have YOU done? Personally. Sent nasty emails to every liberal on your friends list telling them what a wretched excuse of a voter they are? Posted racist, dehumanizing cartoons about this man and his family? Very productive. Way to be a contributor to a better world for you and for those you love. Way to put yourself out there and support the cause you so vehemently profess to believe.

Is it so much different when we express anger and shock at the news of mass shootings in our own neighborhood, and yet condone it when it is for “the greater good?” Death is okay when it is on other soil, when it fixes a wrong, when it supports our cause. We play games of distraction, making the issue not about slaughter or about cause, but about guns, weapons, and the right to carry such. One side shouts at the other. I am right. You are wrong. Guns don’t kill people. People kill people. Protect our children. Arm the teachers. Oh, come on, when was the last time you heard of a mass stabbing? Aren’t we missing the point? Do we even know what the point is?

You don’t teach love by flinging hate. You don’t fix death by killing life.

What are we doing to each other? What are we doing to ourselves? It is exactly this behavior that we are throwing out to others that creates the behavior we claim to so violently detest. We are angry at those not like us sometimes to the point of hatred. Our children see this. They learn from us that it is acceptable to believe themselves superior, that some of us are right and some of us are really, really wrong. It is not about religion or race or family values or guns. It is not about which side wins. When we attack each other as we do, we all lose. Game over.

No. It is not about religion or race or family values or guns. It is about love. It is about owning up to our own behavior, seeing our own faults as clearly as we see those of others. We cannot expect more love, more compassion, a kinder, safer world if that is not what we are giving. We cannot expect a warm and nurturing environment if we are spitting in the face of those we profess to embrace.

When I sat with my friend over coffee, I did not care to admit to having flaws. I did not want to acknowledge my faults or shortcomings. I did not want to own up to the fact that I was not living the very words I preach, that perhaps I was, and this pains me to no end to even consider, but that perhaps I was wrong. I did not, in fact, admit to anything until I had gotten home and thought about her words, run them through my head a bit. I am asking, now, the same from you. I am asking that you own up to your own behavior. That you focus for a second not on the actions of others, but that you focus on those of yourself. Take that mirror. Take that mirror and shine it back on you. Now. How do you like that? How do you like that picture?

Friday, December 14, 2012

Go in Love and Peace


Some people go to church to see what they can get from it, what message they can take. I go to church knowing what I will get, knowing the message I will take. I go to church knowing that I will be filled with thoughts of kindness and love and compassion and goodwill. Church, for me, is the source of my light. I am not dismissing the ugly. I am not dismissing tragedy or loss. I am promoting compassion and love. I am promoting a focus on what is good and what is right. Tragedy will happen. So will loss. It is important to address, to acknowledge. But in that same day, in that same space, peace and kindness and love will also happen. And these are no less important. “Go in love and peace to love and serve the Lord.”

I saw today a woman and her children collecting hats and gloves and blankets and scarves for those who have none. Not only did she go through her own closets, but she posted flyers to encourage others to do the same. She sat up barrels for the collecting and carted overfilled boxes of other people’s winter wear to the nearby mission. Her children accompanied her, helped her, and brainstormed ideas to make the next project even bigger. They all will be dishing out pie and salad and mashed potatoes at the same mission very soon. This was not the mother’s idea. This was the idea of her child. This woman was modeling for her children empathy and love and compassion, teaching a concern for others less fortunate than self.

I saw two students offer up much needed end of term praise to a very tired and very stressed instructor. Without going into detail, just know that words like “amazing,” “passionate,” and “exceptional” were thrown like flowers at my feet. I do not have a tip jar on my podium. Kind words are not a requirement toward grade. These came freely from the sincerity of their hearts. I question, at times, whether I am the person for this job. I question whether I am serving or merely getting in the way. I receive my share of punitive words, my fair share of jabs. But words like these, words that feed my energy, words that feed my teacher soul, I clip and cut and post where I can see when I want nothing more than to curl up in a corner and quit.

I saw a very good friend drop everything in her day to answer to the needs of a confused heart over a cup of coffee and some heavy chat. I am not very good at listening. I have my opinion, and I am almost always certain it is right. You may give me yours, I will allow you to do that, to share, because I know that it makes you feel better, but you will not sway me. As such, I can be a bit high maintenance as a friend in need of counseling. To complicate the matter, I tend to surround myself in a shield of strength and light and positive vibes. I am a mover, a motivator. I uplift, encourage, inspire. One cannot do that if one is needy. I remember my first stint as a volunteer leader and counselor. My first thought was what about me? What do I do now? Who counsels the leader? A good friend who doesn’t buy your crap, that’s who. A good friend who knows you enough to know that while others may believe you have the world by the balls, you really are nothing more than that holiday fruit cocktail filled lime Jell-O on your insides, made with too much water and not given enough time to set.

Let me ask, what did YOU see today? What kindness crossed YOUR path? What love did YOU throw out to the world? Did you not? Well. Go now in love and peace. Tell someone what he or she means to you. Give to one less fortunate. Listen to a friend. Thank a mentor, teacher, or one who has made a difference in your life. Show gratitude, compassion, and love. Ease another’s burdens. Fill another’s heart. Be the light. Spread the love.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Ahoy, Mateys!!


She won’t stop staring at me. She is fixed on my face and smiling like a new parent at the nursery window. Then in HE walks. With a pirate’s hat and a sexy swagger. Who ARE these people, and what are they doing in my bookstore? I came to study, to focus on motivation and learning theory and instructional design, but all I can hear are whispers of chakras and angels and religion and spirituality. How long have you known? When did you get the message? Tell me. How can I possibly cite sources and support my thoughts when a good eavesdropping is to be had?!

There are two tables pulled together, a witch’s hat in the middle. The group is a mix of older women, older men, some middle-agers, a young couple with a baby. They seem to be a happy bunch and will not, for the life of them, stop staring and smiling. Do I have something on my face? How does my hair look? There appears to be some mentoring going on. Everyone is comparing notes, counseling the one who greeted me with the cheesy grin. One woman takes the hands of another. Do they know each other? Is this a compassionate reaching out, an effort to reassure? No. This is a reading. Over coffee. In the middle of the café. Maslow can wait. I have an essay busting out all around me.

Given the nature of the meeting, I wonder now what it is that these friendly souls are “seeing” when they look at me. It must be something good. I am tempted to pull up a chair. I am tempted to “accidentally” brush skin to skin with one of them. Regardless, I am glad for the opportunity to make them smile. I am glad for the opportunity to bring a light to their days.

It makes me think of the man in the wheelchair. A different man on a different day. I am making my way down the sidewalk headed into class. He approaches in a wheelchair, no teeth, tattered clothes, five o’clock shadow gone bad. He has obvious mental challenges. I am walking at my normal brisk clip, focused on some nonexistent point in the distance, but for a second I catch his eye. He makes intense contact, smiles a huge toothless smile and shoots me the cheeriest, “YER priddy.” My day is sunshine immediately. I cannot stop smiling, at first a contained little smirk, after a full out grin.

Do I do this for others? Do I throw out sunshine? Do I radiate warmth? Am I the guy in the wheelchair, the woman in the bookstore? Or am I the student refusing the project, throwing out mean words in her paper, suggesting what an incompetent instructor I am, and how I have no idea how to teach this class? Am I that student sitting in her seat all term glaring, surrounded in negative energy, calling me the “B” word in her head? Nothing has made me ever question my teaching more. Nothing has made me more eager to quit a profession that I love. Maybe I don’t know what I’m doing. Maybe I’m not the one to stand up front. Maybe I’m not servicing students as I hope I am. Every term ends. Students don’t repeat classes with instructors they don’t like. I never see her after this. I don’t need to. She is always with me. Maybe I am not the instructor I aim to be.

Do I make others smile? Do I cause them joy or cause them pain? How do they feel after having crossed my path? Can I make a day with just a look or an offhand remark? Can I make them feel better about who they are, what they do, about simply being alive? Can I bring a grin, a positive thought, a happy heart? I don’t know. I don't know, but I’m sure as heck going to try.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

A Boot in Your Ass, Sir


I cannot tell you who he is. I cannot tell you in what context he said this. What I can share with you is that he is a teacher, and he was speaking of his students. I can share with you the fact that he alluded to levels of impoverishment, that he suggested children from families he called “truly” impoverished, those who are victims of natural disasters, war, and famine are often the most thankful for the education provided them, take fullest advantage of resources, and, in many cases, go on to seek higher education. I can share with you the fact that the conversation after that got a bit ugly. I can share that he suggested that some “think” themselves poor and are not, that due to government help, they are not at all impoverished and that the children of these families often do not much more than just show up, that the parents are uninvolved, that much pressure is placed on teachers to work with these students when, really, it is the responsibility of the parent, that these families are often disinterested in the education provided them and are in most circumstances simply, well, let’s just say that he stopped short of "lazy." Needless to say, I felt moved to speak.


My response:


I would agree that there are levels of impoverishment, and that safety nets such as subsidized housing, food stamps, and medical benefits aid in helping to meet the physiological needs discussed. This, however, is where we part ways.

Not every impoverished child's family accepts such aid. Sometimes a child's family is too proud to take advantage of government resources, believes that those resources exist to serve families in true need. Such a child often shows up to school hungry, improperly dressed for the weather, and tired from inadequate sleep due to lack of heat in the home. She does so with perfect attendance because of her strong love of learning. She gets excellent grades, is asked, in fact, to skip a grade, and mentors peers who are struggling. That child's mother is room mother, Brownie leader, and positive adult role model to children who come from troubled homes. The child and her mother contribute heavily to the schools and the learning process despite multiple, unplanned moves due to landlords deciding to sell their rental properties. With each move the pattern of perfect attendance, peer mentoring, and the mother's volunteer efforts resumes and continues. You suggest guest speakers and field trips to get these children interested and involved, but this child sits home from field trips due to lack of money for the fee. She misses that learning opportunity which she so badly wants. She does it not because her parents are lazy or uninvolved, but because if there is no dinner, there is no field trip.

This little girl, despite being ridiculed by peers, looked down on by teachers, and knocked down repeatedly by forces beyond her control, namely poverty, hunger, and the stress that comes from constant moving and living in a stream of sketchy homes, will graduate high school just outside the top ten in her class. She will do so because of a mother who stressed to her what was right, what was positive, what was working, who built within her a sense of grit and determination. She will do so because of teachers who believed in her and showed her what was possible, who showed her what she COULD do, rather than what she could not. She will continue on to college despite not being able to apply for loans or grants, and despite the lack of funds for tuition. She will do so because of the generous gift of a community member who pays for her entire first year of study, enough to get her started while she earns the funds to pay for the rest of her education by herself. She will continue on through college and will eventually teach at the community college level, encouraging and inspiring those who find themselves in similar circumstance to which she, herself, grew up and endured. She will pride herself on her accomplishments and will believe the hard work behind her. She will begin to feel the fruits of her efforts despite the difficult hill she has climbed. She will do this until one day she finds herself in a doctoral program once again target of the ridicule she endured as a child.

Just a caution. Do NOT generalize, do not judge, and, even if a child's parents seem disinterested, do not assume the child is. Yes, this is my story. I am that little girl. My family never took aid despite the fact that I was often sick, hungry, cold, and nearly homeless. I loved school. I loved learning. Everything about my childhood worked against that love. Regardless, I am here, and only because of parents and teachers who believed in me, who encouraged me to focus on the positive, and who built in me a sense of strength, resiliency, and possibility.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Hopscotch and Penny Candy


I have never been a fan of the term “best friend.” I think it puts an unfair burden on a person to handle all the crap that I am too much a wuss to handle on my own. But I do like what the words represent, the intensely close sharing with someone who gets me, time spent together with my guard down, with no pretense or trying, vulnerable and not caring, talks that go on forever, that are as comfortable as discussions I hold with myself, and encouragement from one who knows how to move me when nobody else can, who doesn’t put up with my whining, my excuses, my self pity. At times, someone has stepped into my life unannounced and assumed this role without even realizing. At others, the role has assumed us.

First grade, and I am sitting at my desk writing down every swear word I know. Every one. Which is a lot. But I am not allowed to swear, and I am afraid of getting into trouble, so I am crying, but writing nonetheless. My best friend, bully that she is, is making me do this. She is making me do this until Whitley Crow tells the teacher and gets her in trouble. Bully or not, we are great friends, she and I. We take turns every weekend spending the night at each other’s house. She has a toy piano, and I learn to play Swing Low, Sweet Chariot using the book with the colors for notes. When she comes to my house, we walk to the corner for a big bag of penny candy. We get Tootsie Rolls and jawbreakers, licorice and Double Bubble. We like beauty shops, hopscotch, and Whitley Crow. Then I move, and I have to get a new best friend.

Third grade, and I have two best friends. I never go to their homes, but we play in school all the time. We play clapping games like Miss Mary Mack and Have You Ever, Ever, Ever, in Your Long-Legged Life. We like recess, Pig Latin, Donald Keys, and passing notes. We get in trouble for talking all the time. When the teacher is out of the room, we go up front and sing songs and entertain the class. The teacher doesn’t mind. She lets us do it sometimes even when she is in the room. I like being up front. It’s fun. It makes the other kids smile and laugh. I like having my best friends up front with me. Even if they are better singers.

Fifth grade, and I have a best friend and a boyfriend now. I wonder why boys have to be boyfriends and can’t just be best friends. I don’t like that rule. I think anybody should be allowed to be a best friend without being a boyfriend. What if you don’t want him to be a boyfriend, and you just want him to be a really best friend? I spend the night at my best friend’s house, the best friend who is not the boyfriend, all the time. This is fun because she is from a different country, so I learn new words and new ways of doing things. Her house smells different. I can never wear shoes when I go inside. I line them up with the others in the long row beside the door. Her dad is nice. He is quiet, and he is small. I don’t know where her mom is. I tell her to vote for me for Good Citizen because I want to win the class award. The teacher talks to the class, then, about how it is not polite to tell people to vote for you, that that is not the point of the award. Still. I want it, and I don’t feel bad about asking my friend.

My boyfriend sits right across from me. He is funny and nice. He has blond hair. We get in trouble for talking. We get in trouble a lot. I get marks on my report card that say Tammie is a good student, but she talks too much in class. My mom doesn’t care. She says if you can talk and still get A’s, I don’t see the problem. The teacher moves us. We don’t sit together anymore. I am sad about this because a boyfriend is not like a best friend. You can’t spend the night at each other’s house. You can’t even go to each other’s house. He is funny and nice, and now I can’t talk to him because he is on the other side of the room. My teacher is mean.

I am glad for those in my life who have filled this role of utmost burden, those who have listened without judging, who have made me laugh when I didn’t think I could, who have been bold enough to tell me when I am out of line, and to tell me also when I am not, but should be. I am thankful for the friends in my life who have felt comfortable enough sharing with me what they would never with another, who have confided vulnerabilities and confessed that which I can tell has been painful to confess. I am thankful for time spent in the company of one who knows me and gets me in the way that others never will, not having to explain myself, not having to care. I am thankful for those who have loved me when maybe I have not even loved myself. Know that if you have ever been that person, you have a special place inside of my heart. You may leave my world, but you will never leave my life.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Take a Left, and Then a Right


Is it possible to communicate with my soul? I am so feeling the need to do this right now, but it sounds a bit too tarot cards and crystal ball even for me. I read books that suggest I follow my heart, follow my passion, follow my purpose. Some suggest I listen to my higher self or listen to my guides, and I will know what exactly it is that I am here to do. Do guides even exist? Or do they live with Santa, Cupid, the Easter Bunny? Really, I just want to live a kind and gentle life, to share the gifts that I have been given, and to help others move to a more positive place in their own lives. Still, I must admit it would be nice to have a cosmic go ahead on this, a spiritual road map that I could follow.

I am moved by words.

I have four notes to myself on my computer screen right now. I cannot for the life of me take them down, cannot bring myself to freshen the messages. This is odd for me because I like to change things up. I rarely keep the same words in the same place for any length of time, but I feel a connection to these that I cannot explain.

Note number one: A quote by Martha Beck that goes, “It’s a journey to the thing that so fulfills you that, if someone told you, ‘It’s right outside—but watch out—it could kill you!’ you’d run straight toward it, through the screen door without even opening it.” I want more of this in my life. I think too often we take up space. We exist. We forget that we are here to live.

Note number two is a mission statement I wrote for myself, what I see as my passion and purpose: “To positively impact the lives of huge numbers of people through speaking, writing, and teaching.” I have the goal. I need only, now, the means by which to reach it. I feel unsettled lately, as if I am not operating at full speed, not living out my potential. Some of you have cheered me on, saying that I am fulfilling my passion and my purpose already through my teaching, through my writing. I think I am doing good work for others where I am, yes, but I feel that I am not exactly where I should be. I would so love a comment here from my higher self, from my guides, from the Universe. If they are so wise, why do they stay so quiet? I have had this feeling before, this feeling that there is something bigger, somewhere else that I am to be. It is the feeling that led me to teaching and to writing. It is the feeling that led me to the classroom, to this blog.

Notes number three and four are personal. I have assumed they have nothing to do with the other two. Maybe they do, and I am just not aware. Note three, I clipped from an article on a website. The words are not academic in nature. They are not by anyone famous. They are not even terribly well constructed, but they struck me, hit a spot inside of me, made it burn and freeze all at the same time. You may not like them, but they moved the hell out of me: “We are like spinning magnets at times, repelling each other, pulling in together, shooting the other one away from our close vicinity, until finally the magnet poles align and we get snapped together permanently. This is not an option. This is not a fucking option.” Note four contains words by Emily Bronte: “He's more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.” I have always loved this quote. I am not much a fan of fiction, but I am a sucker for a great romance. These words, to me, are the ultimate in what makes a love story a love story.

I think if it were possible to communicate with my guides, if that were something that I could do, I think they would be telling me to somehow bring these disparate messages together, to meld them into one. These words, I know, represent the map for which I have been searching. But, Lord, I do so suck at reading maps.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Trashy First Lines


I hit the trashy romance section of my local bookstore, pull out the first book that catches my eye, and with hand to chest, in an expectant, breathy voice, let go with, “I’d been having the same dream for the past month—the one where a dark stranger materialized out of smoke and shadows to play doctor with me.” Oh. My. Why don’t I WRITE this stuff?!? And more importantly, why don’t I HAVE that dream? My daughter and I take turns reading first lines, out loud and with expression. If we’re lucky, those around try to catch a peak or a listen. “Lips light as the touch of a butterfly’s wings, but far more sensual, brushed the back of her neck, a male hand on her shoulder enclosing the small intimacy in protective secrecy, before he whispered in her ear.” Oh, tell me, tell me. Tell me what he said. “Nipple tattoo, madame?”

Hmm. Had not considered. This game is too, too fun.

“Lucy Cunningham’s control tops were so tight that her inner thighs hissed like a swarm of cicadas with each step.” Ok, well. Not sure where the author is going with this one, but hey, we all need some lovin’. And given the usual lean-legged, buxom bodices that grace most of these shelves and my own five-two, hundred and forty-eight pound, B-cup frame, I may just stick Lucy in a shopping bag and take her home.

I see from the covers of these steamy stories, and just in case there’s a little role-play in your future, that cowboys are out and kilts are in. Knights are okay, but only if you wield a sword, a big sword. If you don’t have a sword, best to have a hatchet, a knife, a gun, a rope, anything long and manly, and preferably popping out of slightly unbuttoned jeans and held like you mean it. Abs of steel are mandatory, absolutely mandatory. If it’s a holiday, you must have a bow.

You should know that I secretly dream of penning such novels.

I spend entire afternoons scrawling pseudonyms in curlicue letters on purple page. I say the names out loud with a dreamy look in my eye and practice my signature, quick yet elegant, for my hundreds of fans. I imagine the wicked double life I lead. By day, I am the cardigan wearing, college instructor, mother of four, pushing peace, love, and compassion for all, Mama Gandhi in a tan Prius with soup in the crockpot. By night, I fling ample-chested, satin-gowned protagonists across beds of wildflowers by men the likes of which I have never seen in real life.

Truth is, I am embarrassed to even think of writing some of the lines I see in these stories, I can’t develop a character or sketch a plot for shit, and under no circumstance would I ever feel comfortable having my children share my bodice-ripping titles with their friends. Color me conservative.

Other truth is, I actually enjoy marching out into the world with magic wand and love beads in hand. I live to move, motivate, encourage, inspire. I live to change lives for the better, to shine light on the dark places, to bring everyone together into one gigantic group hug. Did you feel that? That was me, enveloping you in a light of love and protection, spreading good vibes, positive energy, and really great karma. Are you living your life? Or, are you just existing? Find what it is that makes you so you and go throw that out to the world to lift others up, to provide opportunity where opportunity is needed, and to do what it was you were put here to do. For gosh sake, don’t just sit there, you’ve got some joy to spread.

So as much as I do enjoy a great first line, I think I’ll stick to the hearts and flowers, to the peace and compassion, to the Kumbaya. I’ll stick to my words on loving yourself, loving others, and loving this world in which we live. I’ll focus my days on bringing about as much positive change as I possibly can, one essay at a time. But for now, if you will excuse me, I have a glass of wine waiting for me, and a date with Lucy Cunningham. Any man who can get into THOSE skivvies is worth at LEAST a second read.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

About that Dream


“This moment will never happen again.” I sat with a student the other day. Well, I say he was the student, but really, I was the student. He, the teacher. This young man has been given a second chance at life. He has been given many second chances. The doctors have told him repeatedly that he should have died. He is, perhaps, the most hopeful, most compassionate, optimistic person I know. He sits across from me and waxes philosophical on the purpose of life. He is in awe of the concept of time and stressing to me the significance of showing gratitude for every second. This moment will never happen again. “Look. It’s gone. We have only this moment," he points to the desk for emphasis. "Too late. It’s gone now.”

I am sitting in the pew one Sunday morning. The priest of our large downtown congregation has been diagnosed with breast cancer. She has undergone chemotherapy, prepared her children for her possible death, and come to terms with the life she has led. She stands before us now in all of her beauty, bald head wrapped in a silken blue scarf. She speaks of the certainties of life. “The only certainty in life,” for effect she inhales deeply, then releases the breath slowly and loudly, “is this. The only certainty in life is this one breath.” We are moved. The crowd is silent. “Each day I wake and give thanks for this one breath.” She breathes deeply. “And this one.” She breathes again. “And this.”

I get caught up in living out my purpose. I get caught up in following my path, doing what I was put here to do. I get so caught up in following my destiny that I become paralyzed because I question what exactly my destiny is. Do I even believe in destiny, in fate? I don’t know. That’s like asking if I believe in Santa Claus, in God, in the living Elvis. Some people believe. They feel strongly. I have never sat for lattes with any of those. How do I believe in something I have never seen? How do I believe in a construct with no tangible evidence? I do believe in choice, in free will. I do believe that I end up in the direction that I go. Maybe destiny exists. Maybe I end up at the same point, destiny, no matter which path I take to get there.

If all I have is this one breath, am I thankful for it, am I using it to benefit myself or others, am I living this breath, or dying with it?

With this breath, I am putting word to page. I find joy in that. I hope you find joy in the reading, so that I am not wasting your one breath.

I am a fan of Martha Beck. She is a life coach who melds the mystic with the scientific. She does it well. She speaks of following what she calls “the urge to merge.” We all have those things inside of us that will not go away, those urges, desires, dreams. No matter how blatantly we ignore them, they are like the child who grabs the parent’s face and turns it to her when she feels the need to be heard. Beck tells us to move toward that. As long as the urge is legal, moral, and does no harm, we should keep moving in its general direction, asking ourselves, “Does this action make my heart happy, or does it make my heart sad?” Move toward happy.

I had a dream. In the dream I am sailing. The waters are beautiful. The sky is clear. I do not see my end point, but I know exactly where I am to go. This is odd for me, for two reasons. Number one, I do not sail. Ever. Number two, in real life I lack all sense of direction, both literally and figuratively. I get so caught up in the end point that I cannot focus on the drive. I want to be there. I need to know where “there” is. I panic. How will I know how to get “there” if I don’t know where it is I am going? I remember my dream. I remember the peaceful feeling of knowing that I would arrive at my destination soon, that it was where I was meant to be, and that I was safe in the now, guided by a higher hand, perfectly on course.

When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a mother and a teacher and a writer and a doctor. I saw all of these things as different, as existing in multiple people, as options a, b, c, and d. In reality, I have become and am in process of becoming each of them. Only now I am feeling uncertain as to my little girl dream. Is this what I really want? Is this where I am meant to be? Am I one and not the other? Should I jump ship, find a new path? Why am I on this Earth? Am I doing all that I am capable of doing, using all of my resources, throwing out to the world everything I have to offer? I am feeling that familiar panic, lost in the vastness of the possibility.

Then I remember the dream, the peaceful feeling of knowing that I am on course and exactly where it is that I am supposed to be. I slow myself. I inhale deeply, find my heart, and ask simply, "What is it that I am meant to do with this one breath?"



Saturday, October 20, 2012

WE DID IT !!!


I am not much one for accepting “no” as an answer. I have come up against too many walls in my day to let something as simple as an obstacle stop me from getting what I want. So when I found myself once again querying agents with nothing but rejection slips in the inbox, I asked how I might move this writing business to the next step.

I have been content for the past while to have my words on blog. You guys are a great audience. As much as I enjoy the process of writing merely for the process of writing, I do enjoy a good parade across a stage. I have felt the need lately, however, to move these words in front of others. I have felt the need to take the next step. When the traditional publishing route failed me, I decided to try a more modern approach. Be gentle with me now. This self-publishing stuff is stressful. While I was born with pen in hand and sketching out a good thought comes as easily as breathing, tech issues and I have, well, issues. I am not a cover artist. I can barely shoot a photo that isn’t blurred. I format text in my nightmares. But I have done my best, and that is all that I can ask of myself at this point. My words are out there. That is what is important.

Thank you so much for reading me, for supporting me as you have. As much as I complain about exposing myself to you, I do get a slight kick from it. I am hoping that this posting to blog is not a completely selfish act. I am hoping that I give you something in return, that I enrich YOUR life as much as you enrich mine.

So, shall we celebrate together? Take yourself on over to Amazon and check out my author page. That’s my face. On Amazon. How cool is that? Just a warning, though, that is also my life on Amazon. Be on the lookout for some great mental breakdown essays to follow.

https://www.amazon.com/author/tammieortlieb

Friday, October 12, 2012

Real as it Gets


SO enjoy a conversation where I can say whatever is in my head and the only thing I have to worry about is showing up as the lovelorn protagonist with more than slight stalker tendencies in a New York Times best-selling cheesy romance novel. The problem with me being friends with a writer is that everything that falls out of the mouth is potential for material. The advantage of being friends with a writer is that that material generally stays on the page. On the page, words are true or not, twisted or accurate, added to, subtracted from, omitted altogether. Maybe it happened like that. Maybe it didn’t.

Often when you read me, you try to decipher clues as to the identity of my characters. Maybe you hear bits and pieces of a story you recognize. Perhaps you catch a partial description of someone who sounds familiar. Many of you have gone as far as to ASK that you show up in my essays. Some of you have requested that you NEVER appear. Know that if you prefer to stay off the page, I do honor that. Sometimes I honor it painfully. For example, and this is for those of you who have hinted in less than clever ways, no, I am not having marriage difficulties. My husband is a private sort who prefers his business not be paraded in front of hoards of strangers. But, believe me, as soon as that particular go-ahead is given, I see writer’s cramp in my future. The thing you should know is this, not everything I write is true. Sometimes one person is three. Sometimes three people are one. Sometimes I embellish a situation just to pretty it up, just to create a picture, just to make it flow. Besides, what does it matter? A good story is a good story.

But I try to stay close, as real is often more fascinating than fantasy anyway. This, for me, is the draw of the craft.

Take the young man I chatted with in the hall the other day after class. He was born a crack baby. His “mother” gave birth, then left. He stayed in the hospital for six months while the doctors waited for him to die. I cannot even list for you the physical conditions he suffered as my brain shut down after just the first few, but it was something about a scar on his chest because something about his lungs or his heart or maybe both, a mark on the back of his head for I don’t remember why, barely two pounds, that was what he weighed, barely two pounds. What else? What else did he say? He was talking, yes, but I could not hear. I could not hear because my own head was shouting, “You should be dead. You should be dead.”

But, he lived, and at eighteen months was adopted out to a family who would eventually have five biological children and fifteen adopted children. This young man grew up in a home with twenty children. Discipline was harsh. The children were polite and well-behaved not because they understood that was the way to be, but because they were afraid of being beaten if they weren’t. But the parents made certain the children did well in school and knew that school was important.

So this young man studied hard and got good grades. In high school, he played baseball. All four years. The doctors told him no, you won’t be able to do that. You won’t be able to play sports. You will struggle in school. You will struggle for your entire life. You will not be like the other kids. You may want to play sports, but you should not try. You won’t be able to do that. He heard a lot about what he couldn’t do, what he shouldn’t do. What he wants to do is to be a counselor. He wants to help those who are struggling in their lives. He is visibly concerned about teens who commit suicide. He tells me stories of how this moves him, how he wants to help. He can’t imagine, he says. He can’t imagine how anyone can be so unhappy with life. I look at him as he tells me this, and I think to myself how he is so full of love and concern for others when at first I would think it he who needs the love and concern.

Sometimes the teacher is student and the student, teacher. I look at this young man as he speaks, and I think of all the obstacles he has faced in his life and how he should not be standing before me right now. Yet, he speaks and lives and behaves in the most upbeat, positive fashion, without ever a complaint and with the utmost concern for the good of others. He has done that which doctors have told him he can’t, he won't be able to, he shouldn't. He has done it, he says, because he knows that he can. He has done it, I think, because he has a beautiful soul and lives not for himself, but for humanity and all that he might contribute to it.

I will tell you that THIS character is real, THIS story accurate, and THIS only the beginning of what I am certain will be a beautiful tale.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Affairs of the Heart


Me. In mustard.


I am supposed to be doing something else. Instead, I am following my heart. My heart gets me into trouble sometimes, but, trouble or not, I never regret the chase.

This is what it looks like, this following my heart.

For an hour or so, I traipse around a nearby open field. I make my way through grasshoppers and butterflies, milkweed and thistle. The leaves are turning, gold and crimson, deep brown, the few green remaining are unwilling to give up those sunlit, bare-shouldered days of summer. This is not a walk. This is a mind clearing, meditation, an exorcising of my demons. This is a soul cleansing of significant sort, a small series of tiny come to Jesus moments. I stare mindlessly into the fresh air, into the autumn breeze. I pray, both out loud and to myself. I converse with the inner Tammie, with God, with the Universe, with no one in particular and everyone all at the same time. Answers or not, I am content in the knowledge that the thoughts have left my head and landed where they may.

Despite the butterflies-and-brush spiritual awakening, I still cannot focus on the thing it is that I am supposed to do, so I run out to one of my favorite shops in search of a blouse to complete a look I have been trying to create. I find a beautiful silk in sweet potato. The blouse I wear is mustard. Are all clothing colors the names of food? And why is coordinating a look so easy for some, so complicated for me? I belong in the south where a girl can throw on a pair of jeans and a cute little tank and she’s good for the day. My body and my home are the same. I love them both to look great. I love colors and textures and a knockout visual, a place where people like to hang out, but for the life of me I cannot create that look. Could I get someone to dress me? Is that too much to ask? Still. My heart is happy here with the oranges and reds of the long-sleeved tees, the soft knits of the simple cardigans, the funky earrings, chocolate trouser socks, and sweet potato blouses.

Can I confess that I am now sitting in my local coffee shop? The thing I am avoiding that I am supposed to be doing is homework, but I am just not feeling it. It was in my head to write when I worked my way out of my sheets and comforter this morning, and so I will write. Essays are like that. Much like a cold, they sneak right up when I least expect. They catch me unaware when I have other, more important tasks to complete. And, like dealing with a cold, I am forced to succumb to the power of the words. I enjoy my window table and the energy that surrounds it. The delivery guy at the curb unloads cases of pop. I wonder why because I hear the barista tell the young couple ordering that the soda machines were done away with during the remodel. The young woman in the pink sweatshirt, furry boots, and bedazzled jeans picks up a blondie bar and an unsweetened tea. Another runs into a former teacher. Good to see you again. It's been too long. Can I mention the lady in the parking lot in the floor length magenta rain slicker and red galoshes? I think I can, because it is not raining. And, yet, she is so ready.

You should know that I could not focus on my work earlier because I wasn’t certain it was work that I am meant to be doing. This confuses me because this is a degree that I have known I would pursue since I first laid scalpel on that high school biology fetal pig. And now I question whether it is truly in my heart to accomplish what that fifteen year old girl set out to accomplish. I feel I will disappoint my former self if I quit my studies now. But the current me is not so sure she is excited, moved, or inspired by either the process or the goal.

Regardless the plans I laid out for myself today, a checklist my head was certain had to be met, I enjoyed a beautiful walk in the fall colors. I breathed in fresh autumn air until it encircled all of my insides. I fed my artsy funky side with gorgeous silk blouses in sweet potato and mustard, with dangly earrings and chunky necklaces. I caught up on the community happenings at my local café, something no self-respecting Gemini should ever deprive herself. And now I find myself talking with you. My heart is happy. My soul is fed. It has been a good day.

Friday, September 28, 2012

The White-Haired Lady on the Ground


Today has been a tough day. I just want it to end. I spent the morning in class. Teaching usually energizes me, but I am dealing now with a personality that presents me a challenge. My initial reaction is to make the problem go away. My more measured response asks me to consider that we are all different and that perhaps there is a lesson here for me to learn. I am attempting to practice tolerance, patience, and compassion for this individual. Still. I have set guidelines for how he may talk to me (“Do NOT yell at me.”), determined where the nearest security phone is, and reviewed procedures for having a student dismissed. Just in case.

I have dragged my butt now to the coffee shop to grade exams. I will have minimal distractions here and welcome the white noise of the lunch date chatter and the dinging oven timer. I sit with my latte and my purple pen, a stack of essay questions spread across the table. Grading is not a part of my job that I especially enjoy. I find it draining. I would much rather lecture, discuss, converse, talk, laugh, interact. I have seriously considered verbal exams. But here I am, nonetheless, doing what I am paid to do, poring through answers that are all the same, question after question, one at a time, to determine if, indeed, the student knows the material, and if, indeed, I have done my job.

Where is all that inner joy I felt the other day? I should have bottled some of that and saved it for times like this. It has been a difficult morning, and I am looking forward to sleeping away some of these negative vibes with a nice long afternoon nap.

As I am making my way through the parking lot, I notice the flashing lights of the emergency vehicles. I slow my car, and as I do, I see the white-haired lady, unconscious on the ground. Or maybe she is dead. She wears green slacks and a purple floral blouse. Her hair looks beauty shop fresh. It is teased and white, reminding me of the days when women visited the salon once a week. She lies on the concrete just outside the local Weight Watchers. She looks like she could have been out with the girls. I attended Weight Watchers meetings at one point in my life. Some of the older ladies do that. They use the two hours once a week as social time, as a reason to get out of the house. They never really lose and never really gain. Was she catching up like this? Or was she meeting her daughter for lunch? Was she looking forward to her time out this morning?

And why is she unconscious on the ground? Was she hit by the young woman in the black Pontiac? The car is at an angle, turning into the lane where I see the woman. Very possibly the unconscious woman was hit. Or did the young woman turn into the lane to see the white-haired lady already on the ground? Did the older woman’s body fail her? Did her heart give? Is she dead? Am I looking at the end of a life? Or the hope that life is still there? The medics are placing something under her body. I assume they are preparing to lift her onto a stretcher and into the ambulance. This just happened. Had I left any earlier I would have seen the answers to my questions. Had I left earlier than that, I would not have seen anything at all.

I try to move along, careful not to cause a second accident while staring at the first. I creep slowly through and make my way home.

Was she having a good morning? Or, like me, a bad day? Were the last words she heard the “Have a good day, and see you next week” coming from her meeting leader? I cannot get this woman out of my head. I may have just witnessed the end of a life. It happens like that. One minute you stand on a scale in front of the receptionist for your weekly weigh in, careful to take off every bit of clothing publicly acceptable so as to get the lowest read. The next you are on the ground being lifted into an ambulance, fighting for your life, or saying goodbye to it.

I rethink my day.

Yes, it has been stressful, but I am breathing. I have enjoyed the company of students who make me smile. I have spent my morning at a job I love, a job that brings me joy, a job in which I have opportunity to positively impact the lives of others. And, yes, I had exams to grade, but I did so in the comfort of a warm and inviting coffee shop with baristas who know me by name, who know my drink, who chat me up and make me laugh. I was comfortable. I was warm.

How did I leave the last person I saw? I must think on this. It is suddenly very important. Was I kind? Did I smile? Did I make a point to lift up his day? I was asking about a new e-reader. “Nice Christmas present idea.” Those were my last words. What if those were the last he heard? I didn’t wish him a great day. I didn’t thank him for answering my questions. What if those are the last words he ever hears?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Her Story


Special thank you to Lisa Kost and her granddaughter, Bella, for the beautiful artwork.

I had a student ask me if I had been drinking. Um, no, this is just how I am. I had another suggest that I was all over the place, a huge fan of tangents, and not at all easy to follow. If you don’t know me, I can come across as scattered, flighty, a bit unbalanced, distracted by glitter and all things that sparkle. If you know me, you know that I am focused, driven, a woman on a mission. You know that I am determined in my efforts to motivate, move, encourage, inspire. You know that I believe we are all interconnected and that, to benefit oneself, it is necessary to benefit the whole. To benefit the whole, in turn, it is necessary to fully develop and throw out to the world everything one has to offer. It works like that, like a circle, like one big, beautiful circle. My goals are simple and deliberate. My methods are not always pretty.

I am distracted now once again. I intended to write in a different direction. I sat down to put other words to print, but I heard a story today that I need to address. An acquaintance shared her childhood with me. She told me of a mother who didn’t realize she was pregnant, a mother who drank and partied and ignored the baby once that baby came. This young woman in front of me told of loving grandparents who would arrive at the house to pick her up only to have to wait and wait until the mother had eeked out chore after chore after chore from her child, good enough never being good enough. The grandparents called this young woman princess, adored her, doted on her. The mother, jealous of the grandparents’ attention, called the young woman Cinderella and treated her as such. The young woman was eleven and was not allowed to have food. She shared with me that she would sneak a handful of dog food on her way to bed. She would eat the dog food so that she wouldn’t be hungry at school the next day. The mother did not give her breakfast and would reprimand her horribly if she discovered her daughter taking the kibble from the dog’s dish. The young woman ate dog food so that she wouldn’t be hungry at school. She ate dog food. I couldn’t hear anymore. Some words just don’t fit into the ears, at least not without significant pain upon the heart. How do we let this happen? How do we allow this sort of “parenting” to exist?

I am vegan. I’m sure you know this. I believe in peace and love and compassion toward all creatures. I fall short, I do, but I do my best to live a kind and gentle life. I shop for shampoo, for soap, for cleaning products that have not been tested on animals. I avoid leather and wool and silk. I don’t eat honey. Bees are sometimes harmed in the process of getting the honey. Besides, they make it for themselves, not for me. I am careful to consider all creatures in my decisions, to consider the impact that I have on the lives of those with whom I share this earth.

And, yet, here is a woman standing in front of me whose brain, according to the doctors, failed to develop properly because of ridiculously poor nutrition. I am worried about shampoo, and this woman stands in front of me. Her grandparents and her father knew what her mother was doing. They would sneak Little Debbie Snack Cakes under her pillow so that her mother would not know, so the child would not be physically beaten for having food. If the young woman was lucky, she shared with me, she would find some Little Debbie’s under her pillow when she went to bed. If she was lucky.

I don’t really know what to do with this information. Yes. I am scattered and flighty and a bit of a bubblehead, but I absolutely believe that this sort of thing should not exist. I absolutely believe that no child should ever have to eat dog food or rely on morsels sneaked under the pillow for sustenance. Some children are hungry because there is no food. Some children, I know now, are hungry because they are not allowed the food that is there.

After I heard this story, I had to walk. Walking and writing are my ways of clearing my head. I strapped on my Vibrams and headed out into the woods for a nice long walk among the grasshoppers and hawks and wild turkey. My husband is out of town, so after this beautiful walk I treated my daughter to dinner out. I stuffed myself on some pasta marinara with a nice house salad. When I got home, I poured myself a glass of wine, lit some candles, and sat at the computer for a little Facebook chat. I cannot get this woman out of my head. I cannot erase her story from my heart.

And, so I write. I write to share her story, to move those who might be moved, to encourage another who is in a position to help. I write to suggest that it is not about the career or the paycheck or the position or the house or the cars or the vacations. It is about making a positive difference in the life of a child. It is about that circle of I care for you, you care for me, we are the same, we love and care for each other. I stuffed myself on pasta. I will go to bed uncomfortable because I have too much, while she went to bed uncomfortable because she had too little.

I am distracted again. I cannot be comfortable with myself and with my life while I know that a child is going hungry, while I know that a child is being neglected or abused, hoping on every hope that there is a bit of food under her pillow when she goes to bed. I cannot be comfortable with my life of so much while I know that a child goes to sleep tonight with nothing more than a handful of dog food to comfort her and to sustain her until the next. I cannot. I just cannot.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Spread the Love


I feel compelled to respond to all the political “debate” taking place. Just to know, I am not much a fan of politics just as I am not much a fan of religion, even though I am both political and religious. I think both institutions have the unfortunate side effect of contributing to much anger and hatred.

The Dalai Lama has a wonderful quote that states, “My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.” I am sure you’re aware that I lean to the left, very far to the left, maybe even farther than that. In the end, though, I can disagree with you on issues of political interest without trashing who you are as a person. I believe each individual we meet has something to teach us. Each individual is worthy of love and compassion. I know it sounds very Pollyanna-ish, but I like to take a Dalai Lama approach to the whole politically charged conversation. I love and care for you as a person. I may disagree with you on an intellectual level (sometimes vehemently) but that, to me, is not worth destroying our relationship. It is not worth belittling you in front of others. And it is not worth compromising my own character by making an ass of myself.

My political bent is very simple. My political bent is compassion for my fellow man.

I challenge myself on meeting someone with whom I disagree. I challenge myself to look for the good, to search for the light, to find what I might learn from this person, even if it is nothing more than an understanding of “the other side.”

Can I not love you even if you are not like me? Can I not care for you and wish you good things? I can hear some of you now. Oh, my gosh, she’s one of THOSE freaks. Let’s all just join hands, sing Kumbaya, and life will be just grand. Yes. I AM one of THOSE freaks. I do feel it my mission to love each person who comes in front of me, to love even when that person is not in front of me, and to love even when that person does not love me.

I have an activity I do with my students on the first day of a new semester. I have them scribble down on a scrap of paper any question at all that they would ask me about myself if they were given the opportunity, anything. Over the years, I have gotten some interesting responses. I have never refused to answer, but always reserve the right. Who does your hair? (Kathy) Where did you go to school? (Just about everywhere.) You talk funny. Where are you from? (Tennessee. Then Indianapolis.) Where did you meet your husband? (Frat party.) What do you like to do besides teach? (I enjoy long walks on the beach, soft music, candlelit dinners. For real. I also write. A little.) What would you say is your passion? Another student who has had me before shouts, “TEACHING!”

I must admit this is a question I have never had. I think on this. I think fast. I enjoy teaching, but it is not my passion. That would be like asking what I like to read and answering, “Books.” I enjoy writing, but that is not my passion. I am stuck for a response, but the young twenty-something in front of me expects an answer, and this is a question for which I, personally, would like to KNOW the answer. I enjoy reading, but again, that is not my passion. Teaching, writing, reading, spending time with family and friends, traveling to new, beautiful, interesting places. I enjoy all of these, but none are my passion. Then I have it, the underlying theme. I know. I know it now. I know what it is that I consider my life mission, my ultimate goal, my raison d’etre.

My passion, I tell the class, is promoting peace and love and compassion. I hold up two fingers on each hand, offering the peace sign, giving a warm and genuine smile, and suggesting that we all just sit around and spread the love, man, spread the love. I get a chuckle from the crowd. This is a great icebreaker. But I am serious in my answer. It does not serve me to hate you. It does not serve me, and it does not serve society.

My mother used to tell us girls to play nicely or to get away from each other. On my part, I am choosing to play nicely. I am choosing to love. Love me back or don’t. I really don’t care. Either way, my heart is filled with good feelings for you. It radiates a warmth that you need only reach out and grab. My heart is happy and full. If you will let it, it can make yours happy and full. Honestly, I think it would do the world good to get together for one gigantic group hug. I think it’s sad how so many rules are tied to the idea of loving another. Just because I am not married to you does not mean that I cannot care for you. Just because you do not believe in God the way I do does not mean that I cannot love you as a person. Just because you stand for everything I do not does not mean that I cannot envelop you in a warm embrace of peace and compassion. I can hear what you’re thinking. People just aren’t like that. It’s a nice idea, but it would never work. Some people just aren’t worth loving. Well. I say you’re wrong. I say maybe it wouldn’t work, but it is at least worth a try. I say maybe I cannot love EVERYone, but I CAN love the ONE who stands in front of me. I say maybe you have issue with me, and others think me strange for continuing to care, but I cannot stop caring because that is how I am. I say that no matter what you do, who you are, what you think of me, I can have love in my heart for you, and I can share that love. And I WILL share it. I will share because, yes, I am one of THOSE freaks.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Table for Two


Who would you choose, dead or alive, to sit down with for dinner? A friend asked me this today. I chose to think of someone dead, because if someone is alive and I really want to have dinner this person, I figure I can make that happen. If someone is dead, however, well let’s give it a shot. So, I chose to focus on a dead person. Then I thought, why dead? And why an Einstein or Mother Teresa? Why not my Pop or Oldmom or Grandma Wadley? Why Freud or Hitler or Jesus and not the kindergarten teacher who passed away unexpectedly when my kids were in elementary?

And this is what I came to.

Famous or not, dead or not, everyone has something from which I can learn. Everyone has some perspective, some word, some thought, that in some way can contribute to my world. Most people surround themselves with like-minded souls. I never understand this. First, then who would there be to convert? Second, if I surround myself with those who are much like me then from whom would I truly learn?

I have a friend who stands at the other end of the spectrum on most every life issue. I have found him very irritating at times. I have found him very irritating many times. I cannot believe the words, sometimes, that come out of his mouth. He puts down huge groups of individuals. He freely expresses his disdain for those not like him. I don’t understand. I just cannot comprehend his thinking at all. And yet, on a personal level, I have never found him anything but kind. I know that should I ever need anything at all, he would be at my door. If I am ever verbally attacked by others, they are wrong, I am right. He has my back. I know this. I would welcome dinner with this friend. I would welcome it any time.

I have another friend. He is all about peace and love and compassion. He is all about what is best for humanity. He is all about living in a kind and gentle way. He is much like myself. He does much work for the benefit of society. He does good work. He helps those who cannot help themselves. We would seem a very nice fit, but on an individual level, I find him arrogant. I find him a bit of an ass. This disturbs me as I see him much as I see myself. We are much alike. We have chosen the same profession. We each value family and education and environmental consciousness. We like to travel. We enjoy an afternoon at the beach, a good book, a glass of wine. It is not difficult to understand this friend, as we are the same point on the continuum. We take up the same dot. And, yet, he finds me disturbing to the point that we are no longer friends. It was something I said. It was inappropriate, perhaps, but I said it. I miss the friendship. He is funny and smart and kind. I miss the conversation. I would welcome the opportunity to sit for dinner. I would welcome it, and most likely, I know, we would order the same dish.

I am learning from both of these friends.

I don’t think one has to be a Hemingway or Fitzgerald or Poe to have interesting things to say. I could learn from my friend’s five-year-old as much as I could learn from a Maya Angelou or Anne Lamott or Anna Quindlen. Let me sit for a second with the man I know who is living from his car. Let me sit with him and learn what inspires him to go to class each day even when he cannot go to dinner. Or maybe it is because he cannot go to dinner that he goes to class. Let me sit with the twenty-year-old who is the only living family for his dying father. Let me sit with him and learn what drives him to continue his education when hospice is his life. Let me sit with the teenager who was sexually molested by her father, the same father who told her he loved her and read her bedtime stories each night. I can learn. I can learn something from each person I meet, from each path I cross. No matter how different our values, our lives, may seem, no matter how uncomfortable I may feel, there is something I can take from each one of these encounters. There is something I can learn.

Who would I choose, given the choice, to have dinner with, dead or alive? I would choose you. I would choose you. Even though I think I may know everything about you, there is always something to learn, there is always something to know.

And what about you? Would you sit with me? You may think you know me. You may think me an open book. You know that I write, that I teach, yes, but you have no idea what is inside this head. You have no idea. Let us sit down, you and I. Let us sit down, and let us learn a bit about each other.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Begging a Dollar


I sat down to write. That was the intent, but then that guy at that table over there begged a dollar from the lady in the orange shirt. I heard him. Actually, I heard the woman who sits with him. How can I listen to my own words in my head now when my heart says listen to this?

I am in the bookstore, in the café. I sit here with my computer in front of me, blank page waiting. I’ve ordered a chai latte, my second today, but I’m not sure I’ll finish it. My bathroom scale suggests that perhaps I need to rethink the drink. Iced tea, black, unsweetened. Zero calories. That would be more like it. But it’s not because I am dieting that I don’t want the drink, mostly I am just stuffed. My daughter and I tried a wonderful Middle Eastern place today for lunch. I had the lentil soup with some saffron rice and a falafel wrap. On the way home we stopped off at the grocery for a couple of things. I grabbed a soy chai for me, and a white mocha frappuccino for my daughter. I’ve spent the afternoon on chores and homework and homemade banana bread. So now I sit to give my brain some breathing space, to do what it wants to do, to play on the page, to get silly or serious, as it will. I sit with the chai just because that’s what I do. It’s, like, required.

But the guy at that table over there, and the woman he is with, sit with water, lots of cups of water. Water is free. I think you can get a lemon for it. They also sit with magazines and books that they are not going to buy. They are just reading, reading and drinking water. Maybe with lemons. The guy is in a blue plaid shirt and dirty jeans, but not dirty enough to be disgusting. He needs a shave. I noticed him when I walked into the café because he was walking out. We did that awkward, stepping-out-of-each-other’s-way dance. He was polite, but somewhat unkempt. The woman he is with is blond. I like the way she has her hair clipped up. She is dressed nicely and looks like she smells pretty. They don’t seem to belong together, but they do. I can hear while I don’t look that they are talking but don’t know what they are discussing. Then I hear her.

The woman looks at the lady in the orange shirt, who sits at the table next to them. The lady in the orange shirt sits with who I assume is her daughter. They both sip their venti drinks, peeking into the stack of books they have bought. The daughter is in her team jersey with her laptop open in front of her. They chat about the daughter’s plans, upcoming events, whether they should split a scone. The woman who is with the man looks over at the lady in the orange shirt and asks if she has a dollar. I turn away from my blank page to peek.

The woman says that she and her friend are just a dollar short. The man pretends to rummage through his wallet and the papers on the table to determine if they might somewhere have the remaining dollar to purchase a pastry. The lady in the orange shirt opens her purse, pulls out a dollar, and gives it to the woman. I am surprised. I am surprised, then, that I am surprised. It is obvious the couple is panhandling. They intend to buy nothing. They are not a dollar short. They are just short. And yet, the lady in the orange shirt just gives them the dollar.

I go back to my attempt at writing, but nothing comes. I decide that I am forcing the issue and put away the words until another night. Heading out of the strip mall I notice the man and the woman in front of one of the other stores. They are confronting a couple, begging money. I know this because the gray bearded gentleman they accost reaches in his pockets and shakes his head. He has nothing to offer them. My daughter, on a fresh learner’s permit, is driving. I tell her to turn around, to go back. I tell her to pull around and let me out, to wait, to just give me a second.

I am thankful to have a belly that is stuffed with food. I am thankful to have the choice between water and chai. I am thankful that I can stand in front of students and get paid to talk instead of having to beg a dollar from a lady in an orange shirt. I am thankful that my home is bulging with books, hidden in every crevice, teetering on every surface, gracing every room. I am thankful for my handmade lavender soaps from the soap guy at the farmer’s market. I am thankful for my hot steamy shower in which to enjoy my lavender soaps every morning. I am thankful for the little tan Prius my daughter is pulling into a parking spot as the couple walks away.

I have too much, and they have too little.

I catch up with them and tell them I noticed what they were doing and ask if they need money. I think the woman thinks they are in trouble for begging in the businesses. “Oh, no,” she says, “We are just trying to get food. We are homeless, and we are just trying to get food.” I give her the bill I have worried in my hand, the bill I have worried because I don’t know if they will use it to buy drugs or alcohol or if, indeed, they will use it for a good purpose. My head says, “Kiss that twenty goodbye.” My head says, “Give them food, not cash.” My head says, “That’s another book and a latte.” My heart says, “Shut up. Just do it. You have much to be thankful for, and you are not out on a summer night drinking water with lemon, asking strangers for cash.”

There have been times in my life when I could have used a dollar or few, when I could have used a dinner. There have been times in my life when I was hungry and there was no food. I am thankful, whatever they do with that money, that I had the money to give. I told her to buy food. Honestly, it doesn’t matter. Giving the money was for me, not for her.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

I am Alive


Sometimes I say things because I don’t want to say the other things. That last essay I posted? That was nothing. I didn’t even want to write that. I didn’t care. I wanted to write this, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t because when I write, I have to go to a place, in my head, in my heart, in my soul. If I go to THIS place, though, I realize that I may not even exist. I realize that my children, my writing, the effects of my teaching, may all not even exist. I realize that my marriage would not be my marriage. I realize that not only would I not know you, but that any impact I have had on your life would never have happened, that you would be you, without me. If I go to THIS place, I cry inside. I cry inside because I would have been me, without you. I cry inside because on birthday number six, my story would end.

I have just turned six and my family has taken the long trip from Tennessee to Michigan to pick cherries. My dad has heard that people can make money like that. I don’t like this place. It is cold. It is the coldest place I have ever been. I will never come here again. Ever. Also we sleep in a big room with lots of beds and people I don’t even know. They are not really beds. My mom calls them cots. And the floor is not a floor. It is a sidewalk. I don’t like this. It is cold, and I am sleeping with people I don’t know. It makes me nervous. I throw up I am so nervous. My mom says I have the flu, that it’s just the flu. I am sick in this cold place with the strange people. I want to go home.

Being home, though, turns out to be not much better. My tooth is loose, and it won’t come out. It is sort of out because it is not connected. It is only hanging. My dad says come here, and he will take a look at it. He is working on his car. I don’t want him to look at it. I am scared he will try to pull it. He says, no he won’t, but he says let me look at it. He looks with the pliers he is holding. He looks, and then he pulls. He pulls with the pliers. I run back inside. I am running, and I am crying, and I am throwing up Spanish rice all down the sidewalk. I will never eat Spanish rice again.

I am sick, and I am whiter than I have ever been. I get whiter, and I get whiter. I get sicker and sicker. I never go to the doctor even when I am sick. We don’t have money, and we don’t have insurance, and I know doctors need them, but I don’t know how to get them. When I am sick I just lie on the couch until my mom makes me better, but this time she can’t make me better. My Pop tells her that you’d better get that girl to the doctor, that something is wrong. My mom tells my dad that she doesn’t care if we have money or not. She tells him that she doesn’t care if we have insurance or not. She tells him to go get a job and get some insurance because she, by God, is taking me to the doctor.

But the doctor says it is just a five-day virus and that my mom doesn’t need to worry. It will go away.

But it doesn’t. It’s been three more days, and I am getting sicker and whiter. I can’t do anything. I can’t play. I can’t watch television. I can’t do anything. I can lie on the couch. I am so sick and so white. My mom says that doctor was a quack. She says some other things that I can’t tell you because I am not allowed to swear. She takes me to another doctor.

I don’t go home. I go to the hospital.

This doctor says it is not a virus and that it will not go away. He says it is something called peritonitis. He says it is an infection of something about my stomach. I don’t understand. I don’t understand, and I am too tired to try. He says that if my mom hadn’t brought me in today, well Mrs. Wadley, you may have lost your daughter. You are lucky you got her here when you did.

I am in this hospital bed for two weeks. The nurses always come in with shots. They say it is penicillin. They say it is medicine that will make me feel better. They give me shots in my butt when I am awake and when I am asleep. For two weeks I get shots in my butt over and over and over, every six hours I get these shots, all the time I am here. I cannot sleep because I have to get shots. My butt is sore, and I am tired, and I want to go home. But my mom stays with me all the time, so I am not scared. Also, I am feeling bad because I itch and my face is big and I am getting red all over my body. The doctor says I am allergic to the shots, but I have to get them so I won’t be dead.

And I am not dead. The doctor makes me better. And I am excited because school starts very soon, in just a couple weeks my mom says. I like school. This is my first time in school. I practice spelling my name over and over when my mom drives me on the first day. I am so nervous I will forget how to spell my name. And I get my school pictures. But I don’t like them because I look bad. My mom says it has only been three weeks since I got out of the hospital, so not to worry about my droopy eyes and runny nose. She says they are the most beautiful pictures she has ever seen.

There is a beauty pageant at school. My mom and dad think it would be great fun for me to participate since mostly I was in the hospital and in bed all the end of summer, since I didn’t get to play or do anything fun. I have never been in a beauty pageant before. I am excited. I think I will like it.

Mostly, though, I can tell that I am not pretty like the other girls. They are all pretty and happy and smiling. They did not have to go to the hospital. They did not have all those shots or that bad thing in their stomach. They are not white or sick or tired. But I don’t even care. I don’t care because I am on stage in my beautiful pink princess dress. I am on stage, and my mom says that I am special, and I am beautiful, and that that is what’s important. She says not to worry about not winning the pageant. She says I already am a winner. She says I am a winner, because I am alive.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Lessons from the Lingerie Drawer


…..on burning my bra (from Barbies and Bra-Burnings)

Do I have to hate guys to be a feminist? Because I actually rather like them. I enjoy their company. Immensely. I enjoy turning a head, flirting a bit, and getting close enough to breathe in all of that manly scent.

And do I have to burn my bra?

I like my bras. I like them pretty with a scalloped edge and a bit of push-up. They will never go in the burning barrel. Bras are to me what shoes are to some women. The only statement I make by lighting that match is that Victoria’s Secret has debuted a new style, and I am no longer in need of this old thing.


………on revealing myself through my words (from Down to My Skivvies)

You know more about me sometimes than my best friends know. Here’s the dilemma. I write as I do so you want to read more. I write the dirt, the skinny. I strut around on page in my push-up and cheekies because that holds the interest. Honestly, as a reader myself I would much rather learn of the author’s addiction issues, diva tendencies, or illicit affairs (yes, with an “s”) than to hear how it was a good night because her child went to sleep the first time she tucked him in, her husband expected nothing of her, and there was a bit of chocolate left in the fridge. Please. I have so been there. Take me away. Show me something secret you wouldn’t share with even your closest confidant.

This is such insanely delicious fun when it is I who am the reader, but when I put my own thoughts to page and YOU see ME as I truly am? That, my friend, is just a bit unnerving.

It is unnerving because tomorrow you will sit in my class and raise your hand. You will ask for clarification on Harlow and Ainsworth and will wonder out loud why we care about attachment theory, why it matters. As I work you through the long-term benefits of a secure attachment style you will look at me, you will look at me in my cardigan with sleeves to elbows, glasses on top of my head, looking very teacher like and you will know. You will know that underneath that conservative cardigan is a bit of eyelet or lace or sparkle. You will know that most likely it is black and perhaps with a tiny bow adorned with even tinier crystals dangling from that bow. It is unnerving because I am opening to you while you are staying fully clothed.


……….on looks versus books (from Brains or Boobs?)

It’s an age old question: Brains or boobs? Brains or beauty? Looks or books? To the women: Would you rather be smart or pretty? To the guys, or gals, even, well: Which do you prefer? And, on my part, I’m wondering, why not both? Do I have to choose between being an intelligent crone or half-witted, but hot? I have to pick one? Hair tied back, glasses sliding down my nose, books spilling out my arms or, to go the other direction, cheeks peeking out my shorts and boobs spilling out my shirt, hardly able finish a coherent sentence? And why is it that those are the images we conjure up when we speak of each? Does smart always look like that? Does beauty necessarily involve button-popping blouses?

………….on self-esteem and self-image (from Ban the Granny Panties!)

There’s a way a woman feels, a way she carries herself, a way she has of looking at life, when she prances around in industrial-sized underwear. Wait. Let’s back up a second. First, let’s not use the word prance in conjunction with Granny panties. Ever. That’s just a nasty picture. Second, we all know we’re talking briefs here, which I always find ironic because there is definitely nothing brief about them. The point is that when a woman hikes on a pair of so-old-they’re-not-even-a-color-anymore tent-sized skivvies, she’s basically saying to the world and to herself I don’t count, I’m not pretty, don’t even bother looking at me like that because it ain’t gonna happen. And very likely, Dearie, with that attitude and those drawers, it won’t.


……….on never judging a book by its cover (from Sex Sells)

Hang out for a second in the trashy romance section of your local bookstore. Take note of the women who show up there. We’re all the same. We want to be that heroine on the cover. Throw one of those bare chested guys in front of any one of us with the top button of his jeans undone and slip them down his hips just a bit and, holy shit, we lose every intelligent thought in our pretty little head. Even better if he’s in a cowboy get-up or wields a sword.


……….on WHAT I write (from No Boxers!)

My favorite two-word sentence ever is “No boxers.” The author said SO much and left SUCH a visual with just those two words. She was setting up a steamy scene in a remote cabin with a hunk of an outdoorsy type—nice butt, flannel shirt, dark hair with a bit of scruff going on--one of those guys who leaves you asking Oh, baby! Where do I find me one of those?! and our it’s-been-a-long-time-sure-but-I-am-totally-ok-with-that independent needs-nobody-and-wants-for-nothing protagonist. The scene went something like this:

Description of the lovely drive up. Yada, yada. Some scenery adjectives. It’s all beautiful and woodsy and pine-y and stuff. You can almost smell it, she writes so well. It’s all very pleasant. You can hear the birds and the wildlife and the blah blah blah, whatever. Then, without another line, she gets right to business. You can feel from her words that the woman wants it, but she doesn’t want the guy to know. You can sense the tension, the sexual energy. No worries, though, our lovely lady is totally in control, completely in charge. But, without even a smidge of warning, the guy just takes over the scene in a totally unexpected and--might I say, “Props to the author!”--incredibly manly sort of way. Next two lines: “He drops his pants. No boxers.” Oh, my LORD!

But I could never write that. People read. People I know read. They would read THIS. And then what would they think? I’d be walking around acting my normal conservatively dressed, teacher-mom kind of self and people would be looking at me like she writes stuff I have to hide under my mattress!

So, I’ve come to this. Think of me what you will, but wherever the pen leads, I am going to have to follow, even if that means taking myself and my protagonist’s pent up sexual energies to some remote cabin in the woods with nothing but a bit of attitude and a good-God-Lord-JESUS-he-IS-GORgeous hunk of a stranger. I'm just going to have to go there.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Sing at the Table, Dance on the Bed


I read that the writer should always give the reader something of value. Wow. The pressure. Looking back at my essays I have to question what exactly it is that I am giving you. I’d like to say that I’ve lightened your heart, made you smile, caused you to reflect, to consider, to think. But, honestly, I may have just made you scratch your head in confusion or spit your coffee through your teeth. I think I’m good with that.

I know that when I get in my now-I-know-why-writers-drink mode, I give you stories that leave my computer keys soaked with tears. You should know that I cannot even see the words well enough through my swollen eyes to know if those stories need an adjective here, an adverb there before I click to post. I am not certain you understand, though, the significance of writing these stories. I know that you understand what it means to read them, but do you know that when I finish one of these essays I feel as if someone has taken a very blunt stick to my chest and ripped until the insides lay exposed in their entirety at my feet? As painful as these stories are, though, I do enjoy sharing them with you. They are my therapy. They are my way of facing down my past, of owning up to who I am, and coming to terms with the fact that my experiences never leave me, that they only learn to sit quietly and behave until I tell them that they may come out and play. I know that when I write like this I cause you pause to think and consider and reflect. I hope that I also encourage you to be thankful for what you have in your life, to see others as they are without judgment, and to give, to give of your heart and of your time and of your soul.

Then there are the essays on my dreams. Do you really need to know about those? Why do I even share? My fear as I write is that you will think me weird. Perhaps, I think to myself, it doesn’t take one of these essays for you to think THAT. But, really, who tells everybody they know their most personal nighttime stories? Who DOES that? My fear, too, is that one of you has mad skills in interpreting these stories and will know the true me even better than I know the true me and will forget or neglect or just choose to never inform me of what that true me is and that it will be some incredibly personal, embarrassing thing that reveals a bit more than perhaps I should ever have revealed, but did so not even knowing and now it’s just far too late because everybody has read it and had their way with it. Then I question what dreams are exactly. Are they simply a rehashing of the day’s events, are they some deeply symbolic sort of wish fulfillment, or might they have some strange metaphysical predictive nature to them? Very possibly, at least to me, they represent a little of each. I might, I just decided, end this paragraph now. I feel I am not helping my case and am wondering what the “something of value” is that I am contributing with this one.

And, oh good Lord, the stories on panties and bras and cleavage and wild, raucous afternoon romps! I’d like to think these stories add value to your life by providing a breather from your daily doldrums, by bringing a conservative thrill, a fun and frilly dance on the slightly inappropriate side. But as one friend suggested, in a very snarky, sarcastic tongue, might I add, perhaps I am doing nothing more than “contributing to the well-being of society by flashing a bit of breast.” What?! That’s a BAD thing?!

Do I have to be serious ALL the time? Do I have to be reflective, moving, pensive, every minute I sit at the keyboard? Can’t I just sometimes let loose and verbally party on the frat house roof? Can’t I blow a few bubbles, sing at the table, dance on the bed? Can’t I get silly and playful with my words?

I am going back to school right now. You know this. I am forced to write once again in my serious voice. I am using verbs that mean business, verbs that think they are above the others, verbs that look down their noses at fling and sparkle and shimmy. I am using verbs like posit and concur and operationalize. I am not much a fan of writing in my all dressed up, suit and tie voice. I much more enjoy dancing across the screen in boas and pearls, flitting across the page blowing kisses and flinging seductive smiles. Can’t I just do that? Can’t I please? Tell me it makes you happy. Tell me it makes you laugh and smile and forget all that is wrong in your life. Tell me that I am adding value to your life. Tell that I am adding value to your day just by being the stinking sexy, happy, goofy girl that I am.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Up to My Elbows in Grasshoppers


(Joanne Cummings....Thank you so much for capturing with a photo the thoughts that were in my head.)

This is my statement of surrender, hands in the air, the white flag. Every good fight eventually comes to an end. I have worked all my life to make things happen, to plot a path, pave a trail, knock down walls. I have gone where no one thought I ever could. I am driven and determined, persevering and persistent. I have left not a thing to chance. I have crafted my life, created my story, and crowned myself queen of it. Well. I am done with that.

I was talking with a friend the other night. I told her that I am feeling wrong lately at the soul level. You would have to know me to know that I believe it is possible to be doing what looks to be everything right and still to feel wrong at the soul level. Some of the best moves in my life have been when I have been accomplishing wonderful things, but felt that I was going the wrong direction. When my children were little, I built a business selling lipstick and blush. I did so well that I began to teach other women to build businesses selling lipstick and blush. I was queen of customer service. I was queen of sales. My clients loved me. My team loved me. Other consultants cheered me on at weekly meetings. I earned pins and ribbons and dishes and totes. I nearly earned a car. My director began grooming me, training me for the day when I, too, would be a director. I was this close to going into qualification for car status and the right to wear the snazzy black blazer with the purple trim reserved only for those who have paid their dues in elbow grease, sweat, and cases of gentle cleansing formula, brow pencils, and holiday bronzers. I was this close, but a voice in my head pulled me back. This voice said, “You are doing a fabulous job, dear, but you are going the wrong direction.” This is when I applied for a master’s program in developmental psychology.

Well, I am getting that feeling again. I am getting the feeling that I am forcing things, that I am working to fit square pegs into round holes. I love what I do, yes. And, for fear of sounding arrogant, I feel that I am doing a fairly decent job. I am teaching. I am writing. I am back in school as student. I love it all, but is this where I am supposed to be? A full-time position came open last year in my department. My gut said, “No, do not apply. Do not. You don’t really want this. It is not for you.” My head said, “Yes, you fool. This is what part-timers do. They apply for full-time positions. Of course you want it.” But I didn’t. I didn’t want it. At least I don’t think I did. But if not that, then what? I am writing. I have a book, but I am not marketing that book. I say that I am, that I want to be an author, but mostly the words just sit on my computer looking at me like a puppy that wants to go out and play. I am going back to school, too, for my doctorate. I have always enjoyed learning. I have always known that I would get this degree. Except, with every discussion post I turn in, every paper I submit, I question why I am doing this. Do I enjoy the learning now? No. Am I feeling the thrill, the excitement, the passion that I have felt in the past? No. Then, why? I am feeling again, that I am working too hard to make things happen, things that perhaps are not supposed to happen. Am I doing a great job, but going the wrong direction?

I just got back from a walk in the woods. The meadow was thick with grasshoppers. They flung themselves at my arms. I tried very hard to focus on my meditative silence, to find that happy place in my mind, and to not look like a freaked out karate ninja master in this big empty field. Don’t get me wrong. I love nature. I just don’t love it on me. But as I walked, I began to see the answer to my life questions. I began to see the answer in the grasshoppers. I did not go searching for these critters and stick them to my arms. Neither did I contemplate whether they should be there. I simply walked. I turned my face to the sun, breathed in the sweet grasses, and took the meadow step by step. Well, life. I am doing the same with you. I am turning my face to the sun, breathing in the sweetness of the days, and taking you step by step. Fling at me what you will.