Friday, January 13, 2017

In Patience



Some people call these little flowers impatiens. They don’t really look much like the impatiens I grew up with further north, so I call them vinca. Anyway, they’re my kind of plant. They’re hardy and tenacious and bloom daily.

I am a reluctant and less-than-talented gardener, but I enjoy refurbishing my yard twice a year. Fall is time for trimming back, weeding, mulching, and getting ready for the few months of relative down time the plants give us in this climate. It takes time to do it right—at least, it does when you do it by hand—but it’s very satisfying. Peaceful.

I frequently cringe over the institutional landscaping philosophy down here. All floral plantings in the medians and development entrances get scrapped four times a year. A crew comes in, clears all the plants out as soon as the blooming dies down, then replaces them with new plants in the peak of bloom. I suppose everyone wants to see where their HOA fees go, but I can’t get behind that “we need it instantly and we need it perfect” mentality.

It seems wasteful to me—and irresponsible. In The Little Prince, the fox says, “You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.” Doesn’t that apply to plants, too? Anyway, I feel a tie to my hardworking vinca, in blooming season or not.

Don’t get me wrong; they bloom all year. But in fall, some branches die off and little baby plants emerge into the sunshine that die-off creates. When not as many plants bloom for a little while, it can look a bit scraggly. But adolescent humans can get leggy and we don’t throw them out. Besides, fresh mulch makes everything all right.

I’ve had another lesson in patience lately. My loyal Green Car had a day when it periodically didn’t start. I took it to my amazing mechanics, who couldn’t find the problem (of course it started for them all day!), but tightened everything anyway. So now I try to start my car far enough ahead that I can make other arrangements if it doesn’t start. I start it five minutes before we leave for the bus, so I have time to call a neighbor if it won’t go—that kind of thing. Those extra minutes of preparation time have really calmed down a lot of the rushing in my life. In our lives, since I’m nearly always driving the kids somewhere.

So far, the Green Car has started every single time since that one day. And every single time, I give thanks. I truly appreciate my car. Thinking of the gymnastics I’d have to go through and the favors I’d have to ask if I didn’t have a working car makes me so grateful!

It’s easy to get caught up in the dryer timer that’s on the fritz or the leggy flowerbeds, but why? Everything has its season.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Hunting Over Fallow Fields


The hawk has haunted me the last few weeks.

Part of me knows that, with his habitat shrinking in ten and twenty-acre increments, he has every reason to sit on the edge of our preserve and claim his territory.

Part of me reflects on the symbolism of the hawk, seeing the need for clear vision, intensity, and ferocious drive in my life.

And just as I relegate the hawk’s metaphorical message to superstition, he stoops across my windshield as I leave the neighborhood. And the next night, as I wait at a red light, a beautiful, enormous owl flights straight across the intersection in clear sight beneath the stoplights. The owl underlines the hawk’s message with his own symbolism of night vision, meditation, and clarity.

I feel this past year has been a year for my mind, creative drive, and pen (keyboard) to lie fallow. My creative soil felt thin, dry, and exhausted. These days, even wildly popular authors feel pressured to pile one success on top of another, so it’s hard to value time spent…waiting. Especially when I’m not recovering from a successful harvest.

Or am I?

If I’ve made any resolution for this year, it’s to question society’s definitions of everything. What do I consider time well spent? What do I consider a worthy goal achieved? What crop do I want to harvest?

Right now, I have a contentment that I imagine resembles that of my mid-Atlantic farming ancestors’ in January. Our home feels warm and cozy, filled with laughter, music, and growth. We have been blessed with food for our table and a roof over our heads. We continue to clear our spaces of the material goods that weigh us down, keeping what brings us joy. I feel our children, growing like any healthy young creatures, need less constant tending. Contentment.

Why does the hawk’s lone, plaintive, fierce cry haunt my peace?

Perhaps because I, like him, cannot wait for the spring with its new, tender crops and frisking, careless targets. My prey, less substantial than his, feels no less primal to me. I yearn to soar seeking clarity and stoop for the words that latch onto others. I want to tear open what we seem to struggle with and show everyone that the answers lie inside the problems.

Glennon Doyle Melton calls our world brutiful. And it is. It is brutal and beautiful, both at once and both entirely.

The hawk knows.



Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Now

Good morning, Americans! How are you doing today?

I will be the first to tell you that I am not any kind of a political or historical expert. I’m the artsy-fartsy one in my set—and in my family. Of course, you can’t grow up listening to people debate the Magna Carta, Hobbes and Locke, or Reconstruction, among other things, without picking up an idea or two.

And, believe me, when the other kids are playing Robinhood and Prince John is the bad guy, you will NOT make any friends by pointing out that if he hadn’t caved to the barons and signed the Magna Carta, we might not have the rights we have today.

In any case, there hasn’t seemed to be much place for the pure thinkers, the writers, the artsy-fartsy people in recent days as we struggle to elect our next president. Yet I’ve always believed that those folks, the artsy-fartsy ones, offer the world visions of what might be. Then the statesmen, inventors, engineers, and leaders—the sensible folks—make the best visons real.

Here’s my vision for our country: start now.

Republican reformers and loyal Democrats, Democratic reformers and loyal Republicans, start refining your parties’ platforms now. Start standing for something now rather than falling for anything later. Start now by supporting the representatives within your party who responsibly represent their constituents. Start reviewing your policies and procedures now. Start discussing term limit reform, campaign finance reform, and districting reform now. Start now—listen, learn, apply the lessons.

Independents, skeptics, and outliers—would you like more options? Start now. Educate yourself now. Run for local office now. Find others who share your views and get your third parties rolling now, not in the summer of 2020.

I have hope now. I have a vision for the future because of what is happening now.

The last few elections have shown that previously disinterested, disenchanted, and disenfranchised citizens of our country can mobilize and raise passionate voices, altering the nation’s discourse.

This most recent election has shown the power of every single vote. Just the math for Florida alone boggles the mind—as of this writing, Florida’s 29 electoral votes were awarded by a margin of approximately 129,000 popular votes out of 9,350,000 or about 1900 votes per county. Every vote counts.

Our recent election has given me a vision of our country accepting, considering, and electing women, political outsiders, and third party candidates as often as traditional candidates. Our country is on its way to drawing from its entire pool of talent to govern wisely, according to the will of the people.

Start now. It's a new day. Start now.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Parenting: Level Intense



Some days, the best and worst of parenting swirls together in one giant feel and I think, “This. This is the real thing.”

Our kids’ school noticeably increases the expectations of the students each year. Work that got rewarded in second grade because “I can see you understand and I can see you’re trying” does not fly in third grade. Little A, who needs to test every limit to make sure he knows right where it is, has been finding that out.

We warned him about sloppy handwriting, we showed him strategies for checking his work, we stressed the importance of reading carefully…. Then his Friday folder came home last week. His giant stack of worksheets (parents of elementary school kids, you know what I’m talking about!) had a full range of grades, a rainbow of scores ranging from red to purple. They ran the COMPLETE gamut of possible number grades.

There’s no doubt he can do it. The missing factor? Motivation. He wants to “do homework in school” so he can come home and play; he sees no need to do homework to the new, higher standard. Whatever he brings home, he does over (and over!) until he gets it right. So he’s learned that doing it right the first time is faster. It’s those “I did it at school” papers that have fallen largely into the purple end of the spectrum.

Luckily, supporting him as he does some of his homework has shown me that he’s a big picture guy. He may be slow to memorize certain spelling words, but if I explain that “destructive” has the same root as “construct” then he remembers to use the “ruct” in the middle.

It took me a weekend of despair and a sleepless night Monday night, but I woke up Tuesday—at five o’clock—with a plan. I got out of bed an hour early to set up our lesson. I pulled up two chairs at my desk and his grades on my laptop. Then I wrote out a chart with ten rows of ten boxes and got some game markers. I was all set.

After breakfast, I invited him to a meeting. After one complaint—“It’s about homework, isn’t it?”—he settled in. He absorbed the information SO quickly that I’m eternally grateful I had it ready to go! He helped me set up the game pieces to represent 100s, then helped me slide them over to show what happens to an average when a few low grades sneak in. He got it!

With only the slightest hint from me, he figured out what happens to his yearly grades if one marking period is low and three are high vs the opposite. And with only the slightest hint from me, he remembered that he’ll have more choices in the future (robotics or rocket design school!) if he has good yearly grades.

Newly motivated, we went to check his homework one more time. And then, because God, fate, or the universe decided to shower us with good fortune, he went over his science one more time and—all by himself—realized he’d left three questions blank. I had the privilege of saying, “Awesome! You just went from at-best-a-70 to maybe a 100 and all by checking!”

I sent him off to school, happy as a clam, and then I collapsed with my coffee for five minutes before starting work. After all the stress, all of the head-desking, all of the late night “how do I walk the line between stressing him out and showing him what’s important?” thoughts, I hit it. I offered the right lesson, the right way, at the right time.

Best of all, he took the ball and ran with it. In all my various experiences of teaching, that’s the moment—the rare and precious moment—that makes it all worthwhile. When someone takes something I show them and goes with it. As a parent, I've learned to savor these moments.

He’s heading far beyond my reach. I’m so proud of him! And exhausted. And elated. And drained. And hopeful. And anxious. And proud.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Saying Yes: Bonus

This silly little example of saying Yes to myself makes me smile.

I have odd hair; it's not really curly, but definitely wavy and frizzy. And, thanks to a thyroid condition, it sometimes falls out.

My favorite styling tool of all time is my beloved red comb for curly hair. It straightens as much of the frizz as can be straightened, without flattening the waves or pulling out extra hair.

Shortly after S. turned one, I got sick. When I got better, I decided to attempt the "I'm taking care of myself even though I have a toddler" thing. So I went go to a fancy hair salon. There, I got a haircut that absolutely required that I blow my hair straight. So I got the Brush of Evil. I hated it, but I stuck to it, religiously maintaining my new cut.

Then...I took S. to my new salon to get her hair cut. Like any toddler, she felt entirely free to say, "No, thank you. I'd rather not have my hair cut today." Actually, she screamed and cried and kicked and squirmed. Then the stylist, trying to physically hold my daughter in the chair, said, "Don't you want your hair cut so you can be pretty for your daddy?"

That's when I said, "Hell, no." I said no to the stylist. No, you are not physically restraining my child. No, you are not teaching my daughter that a haircut makes her pretty or that she should aspire to be "pretty" or calling her father's unconditional love into question to make her do what you want her to do.

I never went back to that salon, but I kept the Brush of Evil for TEN YEARS. I don't know why--I mean, I spent good money on it? It was there? I honestly don't know why. But I kept using it as it dragged all the wave out of my hair--and dragged out my hair!--and the little balls fell off the ends of the bristles until it actually hurt to use.

Guess what? I just said Yes to myself and got rid of that Brush of Evil.

I'm using the red comb now.

PS Now we all go to an AWESOME stylist who loves to hear how we want our hair cut and help us out with that. Let me know if you'd like her info.

Saying Yes: To You

In this three blog series, the first entry looked at the bleaker side of life, particularly as a modern woman. The second entry gave you all some insight into how I see the world and why I think we have hope in general. This blog--if all goes well, I want this blog give you personal hope. 

I freely acknowledge that I've borrowed this hope from others, but it grows as it's shared.

This whole series began on a Sunday about a month ago when our pastor solved the internet.

No, really.

I can't remember everything he spoke about that morning; in fact, I asked the rest of the family what they heard that morning and each of us had a different take-away. (That's great inspirational speaking, by the way!) Here's what I heard:

"We are closest to saints when we truly sit with our sins."

Of course, this uses Christian terminology, but substitute the words that suit your journey--sainthood can be enlightenment, transcendence, peace, unity, nirvana, or what you will, just as sins can be flaws, mistakes, regrets, hurtful acts, or whatever feels right to you.

I want you to adjust the language and then savor that thought for a moment.

It hit me like a ton of light that morning--the world needs exactly THIS. All the anger that we carry? It comes from hating parts of ourselves. And who do we hate, who do we spew on? Two kinds of people. We despise those with the flaws we don't have so we can feel better about ourselves. We rage at those with the flaws we do have because they embody what we hate about ourselves, admit it or not.

Don't believe me? Check out the comments on a political post online somewhere. Observe the dynamic of the comments, certainly, but also notice your own reactions.

Now suppose that you took a minute to fully and honestly sit with yourself, flaws and all. Think of the post and comments of again. What happens? I know what happened to me. I starting thinking things like, What if I'm wrong? and What if there's something I don't know? I lost any desire to argue; I felt content to bear witness to what others needed to say.

Here's the really, really awesome part.

I loved my epiphany and the feeling that came with it so much that I kept (keep!) returning to it. When I do, another little bit of self-criticism dissolves, making space in my head and heart. And amazing things keep stepping up to fill that space!

A few days later, I read Glennon Doyle Melton's new book, Love Warrior. She writes many honest and inspiring words, but one idea took root in my new soul space--Say yes to yourself.

This idea makes a cool Venn diagram with our pastor's idea. Both concepts overlap in encouraging us to embrace our full selves, but Glennon's idea of saying Yes to myself carried me to a way of acting on the peace I'd found in my epiphany.

Not long after I read her book, I came across this article on saying no. I'd like my daughter to be better at this than I am, so I read it eagerly...but it didn't quite do it for me. Yet, in her book, Glennon tells an amazing story about speaking her truth to a would-be catcaller. Without hatred or anger, she holds her space. She didn't say no to him, she said yes to herself.

I want that.

I want to acknowledge my flaws, my needs, my pain, my past, and my dreams, my strengths, my joys, my love. I want to say yes to all of me because, not only does it feed my soul, it spills over into everyone I encounter. This is the loaves and fishes, everyone.

As I've begun looking for ways to say yes, amazing things have leapt into my life, like
--Hamilton. The kids and I have surrendered fully. I love sharing this with them, love rediscovering my love of musical theater (since 1985), love learning new things about writing and theater thanks to the super-talented artists involved, and HOLY CRAP, what a story!
--Multiple writing opportunities. I am sitting with the reality that I'm not ready to go for them yet, but they exist! And I did enter a poetry contest.
--So many beautiful moments with the people I love. I love saying yes when I want to listen to my children or laugh with my husband.
--We went to the premiere of The New 8-Bit Heroes, which made me want to dust off my old dreams and do something.
--And I have fun times when something like this happens: A friend posted an article reminding me how precious the people in our life are. Immediately after that a favorite artist posted a link to this beautiful song, which reminded me of this TedTalk that I'd saved. And my soul felt full. I'm ready to spread the hope!

So, it's taken a month to put together this post. Maybe I procrastinate--I sit fully at peace with that flaw. Or maybe the seed of hope just keeps blossoming into more to write about. In any case, let's say Yes to hope, to writing, to peace.

Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Say Yes: The Ages of Humanity


Part Two took a while. That's okay. At this stage in life, we often turn things in late. Keep reading to see what I mean!
I’ve always thought that humanity’s growth paralleled the growth of your average human being, even acknowledging that the average of anything is an abstract concept and doesn’t exist in concrete form.

It’s not a terribly new idea, but think about it. For a large part of humankind’s early existence, we kept pretty busy just trying to get from Point A to Point B, put food in our mouths, and not die. Sounds like toddler life to me. Then, by the “Middle Ages” we advanced to the lovely stage that includes bullying, a black-and-white take on matters of law, and a complete inability to deal with hygiene. Does that sound like second grade to anyone else?

I look at humanity right now and think, Holy crap, are we ever in the teen years.

Seriously, how many of these describe A. Teenagers, B. Our world right now, or C. Both?
—We have moments of brilliance
—We have moments of utter imbecility
—We argue endlessly about which is which
—We stay up WAY too late for our own good
—We put off taking care of ourselves because we’ll never get sick
—We ignore what we can’t see (Pacific garbage patch, anyone?)
—The internet
—We elect insane morons to be…well, anything…just because they’re popular
—We can be colossally shortsighted and inconsiderate
—Our hearts are beginning to stretch large enough to include others

No need to grade the quiz; I’m sure you’ve gotten the idea.

And it’s not just me! I’ve always thought the Bible, which has the advantage of being written during multiple stages of history, reflects that. If you’ve ever raised a toddler, admit it—you sounded a bit like the Old Testament God at times. You make these crazy specific and absolute rules about things you never thought anyone would NEED a rule for. In my case, “THOU SHALT NOT CARRY LEGOS IN THY MOUTH.” The Old Testament God had a thing about wearing mixed skins, etc. I’m sure there were reasons.

And, much like I’ve dropped the Lego Law in my house—it’s just not needed now—the Bible shows a new approach in the New Testament. Jesus, kind of like that hip church youth leader you get in middle school, says, “What if I told you the only law is love?” That’s when the twelve and thirteen-year-olds fall in love with how cool they are and start correcting everyone who doesn’t think the same way.

I’m not the only one who sees this, either! If you’ve got the time, check out this fascinating address by the Anglican Archbishop of Wales, who sees a similar progression of understanding.

Like many a teenager’s parent, I’ve often despaired for our future. I’ve had my share of Really? and You thought that would work because….? and Duh moments as I’ve contemplated our collective choices.

It’s always the case, in any learning, that the closer you come to mastering something, the more unpredictable your performance is. An orange belt in karate may miss the target on ninety-nine punches out of a hundred, but they’re mostly pretty ineffective punches. A brown belt, on the other hand, may misplace one punch out of a hundred, but it’ll have some power behind it. Which does more damage?

And, as teens approach mastery over large life skills, they get cocky and nearly die. As our human races approaches a point where we CAN, conceivably, meet the basic needs of all humankind, it seems like we’re killing people for such dumb reasons. We’re making those tragic, late-teen mistakes.

We are approaching mastery, though. This amazing Ted Talk cites research that shows our circles of compassion have gotten bigger in recent years—we care more about people we don’t know personally than we ever have before. That is awesome! Way to go, world!

I cannot say enough about organizations like The CompassionCollective that combine the people-power of celebrities and ordinary folk, leveraging it into a force for good. Or people like Brandon Stanton at Humans of New York who shares stories we’d never hear otherwise. Now that, people, means we’re feeling our power. We’re getting ready to lead a balanced life that includes compassion.

Hope lies on just the other side of this stage. Think of Gene Roddenberry’s vision of a world where our shared home planet is safe and stable enough to let us reach out to other worlds. Maybe it would help if some Vulcans make first contact and parent us through this next stage, but maybe…

Maybe, like parentless teens in all times and places, we can see the consequences of our actions, pull our shit together, and let our hearts expand. I say, Yes, let’s do it.