Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The World Is Wide Enough

The other morning, while solo parenting, I negotiated a sibling dispute. Slowing down my bright, quick, passionate children and engaging their frontal lobes rather than their brain stems took every ounce of attention, skill, and experience I possess. But when they’d settled things, I realized I’d just seen something crucial to our world.

Let me set the scene.

As we ate, the topic of circus came up. Shocking, really, considering S. spends AT LEAST twelve hours a week there. We talked about various different types of acts, then Little A. confidently proclaimed his opinion.

“I like ALL the clowns and ONLY the clowns!”

Now, I knew he was just playing with words. Once he said “all” he (subconsciously) created some parallel structure and cool contrast between “all” and “only.” He’s been doing that a lot lately—probably because he’s reading books with better prose lately. But S. didn’t like it one bit.

“That’s just wrong! Why would you say that?”

She probably would have kept going, but I cut her off. “Wait. Why are you upset?”

“I’m offended because *I* like other acts and he shouldn’t say that—” Her voice went up an octave.

I jumped in. “Whoa! Whoa! The world is wide enough for both your brother and you.”

Hamilton references always diffuse tricky situations in our house, so we were able to dial things down a bit. We went on to have a discussion about how Little A. can hold his opinion (and maybe even change it someday) while S. holds hers. They can be opposite opinions and that’s OKAY. What’s in one person’s mind does not negate what’s in another person’s mind.

And really, isn’t that the tragedy of Hamilton? Burr realizes, too late, that he and Hamilton could coexist without negating each other. “The world is wide enough for both Hamilton and me.”

And really, isn’t that the tragedy of our society right now? I’ve heard our political environment compared both to a sports league, where rivalries generate ratings and everyone’s a rabid fan of their team, and to dog fighting, where the powerful throw scraps down for the powerless to fight over—at least in part to distract the powerless from realizing they probably could break free if they stopped fighting.

And then I heard this phenomenal podcast. Essentially, it’s an interview with two South Carolina politicians—Jamie Harrison, chair of the state Democratic Party, and Matt Moore, chair of the state Republican Party--about issues affecting the judicial system. But the quality of the conversation struck me far more than the content. Not only do these two men have a fantastic rapport, but they clearly have profound respect for each other. And they actually discuss the unfortunate enmity between various groups in our society, the possible causes, and potential solutions.

And then I ran across this excellent TEDTalk on how to make that happen—a spiritual and political practice that could restore America, which is much more of a tossed salad than a melting pot.

Listen to these folks if you can. Even if you can’t, remember this:
The world is wide enough for both everyone else and you.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Just Do It


Two profound experiences in one week have my head in a whirl.

The first, though simplest to say, may end up being the most complex to explain. Except that I can’t explain. I listened to S-Town.

W-o-w. No spoilers here, so let me just say that I will be moving forward through my life newly determined to act on needs I see, large or small, to tell people I care about them, and to live a life I love. “Eff it” does not just have to be an excuse for not thinking before we act. We can make our “eff it” moments our chance to see, to care, and to act out of love.

There’s a large quantity of existential depression in S-Town and I wrestle with that at times. It’s felt personal lately, but I have to say that, flaws and all, John B’s huge heart and the many varied windmills he tilted at, large and small, have inspired me to see, care, and act. And to do it out loud, so I can join in with other people doing the same. That way, none of us faces dark thoughts alone.

And my second profound experience came from someone who probably couldn’t even pronounce existential depression, but still managed to see, care, and act…to help me.

I take the most amazing fitness classes, led by someone who loves her work and attended by all kinds of folks, all shapes, sizes, and ages. One of my best friends has recently started coming and, since preschoolers are welcome to play during the class—or join in!—her toddler has, too.

On Wednesday, we set up for a drill involving punching bags. Since gloves were optional, I opted to go barehanded—it makes me pay attention to my form! The other students all geared up in gloves and we got started. Halfway through the drill, this sweet little guy toddled up next to me, holding a glove up over his head, offering it to me to use.

Tears in my eyes, I thanked him and—sure enough—he pattered all the way across the gym, got a second glove from the box, and brought that one to me, too.

He. Is. Two. Two years old.

A two-year-old boy watched five people do something and noticed four of them had gloves, but one did not. He thought it might be important, so he went and got gloves for the fifth person. He saw, he cared, and he acted.

Granted, my friend is raising a house full of amazing children, but if her two-year-old can do it, why can’t we?

We never know how far small acts of caring will carry someone. I may not have needed the gloves, but I sure needed the caring.

See. Care. Act. Just do it.


My virtual 5k coming up--a small act, but I will be running for so many reasons!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Process

I just finished pulling together a collection of my poems for a contest that I'd really, really, really like to win.

It provided me with one heck of a learning experience. I'm by no means the first writer to be astonished by my own process, but I am. I am 100%...amazed by how my writerly brain works.

The main cause for pause? There's very little writing in my writing. I think accepting this may be the number one thing I need to do to nurture my creative side. Honestly, my Puritan work ethic equates productivity with worth. I hear my grumpy old New England forefathers grudgingly admitting I can fool around with that writing stuff as long as I can produce X pages a year and get paid.That's the American way, right?

But if I can sit with myself, if I can make peace with the fallow times, if I can accept that the bulk of my creative iceberg lies below the surface, maybe I can finally commit to writing.

So, just for fun, I made a pie chart. And then I learned something else: I am entirely mediocre at dividing up pie charts. But, for what it's worth, here's a pie chart of my writing process.


Also, please feel free to making offerings to the spirit of Emily Dickinson on my behalf between now and April 30. Thanks!

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Dear Bougainvillea




I've had a love-hate relationship with the bougainvillea next to our driveway since the moment we moved in. It's a thorny, sprawling bush planted TWO FEET from our driveway. It could literally grow three or four feet overnight after a rainstorm, so it needed constant trimming.

Our tree guy refuses to deal with any bougainvillea bushes after an epic battle he once had with one. So it stayed. Eventually, I got the brilliant idea to turn it into a tree. We cut back every branch below my head. During this process, I stood up, hit my head on a branch, and acquired the one-inch thorn in my scalp that stayed there all the way through the Tough Mudder. 

But it worked. Trimming the bougainvillea got much easier, it only scratched up the roof of the car after growth spurts, and it looked charming--flowers on top, bird house and flowers underneath. I could almost like the dang thing, even if it required several solid hours of attention every time I did yardwork. And do you know how hard it is to stick thorny branches in a yard bag? Oy.

Unfortunately, the trunk wasn't sound; trimming it like a tree made it a bit top-heavy, too. It toppled in a windstorm a few weeks ago. And, with profound apologies to Lin-Manuel Miranda and everyone associated with the cultural phenomenon Hamilton, I could only think of this:

Dear Bougainvillea, what to say to you?
You had long thorns
You had bright magenta blooms
When we bought our little house, you grew and it broke my heart
I’ve dedicated so much time to you
Gardening work was never quite my style
 
But when you grew, you scratched my car up and I pruned you back
And I thought I was all done
Then you’d grow three feet after a rainstorm
I’d bleed and fight with you, I’d make it right with you
 
If I could cut enough long branches
Then I could stop pruning you, I could park next to you
And you could bloom all day
Someday, someday
The wind’ll blow you all away
Someday, someday

Oh, Bougie, when you bloom I am undone
My tree
Look at my tree
Pride is not the word I’m looking for
Mixed feelings fight inside me now

Oh, Bougie, you glow out in the morning sun
My tree
But when you grow, I fall apart
And I thought I was so smart
Trimming you up higher (trimming you up higher)

I swear that
I’ll find a way around you
I’ll do whatever it takes
I’ll make a million mistakes

I’ll make you look pretty and taller
I’ll work with all your long thorny arms, ‘cause
I’ve bled and fought with you, I’ve tried to make it right with you

I tried to trim you so that
We could drive safely by you, we could reach the world despite you 

But the wind’ll blow you all away
Someday, someday
The wind’ll blow you all away
Someday, someday

How could I forgot the pink flowers that stuck to everyone's shoes and left stains all over the floor?

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Empathy


An interesting concept has made the rounds of the internet lately. People have begun to notice that the “Facebook algorithm” determines the content we see online. The programs, designed to please us, track what we view, what we like, and what we comment on, then give us more of it. We then receive a narrower and narrower stream of input, all of which confirms our feelings, our opinions, and our world view.

In other words, we only hear what we sympathize with.

A lot of us have lost track of the distinction, so here’s a refresher—to sympathize means to be in keeping, accord, or harmony with; to share in suffering or grief with; or to be in sympathy intellectually.

It’s a like-attracts-like kind of relationship.

I’m voting for empathy from here on out. Be on guard against anyone who promotes conflict, question anyone who says “others” are to blame, and overthrow those marketing algorithms that promote sameness. Instead, empathize with real human beings of all kinds.

And here’s our refresher on empathy, which is the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either in the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.

In other words (because that’s a lot of words), having empathy means you can put yourself in the place of someone entirely different than you without having their point of view spelled out for you.

It’s an act that builds bridges between people who are not alike.

To be even more direct, sympathy says, “You have the same pain I do. I get that,” but, conversely, leaves out the pain of others, “Your pain is not my pain.” Empathy says, “I see your pain. I’ve known pain. All pain sucks. I’m sorry for your pain, my friend.”

What if, rather than a competition or a barrier, our pains, unique though they may be, became a bridge? What if we use empathy to build that bridge?

I belong to a segment of society once considered property to be disposed of at another’s whim, with no legal standing, no right to own property, no vote, no mention in the Declaration of Independence. We’ve only recently won freedom from those bonds, yet we are still dismissed, marginalized, judged by our appearance. I may not be more likely to be killed by police because of my body, but I’m more likely to be killed by my partner.

I’m not saying this makes my fears or pains more or stronger or even the same as anyone else’s. They do make me empathetic. They do make me yearn—and act--for a world where no one feels “other” in any degree, for any reason.

I heard a lot of bigoted talk growing up, some directed toward groups that included me, but most of it directed toward people other than me. Do you know what I learned then? I learned to fear being different, to avoid being “other.” I saw that my safety lay in staying within the circle of sympathy.

And do you know what my mature, adult response to that is? No. I choose empathy. I choose to see pain in another’s eyes and say, “I see your pain. I’ve known pain. All pain sucks. I’m sorry for your pain, my friend.”

I choose to yearn—and act—for a world where no one is other.

We are all so weird and wonderful and unique.

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.