Friday, December 23, 2011

who am i? well, here's a start:

i'm really winging it today; something is telling me to talk about this and something is telling me to not care if anyone reads it or likes it or relates to it. but i always tell people to tell their stories because we all have one and so how can i actually tell people to tell their stories when i still keep mine packed away? after all, my kids know the mom they experience and i am doing this blog for them too so they have a sense of who i am and why they are and so it's a necessary part of the process for me to do this for all of us.

before you panic, chill. i'm not about to blow the cover off some sacred family secret or share my well of woes with you. that's private and personal and while it's part of the 21st century definition of my story, it's really no one's business but mine. i may watch YouTube but i'm not a lay-it-all-out-there-in-all-its-nakedness type of person. most of that is because of my breeding, i'm certain. and don't go all "she's totally repressed! busted!" on me because well, that's absurd.

what i'd like to write about and sorta get off my chest is a feeling of disconnect that i often experience with people whom i actually love very much intellectually but feel ambivalent about emotionally. these people inspire me, they stir me, they throw mirrors in my face and they vex me but they are the ones who day in and day out, no matter where i am or the distance apart physically, they are on standby. and i dig that. i am blessed. these people know me deeply, they should know who they are and the safety i feel with them nourishes me. so it's because of them that i'm here and i'm writing anything online. i hope they're here too.

i've recently taken to having pen and paper near the bedside because i've been waking in the middle of the night for the past few months almost with an urging, tender but persistent, to get up and write. i wake with these fabulous ideas, give my muse, God love her, a pat on the fanny and tell her to go back to bed and that i'll get on it in the morning. come the sunrise: the ideas are vapor.

i have faith they'll be back, and while i don't mean this to sound lazy, i just do have that faith because we are all creatures experiencing renewal all the time. if we forget that we have thrown in the towel. i woke this morning with the phrase: "i grew up with a fair amount of chaos."

part of my story obviously involves my parents who made me and are still with us, thank goodness. i'm not the best daughter. i have bristle issues when it comes to my parents and i think the fact that i'm even admitting this shows a little bit of growth. there are things i'd like to do for my parents, be more a part of their lives but i've gotta get to peace with some stuff before i can really do it. helping them grows my heart, that is for certain. we had a situation a couple years ago where my brother and i were able to really assist them and it felt great to do. i didn't like the circumstances that engendered the assistance, but we do these things when we can. so there is a part of me though, deep inside, that resists. and being a "couch time" veteran, i know that what we resist persists. so i'm trying to step into it a bit. babysteps.

so, i grew up with a fair amount of chaos.

i read with great relish about 5 years ago Augusten Burroughs' Running with Scissors which reminded me at moments of my own days. but mine weren't quite so woo-woo and despite the chaos and the real problems in that world of ours i was infinitely safer than Augusten and am thus slightly more stable. his writing is outstanding though so if you get a chance, read about him and try him.

i read some time later Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. that memoir also spoke to me. she's fantastic and  inhabits a world with her parents (her mother survives; i believe her dad has died) that appeals to me: it's a sort of "love them how you can and let them live they way they want" method and at times i feel as though i am exquisitely close and then intellect steps in and i'm out.

i read Broken by William Moyers, son of PBS journalist Bill Moyers. this book helped me from the standpoint of being an observer of what he has experienced and the gift it gave me is perspective and a modicum of patience for those circumstances.

if you know these books, you know their central theme.

my parents are brilliant people. i mean off-the-charts IQs and abilities that astound me even in their late 70s and almost 80s.

my mother can recite Shakespeare's sonnets off the first two words if you happen to be quoting within earshot. and you best know your shit because she will correct the mistake playfully but with the confidence of a pit shark in vegas. she can play Gershwin, Porter, a little Beethoven on the ivories by ear... both hands. she can illustrate and catch the subtle nuances (which are super subtle, by the way, so they seem even more esoteric to many) of life's inconsistencies. her two senses of five i suppose are what power her: hearing and sight. they fill her mind and imagination with the gifts she shares. they also can crowd her mind with darkness and fixations. she grew up in the 40s and 50s; a teenager by 1950. that black and white world we only see through magazines and old TV / movie clips. college educated, catholic and artistically gifted she was forced to use her right hand in her catholic school (how i got away with using my left in the same type of institution escapes me) and i believe all the stigma, crap and paranoia that surrounds left-handedness has also shaped her in an intractable way. she is the oldest of her siblings and like i am, the only daughter of her parents. she has survived two brothers' deaths, along with her own moments of profound loss as a mother. in those moments however she is fierce like a lion and has a strength she pulls from somewhere deep inside her. i wish she would access it more often because i believe she has many more years in her and that strength could help her physically thrive. she has illuminating and flawless skin (i have more wrinkles than she) thanks to her collection of wide-brim straw hats and her physical beauty is without peer. her classiness tacitly reminds me that silence is always an alternative and usually the finest choice. she's witty and charming too. but she thinks she can sing better than she can and to the expectant delight of many of my cousins and the curdling chagrin of her children she sings anyway with panaché at weddings and family events. she introduced me to "Auntie Mame" and many Judy Garland films and often calls when a good one is on TCM. she is a champion of anything i write (we'll see about this one) and she taught me to not use parenthesis because if it can't stand on its own, don't write it. i agree with her on that, but i still like (). her softness, something i used to repel and have a hard time reconciling with, is her finest feature but has also been her undoing at times.

my father is a classic strong guy who is a prime example of the self-made man but whose weaknesses despite his many strengths prove the adage "we are only as strong as our weakest link." despite all that, he's really quite amazing as well and he inspires me daily with his bootstrap attitude. super bright, the product of a top-tier education whose tuition was paid by an unknown donor along with his recommendation to that school, he has an efficient no-nonsense demeanor save for his occasional and apropos lapses into his gift for mimicry, song and literature. his sense of humor is cultivated and ranks among my favorite things about him. many evenings as a child i would waft to sleep hanging on the notes from his tinkering on his classical guitar or piano meanderings, which he also taught himself.  masculine in his exterior but very tender hearted for those he lets in, he's an example of trust then verify. he chose rowing as his sport although i recently learned that he favored baseball more but didn't play it because of his size and abilities when interested. given that testimony and the fact that rowing was his default sport i can't imagine how he would have excelled at baseball when considering the following: rowed in the '56 Olympics in Melbourne (i've been corrected, i thought they were in Sydney... wonder who sent the correction?). i'm still not clear on the issue that brought his boat, a 4+cox, to its fate of missing the final races but true to his nature he didn't let that end his love of the sport as he went on to successfully coach crews for many years. one of the spurs that comes along with a successful bootstrapper attitude however is the tendency to tell your own tales of greatness, of which he is often guilty. children love to hear about their awesome parents from observers. he is a writer of difficult and controversial things as he got started in investigative journalism and while i am proud of his excellence in that genre i can't help but wonder if that world fueled a sense of extra vigilance and distrust in the bigger world as well as his need to break his own stories with the lede on A1. he has at least one fellowship under his belt and spent some time in the hippie heyday on the campus of a northern California university in the late 60s. as an emotionally conservative person honed from the granite of the new england education system being in California must've been quite a paradox for him. i relish to think mom rather enjoyed it being the free spirit she is. nonetheless, he and my mom made it back to the east coast with me and my older brother in tow without many effects from the hippies' second-hand smoke....

i was born in 1967 in buffalo, ny. yes, it's cold there. yes it snows in the winter. yes the springs last 4 weeks and the summer another 8 and then it's cold again. but it's a lovely town with eye-popping architecture, cultural outlets and history gilded by America's explosive growth during the industrial revolution of the 1800s to the mid 1900s. people like my hero F Scott Fitzgerald and Mark Twain hail or spent many years in buffalo. Frank Lloyd Wright built a few landmarks there and many members of my childhood family are still there helping that place hum despite its economic straits. i sailed on the best lake in the world, Erie. i peed, nearly drowned, lost a mary jane (one of several lost i assure you), soothed a melted marshmallow burn, psyched the bejeesus out of myself after "Jaws" (which i never saw until i was much older), waterskied and frolicked in those beloved waters every summer. they are in my blood. during the winters i stood on the nature-made and wind-shaped ice sculptures that harken the "fortress of solitude" in the movie "Superman." we could walk to get groceries, and often did. as we grew older we would walk to the penny candy store and get our fix of those spicy soft cinnamon coins, bittersweet non-pareils, shoestring licorice and fake gum cigarettes that emit "smoke" powder when you blow just right between the wrapper and the gum. our dog toby would pull a sled with our small brown paper bags, one of them holding chocolate for him that we didn't know he shouldn't have. i still refer to buffalo as home because my heart and blood and spirit are from there; i left when i was almost 14 and the effects of leaving that town was probably the hardest time my family has ever endured.

in my awkward, confused and attitudinal 14-year-old female self: that moved really sucked.

we came from a fantastical victorian on buffalo's west side. you couldn't get more west really. the house had a turret, cedar shaker siding shingles (say that again!) and a tenacious ivy that mocked my father's attempts at its extinction thriving on its south side, arabesque terracotta chimneys, servants' bells, a pile of coal in the "coal room" in the basement and a photographer's dream: a dark room in another basement room, tall big windows, a 70-foot wooden flagpole, a carriage house, inlaid wood floors, tiffany globe chandeliers, massive mahogany pocket doors, a back staircase, hand-turned cherry banisters and spindles gracing its open 5-foot wide main staircase, stunning architectural details and 4-inch thick doors bolstered by 1/4-inch brass chains and hasps facing my beloved, the greatest Great Lake that boasted Canada every morning. i wasn't afraid of that attic.

i still dream about that house.

we moved into our next house, a "Kleenex box" as my mother described it. i have to say i agreed with her when compared to our fortress on the lake.

being a teenager i was just excited the new place was clean and orderly; it made sense in the era it was built as did the home we left. it had an ice maker, touch tone phones, a deck, a garage, a basement that wasn't scary, a dishwasher and an in-the-house washing machine and dryer. in buffalo we sent out for a laundry service.

we moved in on a Monday. it was hot as hades because it was mid-June. i remember sweating as i stood still on that inward-sloped asphalt driveway of the house i'd never seen until that day. waiting for our giant Mayflower truck with all our belongings wrapped in musty horse blankets and humidity-leaching cardboard boxes labeled "PBO" or other codes i didn't understand at the time to arrive. i remember being so, so terribly and weakly hot. how buffalo is cold in winter is how the DC suburbs are hot in summer. each near water but only one is built near a swamp.

we moved into that house on mom's 47th birthday exactly. i still sorta physically waver and am overcome by emotional exhaustion when i recall that unfortunate coincidence. i don't remember much from that day other than the heat and seeing my mother as a ghost.

i have to believe somewhere in my mind that my dad actually got my mom's approval to formally install her person by moving her from: her parents, friends, the academic and civic relationships her family heritage afforded her and then her brothers, sisters in law, aunts, uncles and all those cousins we all loved on her actual birthday. i mean, couldn't it have waited a week? this is a discussion or agreement or privileged treaty between them i may not ever know. as a child, i never really considered that fact: that we moved on her birthday. i mean i knew it was her birthday, that was sort a point of celebration for me actually. but now as a mother, in my 40s with a teenager actually (and as i write this i just realized that my mom and i had our kids at relatively similar times in our lives give a month or two difference) i think i would too have checked out emotionally as she did if that happened to me. i see this experience in my family now, with adult, maternal eyes and heart as a defining moment in my family's history.

i remember the way i found out we were moving: i was watching TV and my father's promotion / new assignment was announced by a broadcaster and the feed was live and he was being interviewed. i was standing in our little butler's pantry amongst the golden oak and glass cabinetry with their brass latches and hinges. my left hip leaning on the patina'd handle to the flour bin beneath the built-in, slide-out cutting board my mother used for her illustrations. i can recall with clarity the awe of seeing my dad on TV but confusion from the announcement. i believe my mother was on the phone with one of her myriad cousins, one of the sisters of broad-smiled, auburn-haired, tall, smart and powerful dutch-irish beauties who would float in and out of my consciousness as a child.  

there was no dramatic pause. she didn't gasp, i remember that clearly. it was january or close to it and the news being announced was that he would start soon and move after the school year ended. my older brother was wrapping up his senior year of h.s. and i would have begun my first, but apparently not in buffalo.

despite its clear indications for internal familial challenges, the move was a very good idea. my father started a new job in the same field; one that brought him to the center of it all: Washington DC. the axis of the political universe in the 80s or so it seemed and he was excited to meet new people. being in the army at the same time as elvis he says, traveling with his sport and all the doors it opened meant he had a different outlook. my mother lived in buffalo all her life, was educated there, learned her arts there and moved out from her parent's house when they married. the schools we were leaving in buffalo were pretty good and private but in DC my younger brother and i'd be going public. the namesake of my eventual high school in Virginia was considered a traitor by any self-respecting yankee. 

# # #

that's it for now. i'll write more later. i hope you enjoyed it. let me know. but i'm gonna do more even if you don't like it.

thank you.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

babysteps and flinching

so i've been reading an ebook called "The Flinch" which talks about facing fears / reluctances and when you feel the instinct to flinch you are to not give up; rather to do the opposite. if you do nothing else, look at the cover art.

the author, julien smith, talks any number of goals that people might have for themselves: getting a new job, waking up earlier, asking someone on a date, trying a new food, having The Talk in a relationship, losing weight, training for a race; anything that requires growth and very likely hard change.

it gives homework. the first assignment is to daily walk into a very cold shower for a week. i presume without clothes on. the objective of this exercise is to know on a visceral level what a flinch feels like and to get over any projected fear that you might have about something that could be uncomfortable, but intellectually you know is completely harmless. i chickened out on that. i've had the sniffles lately. i mean, really... it's december. the ground water temp is probably 45˚.  if i'm gonna subject myself to supah-cold water, it's gonna be on one of those geriatric polar bear swim club things... and i've got time.

the second assignment is to take a mug from the kitchen and drop it to the floor / ground in hopes of smashing it. the goal is to show you that you gain more strength by letting go. if the cup was too easy, the author suggests smashing a smartphone. ("but i play Cut the Rope on that!" screams Thing 3; no worries, i won't smash my smartphone.) i also won't smash a cup because well, i think it's a stupid thing to do and i clean up after enough ceramic accidents around here that the thought of cleaning up an "intentional" is uh, dumb. i don't think the author has kids.

the third assignment is really up my alley. talk to a total stranger. i do this all the time. it's not a problem at all. i tell people i don't know they look nice or that i like their jacket or their haircut (usually a woman) is awesome(r). before you start getting uncomfortable, don't worry. my comments are always made in broad daylight and in nice neighborhoods. one of my favorite times is when i saw a mature woman about a year ago who looked so beautiful i had to tell her. she said she was meeting someone on a blind date; her first since being a widow. whoever the guy was, he had better be hot, i told her and she blushed. i don't flinch from speaking to strangers but i don't take candy from them. public speaking is also not a big deal for me. i can work a room.

the fourth assignment is so @$&*^@_ crazy that i don't know where to ...  ... the author proposes getting punched in the face. or putting yourself in a boxing ring and then allowing yourself to get punched in the face.

i decided at this point that the tome is self help meets fight club. but bear with me.

why am i reading this book? it was free. i read a lot of what turns out to be crap because it's free. it's the allure of the Kindle. download anything in less than a minute and see if it stinks. if it does, you just delete it and it just gooooes awaaaaay..... some of it i finish, most i don't. but this book isn't really crap and i'm reading it also because seth godin (a best selling author and a vocal ebook champion) recommended it, but i'm beginning to think that as much as seth likes to talk the talk about "doing The Work" and "changing the world" and "re-revolutionizing everything..." and his favorite, "poking the box" he also is basically a businessman who must cross pollinate and engage in partner marketing or he will perish. eh... he's human and he's got bills.

i truly dislike the work of "selling" myself or authors or artists having to sell themselves and play the game. it's not that i'm so hot that my work should speak for itself; it's that to me, it's sorta ... well, fake. i see some people on fb turning themselves INSIDE OUT for attention and it's sorta pathetic. i'll chat more about that in a later post. i need to do more so-called research.

back to the boxing ring for a sec. smith goes into as much detail as he allows himself to discuss the physical reactions of flinching and how if in a fight (club) the way to overcome the flinch is to actually step into it. hmm. so, step into what you fear. does the flinch ever go away? not if we're lucky. i like and hate that. i suppose if it goes away, then we're dead inside.

while the book is not bad, some of the ideas are a little wacky and it repeats itself a bit but maybe that's part of the "therapy." i honestly flinch when i prepare to read it because i know it's right! i'm reading it because i'm really trying to get over my fear of writing for the sheer joy of writing "publicly." y'see, every time i've written, it's been for someone else: teacher, boss, client, professor... so it's a new stage for me.  and i started this supposed "blog" about a year ago and i've written mostly about other people and i wonder if my randomness that i've allowed myself in this blogging capacity has sort of been my undoing; i have no "plan."

man plans God laughs. that's one of my favorite phrases of all time. perhaps i like it too much.

oh.... plans. i titled this blog "babysteps and flinching" because this is exactly where i am. i realized a few months ago with great relief that the term "babysteps" can apply to anyone at any stage. previously i had always understood it to mean just very small steps, on tippy-toes even. like those taken with archless four-inch feetpods within a very short distance between said feetpods and narrowly placed and slowly.

but upon greater reflection, i remembered that babies don't flinch. they just go for it. and they fall down all the time.

so i always assumed that when adult people said "taking babysteps" that it obviously meant that whatever they were doing was probably mastered (because they are adults). they were just choosing to walk slowly to adapt.

well, what i hand't quite fully appreciated (and i mean "appreciate" in the sense that it's a gift) is that in order to take the babysteps and master them, one must fall down. a lot. i mean, like all the time. have you ever really watched a pre-toddler child navigate on foot? we used to call all our kids "drunken sailors" (no, i'm not making fun of alcoholic seamen, so all you pro-alcoholic seamen advocates better stand down, people can be so PC lately). a baby's gyroscope is spinning furiously, his brains are firing synapses at a blistering rate and his enormous head (especially in the case of Thing 1... that kid had a HAAA-UGE head as an infant, almost like Charlie Brown) resting atop his fleshy one-inch neck is the supposed ballast making everything gonna be alright. right? well, not so much... look, there's something bright and shiny.

>WHUMP< baby fall down go boom. and do they cry? not really... not unless we as observers gasp.

in my parenting i had the huge benefit of Dan's older sibs who had kids already. they showed me to cheer when a baby lands on her puffy fanny from all of 10 inches above. so we cheered when our Things fell down and went boom as they learned to walk and so they never really cried unless they bumped their ballasts and if they did that, well truth be told: we usually waited for them to decide if it hurt or not.

if they did get hurt, we cuddled them until they started squirming like feral cats to get back to the business of falling down. Thing 2 for instance was nicknamed "Fling" from almost the moment he came home from the hospital by a dear friend (i preferred "der fledermaus" but Fling stuck) because he was constantly.on.the.move. he started walking on Inauguration Day for W; he wasn't even a year yet. talk about "Mission Accomplished." wooooo sorry.

so now i'm learning to not be afraid to fall down and also to be my own cheering section to get me back up. it's tough. i flinch all the time. today as a matter of fact; i decided to send a friend a note to let her know i'm in the market for p/t writing work if she needs it. i was afraid to upset the balance of our friendship but then i realized that flinch flew in the face of my "you can't win if you don't play" mentality which embodies a lot of how i approach life -- at least it's the advice i give to friends...  so i sent the note anyway. i wouldn't be offended if i received a note like that and it's doubtful she would be offended. i have to learn on a cellular level (flinch-wise) that risk is its own greatest reward.

so what are you flinching from? are there things you're trying to do that require babysteps? know that you will falter. guaranteed. but consider the question posed by Alfred to Bruce Wayne in "The Dark Knight": "Why do we fall down Sir?" "So we can learn to get back up," replies Bruce. Alfred never gave up on Bruce. so you don't give up on you.

full circle moment: if we always cheered when wobbly kids safely fall down, why don't we cheer ourselves when we try something we're interested in knowing the risks needed for success and knowing we're very likely going to fall down? for me as i said it's about writing publicly, purposelessly and just for the joy of it. i know i'm gonna fall down, that's not where the flinch comes in... the flinch comes in right before i even start and right after i click "publish."

here goes...

thank you. have a wonderful 2012.

update: crazy but true department: i finished the book about 5 minutes after posting this on 12/21. i had no clue because i was at "35%" of the book which i've since learned includes samples of other books on the same seth godin train / imprint. the book is having a benign effect in that it's getting me to think about how i do things and i suppose i'll have a hard time ignoring when i'm flinching.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

just finished a book

i just finished a book this morning that i'm pretty sure will affect me for the rest of my life.

i hope it will anyway.

i won't mention the title right now because i'm sure there are people out there who are familiar with this tome, but who have either biased opinions of it due to the nature of its content and its message.  for those of you who grace me with your faithful reading of this little and inconsistent blog, i will tell you at the end. like dessert.

the writer chose words and phrases that painted pictures of an austere, spartan post-apocalyptic world. it didn't matter where, but i inferred it was America, the beautiful, bountiful, abundant, mighty America. reduced to ashen shadows, dry creeks, leafless forests, relentless murky skies and loamy seas.

the wonderful irony however in the construction of this book is that while the words depicted desolation, they were so perfectly poised and used that not even apostrophes were wasted. to overuse them would be callous.

the author, a master, is my current hero but not because he's such a great story teller, it's because the route of his work touched just about all my senses. fitzgerald does that for me too, but in an entirely different fashion: FSF wrote in the modern world's most glamorous and flagrant times, the roaring 20s. a time which i often wax romantic as being The Best Era in which to live. so FSF's usage was decadent although precise as well. this author's usage is not decadent, but just as precise and it's definitely not about the 20s.

one of the greatest gifts this book gave to me was that my tears were spared until the end. i got this feeling from the author and his characters that crying and emotional anchoring would be indulgent and cowardly. that we must press on. get the cart. look for food. press on.

i have friends who have suggested to me that they couldn't read the book; others that couldn't finish the book, that it was too much. for me, i had to press on. the characters pressed on, despite challenges that would only be defined by our worst nightmares, i mean really bad nightmares, they pressed on. they kept their heads up looking forward, staying the course no matter what.

i checked on my children in their beds each night i read. feeling for their breathing, their warmth and thanking the fates for my fortune. it doesn't matter if you have kids or not, if you can read this sentence, what you have is worth thanksgiving.

i visually checked the front door to make sure the deadbolt was locked. at times i wished we had a gun in the house. it made me care about China again and consider Iran. it made me hate Target and Walmart and their reckless promotion of consumerism and waste. so in a way, it made me suspicious.

but you can't live in suspicion. the protagonist in the book reminded me that despite any devastation, we mustn't live selfishly and angrily at our situation. that we always have something to share or give to those who have less -- even if we think we have nothing, we have a smile or a kind word or simply a kind thought. even giving ourselves a kind word or thought is not wasted. try that sometime.

it's fiction, for the most part. but it really isn't because despite the book's setting there isn't one person in this world past or present or future who won't feel apocalyptic at times about their own situations: the health might be compromised; the finances are in shambles; the spouse is estranged emotionally or physically; the children are floundering; the job is aimless; life seems pointless; the ambition is gone; the self pity is ABUNDant... these are all parts of The Human Condition and man, if we get to feel these things in our lives, we should realize just how lucky we truly are. because it's not worse.

what perspective!

perspective is a gift. and i realized viscerally after reading this book that we are lucky because we have been given a second breath which is a second chance every moment. and what must we do when we have those second chances? press on, my friends, press on.

but pressing on does not mean doing the same thing day in and out. it means reinvention of ourselves and adapting, engineering and thriving. it's not easy, but it's really the only way to press on.

i am one who has fears. insecurities and shames just like everyone else. sometimes i don't know what keeps me pressing on. but something does. is it my children? my outside reputation as being a go-getter, hard charging, driven, loyal to the end, my own worst critic, eternally vigilant and cautiously optimistic (all of which are true)? i don't know. i could spend hours wasting time trying to figure it out, but in the end and after reading that book, i have learned that thinking about it is not wasteful, it's just not always useful.

i have learned however, that self-pity is an indulgence that the industrial person needn't allow, and we are all industrious. i've heard about that, that "just feeling sorry for yourself" is wasteful and all that, but i never connected with it because whenever i felt it, 'it seemed like a good idea at the time.' but i get it now. whenever i feel sorry for myself i will think of The Boy and Papa.

the tears i finally shed were sincere. i feel the author gave me permission to weep, gently, privately and briefly. i was proud to tear up and i was proud of the point at which i wept. we had come so far, these people and i. it was time to let down our guard because we were "the good guys" who had "kept the fire." but when the tears were over, it was time to bootstrap, to remind ourselves of hope.

thank goodness for those old bootstraps. they're always there.

thank you.

(the book is "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy and well, i can't recommend it enough.)

Monday, November 21, 2011

no longer too sick to write...

i've been recovering from bronchitis. it's been a bit of a drag and i've had virtually no energy, save for what i expend chasing down my homework-evasive Things.

i got my malady on the heels of all three Things getting theirs. i feel like such a copy cat. for three weeks, in reverse birth order, i made weekly trips through the crowded parking lot of our pediatrician to confirm that the Things each had fevers exceeding 102˚ (i've learned that 103˚ is really no big deal -- if you have a medical degree and 30+ years of experience...) and various -itises.

  • Thing 3 went first with an ear infection and 102.3˚ as his max. 
  • Thing 2 was next with bronchitis and 104.2˚ as his max. 
  • Thing 1 was last... he called me at 1:30 from the clinic at school with a 101.5˚, wimp, but he had the most verbose diagnosis. 

when we got in the car after picking him up from school, i told Thing 1 to speed dial the peds and put me on speaker. i talked to the nurse (while heading in the direction of their office) and gave her the familial breakdown for the preceding 14 days. she was leaning toward calling us in and then she heard his cough and after he said, "oh God that hurt." she said, "how's 2:40 today?" i said we were already on the way.

with a glistening brow and eyes at half mast, while he was being examined and the doc was writing the script for antibiotics for a case of bronchial pneumonia, i panted and sorta grunted like a junkie, "jees, i'm so jealous. i wish i could get me a Zpack..." (i'm sure she looked at me like i was nuts: get a grip, it's not codiene, y'know...)

after driving home with a stash of fresh azithromycin from "the store that starts with a 'T'" as Thing 1 used to call it at age 2 when we moved to our current home, i began to feel slightly craven, covetous  for his "antibios" (as they're known on the street, i guess...) and totally disoriented, i insisted i go to my doctor.

"mom, i can't drive."

"oh, yeah. you're not dad..." thank God i drive a 3-ton SUV... nervous, fairfax?

so dan comes home and he glances at me and he says, "you look like shit." i must've looked like Tom Hulce in Amadeus during his translucent, waxy, fevered final days writing the Requiem for his father from his once-luxurious flat in Vienna (i'm sure my dad will correct me if it was Salzburg, but i think that's where Mr. Dad Mozart lived and wanted Wolfy to return to), Austria, not Virginia...

so i call the docs, explained to them the biohazard that our household had become and described my myriad symptoms (achey skin, wheezing resembling that dog from the Laff-a-lypics, eyes that hurt to move, hot feet and a 10-day cough that didn't result in anything other than six-pack abs and back pain that required 2 motrin upon daily rising ... oh, a 104.2˚ temperature earlier in the morning. each nightfall, i drifted to sleep wondering how many days a very healthy and athletic 44-y.o. woman has to have a fever above 103˚ to count for an infection, envisioning my white blood cells waving white flags...) the nurse asked,

"when can you come in?"

"when do you close?"

"after you leave."

oh... ok. i guess we're on.

i had a 7:30pm slot.

i was in like Flynn. i felt like i'd just signed a peace treaty.

after being weighed (i'd lost 2 pounds, yay!) and noticing that my blood pressure was the highest it's ever been: 140 / 96 (i'm typically a 95 / 70 girl) and my temperature after being on motrin for 2 hours was 102.7˚ my case had traction. i felt like i was (leg)itimately sick now. i was in the doctor's office and i was gonna beg on my knees, if i could find them, for something that started in a petri dish.

at 7:40 i saw my physician. he looked at me, my chart, cleared his throat, started his examination on my nose and tsked his lips. peering through his eyebrows at me, he inhaled and asked, " long have you been feeling like this?" at this point, i didn't know if i was going to get sympathy or a straight jacket so i did my best edie gourmet, "er... uh, about a couple days. uh, a week, sorta on/off... y'know, the kids have been sick... it's hard to say... one day i was 103˚ and another day i was 98˚ and then later on i was 103˚ again..." while shooting a "if you don't vouch for me, and help get me those antibiotics, you'll raise the children alone" glance at Dan.

doc straightens up his posture and says, "i'm gonna listen to your chest, because it's part of the exam, but i'm putting you on antibiotics. your fever breaking and then coming back a couple times is a big sign. you've landed yourself a secondary infection and apparently, you're all pretty sick at home, so it was just a matter of time and you have bronchitis. .... uh, Mr. Field, how do you feel? how are you managing to stay clear of all this?"

Dan says, "i've been sleeping in our guest room for the past few nights and keeping up my exercise routine... drinking a lot of fluids... i uh, honestly don't know how i've escaped this."

on Thanksgiving, we will be three weeks without a weekly doctor's appointment and Dan still hasn't gotten sick and we will all be thankful for that. it also feels good to be back at the keyboard.

Happiest -itis free Thanksgiving to you and yours.

Thank you.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Thing 3: the Operator

i'm sitting watching Thing 3 use the "treadmail" as he calls it. there are some things in this world that i hold very dear -- the most sacred is the supposed mispronunciation of words by my children in their youngest years. it's simply adorable. don't mess with "headfore" -- (forehead).

he's taken the treadmail up to 2.8 mph ("28" to him ) and is at a light bobbing swaying jog due to his consistent inconsistency in his stride, his knobby legs and his utter lack of experience. in his double-white stripes on navy blue shirt, sneakers from kohls and khaki shorts, he is the model of a suburban american boy.  did i mention that he is wearing the clip to the safety lanyard on his fly? he is. it's there because a moment ago it was on his collar but he kept hitting it with his hands and shutting down the treadmail, so we moved it. i'm sure the next time he gets on the treadmail, it will be put back there.

"a kid at school is faster than me, even though his name is junior," he says. this stuff is priceless. i should literally attach an mp3 voice recorder to him (maybe to his fly). "mom, do you think he works out on the treadmail too? probably not, his hair is too short -- about 2 centimeters..." hair length definitely affects aerobic ability.

"do you think i still have to do my homework?" he just asked, seven minutes into his... trot-stagger... somehow figuring that doing this work will excuse him or maybe cancel out his need to do his other work.  this is typical of Thing 3. he is an Operator. he sees around corners, ever the strategist. what's the angle, what is in it for him...

case in point...

the other day, Thing 2, who's in 5th grade and is a safety patrol at school announced over cheerios at breakfast that he was thinking about retiring already from his 2-week stint on post. he misses me and Thing 3 and our walks to school with The Murph. this news visibly disturbed Thing 3 as his posture made an immediate correction and he dropped some milky cheerios on his lap. being all of seven years old, he's got his priorities and well, they're ... extremely entertaining.

so, after much deliberation by Thing 2 and a discussion with both me and his father on separate occasions and then an in-house safety patrol weekend summit that proved to dominate all our discussions, albeit without any resolution, dad and i decided that Thing 2 would absolutely have to finish out the calendar year at the duty. Thing 2 bugged us a lot to get approval for the position and he had to write an essay and learn to walk on water, so for all that water-walking training, at the dinner table before CCD one night, we demurred his request for retirement. oh, and because other kids were not selected because he wanted it. oh, one more, and because we're not quitters.

"you wanted it then, when you wanted it. what's the big change?" asks Thing 3.

"stay out of this! it's none of your business!" shouts Thing 2. "now i have to go to stupid CCD..." he adds.

... he ... "wanted it when [he] wanted it..." echoes in my mind.

the next morning after breakfast of eggos, veggie sausages and oj, it's time for Thing 2 to grumble to his post.

"you know," starts Thing 3 to Thing 2, "you should stay on as patrol. you could be captain soon." knowing that Thing 2's current obsession is popularity and rank and place (ever the middle child, i'm afraid). i see the wheels turning in Thing 2, but i hear the gears churning in Thing 3.

"i dunno, i don't care. i just want to be with you and mom..." says Thing 2 wistfully.

expertly snapping at Thing 2's other achilles heel, sugar, Thing 3 adds, "you know... they have hot chocolate on wednesdays, too... wouldn't you miss that? better get your stuff, your patrol belt is over there..." as he gestures to the playroom door.

and i'm thinking, "what is going on? Thing 3 never cares about this stuff... unless...."

so as Thing 2 goes to get his gear near the front hall, about 20 feet away from the kitchen table, Thing 3 leans into me and says to me, in a whisper with all the confidence of a man who sells ice cream to eskimos, "he can't leave safety patrol." squinting my eyes, i look at him and say, "what do you care?" and he says without missing a beat, "he gets me out of school 10 minutes earlier than everyone else. i get to leave early. he has to stay a patrol." ("here's your ice cream ms. nanuk")

inhaling with eyebrows aloft, i had to suppress my laughter and my awe.

right now, he's at "31" on the treadmail. "i bet junior can't keep up," he says between breaths.

and Thing 2 is still a patrol.

Thank you.

Monday, September 26, 2011

because we (still) can.

yesterday was my 44th birthday. to me, this means today is the first day of my 45th year because i hit the 44th year mark yesterday at approximately 3:53pm. but i won't get into details.

for people mostly those past their 30s, birthdays are oftentimes opportunities for reflection and assessment. are we where we hoped we'd be? did we have a plan or idea about where we are now? are we happy? what is happy? are we doing what we thought we could when we thought about doing it?

i can say that i have done/achieved a lot of things and most of them i didn't plan on. by sheer grace and divine providence, i am here to say that. the things i did in my youth, i am largely still able to do.

i realize as i typed that last line that i sound like i should be surprised by that because 44 is so, y'know, ancient. i don't think it's ancient. i think it's the beginning of calcification, however, if i don't pay attention.

the other day, i picked up my violin. i haven't really sat down and played it, more than a couple scales or arpeggios in decades. three to be exact. my fingers were rusty and they had no interest in doing scales. as a youngster, my father often impressed upon me the importance of practicing... . "DO YOUR SCALES." ... "I DON'T HEAR ANY SCALES." ... "SLOW DOWN." ... "AGAIN.... FROM THE BEGINNING."

i took up violin because i couldn't carry a piano.

also, because my dad took me to see Lord Yehudi Menuhin when i was 8. for an hour or so, it was just me and Dad and about 2,000 other people at the buffalo philharmonic symphony house with its polished mahogany walls, crystal chandeliers, sloping ceiling, tiffany sconces, elegant trolley bars selling cokes in glasses dotted with the half-circles on the bottom, and sapphire-blue carpeting with the golden stars in it. to me, it was just me and Dad.

we sat in the dark and listened to Lord Menuhin play with two other people whom i'm sure i was supposed to be impressed by, but it was Yehudi i was interested in. after the show, Dad got us behind stage and i held out my program for Lord Menuhin to sign and he did. it wasn't a "i'll never wash this program again" moment for me because it wasn't a crush i had on him; rather, i was mesmerized by him. he was elegant, in his tuxedo, so refined, and graceful; like a slow and steady arpeggio or a sip of fine wine. he smiled at me, got down on his haunches and talked to me. i didn't know what to say; i don't know if i said anything but for me having this genius whose virtue calmed me just by doing what he loved was beyond special. i was a child and all i knew was that it felt good. i felt lucky.

i kept that program on my roll-top desk blotter for years. i spilled chocolate milk on it and it missed the autograph but it stiffened the paper and glued the sheets together inside. now i had my two favorite things together: the memory of that day and chocolate milk.

so last week, when i picked up the violin my parents bought me when i still showed interest in high school, a rich voiced, amber-toned, "single back" (which is unusual, most violins are split backs) Karl Hofner (#165) built in 1979 in Bubenreuth, Germany it felt very natural.  i was fully conscious of what i was doing; it wasn't like i was guided to it by some mystery music nymph. i thought about it.

i thought: am i doing this because i want to recapture some of my youth? am i crazy, thinking i can do this? how stupid is this?

but i picked it up because i wanted to and because i knew it would be a little hard, but that i and the situation would be OK because things are different now. there is no need to be perfect, to get it just right. for now, the exercise is in the joy of just doing it.

and we were OK, my violin and i; we related almost immediately. it felt like an old friend who'd been in the neighborhood and who wanted to stop in and say hi. it was out of tune, but not awfully and once i'd tuned it up and put rosin on my bow, i did what i used to do: i skipped scales and arpeggios (sorry, Dad) and went on brain memory and muscle memory to bring me to a place where i felt confident to continue.

i tried some Bach and Mozart (Twinkle-Twinkle) and tooled around with it. the Bach was hard so i went back to what always impresses but is actually pretty easy: Vivaldi. i don't know why i think Vivaldi is easy -- the Vivaldi i know is intense, angry music. oh, now i know why i think it's easy: because i'm pretty intense and can be quick to temper. Vivaldi goes high on the finger board into octaves that could shatter glass. once i felt comfortable with my old friend, i decided to forage for more. the memory banks were depleted but i still wanted to go on because i was very excited that my playing didn't sound like a dying forest animal.

i went to set up my music stand and grabbed some music i knew i could play because i just had played some of it from memory, but i wanted to finish the rest of it.

memory is powerful: it can help you cook, drive a car, dial a phone to call a friend, sing a song; but memories are linked to emotions which are like the water that creates its own way, no matter what you're doing or how composed you think you are; when emotions flood into memories, all bets are off. bringing out those music books changed everything.

it wasn't even seeing the notes on the page that shifted things for me, but rather the comments in handwriting from my father and my various teachers over the years that opened up a giant hole into which i slipped and lost time. the comments were foreign to me, speaking to a child who really had no sense of "Feeling!" or "Expression!" as proposed by the teachers. i saw my Dad's iconic green felt-tip markings on the sheet, working hard with me to keep my strokes up or down and helping me stay on course. his comments, "S-L-O-W" here and "Gentle" there in his loopy almost illegible, save for the few entitled, scrawl. they stopped me in my tracks. i don't have many notes from my Dad.

have i always been rushing? have i always been trying to get to the next place? even as a child? not savoring the moment? but probably enjoying (i hope) them nonetheless...  today's myriad insistences that we "live in the moment"; "slow down to savor" each and every ... thing implies that we're not ever enjoying what we have before us. how do you marry "live each day" with "a rolling stone gathers no moss" while honoring the intensity of emotions evoked by memories that crowd your body without losing perspective? which is right? savoring or rolling? feeling or moving? growing or learning? i don't know. can you do both -- learn and grow from savoring? yes. but you don't want to sit still all the time either because then you don't "LIVE!"

engrossed with the covers, feeling the yellowed, velvety dog-eared and soft edges of clearly well-worn and turned-over music books, all with my pre-teen bubble writing, claiming ownership, i pick one up, turn to page 20 and lo and behold, i see in my own hand in pencil at the top of the page: "Count!!" and i'd "pinked" all the Ps and Fs and dolces and mFs and cresc. markings.

i guess i knew even then. or someone told me to ... pay attention.

my career with the violin didn't last more than 9 years. i wanted to "take a break" and ultimately gave up soon after i asked my teacher to give me music i'd heard on the radio or that i would love. i asked for Bach. even then, i knew (well, when you hang out with music geeks, you learn what you like) that i loved Bach. i think that upset my teacher. he had me playing pedantic exercises by some dude named "Keyser" and others. but i was on a different plane: i had grown beyond that child who didn't know what "Expression!" sounded like in music. i was able to identify with the music on an emotional level (i was 17 and had learned how sadness and disappointment could feel) and i felt i was ready to play music that mattered. to me. at this point i was ready to stop entirely. while i knew i had a lot of time invested in it and it mattered to me to keep trying, i also wanted to assert myself.

i felt that if i was going to continue, i should at least try playing something i like... to keep me interested. of course i would play classical music; playing the Beatles didn't even occur to me. i remember the conversation distinctly still. so in a bit of a snit, he gave me some Bach. music by Bach that was so complex and accomplished, and frankly, impressive but sterile sounding to me, it was what my father identified as "warm ups" for Itzhak Perlman. Perlman, a violinist so well-known, so genius, so beyond my league, that i felt defeated. i was excited that it was Bach, but i was aware of the implicit message from my teacher, "if you think you're so hot and you know so much about it all, try this..." when he presented the music he sorta flinged it at me.

to him, i was rebelling because i thought i was hot stuff; to me, i was rebelling because i was losing interest fast and i wanted to play something i'd like because i still liked the violin. it wasn't rocket science and it sure as hell wasn't about him. being 44 now, i can see how his overinflated, thus fragile ego could make it about himself; he was  first chair viola for the national symphony orchestra who grew tired with my half-assed interest in his experienced tutelage; we were wasting each others' time. he was where i am now: including in the mix as many things as possible that bring pleasure and tossing out anything that brings drama.

so when i saw that Bach book the other day, i picked it up and leafed through the pages, still awed by the music in front of me. it still intimidates; it breathes. it's Bach Concerto in A Minor ( but i was determined. i picked up my Hofner 165, sat up nice and tall, fingers going where they remembered, poised my bow, inhaled and played something entirely different.

my kids, fresh from their various cleansing rituals, came in one by one and in the doorway stood to listen to me. it was not bad; it was rusty and a little halty-grindy, but i knew what i was doing. they were kind; kinder to me than my brothers ever were when i played as a child (i was pretty good, too) and they smiled with pride at me, their mom, who until now never played a note near them.

Thing 3 came up to me later and said, "i didn't know you played the violin, mommy." and i said, "yes, i used to play it all the time. now i just have a violin." and he said, "no, you played it. i heard music. but why did you play it?" and after a pause, i thought about it: i have the itch now. i have the patience now; it doesn't have to be perfect, it just can be pleasing. and i don't have Mr. FancyPants flinging music at me any more. said, "because i still can."      

Thank you.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Sidewalks Are Good for Picketing

I have been away. I have been playing Mommy to my brood from June until September. I have also been taking up a new hobby: engaging in Me time, which heretofore was unknown. I have learned that I love to row on the water. More on that later.

Rowing and motherhood didn't stop me however from staying involved / babysitting in the ridiculousness that is the Burke Centre Parkway Task Force as well as its arch-foe, the two keystone cops: FCPS School Board and FCPS drone/pawn in the Office of (un)Safety and (in)Security.

It will be hard for me throughout the existence of this Blog to stray from the random meanderings of these organizations and believe you me, I have tried to not make this a political RANT blog; there are enough far-more qualified ranters out there who have sponsors and get paid and all that good stuff. My payout is dissension and continued fight. I feel like I will not rest until this school gets a mother-lovin' school zone light. This battle predates Montague v Capulet. People have died (of natural causes) during the life of this battle; they've also gotten divorced, married, had kids, moved, changed their hairstyles, been promoted and assumed new lives. All perfectly rational and normal experiences.

Me? I dunno. But they didn't have then what we have now: a sidewalk.

To do what we could to dance around this situation and still seem ... genteel, a near-unanimous (guess who didn't agree? the drone) quorum of the TF asked the School Board (SoB - I know there's no "O"; I'm invoking a trash-talkin' acronym when I use SoB... ) to consider on a case-by-case basis the policies (you like this? see how egg-shelly, tissue papery we're being?) that steer the decision to install Wink-O-Matics (WOM) at the schools. We're not asking for much. We're simply asking for someone to think about thinking about something that requires more people to think about before anything is even... responded to.

Remember: this school has no identifying sign (now going on 15 months), is UNDERground, and now has a sidewalk next to it, but STILL (despite the endorsement by VDOT and the powers that be at the SoB that the children should now walk on that sidewalk NEXT to the superhighway) no "school zone" speed reduction signs.

Oh, I know the rationale. I understand the so-called reasons for these WOM systems. And no one is suggesting or even making the link that if you slow down traffic in front of the school on a posted 40-mph, 7-lane superhighway that sees 32,000 cars daily traveling averages of 57.9 mph that a WOM will suddenly enable the lame to walk, the blind to see, the deaf to hear, the heartless to care, and the stupid to be smart and walk across the road at safe crosswalks. No. No WOM will ever get college-educated, war-hardened, classroom-challenged, carpool-hazed adults to NOT cross at the juncture points between their place of employment and Starbucks. It just won't happen. Lattes overrule Intelligence. Count me in as one of those people who is idiotic enough to cross at that point. I boast my cinnamon-sprinkled foamy mustache with pride.

But this WOM isn't for the foamy adults amongst us. The WOM is for the children; who by all standards really shouldn't have latte face, but whose school should have safety and fair treatment, regardless of whether it fits into a logarithm to assess suitability.

I won't bother to show the letter (maybe I will) penned (really, it's a form letter, I'm sure, with macro settings already embedded to expedite its dictum): "Dear [PROLETARIAT / RABBLE NAME]" thank you for your "[STUPID REQUEST]" that dares to usurp our 20th Century brilliance. After a moment's consideration, we offer the following and outmoded information that reminds us why we laugh at your proposal: "[ENTER REASON CODE(s)] FOR [REJECTION] or [DENIAL] of [BASIC RIGHTS HERE]" Ut prosim, "[BUREAUCRAT LOSER]"

The WOM systems cost about $100k. A high school kid was struck by a car and died about 3 years ago in the area where the WOM could be installed. Crickets. Not saying the WOM would have saved his life, but you have an 80% higher likelihood of dying from being hit by a car traveling at speeds at 40mph or greater than you would at 25mph. (These are some of the unpleasant facts I've learned on this TF.)

In an alternative to the WOM, the VDOT rep performed a traffic study to warrant another intervention: (a $350k) red-yellow-green stop light between the school and the Starbucks et. al center. The study proved the situation warranted it, based on vehicular traffic. This was good news, we thought we had something. Guess who said no way: The Office of (un)Safety and (in)Security. How? Because the school is supposed to be renovated in 2 years based on $16.6 million in bond funds coming from a vote this November. What? Yes, it's Monopoly money until that bond request is approved. While these requests have been approved historically, the economic reality might make this yet another wedgie in the underpants in the underground ass of our school. But we'll see as I am hopeful it will work out.

Tell me this though: even if a stop light were installed, how much ya wanna bet (I'll wager a latte too) that even if the light says, "DON'T you dare WALK!" and traffic is light that people will cross anyway? I would. I know I would. They're doing it now with NO light, so what's to stop them with the light? So to me, the stop light is a giant waste of cash.

The WOM however is not and while it's not designed to engender safe crossing, it is predictable: for one hours 2x a day, 5 days a week for 9 months of the year, drivers will have to drop their speed to 25mph from a likely 50mph. No big deal. But SoB and FCPS Office of (un)Safety and (in)Security pawn say no way.

While the FCPS Office of (un)Safety and (in)Security drone can't be voted out, he can be told what to do by a SoB that is awake and alive.

I posted last week on FB the gist (and I will continue to rant about): "I am sick and tired of people whose children are beyond the FCPS ages running the show on this school board. These people have GOT to go."

In the wake of that "status" I had the pleasure of meeting a candidate, Megan McLaughlin (, who knows how to drive a car (not horse coach), knows that phones needn't be connected to walls anymore and actually has children who are currently in FCPS schools. So far, she's got my attention. We talked about the WOM policy and I sent her the letter and she's in agreement that an underground school with no sign that sees 32,000 cars rush past it daily should be considered for a WOM review.  While I'm not here to endorse anyone (sheeya, like that matters... I'd like to think that my PTA executive years count for something) I like that she's running for my district because the person who's leaving has to meet her spaceship to deliver her tissue samples from her time on Earth... and she's not running again anyway.

Apparently the SoB races are so hot that they might overshadow the local politician races ( I like our guy, John Cook, enough but I am now wondering if what he's doing has any traction anyway. Here's my point: can he over-rule VDOT and FPCS drone / SoB?     

What do we get from the principal on this issue? Crickets (and some of those crickets are dead or have beards like Confucius and are wobbling as they hop with canes). As usual. I remember telling her one day when my kids were younger and I was naive and thought she was paying attention that her employers are those who can't tie their shoes or open their chocolate milks. Crickets. She doesn't live in Virginia, she doesn't care and if it brings her negative publicity, she won't say dick. Whatever. I've given up factoring her in anything of any material worth in these situations because she's totally uninterested.

So we have this sidewalk now. It's fantastiche. It abuts the service / carpool lanes that travel along the superhighway. Some of those carpool cars enter that lane at 35mph easy. I tried to explain to VDOT blank stares at the penultimate PTA meeting I chaired that the presence of the sidewalk endorses walking along the road and that the presence of the sidewalk means "walk to school this way but we won't bother to slow down traffic for you or separate you from some of the carpooler drivers" who are thinking about their powerpoint presentations, their next shift at the hospital, their ongoing fight with their in-laws or their ailing parents. Kids are 3' tall and weigh 40lbs. Cars / vans, SUVs average 5' tall and weigh 2,500 pounds. At 35mph, guess who's gonna lose in that confrontation? 

But I want to thank the powers that be (no one's really owning it 'cept for our district supervisor during his re-election year as a PR and photo opp -- I chose to not stand in the ribbon-cutting picture that day because I see this as a hollow and well-timed opportunity for him on a project that was in the books for at least 2 years and had nothing to do with him but is owned by Burke Walks Safe & Green, a local group I belong to) for giving me somewhere to march with my picket signs demanding a review of the policies for WOMs. RISE UP!    

Thank you.


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Re - ject - shun

Re - ject - shun

The word "rejection" was first used in 1415[1]. The original meaning was "to throw" or "to throw back."

I’m thinking a lot about rejection lately and the roles I’ve played in it both as survivor and as executor. This fascination comes on the heels of a conversation I had a few days ago with a dear friend about why feelings from years-old, scarred-over rejections still sting as if just cut. And I can’t help but think to myself and to my friend, that well, it sucks to be rejected. These are deep, primal emotions. Fear of rejection exists in wolf packs, lion prides, fish schools, modern organizations, tribal societies and more. People and organisms, all of us have ancient need to fit in, to be liked, and to be included. Abraham Maslow, father of “humanistic psychology” which looks at the whole person rather than a “bag of symptoms” devoted his life’s work to the study of our need for inclusion.  What is harder still to understand is the self-destructive behaviors some people engage in after rejection.

Why do we hurt so much after rejection? Well, I think that it’s because at one time or another with these people or entities, we were on the same team, the same page; and we’d developed a sense of kinship, simpatico and most importantly, trust.

If you’re rejected from something that doesn’t matter to you, it’s not really a rejection emotionally. It’s more like an inconvenient curiosity; you can brush it off – “it just didn’t work out.”  So in order to allow true rejection, we have to allow a true relationship because you can’t have feelings of unlove without love. It’s almost impossible to not feel sadness about being rejected from someone we respected and felt safe with. We can’t be rejected by someone we consider an "un-friendly," someone who made us feel excluded.

I started to look at the online dictionary of “rejection” and that led to a “rejection emotion” report on Wikipedia at which was easy to read (because I could relate to it, and honestly, who can’t?) and totally fascinating from a practical and psychological point of view. (Especially a part about how people with crushing self-esteem consider being asked to wait a form of rejection.)

As I have matured, I have been both the rejected and the rejector and I have to say, that regardless of the perspective, being in those situations is really, really hard. I can’t help but be reminded of what Carl Jung said about the truth of needing to look in the mirror, so to speak, when we have decided to be vexed by traits in others because we often possess those traits ourselves. That’s terrifically humbling.

The looking in the mirror always makes me think of a great line between Phoebe and Rachael on “Friends” when they were screaming at each other over a mutual inconvenience: “How could you be SO selfish?!”  It was brilliantly played and the audience got it immediately. It doesn’t matter who says it; both people are selfish.

Other times, while Jung’s point applies, the fates are already set. One person doesn’t bother to have all the facts. The judgment had already been made and there ain’t nothin’ you can do about it ‘cept put on your jacket and walk away.

In those situations, I recall (when considering a bad date, or other social situation where it just wasn’t going to work out) sometimes the offending act is simply a convenient ruse to (still) play the blame card and pull the (r)eject handle. I remember one date in particular: “No Sale” showed up on my eyes like in the old Bugs Bunny cartoons. I was out of order. And that was that. On the receiving end of that – ouch: when I encountered similar moments and have been the rejected one, no matter how hard I say, “aaaaah, da hellwid’em…” it’s next to impossible to ignore the sting that somehow, in a very specific way (that they will likely never stoop to dignify me with a reason), I have dissatisfied. I have made that person’s ability to dislike me apparent. If I'm a stone I will move on with nary a thought but because I am not a stone, I sit and ruminate and get pissed.

I have another great friend who insists these rejections aren’t personal. They’re not about me. They’re about the shallowness of the other person (and this is meant as an objective observation, not trash-talking about the other person, because believe me, as much as I want to “go there,” by denigrating the person who rejects me, in the long run, if I ridicule that person, what the hell does that make me for feeling bad about being rejected? A person rejected by someone I consider a loser now. Nope, that doesn't work... talk about a Catch-22).

Hashing things out, sitting, listening, hearing and exchanging requires depth, maturity, patience, empathy and a true interest in progress. Some people simply ain’t got that kind of energy. And to be honest, if it isn’t a good fit, it’s OK but do it with tact, not personal empty useless barbs and hiding behind excuses or technology (I wince from the facebook stuff – it has allowed an entire class of those who may have felt inferior in their high school days to display their cliqués and coolness in their now-40s, or, what’s worse: continue living in the faded Glory Days of their smaller waistlines, softer skin, fragile egos and better eyesight). I'm all for having a good time, but not at someone else's expense, and certainly broadcasting it is, well, sorta pathetic. As one of my great friends said, “Ain’t we all got gray pubes by now? Aren’t we too old for this shit?!” Very true and she always makes me laugh when she says it because we're both absolutely exasperated by it all, especially the facebook stuff, when she does say it.

But back to the Catch-22 because it fascinates me: if we pine for the person who punts, but also puke on the punter while still pining… what does that make us? A sap. A pukey-smelling, sticky sap (I did say “pine” and what do pines do when they’re cut? They leak sticky sap).  Mocking those who reject us is pretty human, I think. While it’s certainly not something Spock would do, it’s understandable but also completely reactive.

So where is the resolution? What do we do to wash away the feelings from rejection instead of skewering those who hurt us? I’m not sure, but I am thinking of another good friend I spoke to this week and I hope he’s reading: remember, as much as it burns and twists in our hearts, we do need to remember that the rejection is probably (99 and 44/100) completely incidental, that it reflects a core character flaw and true weakness in the other person’s ability to deal with some form of self-loathing. So rather than work on the problem and the pain of facing old truths, the person acts up and hands out the pink skip rather than be handed one.

Another interesting point is that often, the one who rejects has a posse. Ironically, rejectors have lots of friends. Or probably more like it, sycophants (probably because they are afraid of getting the boot so they kiss ass because statistically, someone will be next). I wonder if it’s because the rejector can’t bear to be alone – even in the midst of rejecting! I’m thinking back on my moments of rejecting others, people with whom I shared deep histories, and it usually happened when I was alone. Every time, it hurt like hell: admitting that something is harder to keep up than let run its course is another lesson in humility because we are admitting we're not up for The Work.  But for others, they’re like mob bosses – it's all superficial, fast, explosive and they can’t do it alone, so they either bring people with them or they have a posse waiting outside.

Like “Gaston” in “Beauty and the Beast,” these people could be so insecure  that they will persecute a person (who dares to disagree and who could also inspire self-reflection and growth) and have their entourage to affirm their obtuseness. The possibility of being alone with our feelings in the moment of rejecting is so repugnant to some that their lemmings must be on stand-by for high-fives. It’s a mystery.

Then there’s the whole argument about giving power, mental power and energy to the people who cut us to the quick, even years later. Jesus could turn the other cheek. It’s a nice model, but it’s not the easiest, although I try to live up to it.

As I also say occasionally, "I’d rather quit than be fired."

But that’s just my leather jacket talking. The truth is: I’d rather work it out than destroy it. I’d rather agree to disagree than feel insecure every time I’m around those people and their posse, because I still remember what it was like to be the lonely girl on the playground.

Re-ject-SHUN. It hurts. If you’re on the other end of the barrel, try compromise and taking turns and if it simply can’t be fixed: take the high road and say your piece, be upfront, be decent, be mature and walk away with no one waiting. It’s best to be alone regardless of your position. It’s time to reflect and learn not high-five and grumble-grouse with the brown-nosers.

Thank you.  

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

You want a road sign with that fist shake?

So I recently found out that granting an enforceable, reduced-speed school zone sign with the blinking lights in front of my neighborhood's above ground subterranean school that currently (going on 13 months now) has no identifying signage because it was demolished during a DOT (we think) inspired storm drain operation rests in the hands of ... .>drumroll please!< ... the school board.

Not the local politician, as the school board wanted me to believe about 5 years ago when I started caring about this situation.

Nor the local police department as the state department of transportation suggested.

Nor the state department of transportation as the local politician suggested.

Nor the department of education as the state legislators wanted us to believe.

Nor the state legislators as the local legislators proposed.

The principal? We get crickets from her on most community issues. Usually it takes a stand-down during a PTA meeting to get her to consider anything out of the box (i.e., requiring independent thought).

Oh, I get it now: the children should build the sign and dig the holes to put the sign's stakes in. Where in the Dickens is Dickens when you need someone to write about this?

We have "SCHOOL" painted on the road, but no school zone. So what's the point of the school zone? Why paint the road at all? For the "Alphabet" game? To teach people how to spell "school" when they're speeding 17 miles over the posted speed limit? No point putting in signs that denote "end of school zone" because ... the school zone doesn't exist.

The painted "SCHOOL" on the road is a mirage. A drug-induced hallucination that only appears when you are wondering why that mound of green with the windows, doors, children out front (oh, I'm sorry -- no, that area is now a parking lot, excuse me...) and the school buses are for.  

But we have learned that signs have no meaning here. Especially the ones with words. Because we're multicultural now. That's right: The Old Dominion, former home of slavery, has determined that a day-glo green pentagon with figures holding bags denotes "SCHOOL" so that our non-English speaking drivers wouldn't confuse it with the shopping center across the street where people actually do carry bags.

Silly me.

This is bullshit. I am part of a task force appointed by an ambitious first-term republican politician to find ways to make my neighborhood safer for pedestrians. I am one of now three women. We are strong women, but we are reluctant to say anything controversial or continual lest we be considered "nags" or "whiney housewives." No one has accused us of this, but we feel the vibe.

Don't worry men... we have our opinions about you.

The other 12 or so members are men. They are mostly decent and good people, but a couple are straight-up blowhards who truly believe their own press.

"I work for elected officials..." one of them says to me.

What the hell does that mean? I breathe to myself.  

This one is the chief of the double speak; most of us have fallen for his baiting into drawn-out discussions a couple times so he can bloviate and captivate the mentally defunct in the room but we're all savvy now. We just let him say his thing, nod, smile and give him an imaginary cup of jell-o with some apple juice and wheel him to his window in the corner. Make sure he has his blanket; it can get cold out there on top of the world.

Thank you.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Thank you, A-hole at Target!

I was in a pretty good mood earlier. We had a nice dinner and I had to go to get some items from “The store that starts with a ‘T’” as Thing 1 used to call it when he was wee.

I believe in the power of St. Teresa of Avila’s prayer: “May today there be peace within. May you trust God that you are 
exactly where you are meant to be. May you not forget the infinite 
possibilities that are born of faith. May you use those gifts that you 
have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you. May 
you be content knowing you are a child of God. Let this presence 
settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, 
dance, praise and love. It is there for each and every one of us.

Pretty awesome, right?

Believing in this prayer has given me capacity to sit as still as I can; to be poised; to count to 10; to not react; to do what I can do to maintain composure; to remember to breathe during challenging moments that basically suck. I have realized it's easier for a Saint. That it’s much easier to hope for such composure than it is to actually manifest it. The prayer often occurs to me when I’m in traffic and what I do is placate myself about my being late in traffic by suggesting that it’s saving my life from being in an awful six-car accident somewhere. Or for instance, when the kids are insane, I sit back, breathe and wait until I feel that my interfering with them would be more beneficial than wasteful; the prayer doesn’t somehow make their screeching easier on the ears, nor does it diminish their heat or its intensity. It’s just a nice distraction, like whistling when you’re terrified. It’s a nice interlude that actually works for me.

I said the prayer occurs to me... not that I actually succeed. 

Usually, I’m not that together – I react. I heave and sigh. I pretty much go right to the good ole id to do what I can to either beat out the circumstance's suckiness by creating my own suckiness or escape the suckiness altogether. But eventually, when I figure it out that I must submit to the suckiness in order for it to diminish, it sort of neutralizes. St. Teresa: 1, suckiness: 0.

Sort of.

Not so much tonight at the store that starts with a T. When I look back on tonight’s experience, which I will inevitably do because I'm Irish and we like to brood and foment, I’m not going to doubt myself for why I took so long in the hair repair (I need a deep conditioner) aisle or question if I really needed to be pleasant to the guys in electronics when I was buying the extra memory for my phone. I’m going to do what I can to apply the prayer.

I did what I went to do. I selected my mass-produced stuff, put it in my gigantic red shopping cart (which reminds me of my h.s. friend’s art: Google “Michelle Muldrow – Cathedrals of Desire” ( and you’ll see what I mean) and ambled up to the checkout. My hair in a clip and looking like a mom on a Friday night in suburbia.

The gentleman before me was elderly. He bought mostly inexpensive high-carb starchy foods, I guessed he was on a limited income. He looked tired; he needed a shave; he was having trouble reading the electronic debit card machine. He didn’t know where to sign. He was confused by the multiple, neurotic “ARE YOU SURE??” questions about whether to ask for cash back and the numerous denominations in which to acquire the cash that wanted to be needed from the neurotic machine. (Can you imagine the learning curve required by some of our country's elderly population to deal with all the technology they MUST face daily?!)

Back to me. 

I didn’t mind. I had nowhere to go. I was patiently patient. Wrongly suspecting that I was like 95% of Fairfax County shoppers by thinking I thought I was more important than the elderly man before me, the cashier evinced patient frustration with the man by apologetically looking at me and rolling her eyes as she flared her lower lip to blow her bangs from her 3” lashes.

She, by virtue of being the cashier, had even less nowhere to go… it’s cool. We're all part of the chain, baby.

The people behind me were the other 95%. They had better things to do and better places to be with better people who weren’t “Ol’ fools who shoodn be owt heah tryin’a woik da fool machine. Daaaayaaam…”

Audibly disturbed by the elderly man’s God-given right to take his God-given time, the masculine member of the upwardly mobile couple decided to take out a smartphone loaded with his anathema anthems for all shoppers in the entire store to hear. One hate song about Popping F------Caps in The F------- Man and Stupid F------ Biotches wasn’t quite offensive enough so the loutish player of venom tunes switched to more lyrically offensive noise to demonstrate his massive ego and what I can only surmise was (is) his tiny manhood.

Talk about ids.

While the little old man in front of me was trying to get his card back in his wallet and sign the machine's glowing electronic screen with the wand-like pen that has no ink, I turned to the gratis mobile DJ behind me and asked him, “Do you mind turning that down a bit? Please?”

And he said, “Yeah. I do.”

“WHAT?” My inner a-hole said. “Shhh… count to 10. Count to 10,” said St. Teresa. My eyes narrowed. I tsked. The angry little man behind me was my height. He was about 40# heavier than I am. I just shook my head. It was one of those moments when I wished I was two people: my older triathlete brother who’s 6’5”, built like a fortress and has a tongue like a viper from heredity and honed from his years working in NYC high finance … or my artistic younger brother who’s 5’10” and has the patience of a saint because he’s an ordained minister and the father of a toddler. My older bro would likely intimidate and eviscerate the music man in 20 loud syllables or less whereas my younger bro would wear him down with his low-talking, impressive endurance and vast catalog of Scripturally appropriate responses. Either of them would inspire humility in the little man.

Not me. I'm the middle child. I stooped to his level. 

“Well, it’s loud and it’s pretty offensive.” I said, summoning my best St. Teresa. “May there be peace within… may… there be PEACE withIN…..

“You’re offensive,” the maestro said.

Apparently I wasn’t the only one who needed a deep conditioner tonight.

I said (here we go…) “I’m offensive? That’s the best you can do?”

“Yeah.” Was his witty retort.

And then I just let it go. May there be peace without. Not really. 

But I didn’t bother with him and his escort who decided to make “Mmmmhmmmm, dat’s right… you’re offensive… heee heeehehe…mmmmhmm…” noises from her oral cavity. 

I suddenly realized I did have somewhere better to be: home with my tribe.

So as I was getting my things, the cashier looked at me with a knowing, woeful expression that made me feel like she was probably familiar with a-holes like this from her childhood or marriage and said to me quietly (more so with her eyes) “Thank you.” I looked over my shoulder, grinned, turned back to her and said, “You’re welcome and good luck.”

I took possession of my cart, walked away with poise and confidence after the experience but was definitely angry.

“What do you do with that?” “What’s the point?” “Why does someone get to abuse another person’s air space?” “Where are my rights?”

And all I could think about was how pissed I was that I wasn’t taller, smarter, meaner, stronger, a man, a woman who could crush someone in a blink, or a lesser person – for JUST for that instant… 

. . .oh! to have been a lesser person…

When I got home to my team, I was visibly disturbed from the exchange. I wasn’t crying or shaking; I just wasn’t myself. I told them the story and Thing 2 said, “Momma, if I were with you I would have punched him.”

Not the kind of lesser person I meant, I reasoned, looking into his sparkly eyes. 

So I resigned. I went to bed at 8:45 and have been here since. I  festered. And then thought of St. Teresa’s prayer. And tried to come up with the Grace from the experience. Nope. It doesn’t come when you look for it. So I gave up on that. So then I thought I’d write about it because I hadn’t been writing in a couple weeks (for no good reason but a ton of stuff has been going on) and then came the Grace: I was put there, I took the time I did in the conditioner aisle, and I was nice to the electronics guys to be a buffer between the little old man at the cashier and the big a-hole behind me who had no brain.

Then it made me think of my own dad and how he’s not much different from the little old man in front of me at the cashier. And that if he were at the store tonight that maybe if someone like me were between him and the musical conductor and his sidekick I endured, then so much the better.

Suddenly, within an hour, I was thankful for the experience. I was thankful because I perhaps provided a service to someone who needed it from that small man and his nasty energy. I was thankful because writing about him got me out of a rut. 

Teresa was right… “May you use those gifts that you 
have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you.” 

The prayer from the saint that starts with a T.

Thank you.