Monthly Archives: September 2011

Shiva & Hobbes

I learned on TV some time ago that Shiva is the name of the Hindu god of creation and destruction. As it was explained, nothing is created without something else being destroyed. It is an interesting concept and in many ways it makes sense: if you paint a picture, a blank canvas is obliterated. A black hole is formed when a star dies. A human being is born: the mother’s bladder control slips away. Well, not entirely, but I do miss sneezing with equanimity.

I watched a lot of TV recently after coming down with a crushing head cold. It hit right about the time my husband and I were going to the movie “Contagion.”  Mr. Wordtabulous chuckled while I repeatedly sneezed, blew my nose and probably freaked the other moviegoers out. I was pretty much a waste of space on the sofa for the next 24 hours as I alternatively napped and watched the boob tube. After a summer of “take it or leave it” television, I was sucked into the new premieres. It didn’t matter if I was interested or not, the show was on and I was slack-jawed before it. I started to feel better but didn’t return to my usual activity level. It was so much easier to find a seat on the couch and plug in rather than try to think of something to blog or work on revisions or research new query prospects. My initiative, self-respect and IQ were all dissolving, and what was being created in its place? I can’t think of a thing.

One of my favorite comic strips is Calvin & Hobbes. He is such a charming bundle of creativity and nihilism, kind of a mini-Shiva. In one of the strips that really stuck with me, Calvin says to Hobbes: “It says here, ‘Religion is the opiate of the masses.’…what do you suppose that means?” As Calvin and Hobbes walk away, the nearby television muses to itself, “…it means Karl Marx hadn’t seen anything yet…” Hmmm. Yet, if it weren’t for TV I wouldn’t know about Shiva or have been inspired to write this particular post, so how bad could it be? I could probably think this through a little more, but I gotta go–my show is on.

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Miss Perfect

My friend Kelly is not what you would call churchy, but she and I do have interesting conversations which sometimes provoke spiritual insight. I have been troubled that Sunday morning church activities often leave me wrung out rather than strengthened and enlightened. She suggested maybe I am overly focused on others (teaching, helping, managing, welcoming, all as if my life depended on it.) It took a few hours to soak in, but she makes a valid point. On a plane, when the oxygen masks drop down, you put yours on first and then help the others around you. The woman drawing water at the well might die of dehydration if she serves everyone else before taking a drink herself. Mary as opposed to Martha.

I grew up reading and watching a lot of those “Moment of Truth” stories, where the hero’s actions at one decisive point make the difference between triumph and tragedy, possibly for the entire planet. Top that with “The Horseshoe Nail” ditty, the one that informs us that one never knows what tiny detail will be critical. Impressionistic and dramatic, I came to believe that I needed to be perfect in all things, or else. No one ever told me that, I picked it up all by myself. It is a terrible strain, being personally responsible for saving the world through good behavior. Ironically, striving desperately for perfection results in some pretty imperfect qualities. Fear of the fatal misstep winds me up tight and leaves little room for joy. It would be too embarrassing to reveal all the ways this unfortunate default thinking affects my personality, but suffice it to say if you met me during a fit of perfection stress you might wonder if I was nuts.

My thought is that, to varying degrees, a lot of people (especially women) have this same thinking. We take responsibility for our families, our communities, our fellow human beings. Many of us are acutely sensitive to perceived judgment from fellow human beings and from God. If we do everything perfectly, if everyone admires what we have accomplished and how fabulous we are, surely we won’t be judged wanting? But that is so wrong. Whenever I realize I am losing it, I remind myself of the Big Two: Love God, Love Others. Loving God has nothing to do with performance. Also, God’s goodness isn’t like a plate of cupcakes where you want to make sure everyone else gets served first in case there isn’t enough to go around. The well is bottomless and full and we need to draw on it. Loving others is second, because if you are full from loving God, you have plenty left over to share.

You prepare a table before me…you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Psalm 23:5

My Inner DJ

After Michael Jackson died, I woke up every day for two weeks with the song, “The Way You Make Me Feel” playing in my head. For about that same period of time last July I had a variety of Lady GaGa songs greeting me in the morning and, as I recall, “Pokerface” was the one I was most likely to hear. As clear and abrupt as a clock radio, my inner DJ was hard at work. I am most aware of my own personal disc jockey when I am riding my bicycle on my own. Unfortunately, DJ seems to have limited material to work with. For instance, on my most recent ride of 24 miles (good weather, nasty road conditions, gear-shifting problems, and some serious saddle soreness,) I was rockin’ out to KISS, “I Wanna Rock and Roll.” Which was fine for the first ten miles or so, because it has a good beat and I can pedal to it. But after ten miles, it started to get annoying. I made a request for anything else. Apparently in my head the flip side to that party classic is Loverboy’s “Everybody’s Workin’ For the Weekend.” Horrible. Much worse. I tried hitting my mental “shuffle” and what came up was “Life is a Highway,” (by Rascall Flatts not Tom Cochrane, no idea why) and “Sweet Dreams” by the Eurythmics. Not what I wanted, but better. However, every time I hit a hill and had to really put my head down and work, I’d lose control of the playlist and by the time I’d crested the climb, KISS was back and we were rock and rollin’ all night long and partying every day. 24 miles. That’s almost an hour and a half.

For five years I taught an indoor cycling (aka spinning) class, and to this day I still hear songs I like and try to calculate if they would work in a set and how I’d use it to joyfully and sadistically impose fitness on my spinners. None of the songs my inner DJ is playing on bike rides are songs I’d have picked for class, and I have a library of hundreds of songs I’ve used. It is as though when my adrenaline and endorphins are pumping my brain goes back to the primitive state it was in the 80’s. This may also explain why I have a hard time doing math immediately after a workout–I don’t think the math center in my brain really got going until the 90’s. Mr. Janish, my high school algebra teacher, would back me up on this. In the early morning my DJ likes pop music and big hair bands are the thing for punishing bike rides. I need to work on the repertoire. As much as I like the absolute quiet I work best in, I need to pull out the iPod or turn on the radio and replenish my inner library. What would you recommend?

SOP? Really?

We were at the bank, a small branch in Erie, CO. My mom and I sat at Samantha’s desk as I filled out the paperwork needed to recognize my ‘Power of Attorney’ role. It had been a long day of doing sitting-down tasks, there was a little more to do yet, and we were both getting punchy. After confirming all my data, Samantha the banker handed me a small form and asked me to select a password only I would know. I hate the password game, especially picking a password for something I probably won’t need for years and years. Who knows what I will remember when that time comes? I racked my brain, while I looked the paper over. The blank on which I would write the password was a field of black and white spots, to hide the writing. The directions said to write in black pen. “Is this pen black?” I asked Samantha. “What?” she asked.  When I showed her what the directions said she looked at me curiously. “No one has ever asked about that before,” she told us. She’d been with the bank for five years, but I suppose power of attorney matters don’t come up that often. “I’m a reader,” I shrugged. Mom affirmed. I used my blue pen to write down my password and noted that I still couldn’t read it through the camouflaged field. I solemnly handed the form over to Samantha, who peeled back the top copy and peered at the carbon image of the password underneath before typing it into the computer. Mom and I looked at each other and burst into laughter. I could have handed her a plain slip of paper, or typed it in myself.  Samantha looked sheepish. “It’s the system, this is how we have to do it.”

I received a privacy and updated minimum payment notice on  two Sears credit accounts in my name the other day, one I didn’t even know I had. I never activated either account so I called Citibank up to close them both. Speaking to the nice young representative, Armando, I was relieved to find the process was simple, but a little amusing. He had to read me “a verbatim” to the effect that I understood my account was being closed, I wouldn’t be able to use it, I was losing any accumulated bonus points, would have to make alternative arrangements for recurring charges, and so on. He read it to me twice, once for each account. He seemed embarrassed about having to do so, but I knew his superiors were recording the call and he could get in trouble for not following directions so I told him it was fine. At the end of the call, according to script, he thanked me for being a loyal customer (for closing two accounts I had never used,) and invited me to call back if I had any other issues with which I needed help (presumably regarding my non-existent accounts.)

Some people might get worked up about this, and call it wasteful and ridiculous. I for one, am glad for the moments of humor. Sure, these kind of standard operating procedures can be ineffective, a little time-consuming, and kind of silly, but they were conceived in an effort to provide care to the customer. I think in general, most bad systems start out as a righteous effort to improve things but get a little (or badly) lost along the way.  Sometimes old systems become outmoded and often new procedures need fine-tuning, but since humans make and use the systems, they are destined to be imperfect. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to make it better, particularly when it affects people deeply. Speaking out when it matters makes sense. Speaking out with respect for the righteous intent makes those words easier to hear.

Gate C40

I grab my $5 lunch, a sesame bagel with garden veggie cream cheese and a bottle of water from Einstein Bros. and walk out onto the concourse. Five small chocolate chip cookies lie next to the exit. A sad waste, I think. Unless they were bad cookies. How much do bad cookies cost? Too much, undoubtedly. There is a bar cleverly masquerading as a steakhouse grill next door. I think, “A good stiff drink sounds nice,” and wonder why that has occurred to me more and more lately. I discard the thought as I usually do—too many calories, or knowing that the result will be disappointing—a lot like chocolate chip cookies. I make my way to the gate, and take a seat in a row of chairs that look out the windows directly onto the tarmac, mostly to avoid the gaze of an intensely cheerful guy in a middle row. With his long hair and full-on mustache, I instantly categorize him with Jagermeister and leftovers of an uncertain age: things best to be avoided. The tarmac is dead at first. A few planes are parked at jetways, but no people or moving vehicles are visible. I am reminded of The Langoliers, a short story by Stephen King. Always a comforting story to think of before a flight. Announcements play over the loudspeakers but I understand none of them. Periodically I glance at the counter to make sure my gate’s staff aren’t the ones making the announcements, even though I know it is way too early to board. Someone from another gate makes an announcement in a Kermit the Frog voice, which I do understand, but instantly forget because it has nothing to do with me. The voice might not be cool but I can’t be snide about it because I love Kermit. Boarding begins with the special people who need help or are encumbered with small children or hold first class tickets. I pick up my bagel garbage, arrange my belongings logistically and wander over to the outskirts of the gate area. I get a better look at the long-haired gentleman, whose hair is indeed well below his shoulders and more lustrous than mine has ever been. It is perfectly feathered back on the sides. If his ripped jeans were bell bottoms he would be straight from That 70’s Show. A woman shares McDonald’s French fries with her husband or aging boyfriend and I think, “I wonder what she’d do if I asked her for one?” The thought makes me smile and I realize I have no idea if my zone is boarding yet or not. I am between my mom, who I just visited for the week, and my husband and sons, who await me at my destination. I am here, in between, just me and my stream of consciousness. The loudspeaker calls for all zones to board. Time to go home.

Growing Pains

Growing up is hard. It is hard when you are a little kid and that stupid shoelace doesn’t make any sense at all. It is hard when you get a little older and simple childhood friendships become complicated by hormones and competition. It is hard as you step into your own life as an adult and possibilities are supplanted by realities. Later on, as the invitations to weddings and baby showers decrease and the Caring Bridge notifications increase, the high price of aging really hits home.

This week I have had the pleasure and horror of being with my mom and her husband, Rae, at their home in Colorado. It has been pleasurable because I don’t see them near as often as we’d all like, and it is nice to be here and be a part of their lives. It is horrible because my mom is in her second week of recovering from a mastectomy, and despite the fact she is doing fabulously the whole cancer ordeal is ugly. In fact, because she is doing so fabulously I am in the position of having to follow her around and insist she sit down once in awhile and stop hauling out heavy pans to cook in. I am prepared to tell her that if she starts to mow the lawn, I am leaving. Rae has been experiencing a variety of vision problems and while he isn’t totally blind, that wouldn’t be a far leap. So far this week we have had to talk about emergency contacts and financial issues and the kinds of things that raise the specter of (please, Lord) far distant conversations about assisted living and ultimately, funeral arrangements. These thoughts turn back onto me; I am not sure we have an updated will.

There is a lot of living left to be done, but we really no longer have the luxury of ignoring the business of dying. This is hard. This particular growth spurt has brought growing pains just as real as the ones of childhood and adolescence. But like learning to tie shoes, to cultivate lifetime friendships and to make the most of life’s realities, learning to prepare for the inevitable brings rewards. There is comfort in having addressed the kinds of things you have control over, and acknowledging the things you can’t control takes a little of their power away. This time of frank discussion brings the opportunity both for tears and for an increased appreciation of the time and gifts we have right now. Love is constant, but we keep changing, and will do so until that final day our own growing is done.

(P.S. I had to use this lame title so I could post and get up to stop my mother from folding laundry. Otherwise, I am sure I could have come up with something much cooler.)

What Would Socrates Say?

“If you don’t write it down, it didn’t happen.” Okay, for the most part that isn’t true, but one area in which it is would be my “I should blog about…” list. After doing a few serious posts in a row, I felt like I wanted to write something fun, but life has been…well, serious lately and I was having trouble finding inspiration. Then it hit me–***. That is correct, I didn’t write it down and now I have no idea what I was thinking about doing. My hands were probably in dishwater, or I had an armload of laundry (yeah, I’m a fun girl.) I remember smiling with relief when this mystery topic popped into my head, and thinking, “yeah, that’s kind of amusing, people will relate to that. I’ve thought about writing on it before, so there’s no worry I am going to go and forget it…I’ll just finish what I’m doing first.” Great idea, Lynnette. This is really annoying because I should know better; I try to have notepads and pens handy at all times for just this reason, though I haven’t figured out an effective way to do this in the shower. Socrates wrote, “Know thyself.” Good advice. I bet he wrote that one down right when he thought of it.