Category Archives: Persistence

Friday Night

Crushed red pepper dances on my lips and tongue. Pizza has been delivered and eaten (deluxe for us and cheese for the kids.) My husband and I argue over whether I have taken the lion’s share of the 2007 Silverado cabernet.

(So tasty, what if I did ?)

Highlights of another wild Republican debate await analysis and potential mockery.

It must be Friday night. There is always a lot to think about and recover from when the week’s end arrives. Situations immediate, local, national and global prompt consideration and discussion, but not too much. The wine softens the edges, a much-needed deceleration of intensity. The news tells us danger impends from every direction. Fine, whatevs. I can only be so freaked out for so long. Cynicism threatens.

What has changed? Nothing. Politicians have threatened us with Armageddon for being fooled into buying their opposition’s line. Ships have run aground. The younger generation has raised the standard of attention-seeking misbehavior. Nations have raised the specter of war against their neighbors and ideological opponents. This has been going on forever. At what point does our civilization’s impending destruction become blasé? At the point where it becomes a marketable form of entertainment and advertising revenue. So, forever.

Seriously, we have plenty to worry about. But what use is it to worry or complain when there are things we can do to help? We can raise a voice of reason, give a hand, donate time or money or lend an ear. We can give up our self-gratification for a few minutes to put someone else’s needs first. We can take a breath. Let’s start now.

Two Things

I. I am having this kind of day, for a few days now.

This is why you aren’t hearing a lot from me…I’ll be feeling a little more extroverted and generous with my words soon, I am sure.

II. This is a cool video from youtube that my younger son wanted me to see (a. my younger son and I shared a moment–yay! and b. wow, is this video ever cool!) It appears today’s post is in outline form…

Anyway, the video is the group Walk Off the Earth, covering the Gotye song “Somebody That I Used to Know,” and I think even without the extra coolness of all five of them playing one guitar simultaneously, I like their rendition better. Walk Off the Earth, Ladies and Gentlemen! (Click Play arrow below.)

Picking a Fight

I don’t think a lot of people who know me in the real world would describe me as timorous, but I am. Sure, I will ask just about anybody a question even if it makes me look dumb and I will brace myself and dive into uncomfortable new social situations as needed , but put me in a conflict situation and all kinds of alarm bells and whistles go off. If I am in the conflict I rush straight to the de-escalation and defusing stage; if I am only observing, I try to take it all in (how are you doing that? how do you defend yourself so handily?) Part of my problem is that the stress of the interaction shuts down my brain so I simply cannot think of any of the arguments that would back up my position. I know you are wrong, I might think, but I can’t quite work out why with you standing there grinning (or snarling) at me. Although in my head it sounds more like Aaaaaaghh! Think dammit! Aaaaaghh!

Obviously this is not how a mature adult should function, or at least not how I want to function. I thought what I needed was practice, so one evening, while having a glass of wine with friends at their home,  the conversation turned (as it does,) to Guantanamo Bay and the treatment of suspected terrorists, and I thought, here we go. Why this topic, Lynnette? you might ask. Such a politically and emotionally charged issue seems like rather big potatoes, perhaps you should have started with something smaller, like whether consumers should be forced to buy fluorescent bulbs or whether wool or microfiber makes a better base layer when working out in the winter? Well, maybe. Here is what I was thinking: Guantanamo at this point was covered ground. The arguments had already been made many times in the media, and I was familiar with both sides. I also felt that both sides had valid concerns and that, to me, made it safer. A reasonable person would need to cede at least one “point” for opposing valid concern so at minimum, I’d have that, right? I am so silly sometimes. Anywho, my friend, who is conservative AND former military took the position of ” terrorists are trying to destroy us and we have to do whatever necessary to protect our country and our people,” leaving me with “if we are the bright light of civilization we had better act like it and torture puts our citizens who are outside our borders at greater risk.” Now don’t get all excited about this, I have political and philosophical leanings but for the most part I am all “jeez-o-pete there are a lot of good points here and I really don’t know what the right thing is.” This is another reason I suck at arguing, but I was TRYING. I guess I thought it would build character or something.

So instead of just letting the opinions roll over me as usual, I picked up the other end of the conversational rope and gave it a congenial tug. At this point, I am sure both Mr. Wordtabulous and my friend’s wife (who is also my friend) thought, “Oh, shit.” But I was all, this is fine, two adults respectfully sharing opposing views, we’re all friends here, cool. But one of us wasn’t cool. One of us was increasingly loud and ranty. I was increasingly uncomfortable, but after all, the purpose of this had been to push the envelope. I tried to keep things calm and conversational but that was a unilateral strategy that broke down when my friend shouted into my face, “I hope you’ll be happy the next time one of our soldiers gets killed by an IED!!” I looked at him in shock and then stormed out of their house, slamming the door behind me. He sent me an email the next day or so, saying that the episode was unfortunate and he didn’t feel arguments should get in the way of friendships. And we all picked up from where we had been BEFORE I began my little experiment.

My processing of this event has been in stages. My first stage was, “My friend is an ass.” Which isn’t true. He is a hard-working, loving husband and father who volunteers his time in the community and has genuine concern for others. So I got through that phase pretty fast. Next I thought, “I still suck at arguing, and now I’m traumatized, too. I guess I’ll never do that again.” I held onto this phase a really, really long time. But recently I was at State Services for the Blind, doing my thang of reading books into digital media and was assigned the job of finishing At the Oasis by Bill McDonald. It is a collection of essays by the Minnesota writer on a wide variety of topics. One of the essays was on his three “round tables” in which he and others engage in debate over events and ideas of the past, present and future. Tears are not welcome, he warns, but then says that all viewpoints are. The  more I read, the more I believed that lively doesn’t necessarily mean combative. Maybe, I thought, I’m not the only one who could use some pointers on argumentation (looking at you, argumentative friend.) Maybe I just need to find the right folks to disagree with, and establish the goal of fleshing out and truly understanding the subject as opposed to winning or losing a match. I am not itching for a fight, per se, but am starting to think that when the next one comes my way, maybe this time I won’t avoid eye contact. What could possibly go wrong?

I only read the last few of McDonald’s essays, so I can’t give a full review, but the one he wrote on whether the citizens of the US could ever vote away their democracy as did the citizens of pre WWII Germany was both thought-provoking and moving. Check out his work on Amazon or via the link at the title above if you are interested!

List of My Best New Things from 2011, and a Look Ahead to 2012

All in all, 2011 was an amazing year. I have here a short (by no means complete) list of things that made this year special to me.

Honda CR-V: Yes, I still love my car and am SO happy I am no longer driving the truck. However, I think the better gas mileage I get is being offset by the fact that I no longer try to avoid driving, which is not very environmentally conscious of me. In 2012, I will try to respect my environment by riding my bike more for quick little trips. I will shoot for at least one trip by bike per week,  beginning when the temps hit 55+ degrees again.

Manuscript Submission: As my dad was overly fond of saying about anything unpleasant (hard work, unimaginable filth to be waded through, mind-numbing tedium,) “It’s good for you! It builds character!” Submitting manuscripts has been really good for me. It turns out that rejection didn’t destroy me after all. Finding agents to submit to, and sending queries out was so stressful I literally shook. All the craziest voices in my head rose in a chorus to tell me what a disaster the whole enterprise would turn out to be. I was on the verge of a collapse, and then, guess what? I got some form letters that said “not for us” and it was no big deal. I propose that in 2012, I will shoot for three times as many rejections for Hollywood University, and maybe a bunch for Sleepers as well.

Novel Revision: Speaking of Sleepers, I am really happy that I still want to work on that manuscript. I didn’t do a lot with it in 2011, but I know now that it is standing the test of time, at least with me. I am in LOVE with most of what I do, when I am doing it, but after I’ve worked on a small piece even 12 hours of  downtime between the writing and the re-reading is illuminating. Once the heat and energy dies down, I find a lot of what I’ve written to be boring and/or embarrassing. Some of it is salvageable, some is not. I still love Sleepers, although there are some kinks to work out and 2012 is the year, baby!

She Said Writer’s Retreats: So much fun! Friendship and photography and technology and old haunts and haunted houses and therapeutic conversation and giggles and shopping. And wine and food. Oh, and writing–I said that, right? More in 2012, please!

Coffee: It isn’t like I had never had coffee before, but my interest in it certainly grew this year. In 2011, coffee was demonstrated to diminish the occurrence of depression in women and prostate cancer in men. I also got a good coffeemaker. Coffee makes me feel smart and lively (and do stupid things faster with more energy!)  I still love tea and will continue to drink that occasionally, but I think 2012 will see me embracing the bean buzz with both arms.

Blogging:  Wordtabulous has been a superfun adventure. I’ve met people, shared some info, registered some opinions, figured out some things, had some meltdowns, and hopefully given cause for a chuckle or a “Yeah, sister!” once in awhile. I have also had a riot finding and following other blogs which have expanded my world quite a bit. Thank you wordpress, and bloggers and followers (and especially you commenters and “likers”–there is a special place in my heart for you!) I hope 2012 sees continued blogging, perhaps with more focus and punch (or not, as the shotgun approach seems to be my natural inclination.) I hope to see more of you, dear reader! Thanks for dropping in, and all the best to you and yours in the New Year!

 

Taking The Pulpit

When I was in my teens, a minor revolution occurred in our small town when our Methodist Church got a female minister. Her name was Judy, and she was the first minister I would know by her first name, separate from the words Reverend and a last name. I, being an angry feminist from my earliest years, was enthusiastic about the change. It was about time a woman came in and showed everyone that we were just as capable getting this job done as the men. Judy surprised me by being earthy and well, a little weird. She laughed a lot and comported herself  differently than the ministers I’d been used to, who had always seemed to be kind of big on the issue of dignity. She also had some kind of unique ideas about worship and God. If I found Judy to be a little unconventional, I can’t even imagine the uproar she caused among the adult congregation, although I did hear a few conversations between my parents on the subject. I don’t remember what they said, just that I was surprised that “the preacher” was a topic. Like most Methodist pastors of that time and place, Judy was with our church for a few years, then transferred elsewhere. Change is hard on a congregation, and maybe the frequent changes of leadership is part of what makes them hold so tightly to a certain way of doing things as a way to cement identity.

Through Goodreads, I became interested in a book entitled Sea Level, by Nancy Kilgore. Kilgore writes of a woman, Brigid, taking the pulpit of a Methodist church in a small Virginia coastal community. It is her first appointment as a pastor and their first experience with a woman in the role. What ensues is the good, the bad and the ugly on every level imaginable. Kilgore explores the sometimes hair-raising politics and cultural attitudes from the perspectives of various members of the congregation and the minister and her family. There is also a plotline involving  Mary, an artist more attuned to ideas of the Goddess, born and raised in the community but long ago fled to New York City, who returns to connect with her roots and to try to integrate them with her free-thinking and independent way of life. Mary and Brigid become friends and allies in a place where many demand both of them sit down and shut up. There are some differences, but I strongly suspect that Judy would have recognized Sea Level as a variation of her story of church leadership, ostracism, changing times and hopefully, support in my hometown. One of the biggest lessons I take from Sea Level is that being right and feeling certain don’t always come as a package.  In the book, as in life, there are no tidy endings, but there is a sense of assurance that persistence pays off, that living right and trying hard will, most of the time, see you through.

See Goodreads for my full review of Sea Level. Sea Level is available from Amazon.com or from your local bookstore (may need to order it,) and was nominated for the Pushcart Prize.

You Decide

Check out this thing that Kelly (Hot off the Wire) gave me for Christmas. I thought it was just a funny little block of wood with words on it, but it is magical. Look.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Regardless of which end I elect to turn topside, I have to consider my state of mind, and choose. Because it is a CHOICE. And I forget that all the time. Sometimes it is what it is, and sometimes it is what I CHOOSE it to be. In this case I am referring to my perspective. Even if I choose, “not so much,” the fact that it is my choice to take that attitude makes me feel so much more powerful than I felt when the choice was buried under the to-do list, the horrible story I read in the news, the bittersweet pang I feel watching my boys trudge down to the bus stop, and the rejection letters. So this little block of wood magically wakes up my brain and says, (like Kelly would,) Hey, make up your mind already!

Christmas Tree Complexity

Christmas Tree day started off with the High School Band fundraising pancake breakfast at the VFW, which, I am sorry to say, nobody wanted to go to. It is a fine event and supporting the youth and community is SO important, but as a family, we don’t tolerate potlucks and community meals well. I was dragging the family along when a donation would have made more sense because imposing awkward social experiences on reluctant children is a hobby of mine. To top it off, Mr. Wordtabulous had developed a “stomach ache” and couldn’t come with us. I just bet he has a stomach ache, I thought as I watched volunteers sweep by with carafes of coffee and trays of orange juice in little plastic cups. I felt guilty for not volunteering, which added to my social wrongfootedness as I greeted the band moms I know, but who intimidate me. There is a metaphoric mask I wear on these occasions, much like the mask you might remember from the cartoon The Jetsons, the one Jane Jetson wore on her early morning video phone chats to hide the fact that she hadn’t done her hair or makeup yet. My mask is supposed to hide the fact that I am not relaxed or comfortable and that I suspect the person I am speaking with thinks I am an utter doofus. In the cartoon, the woman with whom Jane video-chats sneezes and her mask flies off to reveal that she isn’t made up for the day either. I didn’t sneeze, but I could feel the mask cracking a little around the edges, and I think the other women saw it, too.  The music, the people, the place: what was probably cheerful and energetic for most of the other people there knocked me a little more off kilter. I hadn’t quite slipped off the shoulder of the road into the ‘bad day ditch,’  but I could feel things inching in that direction.

Leaving the VFW, with the strains of “Soul Man” escorting us on our way, I could have cut my losses. A reasonable woman would have said, “this is not your day to get a tree, honey; go home and read a book or take a nap.” But I had decided that Dec. 4th was Tree Day, and stubborn adherence to what has been decided, especially when it makes no sense at all, is an inherited insanity which I was not strong enough to overcome. Mr. W. was still claiming sick tummy, so it was up to me and the boys. We had decided to go back to an artificial tree after many years of Boy Scout tree sales and cut your own experiences. Still discombobulated from breakfast, we went to Menards’ Enchanted Forest, which I propose they rename Menards’ Enchanted Forest of the Damned. I like Menards, except for the fact that I can never find anything, including employees to help me find things. Enchanted Forest is basically an artificial tree lot, big enough to be found easily even in Menards. It had a pretty good variety of sizes and types of trees, which was where the decision became complicated. Pre-lit or standard? The boys voted pre-lit, openly voicing a preference to NEVER having to help me deck the tree with lights again. I don’t think it is unreasonable to try to space lights evenly, but evidently I am something of a Captain Bligh about it. 7 foot, which would fit nicely in the front room, or 9 foot, which would be lovely in the vaulted family room? Flocked or unflocked? Short or long needles? Hinged vs. hooked branches? I was feeling rushed, overwhelmed and burdened by my self-imposed need to make a decision without having done any research. Also, and here is the thing that was driving me right over the edge, there was a boombox nestled in the center of the trees, playing zippy synthesized Christmas carols at a nerve-scraping volume. That was bad enough, but in the background, you could still hear the more orchestral Christmas carols playing over the store’s sound system. The combination was unspeakable. After checking and re-checking the tree options I had to exit the Enchanted Forest to calm my auditory system and catch my breath. The boys were completely unphased by the noise, but nonplussed by my wild-eyed reaction to it. We had narrowed the choices down to two, but still needed to find out if the trees were available, which meant going back in and systematically checking fifty or so tags until the right boxes were found. I suggested that I might sneak into the copse of artificial trees, within which the demonic boombox was still spewing tin-can melodies and turn the thing off. Younger son looked down at me and calmly informed that if I did so, I would have to figure out where in the store was the furthest point away from Enchanted Forest and look for him there. I was lectured about the inadvisability of “turning off other people’s appliances,” and no rebuttal was allowed. My whole argument for bringing the boys along was that I wanted their advice and needed them to carry the tree for me (I can totally carry the tree, but was angling for some family teamwork.) Mutiny. Fine. I took a deep breath and we dove back into the Enchanted Forest. After some frantic sticker surfing, I gave up looking for option two and the boys grabbed the only one of our choices we could find, the 7 foot pre-lit Norfolk pine with hinged branches. Good-bye, Enchanted Forest. Of the Damned. Forever.

Home again, the boys disappeared upstairs into their respective digital worlds where I could hear them laughing, (and was that singing?) while I examined the four pieces that, assembled, would be our decorative Christmas masterpiece for years to come. Twenty minutes later I was in a fetal position on the floor reconsidering my enslavement to traditional cultural practices. Also being very self-pitying. The next try went better. I figured out that I had started with the wrong piece, which had made the whole thing unstable. Now it was stable, but heavy and pinchy on the fingers, and increasingly irritating. I grumpily assembled and decorated that tree in the meanest Christmas spirit since Scrooge. By MY MARTYRED SELF. I picked out the most meaningful ornaments for everyone in my unfeeling, unhelpful family. And…it is beautiful. False start aside, it took half the time to decorate because of the pre-installed lights, and there were no dead strands to deal with. It fits the space perfectly. I had to devise a prosthetic branch to brace my angel tree topper, which I ingeniously did out of a pencil and some sticky wax (a win!) Then I took a nap. Reset. My horrible children were wonderful again, and my faker husband really did turn out to have a stomach ache which lasted well into the next day, but he still managed to tell me what a good tree we picked and how nice it looks.

After 45 years of hopping back and forth from the dark side to the bright, you’d think I would have learned more about how illusory and temporary these lapses are. In some alternate universe I am serene and confidently living my life with gracious good sense through good times and bad. In this one it appears I am a more of a cautionary tale about the  hazards of unrealistic expectations and forgetting the point of Christmas: love and giving as exemplified by the life of Jesus. If this, or any other season is getting you down, I highly recommend prayerful meditation on the true value of  all the activity in your life. Since I didn’t do that, I can also suggest hanging in there and doing the best you can until you can get a nap, but try to get the prayerful meditation in too. Support the community, spend time with the people you love, revel a little, and give to the less fortunate. Also, back away from the ‘best Christmas ever’ ideal and remember you are loved even when you are imperfect. You are in good company.

 

A Good Climb

I am not a believer in New Year’s Resolutions. If you have an idea to improve yourself, why wait? If you can’t manage incorporating the idea right now, why set yourself up with an arbitrary date? New Years Day isn’t magic, but wouldn’t it be cool if it was! Think of everything that would really happen! World peace, balanced budgets, kids turning in their homework on time, and the effortlessly kicked habits or dropped pounds. WOW. OK, that was fun, but back to reality. I don’t believe in New Year’s Resolutions but I do believe in approaching the end of the calendar year with an analytical eye.

It is time to start assessing 2011. What did it mean, and how have we grown? What did we try for the first time, or in a new way, and how did that work out? What activity did we say good-bye to, to make room for other things? What juicy failures brought us hard-won epiphanies? What successes raised our bar for 2012? It isn’t too early to start the review, because even though we still have over five weeks of 2011 to try, desist, fail and succeed, the tendency is to lose the lessons in the noisy, demanding, swirl of  everyday functioning. It can take some time to reflect. This isn’t a test. You don’t get an A+ if you journaled and cross-referenced exhaustively all of the above and are ready with a leather bound retrospective on December 31st. If you do that I will offer you my amazement and a referral to get yourself diagnosed. You also don’t fail if the only thing you can remember is to never, ever again send out emails when you are drunk. That right there puts you ahead of plenty of other people.

For me, 2011 has been a lot about bravery, honesty and mellowing out, but also about frustration and fear (always fear, darn it.) I know I have learned a LOT since I was sixteen years old, but I am bemused to find that I still so often see the world as I did then: as one big learning curve with no end in sight. I  am thankful this November that the curve isn’t always painfully steep, and that there are continuously new things to take in  and familiar things to perceive at a different level. I am thankful for every one of you reading this for sharing the climb, and offering me challenges along the way.

2011: What has it brought you?

The Story Awaits

It is 4:18 a.m. Forty-five minutes ago my cat, bored and perhaps a bit underfed, woke me with a leap and a brrrowp! Demanding food and attention, he instead received exile to the basement. Adrenaline from the ambush and thirst kept me up while my mind slowly churned into wakefulness, despite my better sense that cried out “No! Stop it! Sleep now, think later!” Too late, in so many ways. Dark-of-night true confession: my writing is bugging me. My unfinished article for this month judges me from my desktop. The grim grind of begging to get Hollywood University noticed, of laying it out there for rejection is almost harder than I can bear, though with only ten queries down I’ve barely started. My unfinished novel, on the other hand, is past the charming precociousness of youth and is entering awkward adolescence. I want to nurture it to maturity and beauty but it just seems to be glaring at me with that “you don’t get me,” kind of attitude. I think of the grim grind and wonder, what is the point? Maybe the naysayer, the practical one who points out for my own good that my manuscripts will probably never be published is right. I keep telling myself that naysayer is speaking of statistical probability, and not making editorial judgments, but it is impossible to shrug off the suspicion that I suck. Especially at this time of the morning.

But here’s the thing. Stories are powerful. I remember that when I read books like Imaginings of Sand by André Brink. I admit, I had trouble with it at the beginning. Firstly it is an intensely feminine story written by a man, and at the start I was annoyed by how masculine the main character, Kristien Müller, seemed to be. By masculine I mean lacking in emotional intimacy and unconcerned about the feelings of others. Sue me. As the story goes on it becomes clear that these qualities are important facets of Kristien, who returns to South Africa after a self-imposed exile to attend to her dying grandmother, the one person with whom she seems connected. While the country around them is heating up for the first post-apartheid elections, Ouma (grandmother) fills Kristien with shocking, rambling legends of family “herstory.” (I hate that word, but is accurate-tales of the unremembered women ancestors, who are carried forward both in the stories and in the bodies of Ouma, Kristien, and her sister Anna.) There are dichotomies here: male and female, black and white, but the divisions break down as the individuals are revealed in their complexities. Brink strings together flawed characters, the history and culture of South Africa, and gender and racial justice, and if that sounds dry to you, I ask you to trust me, it is far from that. The writing is vivid, the tension builds palpably and most importantly, perceptions of reality and status quo are challenged. After finishing this book today, I am looking at my own past and present with new eyes, and that alters my vision of the future. Like I said, stories are powerful.

So I will carry on. Morning approaches, though the October dawn is still a ways off. Today is another opportunity to get patient Hollywood University into the right hands, to finish my article and to nudge Sleepers a few steps closer to completion. The cat, the naysayer, and the grim grind are all only parts of the whole; the story itself is much bigger and it awaits.

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.)