Sunday, November 19, 2017

Why Buy the Cow?

“There’s no sense paying for it. Every other girl in Southern California is hot.” I’m behind three men walking into Barnes and Noble. They are dressed in business casual and have that angular look. I am certain they work out and watch what they eat. I have no context for this comment. My first reaction is asshole. I listen for more, but we have reached the entrance. One of the three sees me and holds the door. Mr. Asshole is clueless that I am even there. The feminist in me wants to stand tall and make a snide remark. Another part of me, who is that, wonders if I am the one or the “every other.”

This is the job of a writer. Take an experience and get it down. Notice. Pay attention. Intuit. Listen. Then choose. Choose the part of the story the reader would prefer to hear. Unlike Facebook, a writer doesn’t get fifteen selfie shots from which to select the cutest, the sexiest, the one that will get the most likes. A writer gets one take. From that, she pens in her own filters, hashtags, witty comments, clever remarks. The writer chooses with her thoughts and eyes how to see the life she is given.

An essay from that half minute interaction with those three men could go many directions. I could write on the asshole jerk and how he got that way. I could write on the guy who held the door and his sheepish smile and embarrassed blush. I could write on my own insecurities, body image, and the current culture women face of public examples of shaming versus ads promoting taking pride in our physical selves. I could write in many directions from this one comment that I wasn’t even supposed to hear.

But I chose to leave it as an introduction to something a bit deeper.

I recently advised a friend who is considering blogging. Be careful, I told her. Protect your heart. People will read your words. All people will read your words. Even those you don’t want to read will read. Sometimes, those people will be your biggest readers. Not because they want your inspiration but because they want the dirt. Also, I told her, be ready for the haters. There will be haters. No matter how personal your material, how sensitive your feelings, how many tears you shed as you put your words to page, there will be those who will say it didn’t happen like that, she’s making that up. There will be those who will guess at parts of your life from things you write and will whisper to those around them. She must be having an affair. But they will never bother to sit with you for coffee, to know you off the page, to hear the story as it happened in flesh. Be ready, I told her. It will happen.

A young writer I know shared this morning a reflection of her personal hell. She shared how she wants to be real in her writing, how she wants to write. But for now, she wants to live. She misses the page but bigger things call her from it, health things, life and death things. Feel the experience, I told her. Feel it and live it. Then grab the pen and get it down. This is what a reader wants. Hemingway said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Hey, haters. We’re bleeding over here. Instead of throwing us a bandage, you’re handing us the knife.

Give the reader what the reader wants. No one cares that I made myself a bowl of oatmeal this morning. Even if I confess to adding coconut, almond butter, cacao, I am still just eating a meal. Anyone can do that. The reader doesn’t want this. No. The reader wants to hear how I have obsessed since last night, kept myself from sleep, over a friendship that used to light my days but hasn’t touched my doorstep in years. The reader wants to hear how I hang onto a thing I should release, a thing that, over two years, brought me the greatest joy and then, in the span of an hour, destroyed me. My feminist readers would say you are worth more than this. Do not give anyone your time that doesn’t treat you as you deserve. My friends who know would say this again? For God’s sake, let it go. But everyone would read. They would read.

We are all writers, aren’t we? Some of us just choose not to share. The asshole guy still walks through the door as you enter the bookstore. The tragedy happens that makes you consider the blog. Your life is jeopardized at a very young age. You ache inside for a relationship you should let go. Most folks call it life, post the perfect selfie, and move on. Writers, writers grab the pen, steel their nerves, prepare to bleed.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Six-Letter Word for Candy Ass

I should probably go back to work. Don’t make me. I don’t wanna. I have to confess, I have enjoyed my time immensely since shedding the societal need to have a profession. It’s like a requirement, isn’t it? It’s not good enough to have a job. You have to be something.

What do you do? I’m a professor. This is how I used to answer this question. Now, I stumble over my words and explain how I’m working on a new idea with my daughter, mumble, mumble, something about a vegan start-up, trailing off in how I used to teach psychology at the college level (because my ego says do this to feel important). What is the matter with me? Why can’t I just say I do nothing, and it’s bringing me great joy? Since quitting my teaching job, for example, I’ve built lovely relationships with the other regulars at the coffee shop where I write. A diverse, and mostly elderly, population, this group has taught me the true meaning of positive aging, a concept I used to give lip service to in class. They show up every day with crossword puzzles in hand. No one is younger than eighty. A couple of them are pushing the century mark. They are former professors, elementary teachers, musicians, and writers. They know the other regulars and their areas of expertise and can often be seen wandering to different tables to ask about a six-letter word for candy ass? (piƱata). I pop over before I leave to help them with a word or two. What do I do? I rock the New York Times puzzle of the day with a ninety-six-year-old author of history books, that’s what I do.

It must be nice, but somebody has to pay the bills. You would be surprised what bills you don’t need once you quit trying to measure up to others and begin to cultivate a life you enjoy. I used to spend lots of money on clothes because I wanted to look good in front of my students. I didn’t want them to see me in the same dress every day. I’m vain like that. I lived in a big house, had lots of cars in the driveway, and spent too much money on services to make my life and home look good. I paid someone to fertilize my lawn. And then, because it grew, I paid someone to cut it. I paid someone to clean my home because it was big, and I was busy. I shelled out co-pays for medical visits that were mostly due to stress. I threw out the big bucks for lessons, sports equipment, and pay-to-play gigs for my four children as they grew because this is what we do. It is not enough for the neighborhood boys to spend afternoons crafting makeshift go-carts out of bungee cords, skateboards, and appliance boxes found in the garage and racing them down the drive. To be competitive in this world and to build a proper college resume, your twelve-year-old must participate in travel sports and prepare for future scholarships by training with private coaches hired with a parent’s hard-earned cash. At least this is what we are told. Pay the bills? Maybe we should eliminate the need.

I’ve quite enjoyed doing nothing. I’ve spent afternoons sipping tea and chatting with friends. I’ve passed hours sitting on the dock, looking out at the lake. I’ve made phone calls, cooked dinners, stayed up all night talking, and, because no one was checking, slept in. I’ve been accused of not being productive. Tell me how it is not productive to heal my soul. Tell me how it is not productive to care for my health. I have stepped out of the artificially lit, temperature controlled university buildings into the sunshine and fresh air. I have walked the beach, climbed the mountain, and traveled to places I have never been. I have rested. I’ve taken time to breathe.

I may be ready. I may be ready for a smallish job. Something simple that does not control my life. I have learned to not care how others judge. I am smart and significant. I don’t need a title or confirmation to prove it. I am cleansed of the need to live a life that looks good to others but stifles the hell out of me.

What do you do? I care, I love, I walk, I laugh, I write, I savor, I dream.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Choosing to Live

I think I found my big girl panties.

I have been dreaming for years of moving to California. Not the right time, too expensive, the rest of the family wants to stay in Kalamazoo. We feed ourselves excuses, don’t we, when things seem a bit too hard, when they seem scary or difficult or a little extreme. I decided a few weeks ago that if this were to happen it would be up to me to make it happen. I told myself, yes, let’s do this. The universe was like, “Finally, bitch. ‘Bout damn time.” Once I made the decision and declared it out loud, one thing after another happened in my favor. Let’s just say my house is being photographed today and going on the market super soon. I have found an apartment in an area of California in which I have always wanted to live, put the deposit down, and begun to sell my stuff. My plan is to drive out with only my dog, my cat, and whatever I can fit in the car. Dreams deserve fresh starts, don’t you think?

So many people tell me I’m brave. I don’t feel brave. I feel terrified. I feel excited and terrified. Maybe I look brave. I don’t know. Does brave look like doing a thing you’ve always wanted to do? Does it look like standing up to yourself, saying, “Man up, woman. You’re bigger than this. Quit hiding behind excuses and get busy living your life.” Does brave put its work boots on and do the work nobody else wants to do? Okay, then. Maybe I am a little brave.

Others tell me I am spontaneous, impulsive. Please. I am the queen of overthinking. I only make a thing look impulsive because once I decide to act, I act. What people don’t see is the years spent traveling with the family, exploring vineyards and mountains and beaches from Napa down the coast. What they don’t see is all the quiet evenings with my dogs at my feet, glass of wine at my side, and real estate sites pulled up on the screen. California dreaming. They don’t see the internal struggle between the desire to follow a call of my heart and the reality of having to maintain school schedules for four kids, meet job needs of myself and a spouse, and try to figure out what to do with a life’s collection of furniture, dishes, and ceramic crafted polar bears created by little hands.

They don’t see divorce. They don’t see me sitting room by room, looking around when no one is home, asking myself, “What would I be sad to never see again?” Crying. Remembering. Getting lost in the stories. They don’t see me taking only what I must, only what I have to have, not wanting to leave holes in the house because my two youngest have chosen to live with Dad. They don’t see me not wanting my kids to walk into empty rooms. They don’t see me packing up alone and moving out. Alone. “It was your decision,” people would say. “You could have stayed.” They don’t see the tears I cried when they told me this. If you have nothing nice to say, I would think, please go find something else to do. Your advice is not only not helpful, it is cruel. You don't have the full story. You have only what you see.

These people who call me brave and impulsive, they don’t see that I do now in my home what I did during the divorce. I sit. Room by room. Thoughtful and quiet. I look around and ask, “What would I be sad to never see again?” The cradle I slept in when I was a baby, the rocker I bought when I learned I was pregnant with my first. These will be shipped. The boxes of photos, the old school kind, half the memories grabbed in haste from the other house when I left. I don’t even know which half I have. I’ve lost a part of my children’s growing up years. This is sad enough but now I decide, take them all or leave some behind? The flower my son painted in third grade. The plaque my friend got me to keep me grounded when I went back for my PhD: “If you’re not barefoot, you’re overdressed.” There are more like this, but I can’t take much. These people who call me brave, impulsive, they should sit with me and watch the tears.

This is how we do life. We put one foot in front of the one that came before it. We do that over and over again until we die. Sometimes we get afraid, and we hunker down where we are. I think this is also where we die. I have been hunkering down in my life. If it is brave and impulsive, then, to get up and choose to live, if it is brave and impulsive to decide again to move my feet, if it is brave and impulsive to act on a thought that has been years in the making in my head, then, yes. I am impulsive. I am brave. Mostly, though, I am alive and choosing to live.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Guns and Torches are Not Love

I once had a homeless man offer me a sandwich. This man had nothing. He was living on a bench in the park. I had, in fact, given him the sandwich. He didn’t know this as I had provided it in a roundabout way. He thought me one in need myself and offered the little that he had. I smiled and thanked him but said I’d pass. Then I said a silent prayer to God. I thanked Him for men like this. I thanked Him for men with mismatched clothes and unruly hair, men in need of a shower and a shave, men living under trees in the city park, men willing to feed me when they could not feed themselves. Men who had my back when they barely had their own.

I had another - different day, different park - ask if he might shake my hand. I offered a hug instead. He asked me why I do the things I do, why I bring bags filled with peanut butter, jelly, and bread. “Can I just ask, ma’am, why you do this?” “I know what it’s like,” I said, “to need to eat and not have food. And now, in my life, I am fortunate to have food and others need to eat.” He offered me a God bless. I knew he meant it. They weren’t just words thrown into the air as they very often are. Truth be told, though, I gave him that line about knowing what it’s like because it was what I felt I could share. What I really wanted to say was this: It breaks my heart. You shouldn’t be here. No one should. Human beings should never be left alone and without love, left to beg a blanket from my car because the air is cold and the ground is hard, because women and babies get the beds, and the men are left outside. I wanted to tell him that there but for the grace of God go I. It very likely could have been me. Homeless, in my world, was just an unpaid bill away.

I knew a man. He used vile words to describe people whose skin was not like his. The hate was strong. His words often made me cringe. “I would never approve of a daughter of mine,” he would say, “coming home with a (fill in the blank with a derogatory term to describe any group that did not match his).” But this man taught me love. Ironic, right? He was a giving man, would give that which he did not have. He made certain the men living in the alley behind his house had a kind word and a filling snack, a cup of joe on an ice cold day. He taught me, too, how to take a risk, how to know that life half-lived is just a half-lived life and, if we’re being honest, not much a life at all. He gave me life, this man did. I only exist because of him. I feel deep gratitude for that.

Hate the sin, love the sinner. This is what I have been told. Seems, though, everyone’s definition of sin is not the same. It’s in the Bible. This is what they say. They point harsh white fingers at the page, shake the book up close in my face. I am reading the same story as you. How can we not see the same? Hate the sin, love the sinner? No. Hate the hate. Love.

This is where I check myself. Men walk into clubs filled with gays. They shoot and kill human beings. Other men carry tiki torches on a university campus shouting, “We will not be replaced.” People die. Others are hurt. Sticks and stones. Guns and torches. How can I love those who fling such hate? Love everyone, right? That's what the Big Book says.

Here's the thing that irritates me about all of this. I see people posting and liking statuses saying "love each other." These are not people who love. These are people who love some and who, very conditionally, tolerate others. Tolerating is not the same as love. Tolerating is saying I disagree with who you are, I am afraid of you a little or a lot, I think my ideas on how to live life are more right than yours, but I am going to say I love you anyway because I am a nice person like that. No, you are not a nice person like that. Tolerating is not love. Tolerating is holding yourself above someone else. It is the definition of supremacist. How, for the love of God, did we get to this?

Friends, former colleagues and students, neighbors, and family:

Maybe you do not carry a tiki torch on a college campus, maybe you do not take guns into shopping malls and clubs with intent to kill, but you carry those guns and torches every day in your head. You carry them when your white son brings home a Hispanic girl and it takes you a minute to get used to the idea. You carry them when you pray for gays, that they might be delivered of their sins. You carry them when you pass a black man in a hoodie, and you pull your purse a little closer to your side. You carry them when you get off a service call and complain how you couldn’t understand a word the employee had to say, those frickin’ Indians anyway. You carry those guns and torches every time you look into another face and see anything other than your own.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Bats in My Belfry

Dear Reader,

It was suggested that I journal, that I put pen to page with no intent, that I do not judge or think or structure or delete. I need to do this, the rounded, overly perfumed woman told me, to get rid of the fear in my gut, the cobwebs in my mind. I have bats in my belfry. The rest of me is a mess as well. Being eccentric and under construction is fine. Being fearful, afraid to live one’s life is not. She suggested this would help.

I know journals are to be private, but bats in my belfry remember? I thought I’d share my post for the day. Getting in line with not being afraid to be who I am, with not giving two shits about being judged, these are the words I put to page this morning after I had enjoyed a nice hot bath. There is no thinking or structure or deleting involved. There is only my heart and my head in pretty pink ink.

Is it July or is it August? The page may have turned.

I am not exactly certain what to do when my thoughts and words are free to roam. I am always creating little boxes into which things must fit.

I’m wanting, though, to talk about what I see, feel, hear from the – let’s call it distressed – park bench on my balcony at the inn in Nashville, Indiana where I have just spent two nights being refilled with light and breath.

It’s beautiful to see this place when the tourists are not yet here. Let me show you what it is like:

7:30 AM

I am not certain if it is dark or light. It is gray. It is that place no one ever wants to be but which is necessary and real. The traffic is light. This is a refreshing change from the constant assault of the daytime stream of motorcycles, sirens, construction trucks, commuters, SUV’s, and cars of every type.

A woman walks her dog. He is a funny fat bassett that looks very loved. She looks down to check on him as they cross the street. She wears a nondescript yellow short-sleeved shirt with navy shorts. I am certain if we asked we would learn that they are of the expanding waistband family.

Pardon me, but I have to write it. I just heard a man off in the distance yelling, “The fuck you doin’? Get outta the way.” He repeats himself, I’m thinking to make a point. It’s a little early in the morning for that sort of anger. I pity his day, the people around him, and his heart.

The shops are buttoned up still. This is a slow moving town. If I look sideways across the street, I can see the ice cream shop. In a few hours I would see in that same spot people of all ages with double scoops of all flavors. I would also see the little train that parks in front of the shop. “All aboard,” the conductor calls as he leads the tourists on a putz around his little town.

I hear whatever those bugs are that make that sound we all know. I am always embarrassed to say what they are because I really have no clue. I want to say crickets. But sometimes I think they are cicadas. They could be something altogether different. Regardless, it is this quiet. I can hear them now. I won’t be able to for much longer.

I see a couple. She wears fluorescent pink shorts, a t-shirt, and a hoodie. The are both in running shoes. Some people jog even on vacation.

The air smells different now. It is clean, soft, uncluttered. I breathe it in. It is just air. Soon it will be exhaust, construction dust, and the sweat of nameless strangers. For now, it is a soothing balm much like the tea I make myself when I am ill.

Crosswalks, a red fire hydrant, a stone path, purple flowers, a tiny American flag. I need to look around more. I need to notice. These things are always there. Where am I?

A woman in brown capri slacks, a pink cardigan, and gray tennis shoes stops in the middle of the street to snap photos. With a real camera. She holds the camera in one hand, her pocketbook (I am certain this is what she calls it) in the other. She is alone on the road. She has just spotted the purple flowers. Look at her. She is present. She has noticed.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

What Happened When She Put Her Breast Self Forward

A woman just walked into the coffee shop wearing a gorgeous mess of hair and a cute little sundress. The dress was floor length, strappy, and not accompanied by a bra. I saw skin. I saw a lot of skin. It was the kind of skin that had been covered by a long Michigan winter and was happy to be free of sweaters and coats and too-tight turtlenecks. I was happy for the skin that it could dance in the sunshine. I thought how free and fresh this woman looked and how at ease with herself she seemed to feel. This, despite the fact that much of her breasts were completely exposed. Or maybe, perhaps, because of it?

How much breast is too much breast?

I recently put this question to a group of friends when I posted a photo to Facebook. In the picture, I sported an orange lightweight cardigan over a cream bralette. The bralette was cut significantly lower than I am typically comfortable wearing, but I liked the look especially when paired with my new white spring pants. With the top button of the cardigan and the bottom few left undone, I felt the look stylish, attractive, something I could easily carry off. But what to do about all that breast? Appropriate or not appropriate? I really didn’t know. A conservative cami would have easily solved the situation, but I liked the outfit as was. Still, I wasn’t sure it was completely socially a thing to do. I have always loved to look good but have the fashion sense of a two-year-old. Hence, putting the question to friends.

I wonder if age, weight, or position in society plays into this. I am an aging former professor who, in the case of famine, could easily live off her body fat for a comfortable amount of time. Would it matter if I were a young, thin blonde who had not yet established herself in any conservative position in society? Would it matter if I were heavier or older than I currently am or if I were a Bohemian artist instead of a stodgy college instructor?

“It’s a look that screams look at my boobs.” This was the comment by one friend. And yet, the woman I mentioned earlier was showing much more than I and was braless at that. Thanks to Victoria’s little secrets, the bra I’m wearing in the photo could take a bullet. And, yes, I am aware bralettes are meant to be worn alone but that is a thing that will never happen in my world. My look also, unlike that of Strappy Sundress Girl, is not going to change should the temps take a sudden drop. Maybe both looks are inappropriate. Maybe both are too suggestive. Why the big need to cover and disguise body parts anyway?

I mean. I have breasts. Everybody knows this. Why should I dress as if I don’t? As long as nothing important is showing. But, again, where exactly is that line?

Some friends suggested that my look would be appropriate on a date or a girl’s night out, maybe fun to wear when I’m feeling a little naughty. I tend to be a pretty conservative dresser. Date night, to me, is a time to cover up. I’m a slow mover in this area. And I’m not much one for girl’s nights out. I prefer instead my dog, a snack, and a really good romcom. As for feeling naughty, that’s a special occasion meant for one recipient and then I’ll be showing a lot more than cleavage and a cardigan. Unless that’s his thing and then a little role-play never hurt anybody. No, the look was for me. I felt pretty in it. I felt attractive and sexy. The colors were great, eyelet is my thing, and I’ve always been a fan of showing an unexpected bit of skin. Was it really for me, though? Can it ever truly be just for me?

There’s a fine line between dressing to look and feel good and dressing for others. I like to think I do both. But what’s the line between being called attractive and being called a ho? What’s the line between being called sexy and alluring and just being a slut? Is it, like my friend suggested, connected to the event? Celebrities on the red carpet are photographed and idolized in looks in which I would never be seen in public. They are written up for their beautiful gowns that expose more skin than I often am comfortable viewing. Beaches, Victoria’s Secret window ads, and backyard pools are filled with flesh about which nobody ever seems to complain. Yet, if any one of these bikinis or ball gowns were worn out of context, would they still be okay? Maybe my friend has a point.

I had plenty of friends who supported the look, plenty who told me as long as I liked it and felt good about it that that was all that mattered. I go back, though, to the difference between dressing for oneself and dressing for others. Even if I liked it, along with a few supportive friends, others felt it inappropriate, suggestive, asking for the wrong sort of attention. I am tempted to experiment, to explore, to prove a point. I feel the judgement has more to do with the person wearing the item and the person viewing the item than it does with situation or context. I wonder what would happen, what my friends might think, if I walked one sunny afternoon into a coffee shop in a strappy, floor-length dress, braless and fresh.

Monday, April 24, 2017

To Be So Fully Oneself and To Be Loved Just the Same

I have been challenged to write a letter to someone telling him or her how he or she has impacted my life. Well, now. Isn’t this a can of worms? It’s a beautiful idea, in theory, to think on how someone has touched my life. But I open that lid and all kinds of feelings jump out. Best to keep the can closed and not think on it too much, go about enjoying my iced tea on the sunny patio at my local Starbucks like feelings never happened. Nevertheless, a challenge is a challenge and growth is good. Besides, I challenged my friend to adopt a pet. She now has a cat named Smokey. I think it only fair I comply.

I have all the right parts and yet am wretchedly inept at functioning as a human being. I have eyes on my face, ears on my head, and a heart in my chest and still have been blind and deaf and have failed to pick up on words that should have fed me. It’s not my fault I’m like this. I was raised to believe feelings were the drunkard uncle we don’t talk about in public. I have a sense of self-worth the size of a peanut. When someone is saying something nice about me, I believe it to be obligatory small talk. Sort of like saying, “How is your day?” Good, thank you. And yours? Feelings of kindness and affection pretty much escape me.

Did you ever play scavenger hunt when you were a kid? There were all these clues scattered about leading up to one big final aha! moment. In the game, that aha! moment was usually some sort of prize or trophy or long lost friend who would jump out and envelop you in a giant hug while you both screamed screams of joy. In my case, I have been led by clues throughout my life to an aha! moment in which the prize is a feeling or, rather, the realization of a feeling.

What were these clues? I have gathered them for you to see:

• Never lets me down
• Listens, regardless how difficult it is to hear
• Pushes me in directions I am too afraid to push myself
• Says things that need to be said
• Cares unconditionally despite what a pigheaded, insensitive, unaware brat I can be
• Is present
• Makes me laugh
• Makes me think
• Steadies me, calms me, quiets me down
• Talks me off the cliff
• Talks me onto the cliff
• Is the cliff

Have you ever had the feeling that you could do no wrong, that you were a beam of light and that your every breath and every move was enough and perfect just as it was? Have you ever felt like this? I have. I have, but I could never see it. I could never see it because I talked too loudly and moved too fast. I never paid attention to the clues.

So, to my friend who left me these –

Despite my continued ignorance, my insistence on repeatedly saying things I should not have said, talking about things I should have left, and failing to intuit that which was so obviously there, you remained my friend. Thank you for that. Thank you for your shoulder onto which I cried, your ears into which I complained, and your heart into which I wove myself a safe and comfortable spot.

I see now that you had my back even when I did not know, that you protected, guided, supported when I was still yet unaware. I see you in the corners watching me as I grew, watching as I moved about my life doing what I had to do. Can I tell you the comfort I feel in that, how deeply I am moved? You told me once that that is just what friends will do. I have had friends. But believe me when I say, I have had none with whom I felt I could be so completely myself and yet so completely loved.

Accept my apologies for being such an ass. Accept my apologies for being full of myself, insensitive, unaware. Accept my apologies, my gratitude, my hand. Take it please and continue with me on this journey that is my life. Knowingly or not, ours is the measure of friendship on which every other is based.

To be so fully oneself and to be accepted just the same. What a gift you have given me. What a beautiful, glorious gift.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Untie This Thing; I'm Ready to Fly

Cap’n Crunch, Wonder Bread, a few cans each of Spam and those little cocktail wieners known as Vienna sausages, some Velveeta slices, a pack of bologna, and bags of white beans, russet potatoes, and Martha White self-rising flour. We were at the local Thrif-T Mart, and my mother’s cart was packed. She was chatting up the checkout clerk, making the kind of small talk that turns into the-beginnings-of-a-novel talk as only mothers can. I was seventeen and far too grown-up to be seen standing beside a parent. I wandered down to the 7-Up display at the end of the counter. The word “sweepstakes” caught my eye.

I’ve always had a thing for a contest. And I’m a pretty good winner. My strategy is to do something most people don’t do: Read all the directions. I’ve found many contestants are ruled out simply because they haven’t completed every required step. Take social media contests, for example. Have you liked the page? Have you shared the post? Have you tagged a friend? Have you left your name in the comments? It’s simple, really, but you have to do it. You have to do every step. Here’s a list of some of the things I have won in my life and how I’ve won them:

• a $5.00 gift certificate to a local shop – I guessed the number of marbles in a jar

• movie tickets from a local radio station –I didn’t mean to try to win these but called to request a song and happened to be the seventeenth caller

• a month’s supply of diaper delivery service – I wrote an article on creative uses for DyDee Baby cloth diapers (as if trying to pin a piece of cloth to a wriggling infant without drawing blood isn’t a creative project in itself)

• unlimited miniature golf for a year and a rockin’ birthday party filled with arcade games, balloons, cake, pop, and prizes for an ungodly number of neighborhood tweens – I put my name on a paper and put it in a fish bowl

• a selection of deli meats, cheeses, and a romantic basket for picnics that never really happened and, so, never got romantic – I acquiesced to one of my children who wanted me to enter

• a ride in the 7-Up balloon in the Indiana State Fair hot-air balloon race – I filled out four sweepstakes forms while my mom was paying for groceries

My mother was terrified. To the last minute, she asked me if I was sure I wanted to do this. I shared the gondola with the pilot and a marketing rep from 7-Up. It was the biggest movie star moment of my life. I wore my free 7-Up t-shirt and sported my glammest shades. The media interviewed me and snapped shots from all angles. I thought I was the absolute shit. I never had a doubt I was in exactly the place I was supposed to be. There was no fear, no uncertainty, no questioning whether I was to do this, just a clear knowing that this was a skip along the pebble throw of my life.

In that moment where the balloon was untethered and we began our ascent, I knew I was going on an adventure and that the adventure was mine. I was not there to prove anything to my mother. I was not there to support 7-Up. I was not there to give the paper a good story or to brag to my friends. I was there because when I stood at that display at the end of that grocery counter and saw the poster of that hot-air balloon, my heart said yes.

I’ve lost this in my life. For a long time now, I’ve been living for others. I’ve been living for the press. I’ve assumed the fear of those around me as my own. It won’t look right, won’t sound right, will be more difficult than you think. People will make fun. People will talk. You will be seen as an ass. You’re above that, better than that, not one who participates in that sort of thing. You’re not capable enough, not talented enough, not as smart as you sometimes think. You’ll embarrass yourself, embarrass the family, embarrass your colleagues or the staff.

Enough. Time to silence the voices in my head.

As of today, I am once again filling out the form. I am guessing the number of marbles in the jar. I am signing my name and placing it in the bowl. The universe can bring me what it may. The more creative or whacky or exciting the prize, the more happy and delighted my heart. As of today, I’m untying those lines, sporting my glammest shades, and flying this balloon called Life.

Oh, yeah, baby. Jump in or let go. I'm ready to ride!

Monday, February 20, 2017

Still Trying to Figure out What the F*ck I’m Going to be When I Grow Up

I’m fifty-three years old and still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. I thought I’d have this settled by now. There are just so many choices, so many interesting choices. I’ve heard the advice to just pick something. I don’t work that way. I could just pick something if the choices were between the brown shoes or the black. “Oh, yes. Let’s go with the black.” But with such a multitude of options, I find myself wanting to try a little of this, a little of that. Reiki Master, intuitive counselor, social media start up cofounder, wellness coach, freelance writer, author, speaker. The options have my head spinning and my thoughts drifting back to childhood.

“Bubblegum, bubblegum in a dish. How many pieces do you wish?” You say this while your friends are circled up, each holding out one fist. As you say it, you go around the circle hitting your fist against their fists. When you finish, you wait patiently while the person whose fist you landed on decides how many pieces they would like. “Eight,” they say. Then you continue around the circle, pounding your fist against those of your friends, one at a time. “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, and you are not It.” You repeat this until there is one person left. That person is It. I need my career choices to circle up so we can play Bubblegum, Bubblegum. Maybe then I’d figure out what the hell I’m doing with my life.

I grew up understanding we become something. We become an engineer, a doctor, a teacher, a nurse. Often, we become something through the institution of higher learning. We attend school for many years, take an ungodly amount of exams, chat up professors we think are cute, eat more pizza than any human should ever consume, and get wasted with our friends on a regular basis. At the end of this time, we receive a piece of paper that says now we are officially this thing, this thing being an attorney, an architect, or perhaps a super smart chick on history or financial affairs. We never feel that. We never feel we are really this thing. “How could that even be?” we ask ourselves. “I’m still just me.” We walk around thinking someone important is going to find us out. “I’m still sleeping on the twin bed I slept on in elementary school, for God’s sake.” But, no. You are officially now a grown up. And you are this Thing.

I wish someone had told me this process really doesn’t change as you age. I’m fifty-three. I guess I could call myself a professor. Technically, that’s what I am. If I am to confess, though, I still wonder how that happened when all I was doing was doing the things I love – reading, talking, going to school. And do I have to be a professor forever? Can I change my mind? Can I do something else instead? If I do choose to do something else, how do I choose what that something else is?

Bubblegum, bubblegum in a dish.

I can’t say the younger generations have it any easier. As a mother of four Millennials, I see the struggle. Despite the fact that younger generations change jobs more often than did their parents, there is still the question, “What do I do?” Something has to be first. Something has to be now. If anything, I feel the younger generations are at least under no illusion that this choice will be a forever decision. They are prepared for the fact that they will be making this decision over and over again.

I have counseled so many students regarding majors or degrees. They stand in front of me seeking my professional advice. I’d like to become one of those students and stand in front of myself for some of that advice. What should I do with my life? I should know this. I studied for this exam.

Inevitably, during the process of choosing It, we would all get restless, eager to get back to the game. In the end, this was the reality. Nobody cared. Nobody cared who was It. We just wanted to play the game. If we decided we didn’t like the game or were tired of it and wanted to play a different game instead, Tag morphed into Cartoon Tag morphed into Swinging Statue morphed into Hide and Seek. The ultimate goal was to have fun, to laugh and smile and run and be so tired at the end of the day that you could barely make it through bath time before falling asleep.

And in that I may have my answer. Just pick something. And run and laugh and smile and be so tired at the end of the day that bed is a welcome relief. If, at any point, I decide I am tired of that game or am ready to have fun with something else, allow it space to morph into whatever it is that comes next.

Now. To choose that thing that comes first.

Bubblegum, bubblegum in a dish.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

For the First Time in My Life, I am Called to Fight

Whenever I would ask my grandmother whom she voted for she would tell me Dean Martin. My mother would back her by reminding me there are two things you never talk about, religion and politics. I’ve never been very good at keeping my religious beliefs to myself but, until now, I’ve not been much one to discuss political issues.

To me, though, they really are both the same. Love and kindness are my bottom line. Doing unto others. The Golden Rule. Putting myself in another’s shoes. I believe the entire world could operate a little better if we all just joined hands, offered each other a smile, and said, “I may not know what you’re going through, but I am here. I am here.”

My sisters and I had a childhood fraught with chaos. My parents yelled at each other, yelled at us, and frequently could put a hole through a wall with a fist. We moved constantly, had very little to eat, and more often than not went to bed with tears on our pillow.

But my parents were giving people. They did for others things that would never be found out, were first to mobilize when a family was in stress, lent a shoulder to kids from our school that weren’t even in our circle of friends, kids we didn’t know. I remember my mother at one of my sister’s softball games, arm around some girl’s shoulder. I had seen this girl in the halls. Her father had committed suicide. Sat in his car. Never opened the garage. My dad would leave food in the alley behind the house. Clothes. Shoes. Soap. The homeless guys knew these items were meant for them. They never let on, chatted up my dad like he was one of their friends. He was. He became that. That’s how it works. We are meant for each other. We are meant for love.

I’ve been called naive. Been told it doesn’t work like that. There is evil in this world. There are people who want to do mean things. Some of my friends have seen that evil. I may have seen it, as well. But just because that evil exists, just because it is there, does not mean that I cannot love. I will not fight anger with fists. I will not call names because that is what those around me do. I was taught better than that. I was taught to stand for my brother, to stand for the poor, to stand for those in need.

My mother used to tell me, “Never start a fight but never back away from one either.” I neither wanted to start fights nor remain in one. I would be the first to back away. At heart and in my dreams, I am the love child of Mother Teresa and Gandhi. For the first time in my life, however, I am called to fight. I am called to fight for my brother, to fight for the poor, to fight for those in need. I am called. I am called to fight, to fight for love.

Join me.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Yes, He is My President

Yes, he is my president, because that’s how this works. But I refuse to choose to follow a man who I feel is not a kind person and who does not have either my best interest or the best interests of those I love at heart. I do not feel protected by him. I do not feel supported by him. I do not feel inspired by him. I am embarrassed to have this man represent me.

Many people I know and love voted for this man. I want to tell them they voted against themselves. I know individuals who are women, who are lesbians, who are economically challenged, who are single parents doing their best to make it through who voted for this man. I know individuals battling chronic illness, individuals struggling to launch their young adult children, individuals making their way through college on government funds who voted for this man. I want to tell them they voted against themselves.

But that’s irrelevant now.

What is not irrelevant is the fire inside my heart, the fire that is fueled by the Holy Spirit. The question, “What Would Jesus Do?” lives constantly inside my head. And so I ask, “What would Jesus do?”

Jesus would take to the streets. He would feed. He would love. He would nurture. He would empower and hold and warm.

And so I stand.

I stand with the student living in her car, the student working full time to pay for class, doing her best to create some semblance of a life, sleeping on campus in a Chevy. Doing this to avoid sexual molestation at home. I will support her in her decision, when impregnated by her father, to not carry that baby to term. I will tell her she is beautiful and worthy and has much to offer this world. I will support her. I will encourage her. I will stand.

I stand by the single mom working full-time days, putting in the hours, making crap for pay. She is behind in the bills, doing her best, never gives up, and wears the smile that says I am tired, I am alone, I am lost, I have no choice but to move forward through the bedtimes and baths and permission slips and practice, but please, help me God, help me somebody, because I am falling but my love for my children will not let me stop.

I stand.

I stand for the man in the park, the one living on the bench. With the help of many friends, I offered him food. I offered food to all of those living in this particular park. When I passed him later to ask if he had received, he held out his sandwich and asked if I was in need. No thank you, I said. But thank you for thinking of me. I thanked him for thinking of me.

I stand for the young man, Muslim if we’re labeling, born in this country, raised in this country, educated in this country, citizen of this country, contributing economically to this country. I support him. I stand.

I stand.

I stand for my friend, my white friend who is married to a black man. I stand for their love, the beauty of it, the connection that is stronger than so many I have seen.

I stand for all those individuals I know – family, friends, colleagues – that choose to love in a way that is not accepted or respected by others because it seems different and wrong, because it is misunderstood, because it is not what some would choose.

I stand. I stand for love and acceptance and respect and courtesy and dignity. I stand for human worth, for a helping hand, for understanding that not everyone will think and act and speak and look like I, that not everyone will have experienced what I have experienced and may have experienced what I have not. I stand for an arm around a shoulder, for a kind word, for a simple, "I am here. I may not understand, but I love you, and I am here."

Yes, he is my president. But I refuse to choose to follow a man who does not have the best interests of those I know and love at heart. I am fueled by the Holy Spirit. I am a child of God. And, so I ask myself, “What would Jesus do?”

Jesus would stand.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Meet Me at the Flagpole

She wanted to meet me at the flagpole after school. The flagpole was the spot where second graders at Parkview Elementary went to have it out while the circle of children gathered around them yelled, “Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight!!” I had a sick feeling in my stomach all day. If I told the teacher, Felicia and her buddies would come after me anyway, a lunch tray knocked out of my hands, an inconspicuous trip in the hall, taunting on the playground. I don’t even remember what I did. I didn’t know this girl, yet somehow she had chosen me as her target for the day.

Do you know how difficult it is to focus on things like reading and math when you know at the end of the day you are going to have the living daylights beaten out of you just because you exist? Even if I wanted, there was nothing I could do to appease this girl. She hated me. She hated me because I was there. I was an easy target. I was quiet, minded my own business, and did not have the confidence or chutzpah to think her a ridiculous bully who needed to be put in her place. I was a lover, not a fighter.

This is what it’s like to live in the shadow of a bully. I encountered Felicia and her flagpole order first thing in the morning as we walked into school. There were no buses at Parkview. You either walked or, if you lived farther away, your parents drove you. After being accosted, I stepped faster into school to get away from Felicia and closer to the safety of my teacher and my class. Felicia was older, bigger, in a different grade. I felt like I needed to throw up. I tried to listen to the teacher but I couldn’t. I thought about what would happen later. I thought about the ways I might be hurt. I thought about how people hated me when I was just a regular little girl going about my day. I thought about Felicia’s buddies who would support her and cheer her on. I couldn’t eat my lunch. I couldn’t tell anyone for fear of people calling me silly or telling me to fight her back. I didn’t want to fight. I just wanted to go home and tell my mother about my day and play school with my sisters.

The flagpole was at the front of the school. You had to pass it to leave at the end of the day. You had to. It was right there. There was no other way. Most days, that is, there was no other way. Most days you didn’t think about the other ways. The flagpole was in charge. It said this is the way, this is how you have to do it. But there were other ways. There were side doors and back doors and doors that people usually didn’t even notice. And even though your mother parked on the street and you had to end your walk out front did not mean you couldn’t leave through one of those side doors and wind yourself back to her parked car.

Looking back, I am not proud I didn’t stand up to this sad girl. I am glad, however, that I didn’t allow her efforts to prove herself powerful to destroy even further what little esteem I carried at that point in my life. I thank her, now, for teaching me that it is far more important I stand tall and think for myself than to mindlessly follow orders of someone just because she is in charge. I thank her, too, for teaching me to look for all those little side doors, those ways of doing things no one else thinks can be done.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Help! I Need a GPS for My Life

I feel lost and directionless. I feel this, perhaps, for the first time since birth. Life has always been a piece of directional cake for me. You know those people who just seem to know what they want and move forward to get it? They plow ahead despite the obstacles. They plot their course and, come hell or high water, they make their way through that course to the desired port. Storms, pirate ships, holes in the hull, lack of knowledge on how to sail the damn boat, nothing will stop them from delivering the goods they know they are here to share. That’s been my life. That’s been me. Only now, my compass is broken and my ship’s a mess.

This is the current theme of my life. You know this. I have written on it.

I find myself standing, now, in one of those alien movies. I look around and recognize nothing from where I stand. This seems to be my life but I have no idea where I am, where to go, or who is with me and who is not. People I thought were on my side now have distorted faces and snake-like hands. Their speech is muddled and foreign. I cannot hear. I look around, search for the familiar, the friendly, the ally. I’m just not sure. I’m not sure who is true and who will turn. And I cannot, for the life of me, figure out which way to go. I stand frozen and confused, still in my tracks, unable to lift my feet, unable to turn my head.

Cue the fairy godmother. Where the hell is my fairy godmother? Every movie has one of those.

Friends tell me to be content in just being. Please. I haven’t just been since I was in the womb. Even then, I am certain I caused a good degree of rib damage and heartburn. I mean, I’m down with all that deep breathing, sending out groovy vibes, and manifesting hullabaloo but where in the metaphysical journal are the directions for how to send out intentions when you don’t know what intentions you are supposed to be sending out?

Just be. Just allow. Okay, fine. But what do I do while I am allowing? My ship can’t just sit out in the middle of the water twiddling its thumbs waiting on the universe to push it this way or that. It can’t sit out there thinking how much it would like to go someplace but just waiting for a good strong wind to take it there.

And where would it go anyway? So many paths, so many directions, no sight of land. It’s a beautiful sky and a beautiful ground. I’ll give it that. Patience with me, please, as I do my best to sail this ship without actually touching the wheel. Patience as I let go and allow a greater force than mine to lead the way.