Saturday, December 26, 2015

Tis the Season

December is nothing that a good chunk of chocolate and a bottle of Chardonnay can’t fix. While others are wrapping and caroling and sipping eggnog by the fire, I am planted face first in a steady diet of holiday carbs. I don my The Customer is Always Right smile, honed through years of working retail Christmas Eve, and pretend that all is, indeed, godammit, merry and bright.

In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Four years ago this December is the month I learned that I am not the baby Jesus. I am not even, go figure, the grown up Jesus. Four years ago this December is the month I discovered that I am nothing more than ego walking earth. I have needs and wants and desires that are no different than anyone else’s needs and wants and desires. I am not above any of it as much as I might like. I am not the saintly picture I would have you believing that I am. Four years ago this month is when a friend that I had accidentally fallen in love with left my life.

I say accidentally because I did not mean to do it. Of course I didn’t mean to do it. I was married. He was married. We were friends. That was it. It was an easy friendship, a nice friendship. We shared and inspired and kept each other in check. We made each other laugh. We made each other cry. I never had a brother, but if I had, I would have chosen one like him. A brother. A friend. This is how I deceived myself. This is how I lied.

And, then.

I began to look forward to his words. Cue, now, the fairytale music with bluebirds twisting ribbons in my updo. I began to turn to him to bring me up. If I had good news, it was with him I wanted to share. If I had bad, I wanted to do the same. We spoke nearly every day. And many times throughout. I told him things I would never tell my guy friends. I told him things I would never tell a soul. I’m pretty sure he did the same. We didn’t know each other in our real lives. We had met only recently, online and through a friend. We developed a connection over two short years. At that point, then, he left.

And I commenced to lose my shit.

I was a mess. For three years I was a mess. I was very much not myself. This girl, here, does not obsess. She does not hang on or chase or stalk. She does not beg or do any of those other things that I will neither confirm nor deny I may or may not have done. I became that woman in those creepy shows where the baby’s nanny turns into a psycho killer who goes after the hot husband when the wife is out of town. Not that I did that. Exactly. But still.

I was a little slow, but then it hit me. I had fallen in love. Worse, I had fallen in love with a man who was not my husband. For the love of God, who does that?

And why do I feel compelled to share? Have I no filter, no sense of shame?

I share because I need to, because it is how I come at my world. We haven’t spoken, he and I, in four long years. And while I no longer drown my sorrows in a glass of Pinot Gris or send him messages that go unread, I do think about him every day. And many times throughout. The rest of this, then, is for him. You can read it if you like.
~~~~

Thank you for what you did for me. I was coasting through my life before you came. I was tolerating, tolerating routine and predictability and a world that was good but just okay. You lit a fire that I had no idea was even out. You made me laugh. Bonus points for that. And then you made me cry. Turns out, I needed both. Thank you for coming into my life. And thank you, too, for leaving.

I was beginning to feel things. I was beginning to feel things I could not explain, things about which I felt uncomfortable, at odds. I was beginning, let’s just say, to feel. Your leaving was an exclamation mark to what was there. A note from the universe saying, “Hey, look at this.” It was a cleansing of my soul, a dumping of all emotion, good and bad. Hey! I had emotion. Who knew? I valued the friendship. Just know that. I valued it very much.

If you should come back into my life, I am ready. I am here. If you should never come back, that is fine, too. I thank you for what you brought and hope you’re doing well.

Just a word, though, before I shut up. When it comes to you, I will never have my shit together. I will only look as if I do.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Laundry Day

I quit my job as a college professor; then, I asked my husband for a divorce. I find myself sitting in a coffee shop wondering what the heck I am doing with my life. In hindsight, I should have hung onto the job. For the paycheck. The security. But the higher ups pissed me off, their policies, their practices. I no longer felt I could support the things in which I played a part. So, I flipped them the verbal bird and walked away. Shortly after, I decided that settling for an okay marriage was no longer my idea of something I’d like to do. One afternoon, in the middle of my kitchen, a years-long conversation came to an end.

I am not a fan of airing dirty laundry. I know this sounds strange given that, 1. It’s me talking, and 2. As a writer, it is inherent to the job. You have no idea, however, the degree to which I censor my words. I have learned to strip myself to my skivvies without ever showing skin, to share very personal stuff in a very general way, to make you cry and feel and yearn without ever giving you a clue as to the specifics of why you might be doing that. But, oh well, here we go.

What’s it like to be fifty-two, married for twenty-nine years, and decide one day that you are done, that you are deserving of something just a little bit more? It sucks, and it’s freeing, all at the same time. It sucks because I am now the villain. At least, this is how I see myself. My husband is a good man. He has been a great provider and is an incredible dad. He is a respected professional in his chosen field. It sucks because “What’s the matter with me? We have a good life, a good home, great kids, and plenty of memories of wonderful times. We take beautiful vacations and, to the outside world, are that couple that other couples wish they could be.” I would caution, however, that all is never exactly as it seems. The Mad Hatter, Alice, tea parties, the rabbit hole, and all. Perspective is an amazing thing. So, yeah. It sucks. On the other hand, it is more freeing than anything I have ever done. It is like breaking out of a cage, like giving myself permission, finally, to honor who I am. It is like throwing off every mask I have ever worn…obedient daughter, submissive wife, good mother, liked professor, and faithful, uplifting friend. Pleaser. That’s who I have been. The good girl. Never to offend. Never to have a need or a mind of her own.

Only I do have needs. I need to be enjoyed. I need to be loved. I need to be the treasure of someone’s fucking day.

I also need a job.

Can I tell you how weird it is to hear my friends talk of retirement while I sit reassessing my skills? I am a little afraid. I could go back to teaching, I know, but I am not certain that’s what I want. The artsy side of my brain has been quiet for far too long. I feel it wants badly to have its way with me. I have to confess I might be looking forward to that. It’s a strange feeling to an academic, a person who insists on citing everything and quantifying the rest. I want to get my hands dirty, fling some words onto page, color, end the day with paint smudges on my face. I need that. But, Lord help me if I get some ache or pain while waiting for an agent to show up at my door. I cannot pay a doctor in unpublished words. I have secretly entertained the thought of working at Starbucks a few hours a week just to call myself insured. God knows I know the drinks by heart. And I've always looked sexy in that shade of green.

So, this is my story. Out on the line. If you run into me on the street, you will meet with a practiced smile, a well-rehearsed look. You will see one who seems to have her life just exactly where it should be. Take a minute, if you would, though, to understand what it might be like to walk through minefields in a foreign land without protection, cover, or map. Then sit with me, if you would, and pass me that block of clay.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Down to the Little White Church

I went to church this morning. I know for some of you that may sound like a no brainer given that it's Sunday. For me, it was pretty much an alignment of the stars. I am not consistent in attendance. I love church. I love the way it makes me feel. I love the way others seem to love others more when they're in church. But I am out of town a lot. When I am in town, sometimes I like to sleep in and then make banana bread and listen to some tunes while I do mindless chores. I figure Jesus took a day off. I don't see that He would mind if I did, too. But this morning everything aligned. I was in town. I felt like going. I didn't have anything else planned. And so I went.

I've never "done church" for anybody but me. My family was never especially religious. As a little girl, I lived near my father’s parents. My grandparents were the epitome of religious. Church was a typical Southern experience. The ladies in their lacquered beehive hairdos, polyester dresses, and white Sunday heels and the gentlemen in their pressed grey suits would walk from all edges of the neighborhood toward the center where Hillcrest Baptist Church stood. Hillcrest was my neighbor. I lived across the street. After church, all us Wadleys filed back toward Grandma’s house for Sunday supper. The table was piled high with fried chicken, mashed potatoes, black-eyed peas, cornbread, and sweet tea. You waited your turn, and you never took seconds. But my own parents were not the religious type.

There would be stretches of time in between never going to church where my mom or dad would get the notion. We would attend this congregation or that just long enough for me to memorize half the books of the Bible in order to win some prize and prove to some uncaring imaginary crowd that just because I did not go to church did not mean I did not know about God. Then we would stop going. Altogether.

When I was seventeen and could drive, I took myself down to Grace Baptist Church every Sunday morning. On one of those Sundays, with hands raised in praise all around me, I gave myself over to the Lord. I am never fully certain why I chose that moment. Maybe because I had just lost a grandmother to alcohol and a grandfather to cancer. Or maybe it just seemed the thing to do.

I’m not one, though, to push church on other people.

For me, church is not about saving lost souls. It isn’t even about church. It’s about Jesus and how much he loves me no matter what I do. It’s about being in the one place where I can let down every defense I have. I don’t have to be the role model, the example, the good girl, the perfectionist. I don’t have to be Not Poor, Not Ignorant, Not White Trash. I don’t have to be the brain, the bookworm, the soccer mom, the suburban housewife, the college professor. I don’t have to be anything. I can just be me. Naked. And fully accepted.

It’s tough for me to understand why I believe. I am an academic after all. Academics are typically tough sales when it comes to religion. If I cannot quantify it or validate it, I want no part of it. But I’ve always felt at peace on a wooden pew. The red carpet, the vaulted ceiling, the stained glass windows. My head can’t wrap itself around any of it, but my heart is happy and right where it belongs.

I don’t much know my heart. Heart is emotional, out of control. I don’t need that business in my life. Control is everything to me. I grew up in a world of chaos. Parents yelling at each other, yelling at their children. Moving homes and schools nearly every grade. Never knowing if I would have food or not have food, have heat or not have heat. Heart is messy. Living from heart would mean confessing things my head has worked hard to hide. It would mean being angry at people toward whom I am not supposed to feel anger. It would mean hating and crying and cowering. I do not cower. I do not hate.

At least this is what I tell myself.

But Jesus knows that little girl, that little girl with a heart full of love, a heart full of joy and feeling, being told to shut up and quit your crying, being told she’s stupid and ignorant and that she thinks herself better than. Jesus knows that teenager being laughed at for the way she speaks, the clothes she wears, the cars her father drives. Jesus knows the woman with the heart that is bleeding tears, holding back hate, and aching for the love she gives but feels she has never received.

Church. My head may not approve it. But my heart knows it’s home.



Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Patience Please


Just a note to all you blog followers out there. I have not disappeared. I have not been kidnapped and held for ransom. I have not fallen into some dark hole and have yet to be found. I am, in fact, still going about my days, still breathing, and still writing.

I am a little distracted lately, however, as I am working on a book. I am trying my hand at a fiction piece. FICTION!! Of all things! Apparently, I cannot multitask when it comes to penning words. Or maybe when it comes to life. And fiction. This is taking every bit of brain energy I can muster.

While you wait, scroll back through some old favorites here on the blog. Or, even better, check out my collections of essays on Amazon at the link below. I think you will be pleased.

And thank you for understanding. I'm hoping for an agent for this one. Hoping to see this book on the stands. Cross all your fingers and your eyeballs for me, and send me tons of groovy vibes.

Peace and love, my friends. And have a beautiful rest of your day.

Tammie

http://www.amazon.com/Tammie-Ortlieb/e/B009SOJIT8/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1439389921&sr=8-1

Monday, June 29, 2015

My Take on the Gay/God Issue

I am sitting in a coffee shop surrounded by men. I call them all by that one name, but they are as different as they are the same. One wears something on his head. I don’t know what it is exactly, but I do know that it’s meant to represent his peace, love, and compassion, save-the-world sort of soul. Computer geek is in the corner, headphones on, pile of work at his side. There’s the guy with no hair on the top of his head but plenty of it on his chin. He looks like he could talk Socrates, Plato, Kant, Locke, and Nietzsche without ever once looking at his notes. Mr. GQ sits over by the window. He’s been on his cell phone since I sat down, chatting in a voice that’s smooth and inviting, looking like he just stepped out of a movie or a much-shared Facebook meme. Hey, girl. Then there’s the guy in the quiet area. He’s a farm boy student type, first generation if I had to guess. I would say he’s all about the books, respectful to his elders, and good to his family. Never misses a Sunday of church. If I could line each of these guys up side by side, it would be quite the delicious smorgasbord of maleness. Should I be asked to choose just one to represent the gender, I would be hard pressed to cast my vote.

You know that box of mixed chocolates so popular on Valentine’s Day? I LOVE THAT BOX!!!! It’s just so filled with all sorts of surprise. It never gets boring, never gets old. Some chocolates have that squishy cream in the middle. Some have fruit or nuts. Some you like and look for first, and some you remember to never choose again. But they all have something to contribute to the whole. I always feel sad for the person who gets the box where all the chocolates are the same.

And, yet.

I feel, as a culture, this is where we find ourselves wanting to be. We DEMAND that one representative type, that box of humans that are all the same. Historically, I believe, there is precedence for this. If I remember correctly, it did not end well.

I’m not even talking solely about the God worshippers here. I am equally disgusted by the Love Wins coalition waving their rainbow flags. Can we not just all get along and play nicely, for Pete’s sake? Instead of looking at variety as opportunity for growth, we raise our shields and ready for the joust.

To you Bible bangers out there: If indeed those who like to get it on with partners who share similar private parts are going to Hell, then let it be. Frankly, I don’t give a damn WHAT Jesus thinks. That’s HIS business, NOT mine. And it sure as heck isn’t YOURS. Let Jesus return, let the “sinners” rot, let the world end. But YOU trying to step into the role of omnipotent force is like ME donning black cape and gavel and playing judge for a day.

And to those of you in the Love Wins crowd: Really? Love wins and yet you fling such vile words? Or am I misunderstanding? Is that love only for those who associate with or support the status of LGBT? Clarify for me if I’m wrong. “C’mon,” as my mother used to say, “you’re bigger than this.” I get the whole oppressed/oppressor deal, but Fundamentalist Christians have hearts, too. You catch more flies with honey, that whole sort of thing.

I think where people are getting confused is that they feel this is a gay issue or a religious issue or a conservative issue or a liberal issue. This is neither a gay issue NOR a God issue, liberal OR conservative. THIS is a people issue. We run from what we fear. We fear that which is different.

What if, instead of fearing, we looked at different as Opportunity For Growth?

Let me tell you what I’ve learned and how I have benefitted from those who are different from me. Let me show you growth. I was granted my very existence by two racist homophobes, given my rich heritage by those who killed Jews. I was welcomed into the kingdom of God by one who, in no way, would have approved of men marrying men. I was taught love and compassion at the knee of one who murdered animals for sport, taught hatred, incidentally, by a soul very much like mine. I was educated by a man who had killed other men, saved from death by one who hated the poor. I stand in front of you today only because of those who represent everything I despise. I stand in front of you because, like those guys in the coffee shop, each person who has crossed my path has had some unique contribution to bring to the table of my life. I stand in front of you because, in the end, we all go by one name. We all are flesh. We all are human. Every one of us. Different. And the same.



Monday, June 1, 2015

Princes and Dragons

A few years ago, I set out in search of a mythical creature that many call Unconditional Love. I had never seen this creature in my life and was curious if I could tame it and live peacefully among it. I had heard stories of its existence, heard tales of its splendor, but had yet to see proof that any had witnessed its power. Legend, and psychological research, has it that this creature brings beauty and peace and happiness to any who touch it. Mortals become magical. They walk the road of who they were meant to be, their hearts grow to gigantic proportions, they emanate Unconditional Love to those around them. I had to know, Can I find this elusive creature and bring it into my life?

I packed my bag with smiles and hugs and positive words, words like “You’ve totally got this,” “I believe in you,” and “Have a great day.” I took along some optimism, gratitude, and sprinklings of grit. I was educated, armed, and ready for the hunt. I followed the advice of muses, angels, and overzealous motivational speakers. I repeated silently the mantra, “Do everything in love. Do everything in love.” See the good in the evil, the kind in the unkind, the me in the other. Don’t just LOOK for love, BE love.

And this is when I met with the first of my nemeses.

In true fairytales, dragons are big and scary and breathe flames that can destroy even the very best hair day. They live in castles, or visit castles, or, I don’t know, they’ve got something to do with castles. When you flip the page and see the picture, you know that a dragon is on its way. In real life, dragons drink smoothies, wear yoga pants, and constantly check their Facebook. They have pretty hair and smile a lot and confuse you into thinking that maybe they are a princess or a good fairy or at least a really nice narrator. In real life when you flip the page, you never say to yourself, “Whoa, look at that scary yoga pants-wearing dragon.” No. You just continue with the tale completely unaware of the upcoming plot twist.

Once I recognized my good fairies and princesses for the dragons they were, I was too afraid to fight them for fear of looking ungrateful, unloving, or full of disrespect. My dragons, you see, are key players in my life. Main characters. Critical to the story. This “Do everything in love” business was confusing, complicated, and, unexpectedly self-defeating.

Plot twist number two.

I am in the middle of living my story. It is going along just fine. And then in pops a character from another book. I am completely taken off guard. This character causes thought bubbles to appear above my head filled with words such as encouragement, support, joy, and concern. I wasn’t aware these words were missing from my life. I wasn’t aware I cared that they were missing from my life. This character had not read my story and yet he understood, he knew, he felt. I mentally wrote him in as Leading Lady’s BFF. A little presumptuous, I know, but I’m a writer, and I can do that.

Just being honest, if we were reading a different story, he easily could have been the prince. But we weren’t. And he wasn’t.

And then, on page four hundred and twenty-two, he decided he no longer wanted to be in the tale. That was it. The END. He wrote himself out. (He’s a writer. He can do that.) I was a mess. I drank, and I sobbed, and I poured my heart onto page. I drank, and I sobbed, and I poured my heart onto page for a YEAR AND A HALF. Ok, maybe longer. Maybe I stalked his Facebook wall until he blocked me. Maybe I stalked his Twitter and his blog until he deleted or changed them. Maybe I GoogleMapsed him (but I NEVER drove by his house). Maybe I learned that if I ever decide to stop teaching, I would make a damn good detective. I should just inject here that there is nothing more pathetic than a princess who can’t get her shit together. But finally I did. And I did because of those muses and angels and overzealous motivational speakers.

I woke one day, and the spell had been broken. It occurred to me that while I had been approaching my dragons with love and had been handing over my happiness to my self-created BFF-not-a-prince, I had been neglecting the well being of one pretty important chick. I looked in the mirror that day and turned the magical phrase toward myself. “Do everything in love.” In my effort to shower others with smiles and hugs and positive words, with “You’ve totally got this,” “I believe in you,” and “Have a great day,” I had forgotten to do the same with myself. There are those who feel that love of self is selfish, arrogant, the stuff of which narcissists are made. I understand now, though, that love of self is necessary, caring, the ultimate form of respect. I understand that I count as a person, and that I am worthy of receiving love as much as I am of giving it.

So, here I am, waking myself from the sleep induced by the poisoned apple of Self-Love-as-Conceit, riding off into the sunset of Unconditional Love, and looking forward to the many adventures to come.








Friday, May 22, 2015

Sitting, Crouching, Waiting to be Found

I was probably the only kid who ever hated the game Hide and Seek. I found crouching in my chosen nook terrifying, anxiety producing. What if nobody finds me? What if everybody quits the game, and I don’t know? Quiet, still, and trying to not be noticed, I felt frightened, alone, unsure of myself and my choice of place. Let’s just quit this game already and play tag or house or, for the love of God, anything else.

And yet I’ve made a good effort in my life at playing my own grown up version of the game. Sometimes, in fact, I forget that I am hiding and cannot even find MYSELF.

At various points in my life, I have hidden my feelings, my home, my needs, my abilities, and my worth.

I did not grow up in a touchy feely sort of home. I did not have space in my life to be the sensitive, caring, kind soul that I am. My early world was harsh. My sisters and I ate what we had to eat, wore what we had to wear, and were encouraged to be thankful just to have a roof over our heads. My parents were busy dealing with a hard life. They did not have time or energy to worry about extras like our emotional needs. “My girls don’t cry.” This is what I got. I know how to be tough, how to be strong, how to persist in the face of defeat.

And yet, I was the kid who cried when Bambi’s mother died.

For those who have read Gary Chapman’s Love Languages book, touch is my number one, my number one by far. I THRIVE on touch. I NEED that skin to skin. I LIVE for hugs and handshakes and pats on the back. I melt when someone reaches up simply to straighten my hair. I know. Seems like not much of anything. To me, however, it is the oxygen that I breathe. Sadly, I am only now learning to ask, and only now learning to receive.

For a long time, I hid my home. I was embarrassed growing up, because mine was not like the homes of my friends. We had roaches on the counters, heat that wasn’t always there. We had cars that broke down and landlords that chased us for rent. My parents yelled at each other, swore at their kids, used words like godammit, sonofabitch, and pussy and cunt. I can’t even type those words without turning weird shades of red. I had aches in my stomach and nails bit to nubs from the fighting, the swearing, the things flung in rage.

I no longer hide this, no longer pretend, because within this mess I became who I am. I learned, from my parents, respect for my elders and speaking with care. I was taught to not bully, not tease, and to share. My parents were giving to those who had need. They taught us to be strong, to try hard, to believe.

I’ve played other hiding games in my life.

As a new mother I hid my needs.

I have hidden my worth by playing small. Not afraid of failure, but afraid of success. Who am I to hope? Who am I to expect? Be good with what you get, don’t ask for more. Insecurity, self-doubt, low self-esteem. Many of you would be surprised, but hey, I’m a writer. I’m great at Pretend.

For most of my life, I have hidden my ability to sense what others don’t yet know. I get feelings, have dreams, read situations before they play out. It is not to an academic’s advantage to speak of her woo-woo ways. And yet, here I am, coming out of a closet I was pretending was not there. I am fascinated by concepts such as telepathy, twin flames, past life regression, Spirit, and guides. I have a friend I have met frequently in my dreams. We get together for a visit and a chat. Some call this a rehashing of the day or of wishes or thoughts. I call it communication at the level of the soul.

Which leads to another closet in which I hide. Once more, I find myself covering my feelings so others will not see. I would come out, confess, wave the white flag, but I am not certain I am ready for something serious as that. I have only now figured out that I am even IN that hiding space. Denial is a heavy thing. It is like one of those keys with the big brass locks, its weight in my pocket just too much to bear, preferable, though, to showing what I cannot show. And, yet, here I sit, crouching and waiting, sad and alone, waiting, waiting to be found.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Woman at the Super 8

We met in the parking lot of the Super 8. I was originally miffed because it would take me out of my way. I wanted my lunch, my latte, my couple hours with the other writers and readers and the rest of the coffee shop crowd. I would miss my routine, my stop off after class, time I spend immersing myself in the environment of my people. And the Super 8, for God’s sake. Stuff goes down in a place like that. But, then again, it was her home, and she had no car.

I have joined a gifting group online. It is a free sharing between neighbors. We offer up what we might have sitting around. We ask for that which we would typically pick up for a price. There is no money exchanged, no price put on a post. There are no haves, and there are no have-nots. It is me, helping you, and you, in turn, doing the same for me. The vibe of the group feeds my hippie, vegan, environmentalist, love and compassion, minimalist soul.

I had an excess of books in the house. I will ALWAYS have an excess of books in the house. Where MY pleasure with books comes from sharing, my husband’s comes from saving. We have piles and piles and piles upon the piles. I posted a few to the group. She raised her hand. “I would like them,” she said. I messaged her to set up the exchange. “Could you meet at the coffee shop?” “Could we make it closer? My car broke down.” “Where would you need to meet?” “How about Steak n Shake by the Super 8?” I thought for a minute and asked if she was living in the hotel. She said she was, and I asked her to share. The writer in me, or was it the human being, had to learn how she had come to call this home.

She grew up in hotels, promised her own kid he would never do the same. She was evicted from her last place, works full-time at the Comfort Inn, and is single mom to a six-year-old who, by the way, has the fullest head of curly hair and the most engaging smile a kid can have. Her rent at the hotel is about what it would be just about anyplace else. With clothes and rent and food for the two, she can’t make enough to afford a place of her own. So here she is, one year later, calling Room 214 her home.

I am not much one for a pity story. I am definitely not one for excuse. But I think of this woman living with her son in a place I am afraid to make a five-minute swap. I think of her full-time job, her twenty-four-hour solo parent duty, her hesitation to share her story with me for fear she might look less than or weak. I think of her hot plate and her griddle and my own gas range. I think of how I will later write of the groceries I shared with her, dollar store jelly and cans of beans, while I finish up my four dollar tea, plate of sesame tofu, and spicy peanut soba noodles. I am moved. I am moved to open my heart, to open my mind, and to see her not as an inconvenient stop but as a fellow human who is doing her best. I take the twenty-minute detour from my life. I listen, I share, and then I go on my way.

And now I feel the need to thank the powers that be.

I thank you, Father, for the grit you have given me. Thank you that, despite growing up in scarcity and lack, I have had it inside of me to bust through obstacles like they are Styrofoam walls. Thank you that, unlike my own mother, I never had to worry whether my children would have food. I never had to say no when they came to me for a snack. I never had to sit in the scorching sun with three little girls picking cotton all day to earn enough for a gallon of milk. Thank you that my bills are always paid, that the lights work and the water runs and that the house is warm whenever it snows. Thank you that my home is my home and that no one can kick me out. Thank you for all those adults who stepped into my life when stepping in was what was needed—with food, with clothes, with tuition or an encouraging word. Thank you for those adults. I hope the karma gods have been especially nice. Thank you for my education, for my job, my marriage, and my king-size bed. Thank you for blessing me as richly as you have, for bringing me to see the darkness as a gift in itself. And, thank you, Lord, thank you for the woman at the Super 8.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Grief That Deep

I have a friend who is grieving the loss of her husband. It’s not quite been a year. Some people think she “should be over it” by now. Others understand. They understand because they, too, have lost someone close. My dad passed away twenty-one years ago. Cancer took him down. Took him down fast. What began as a brain tumor ended as a ticket to the other side. Some days I feel cheated and want so badly for him to come back into my life. I was thirty when he died. Do we ever truly let go, or do we simply learn to push aside? There is, after all, this business of living to which we must attend.

There is spaghetti in the pot, laundry in the wash. The kids need rides to class. The dog has a two o’clock with the vet. Lecture tomorrow happens whether I prep or whether I don’t. And the groceries aren’t going to unpack themselves. We must do these things no matter how surreal or daunting they may seem. We do them because they bring normalcy to our days, and because they must be done.

I would posit, too, that a loss need not be the ending of a life in order to shake your world. Have you ever lost a friend?

Three years ago, someone with whom I had struck up a connection left my life. He’s not dead. He’s simply gone. But, then again, how would I know? It’s been three years. If I am to be honest, I was a mess. I was a mess for longer than I care to admit. Then, one day, I wasn’t. I had come to a point where I had accepted the loss and was ready to move on. I had donned my big girl underpants and was marching forward through my life. Until today. I was reminded of this friend in conversation today, a simple comment by another. Too many shits and fucks escaped my mouth. I drank a little. I cursed and cried. Yes. Alright. I cried. I miss the friendship. I miss it a lot. This friend brought richness to my life.

And that’s the thing, isn’t it? We are only grieved if we’ve mattered. Whether we die or whether we purposely choose to leave someone’s life. I want to matter. I want someone to grieve over me because I’ve made a difference in a life. When I go, whatever that looks like, I don’t want a simple sniffle or an easy consoling with an, “Oh, honey, you need to move on.” No. I want to rip someone’s world apart. I want grieving THAT deep.

Why else are we here? Why are we here if not to immerse ourselves in the lives of others, if not to love and care and cry, if not to contribute in ways that would never have happened had we never crossed their paths? Why else are we here?

I remember the procession from the funeral to the gravesite. My father had a lot of friends. He knew many people. The line of cars was long. It was longer than I could see from the rearview. It stretched, and it stretched. He wasn’t perfect. By far. But he had a charisma, a charm, a kind way about him. He knew how to make a person smile. He made a difference. He made a difference in many lives.

My friend who is grieving is nowhere close to being done. She lost her life partner, her soul mate. I am not speaking here of some cheesy, soul mate wannabe, the kind one reads about on Valentine’s cards. I am speaking of the word in the true spiritual essence of what it means. She and her husband were connected by a bond so deep that had they not been married they still would have merged as completely as they had. When this kind of person walks out of your life, you do not simply get over it. You mourn. You are beside yourself. You are lost and angry and alone. And you realize that the person who would have consoled you, who would have put an arm around you and allowed you space to cry and curse and release all of your inner demons, the person who would have comforted you best is the very person you will never see again.

We are only grieved if we’ve mattered. How rich a thing to contribute so deeply to a life.


Thursday, February 26, 2015

Dropped by the Universe into My World

I am trying to learn to surrender to the universe. I am learning to let go, to allow. I am learning to let the powers of the almighty forces work both through me and for me. Those of you who know me on a superficial, very public level might respond, “Oh, but darling, that is SO you.” Those of you, however, who know the real me, the one I share with almost no one, are probably thinking, “Yeah. Right. Like THAT’LL ever happen.”

I tend to be a bit of a control freak. I sometimes feel I know what it’s like to be God. I am cocky and arrogant, a little too sure of myself. I have not gotten where I have gotten in my life by grabbing the bowl of popcorn, sitting back, and proclaiming, “Ah, now THIS is going to be a great show.” No. I have busted down doors. I have knocked through walls. I have found a way in, around, under, or through things that never considered having a way in, around, under, or through. I have MADE things happen. I have made things happen that very likely should never have had a way to happen. Control feels good to me. Control feels good to me, I know, because my early life was so very much out of my control.

It has been suggested to me more times than would be considered normal without getting weird that I have worked hard in my life and need now to sit back and let life work hard for me. I cannot process this. I have no idea how to do it. I have no idea what it means. Trust. I assume it involves some level of trust. But, then, how would I know.

And, so, as any good student does, I show up with an open mind. I show up ready to learn, to absorb, to gather as much as I can about this topic of which I know nothing at all. I show up to try, to give it a shot.

At the same time as I am learning to allow, my sister and I begin a challenge. We are thick in the middle of a Midwestern winter and have come to the end of our collective rope. We need something to shake things up, to bring a little sunshine to otherwise grey skies, to get us out of our boring selves. We need something fun.

We have agreed that we will send each other a set of three challenges each month for the remainder of the year. Of the three, we are to choose only one to complete. In this, we can get out of our comfort zones, our staid routines, while managing to remain somewhat inside of them as well. My challenge for the month is to spend an entire day taking random photos, or to visit businesses that begin with each letter of the alphabet, working my way from A to Z, or to befriend a stranger. I begin by strategizing. I begin by picturing how I might complete each task. I begin by asking myself which feels best, which feels right.

And then it happens.

As part of a project I am working on to feed the hungry, a volunteer shows up whom I have never met. I see her name on the Facebook page I have created for the project. She and a friend are working behind the scenes to round up THEIR friends in an effort to raise big dollars for this cause. Her comments are everywhere. She shares all of my posts. She takes this cause and runs with it as if it were her own. Who IS this and WHERE did she come from?

As it happens, she will be dropping donations at my house. I will have opportunity to meet her face to face. When we do meet, we learn that we are much alike, have much in common, and get along more than what would be expected from just the regular friendly acquaintance. We are the definition of kindred spirits. Not that we’re ready to do coffee or share a bottle of wine, but I do believe she would be up for it if I asked.

And then it occurs to me. This lovely face was a stranger, and now she’s a friend. She’s a friend who was dropped by the universe into my world. I smile. I smile because I have just allowed without the conscious effort to know that I was allowing. I smile, too, because I really like the way it feels.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Hug Fest

Feb. 10

I like to make myself real. Students too often view instructors as this big authority figure up in front, someone who lives at school and has never had experience with the real world. Sure, instructors have a family. Sure, they live in a house. But, beyond that, there is not much thought given to concepts such as joy and pain, hardship and fortune. There is no emotion, no soul, no heart attached to the person at the lectern. So, I share my stories. To make myself real. To help students feel comfortable coming to me, asking things of me, and sharing with me as I have with them.

I read an essay today. This was an essay that I had written at one point in response to an invitation to attend a poverty simulation. Having grown up in such a situation, I was not only not eager to attend but angry at the assumption that such concepts as hunger and home insecurity could be learned in a lovely facility complete with heat and refreshments and the reliable transportation to attend. As it happens, I was asked to read the essay to the very group onto which I spat. It was a powerful experience. It was powerful not only for those sitting in the chairs but for me as well. It was ownership. I had claimed my life.

You should know that I spent many years hiding this life, overcoming, pretending it did not exist. When I say “many,” I mean that only about four years ago did I begin to put this essay, along with similar others, into book form and post them for all to read. For ALL to read. It was as painful a thing as I have ever done, and this coming from a woman who has given birth four times. I began to share my story. With the help of a writer friend, he pulling the words out of me, me cursing and dragging my feet, I came to a place of love and forgiveness toward my parents and my past, toward society and myself. I came to a place of ownership for the life I have led.

And so I share this story every term with my classes. To make myself real. To put a heart to a face. It is a powerful story, so powerful that even after all this time I cannot read it without tears. The tears are mine and they are those on the faces in the crowd.

I read my story today in the last few minutes of class. As I cleared my eyes and looked up from my reading, a line had formed from the front of the class to the back. These students, from whom many instructors never get a name, never get a personal story, never care to know detail one, these students stood in line to offer me hugs, big fat hugs that meant serious business. They built me up. They praised me. They thanked me for being who I am. They thanked me. For being who I am. And one? One thanked me because she could see herself. She thanked me because she could see herself in my words.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Recess for the Brain

Feb. 9

I allowed myself some space today, space to laugh at silly television, space to get lost in fluff magazines, and space to enjoy just a bit of naughty food. I have been concerned lately with the feeding of my soul. I have been concerned to the point of making it a business. I can never seem to do a thing half-assed. I am a bit of an overachiever like that. Today, however, I gave myself the day off.

I am not much a fan of magazines. They offer too many ads and not enough meat. Today, however, I drowned myself in them. I saw a few yoga outfits I would totally rock, found a broccoli stir-fry I might like to try, and learned that squeezing a person’s “buttocks can wake you both up from a trance of business-as-usual relating.” I may have already known that. I learned how to snack smarter, as I blew my daily Weight Watcher points on a giant bowl of Chex mix. I discovered that, yes, I would want to incarnate as myself, could never take a vow of nonviolence because it seems so damned hard, and might consider moving to Chicago just to buy that salad in the vending machine that comes in a recyclable jar.

I flipped through these goodies while watching other people’s home videos gone wrong. To think of all the nonsense cluttering my brain as a result of piñata hits to the head, skateboards and bike parts to the privates, and trampolines that seem to move while in midair. And what would I do without the noodles shooting out the baby’s nose or the dancing dog in the suit and tie? All I could think the entire time was “And people win money for this?”

I know it’s not the philosophical read for which you had hoped, but I needed the space and had a few laughs. It was a giant breath for my heart, recess for the brain. Come morning, I’ll be rested, refreshed, and ready to go. Not to mention I'll have five different oatmeal recipes just waiting to be tried.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Nothing Special. And Everything That Is.

Feb. 8

It has been a good day. I know my challenge is to write on a positive event that happened during the day, but sometimes it is just too difficult to choose. The interesting thing is that this particular day was really nothing special. It was, however, filled with many things I love the most.

I began my day with my backend sitting in a pew. I would not say that I am a religious sort, only that my spirituality is critical to my definition of who I am. Since I was sixteen, I have taken myself to church. Church and I have an on again, off again relationship. I do not feel the need to be in a building designated for worship in order to actually worship. And organized religion, just being honest, constitutes only a tiny portion of what I consider to be my spiritual being.

Spirituality, to me, encompasses a sense of compassion, of interconnectedness, of seeing myself as one small piece in the puzzle of the whole. Yoga helps me come to this. Yoga calms my mind and feeds my soul. I was able to spend time with my practice today. I began a good book, too, on the topic of mysticism. Curled up on the couch with my readers perched on my nose, I explored the subject a bit before turning to a magazine I had found on spirituality and health.

My husband made his famous goulash for dinner. Those who know me know how much I love beautiful food.

I spent time with my two youngest, graded some exams, and unpacked the groceries that my husband and daughter brought home from the store.

I sit penning these words, now, with my little white dog at my side, flannel pajama bottoms and fuzzy socks warming me while a fire blazes off to the side.

There is a comfort in routine, in sticking close to home. There is a sense of grounding in normalcy, in doing those things that care for the body and repair the soul. What has been good about my day? Nothing special. And everything that is.

Friday, February 6, 2015

It Ain't Pretty, But it's Chocolate

Feb. 6

I made a cake today. I know that does not sound like a monumental act in need of record. I did this, however, because I am learning once again how to love myself. I say once again because I believe each of us, as children, inherently knows the process of caring for one’s self. We eat when we are hungry, sleep when we need rest. We play to our heart’s content and stay away from those who bring us down. And if we feel like dessert, well by gosh then we HAVE dessert. Even if we have to sneak it. We laugh until our sides hurt, spend entire afternoons doing nothing but rolling down grassy hills. We tell someone if we like them. We tell them if we don’t. We find time to spend away from the world, little hiding places that belong only to us. And we would never consider speaking meanly to ourselves or downplaying our talent in any way. In fact, it is usually the opposite. “LOOK AT ME!! LOOK!! LOOK WHAT I CAN DO!”

I felt like cake.

I know this sounds at odds with my recent attempt to lose weight, but you should know that when I do a thing I do it all the way. The weight loss effort is part of a plan to help rejuvenate my soul. I am journaling on the positive, focusing on gratitude, returning to my yoga. Even this I have made into work. Three gratitude posts daily, a short essay, forty minutes on the floor. GO!! Don’t miss a day. Don’t let yourself down. Don't let others down. Keep up the work. You can do this. You can DO it. Why? Why be so militant in my quest? Why so harsh?

So I made cake.

To be nice to myself. Because I wanted it. Because I love to create in the kitchen. Because cake, to me, represents the very definition of love and fun, of party and happy. I was covered in flour, up to my elbows in cocoa, and had gentle tunes floating through the air. I swayed my hips as I licked a spoon or two, hardly able to wait for the final results.

I fed my body with this cake, but mostly I fed my soul.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Ready to Fly


Feb. 5

I strapped myself in, held on tight, and let myself fly. It was freeing, more freeing than anything I had felt in a long time. Up in the air, through the trees, platform to platform. Ziplining had never been a thing to enter my mind as something I might like to try. I tend to get serious in my life. I tend to forget to laugh and play. This was the first time in a long while that I had felt the exhilaration of just letting go.

My sister and I had created lists. I made hers. She made mine. “Twenty Things to Try Before This Time Next Year.” Had I made my own list, it might have looked something like this—paint the kitchen, weed the backyard, replace the toilet, return all those books. Let’s just say my comfort zone was begging ME to leave.

And so I painted, but not my kitchen. I sat with a friend and created some art. I spent a day in complete silence, sent a message in a bottle. I rode a trolley in San Francisco, walked beagles and poodles and mutts who had no home. I packed myself into a car with a good friend and headed to St. Louis. I enjoyed a weekend of great conversation, a visit to the museum, arboretum, and the arch, my first massage. Some might say that I failed to finish the list. I would say, “Oh, but look what I tried.”

And, so, we’ve decided to do this again. I have lately found myself in a bit of a rut. I am desperately in need of a breath of fresh air. We had a brief chat, my sister and I, earlier on the phone. We laid out our plan, talked about rules. Come Sunday night we will each receive our first month’s list. Of three items provided we choose only one. Each month following, we receive a new list. It is required that we journal, take photos, post a status or two. Provide some proof that we are breaking free, that we are exploring, learning, remembering to laugh.

So, here I go, strapping myself in, holding on tight. Stand back now. I’m ready to fly.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Would You Like Fries with That?

Feb. 4

I met a woman in a drive-thru parking lot. I do not know her. We have never met. We came to exchange some previously agreed upon goods. I have been clearing my home of clutter. Twenty years in the same house and four kids later, I have accumulated a bit more than I would like. My soul is feeling overwhelmed with STUFF. This woman agreed to lighten me of my load.

My husband cannot, for the life of him, pass up a sale. Pool noodles. Light sabers. Kleenex. It makes no difference. If he finds it cheap he purchases twenty. Or ten. No less than five. Suffice it to say that every August I find myself in possession of a good supply of markers and crayons, highlighters, and notebooks- spiral, three-ring, and two-pocket folders. Keep in mind we have not had children in the schools in over a year. And even then, it has been close to a decade that the elementary bus has stopped at our house. For the love of God, somebody take this stuff off of my hands.

And so she did.

I met a new face. I put a face to a name. This woman is part of a group I have recently joined. We exchange things. We ask for things we want but do not have. We offer things we have but do not want. Jeans. Jewelry. Books and pans. Dog sweaters. Help with taxes, with homework, with moving, with neutering, and food. And, yes, some of us offer up sixty-four pack Crayola crayons. It is refreshing to participate in an environment that encourages sharing and kindness. It is refreshing to never talk cash. Cash is not allowed. It is frowned upon to the highest degree. No dollar amount can ever be said. The group is strictly one neighbor helping the other. Reduce consumerism. Reduce waste. Promote face-to-face exhange. Encourage compassion and a helping hand. Encourage swapping pens and pencils in the McDonald’s drive-thru in the middle of the afternoon.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

A Little Respite

Feb. 3

A thick blanket of fresh white snow, a fat mug of steamy Earl Grey, a stack of exams, nondescript tunes, and, in lieu of red, a purple pen. Surrounded by windows and retro décor, I am sitting in the newest coffee shop in my little town. Is it possible for grading to be meditative? As with my yoga, this time spent surrounded by the smell of espresso and decaf is a respite in a cluttered world. I find myself returning to my breath.

I have recently taken on the challenge of journaling on the positive that happens in my day. In addition, on Pinterest, I pin to my Gratitude board three things that happened during that span for which I am thankful. At first, I felt much like my students during a final exam. “I know the answer is here somewhere, but Christ sakes, what the hell is it?” I would search my brain for some monumental event. Lacking one, I would postpone my journaling and pinning in the hopes that some miracle would befall me and make me look good. I have made my goal public. I have an audience to please.

Well. A miracle did befall me, but it was not nearly what I would expect. I have found myself searching for the positive before it has chance to occur, looking for the extraordinary in the mundane. I have challenged myself to never journal or pin on the same thing twice. Do you know how difficult this is for a girl who orders the same items off the menu every time she dines? It has become a beautiful treat to see something as ordinary as a bowl of rice and tofu as a gift. The fact that I can eat that rice with chopsticks becomes a talent for which I give multiple thanks. And that I consume this take out in my warm home with my dogs at my feet? How could I possibly want anything more in my life?

Mindfulness. That's what it is. Mindfulness and gratitude. A respite in a cluttered life.

Monday, February 2, 2015

A Boy and His Dog

Feb. 2

I was forty-five. I had two dogs, two cats, four kids, and a house full of neighbor children. I was operating on too many pizzas, too little sleep, and not nearly enough caffeine. I enjoyed my days, yes, but they passed in such a blur that I struggle to pull up facts in order to share a tale. Much of my children’s past may just as well be falsity as it is the truth. I pull up what I can. I fill in the rest.

One truth, however, is that one of those children had energy to spare. And one of those dogs was a newly rescued pup, also with energy to spare. I had neither the time nor the desire to leash the dog for a daily walk. Clever mother that I was, I sent said son out into the backyard with said pup. “Run him around a little. Throw a stick or something.” Finishing up the dishes, I watched as my little towhead wore that dog out. “Thanks, Johnny, for making him happy. I think he likes you, you know.” And, so the two formed a bond.

Six years later, we find ourselves snowed in. It has been a lazy day. We read. We napped. We watched a movie or two. I threw a pot of chili on. Said boy and said dog are still living under the same roof. Murphy, the beloved rescue, was finding himself with a bit of excess energy. I looked at my son. “Take him out and run him around. Throw a stick or something.” From the window I watched as the two flew through snow, as they deepened a bond that has been years in the making. They are one, really. Master and his pup. That dog lives for that boy. And the boy? Murphy is his world. “Thanks, Johnny, for making him happy. He loves you, you know.”

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Everything Beautiful. Everything White.

Feb. 1

I have never been one of those winter zealots. I do not enjoy being cold. I do not ski or snowboard or sled. I don’t own a four-wheel drive. I cannot, for the life of me, build a snowman that stands. When my children were younger, I detested the winter months. A trip as simple as going to the store involved wrangling four tiny humans into coats and snow pants, boots and hats and gloves. Get them in the car. Stop the arguing over who sits where. Get them buckled. Inevitably, somebody has to pee. Get her back inside, out of the boots, out of the snow pants, out of the gloves. Business done, get her back into the boots, into the snow pants, into the gloves, into the car. For the love of GOD, nobody throw up, nobody ask for a drink, nobody wet your pants. I’ve got broccoli to buy, and I haven’t got all day to get it. I much preferred the lazy summer days when I could let the bunch of them run around the backyard in their skivvies. Out of cereal? Running low on bread? Grab your flips and get in the car.

I must say, though, there is something soothing about a good snowing in.

I did not grow up in Michigan. I was raised in the cornfields of Indiana. In Indiana if it snows, it is gone the very next day. Not so in Michigan. It snows in November and melts in May. The spring thaw, they call it. This is one thing I have always appreciated about the state. At least if it is going to be cold, it is beautiful while it happens. I enjoy seeing the white on the ground instead of that crunchy brown grass. My favorite time is when it snows flakes so big it looks like cotton falling from the sky.

It has snowed and snowed and snowed today. There is an excitement in the air. Children wear pajamas inside out, dance and spin and laugh. It is their way of signaling to the universe that they expect a snow day when they wake. Neighbors clear their driveways, blowing freshly fallen snow this way and that. Some have those super deluxe snowblower models and clear all the way to the stop sign and back. Neighbors being neighborly, the snow will do that. If I am confessing, while everyone else is putting on a pot of chili and hunkering down inside, I go out for a drive just to be alone on gorgeous winter streets, just me in my winter wonderland, as if I am a character in one of those globes you turn upside down and shake. The little kid in me enjoys the thrill of just keeping between the curbs. Not worrying about staying inside the lines. Slipping and sliding, everything white. Everything beautiful. Everything white.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Coffee and Tea

Jan. 31

The problem with marriage is that it is impossible to be married without turning into roommates. While those planning for the big day envision an eternity gazing into the eyes of his or her beloved, days holding hands while strolling along sundrenched beaches, and evenings enjoying candlelit dinners complete with wine, music, and a suggestive glance, the reality is that eventually someone is going to clog the toilet, burn dinner, and forget to take out the trash. So, imagine twenty-nine years of this.

It is too easy for a couple to begin to take each other for granted. It is too easy for the chores and the yard and the house and the kids and the job and the cars and the in-laws to begin ranking above the spouse on the daily to-do. And I mean that in more ways than one. It is my opinion that couples who make marriage last, who stay together when others do not, fall into one of two categories, those who are together but not happy and those who have made a point to carve out space for the partner in the everyday.

I enjoyed just such a moment today. Granted it came after shopping for a basin wrench and a faucet or two. My husband and I, plumber’s putty in hand, decided to stop off at the bookstore before heading home. There was much to do and not really the time, but we did it because it needed to be done. We have been guilty in the past of moving each other to the bottom of the list. We are trying now to repair that.

He had a coffee, room for cream. I had a steamy Earl Grey. I flipped through a couple of magazines that I didn’t really read. He gathered books of which he bought only half. Mostly we talked. We talked of moving, of retirement, of wishes and wants and dreams. We talked of condos and neighborhoods, the country, the beach. We laughed. We joked. We paid for our stuff, and we left.

It was maybe an hour. I couldn’t say. The time is not the point. The point was that, after twenty-nine years, it was a message that read you matter more to me than that goddamned sink.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Namaste

Jan. 30

I’m taking back my life. It’s easy, isn’t it, to get caught up in the to-do’s, the have-to’s, the shoulds, the should nots? It is easy to fall into habit and routine. We wake; we eat; we drive to work. We work; we message; we drive back home. We eat; we read; we go to sleep. We wake, and we do it all again. Day in. Day out. We let others add their agenda to our days. We neglect to do those things that bring us joy, that make us smile and laugh, because there are things to get done, for Pete’s sake. We forget. We forget to eat beautiful food, to dance, to listen to music that is soft and smooth, to take long walks in earthy woods. Well. I am ready. I am ready to begin LIVING my life.

My day began with forty minutes on the floor, yoga pants screaming, “For the love of GOD, woman, when was the last time you did this?” I could say, “So this is how a body looks when it gets to fifty-one,” but I know it is not so much the body as it is the cookies and the cake. Husband at work, grown children in bed, I had the living room to myself. Myself, that is, and my three nosey dogs. There is something powerful about bare feet to wood floor, internet instructor guiding as I assume triangle, plank, and warrior one. No fancy equipment. No sweaty gym bag. Just me and my body, moving through poses I did not even know I could do. Well, some I don’t do. Who could? I bring my hands to heart center, return to my breath. Hair thrown up, arms strong and bare, I forget for a minute that there is snow on the ground, that there are dishes in the sink. It is a reprieve in a day that has not yet begun.

As I clear the clutter, rid my days of the trash, I don’t know exactly what BELONGS in my life. It has been awhile since my heart and I have had a chat. But I am a nervous sort with energy to spare. Yoga calms me. It calms me and helps me remember to breathe and to be still. It is beauty and compassion. It is peace and love. It is me. And so it stays.

The light in me salutes the light in you. Namaste.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Lesson Learned

Jan. 29

It was just a passing comment. We were discussing volunteer opportunities and how to fit the opportunity to the person. I was talking with a group of students about a project I am having them complete. I have had this group before in other classes. I know them. An instructor develops a fondness for those repeat students. There is a certain closeness that forms.

The rest of the class had been dismissed. This small group and I were discussing how they might live the life THEY are here to live rather than simply performing as they see others perform. If I choose to work out, for example, I feel an intense pressure to join a gym. If that is not my thing, however, I am going to be miserable, going to make those around me miserable, and very likely going to fail to follow through. If, however, I am one who loves people, loves to talk and interact and gather like-minded souls together in a cause, if I have a strong sense of interconnectedness, empathy, and compassion, I might choose, instead, to gather a group of friends and train to run for a fundraising effort of one kind or another. I might lead my group in raising dollars for diabetes or Alzheimer’s or heart disease. I am still working out, but I do not carry a gym bag or a key card to do it. So, then, I share a story of personal example with this group.

When my children were younger, I used to enjoy volunteering in the schools. One teacher had me stapling bric-a-brac to bulletin boards. She asked me to make copies and to cut construction paper Pilgrim hats. I was alone in the hallway with nothing but my scissors, my stapler, and my multi-colored papers. I was miserable. I hated it. I never looked forward to going to school. I don’t care much about bulletin boards. I don’t care if they’re pretty. I don’t care if they’re blank. Bulletin boards could fall off the face of the earth and my life would be no different for it. Instead, I am moved by motivating. I like to lift and inspire. I like to show others the potential I see when I look their way. I like to teach them how to take every single great thing that’s inside of them and to throw it out at the world to make that world a better place. THIS is my thing.

I shared that the teachers I liked helping best were those who would allow me to take a student out into the hallway and to work with that student on reading or math. We would sit there, the two of us, alone, together, learning words, learning strategies, learning how to believe in one’s self despite every message to the contrary.

One student from my repeat group looked at me. He seemed quiet and reflective. “You’re one of those angels who helped me get through school.” I must have looked confused, because he continued. “You are one of the angels who helped me when no one else would. I was one of those kids.” I smiled, passed off the remark, and with a flippant air said simply, “I don’t really remember the kids that I helped. It was fun. I enjoyed it, but I don’t remember them.” And then he looked me in the eyes and said, “THEY remember YOU.” Tears. Instant tears. I was humbled.

And then I thought how many times do we take our actions for granted? How many times do we fail to consider the impact we have on a life? For good or for bad. That thirty minutes twice a week, for me, was nothing much more than a way for me to support my children in their education. For HIM, and for other students like him, it was the world.

Teacher became student in that moment. I ask myself now how I can be more intentional in my actions, how I can consider the positive that I throw out, the negative I inflict. It was just a passing comment, but what a vivid lesson learned.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

She Wore a Smile


You have probably noticed that I’ve hit a dry spell in my writing lately. Call it lack of interest. Call it lack of time. Or call it, for lack of anything else, writer’s block. At the same time, I am feeling an intense need to turn inward, to focus on my personal health and well being, to move other things to the bottom of the pile and to focus on me. I know it appears that I write for my own purposes, and I do, but my words are meant always to speak to YOU, to lift and motivate, encourage, inspire. So, in an effort to find my way back to the keyboard and to move the focus onto my own needs for just a minute, I have decided to use this blog for the next little while as a journal of positive things that happen in my day. The goal is to post a snippet, a paragraph or two, even an entire essay on one thing that occurred during the course of the day that made me smile, that lifted me, that spoke to my heart. So, raise a glass and join me if you will. Here’s to words, real and true, beautiful in the way they paint a story, in the way they capture a moment, in the way they dance themselves onto page.


Jan. 28

She wore a smile and a look of recognition. Headed my way, the smile grew as she drew closer. She threw a hug around me that meant business, the kind that envelops your entire being. “I still have that picture of all those positive words we wrote all over the board.” They called her Zeta. She showed up in my class one term, for a bit. And then she dropped. Some students do this. A professor gets used to it. Sometimes you know the story. Sometimes you don’t. She was not wearing a smile during that first term.

Life has a way of testing us to see exactly how strong we can be. She passed this particular test and showed up once more in my class later that same year. I teach about people. About who we are and why we are who we are and what we might do to be better human beings. Sometimes lecture gets a little too “textbook” for my liking. Those who have had it easy in life, who have had dinner on the table every night, a warm bed to sleep in, parents who love them, tend to see development as nothing but bullet points, exam questions, and a flash card or two. We had reached just such a moment in class. Then Zeta raised her hand.

She had been passed around. Kicked out. Had raised a sibling or four. She lived in more places than I can recall at the moment. At one point in her high school career, a teacher had, with every intent of seriousness, told her that she would be good for nothing in this life except lying on her back making babies. She was from the wrong side of the wrong side of the tracks. But her spirit was large, her smile infinite. She was like the doll that gets knocked down again and again but just continues to keep popping back up.

We made class happen for her that term.

And, now, here she is coming toward me in the hall, smile as beautiful as always. “I still have that picture. I look at it. It makes me smile. It makes me remember your class. I STILL remember your class.” Oh, and Zeta. I remember YOU. I STILL remember YOU.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Big Fat Fake


I admonished a student yesterday for being okay with okay. This is sort of my thing. I preach constantly to seek a life of exclamation marks. We get one go around. There IS no going backward. There IS no rewind. There IS no Your Life, the Sequel. Why settle for existing when you have the ability to LIVE? I preach this. I teach it.

And, yet.

I could just as easily have been that student. I have settled in my life. I have been okay with okay. I have looked to others to supply the happiness, the fulfillment, which I should have been supplying myself.

I got a little negative feedback the other day. It had my knickers in a knot. The feedback was on my teaching, something in which I take great pride. Understand that the learning process is not something I half-ass EVER. To make matters worse, the feedback was behind my back and from another instructor. And suddenly someone else’s opinion of me and my teaching became more important than my opinion of me and my teaching. It became more important than the loads of positive feedback I have received over the years from my students. It became the ONLY opinion.

This is the thing.

I am great at taking stage. Make-up, lights, showtime. Put up the smile. Throw out the confidence. Emanate warmth, sincerity, positive energy to spare.

I am great at taking stage.

When I step down, however, when the lights go out, I always feel a bit like the wizard in the land of Oz. This giant persona to the rest of the world who in reality is nothing more than one who struggles with feelings of insecurity, lack of worthiness, and a fear of exposing her true self. I am not smart enough. This was my first reaction to the negative words. I am not smart enough to do this job.

You know what happens when we go THERE, right? It turns into an I-Am-Not-fest. “I am not good enough,” “I am not pretty enough,” “My boobs are too small, my butt too big, my face too plain, my hair too wild.” Everything is wrong. Nothing is right. No one likes me. Why, indeed, should they? I talk too much; interrupt even more. Suddenly I see everything I love about myself as something no one should.

And so I look to others to build me up, to prove that I am, indeed, capable and worthy and loved.

But here’s the thing. I cannot, for the life of me, show them who I am, share with them my full self. Rarely have I been able to do that. How would I, anyway, when I am not certain I have shown myself?

Why am I so afraid to just be me? Why am I so afraid to feel and to be real, so afraid to own my responsibility for my own happiness? Why is some random instructor’s opinion of me more important than my opinion of myself?

On a related note, I had a situation in my life that brought me great joy. I began to live in exclamation marks. I had not known that I wasn’t. This friendship opened my eyes to the okay-ness for which I had settled. At that point, the friendship came to an end. I may have been out of sorts. I may have thrown a tantrum or two. I wanted the friendship back. I wanted the happy that I had felt. I wanted it. I was upset at this friend for taking it away.

I groveled. A good long while, I groveled.

And, then, with the help of a very patient family member, an insane amount of time spent writing, and more than a few bottles of wine, I came to the point where I realized that this friend wasn’t the CAUSE of my happiness but had merely shown me how that happiness could FEEL. If I would stop settling for good enough, if I would allow into my life positive feedback, an honest look at myself, and a willingness to be vulnerable, open and real, I could once again find my happy. I could create it MYSELF. This is not my usual M.O.

I am striving this year to move beyond okay, to move beyond looking to others to verify my worthiness, to provide my happy. I am striving to insert more exclamation marks into my days.

I think for once in my life, I’ll take off the make-up, step down from the stage. I am who I am. That is not always the strong, together, pretty picture you see when you look at me. I know now, though, that in my realness, be it pretty or not, I am worthy, I am good, I am loved. And THAT, my friend, is contingent on no one and nothing. THAT is a given.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Who ARE You, and What Do You Want with Me?


Ever have a weird encounter with a random stranger? I don’t mean simply chatting up the barista at the local coffee shop or helping an elderly woman with a door. No, I mean weird. Weird as in inexplicable, mystical, that which leaves you pondering the meaning of what just happened.

A man steps onto a bus.

Actually, a lot of men step onto the bus. I am on vacation. Disney World. This is a place where people are generally nice and happy and friendlier than they might normally be. They like each other, look at each other, make small talk, fill the void. Those who, in their regular lives, might avert their eyes, be short with you, or show little interest in your story, offer up smiles, nods, and where are you froms. They comment on your family, search for commonalities in your day. This has always been a favorite part of my vacations to the land of Mickey. Ordinary activities that would usually be a source of irritation become a means of connection between those who seemingly have none. And, so, I jump on the bus just as the driver closes the door.

My family is farther to the back, having gotten on before I could make my way through the crowd. There is no room to sit. People stand, holding onto straps and bars above their heads. The driver tells us to move to the back, keep on moving back. I squish in between my daughter, who is a good eight inches taller than I am, and a woman from Georgia who is here with her son. It is a boring ride as most rides are. I chat with my daughter and warn the woman sitting beside me that I am not very good at standing on buses and that should I land in her lap to not be concerned. Then through the crowd, actually to my back and right beside me, I hear a voice that sounds soothing, lyrical, very much like home, if we could define home in this case as some mystical spot that exists somewhere deep inside of me.

I turn to look. The man is talking to the woman, with the two children, who sits beside where he stands. “How old is she?” Calming, kind. There is no small talk about this. He is practiced and sincere. I know this soul. I am drawn to him. I am in prime staring position, and I take full advantage of this. His back is to me while he speaks with the woman. When he turns up to look out at the crowd, I turn my back to him and converse a bit with my daughter. Oddly, I feel like the schoolgirl with a crush. I cannot, for the life of me, make eye contact with this man. Understand that I make a point to make eye contact with strangers. I offer up smiles and strike up conversation as easily as I breathe. But I cannot look into his eyes. Neither can I stop staring the second he turns his head.

What is it? Why am I so drawn? Have we known each other in a lifetime past? Does he remind me of someone I know? Have we run into each other at some earlier point in our lives? It is embarrassing how much I stare. It is less embarrassing how much I eavesdrop on the conversation he has with the woman. As a writer, it is just what I do. I study his features. I am mesmerized by his voice. I take all of this in as if it is material for an exam.

And then he turns my direction.

I look away quickly, afraid he will catch me staring. I can feel him looking at me, can see him out the corner of my eye, scanning top to bottom, bottom to top. This is not a checking me out kind of look. This is taking me in. Studying me as I had studied him. I wonder if his soul recognizes my soul just as mine did his.

The bus comes to a stop. We have arrived at our destination. Everyone ends their conversations, says their goodbyes, and lines up to make their way to the door. This man is directly behind me. It is an awkward feeling. And yet exhilarating. I feel him at my back or somewhere near my back. This is not flirting. Our eyes never met. This is not a getting to know you session. We never spoke a word. Yet the energy is strong. For me, at least, the energy is strong. I wonder if it is for him.

We step off the bus, meet up with our respective families, and venture on into the park. I look occasionally, throughout the day, for his face but never see him again.

One bus ride. One man. One day.

Were he to step in front of me this minute, I am not certain I would remember his face. I cannot help but wonder why we crossed paths, why we connected without connecting, why I feel still the energy and the rush. I was the last one on that bus before the door shut. Circumstance? Destiny? Maybe. But why?