Who Do You Know?

question mark“If you could ask the presidential candidates one question, what would it be?”

I’d ask: “How will my life be different as a result of your four years in office?”

I live in Iowa. So, you might think I’d have had a chance to ask a question or two the past few weeks. Iowa: you know, corn, pigs, first in the nation caucuses. (Those are tomorrow night, by the way, and are evidently the harbinger of a February snowstorm – some kind of perverse poetic justice, it seems). I work in numerous communities in what is called the Eastern Iowa Corridor. Not once have my routes been delayed by a candidate’s entourage. In fact, I haven’t even seen one of them despite the fact that they have been here. I hadn’t been invited to one event until a few days ago: I got a notice about a candidate with Vampire Weekend. (Sadly, I was in Des Moines and missed the event.) But, even in the state capital two days before the caucuses, my movement around town was unimpeded by presidential campaigning.

That got me to thinking: it’s pretty easy to not see them in person. And, it’s pretty easy for the candidates not to see us. I mean, three of them have secret service protection, and a fourth candidate will likely receive the same soon. Not that secret service keeps us plebeians away from the reality show stars of the race, but it puts a layer between us to be sure. I have never seen a president – past or present – in person. I have not been in a live audience where one was giving a speech (I have heard Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin in person, though – but, I digress). In short, we do not know the candidates. They do not know us.

They make speeches. Promises. Accusations. Commercials. But, we don’t know them; the actual real-time effect of their campaigns –  and, for one of them, subsequent tenure in office –  on our day-to-day lives is likely negligible. They are not running for ruling all-powerful tyrant (despite what one candidate seems to believe), and they will be able to make precious few unilateral decisions. That’s comforting.Register Front Page

What’s not so comforting is that these candidates do not know me. Or you. (Unless you have given millions and warranted a private audience.) Whichever candidate you deem most in touch with “normal people like you” is really not in touch with you at all. Their campaigns and words may touch your life, but it will be brief. Just as it is hard for most of us to fathom being a celebrity, fabulously wealthy, or a candidate for president (is that one thing or three separate things?), they don’t know and/or have forgotten what it’s like to be a mechanic, a teacher, an accountant . . . you know, a normal person.

Barring extreme scenarios, the difference between where we are now collectively and individually and where we will be January 31, 2o17, is slight. Because, really, who makes a difference in your life? Family. Friends. Employers. Book clubs. Neighbors. Pets. Poker buddies. Colleagues. Who can have the most effect on your life right now and a year from now? Right. You.

It’s not any of these talking-head suits spouting plans for world-domination and eradication of ethnic groups. I’m not saying don’t participate in the process. Quite the opposite. Educate yourself. Participate. Vote.

But, remember, in the end, your life is not predicated on whether or not your candidate wins; it depends on what you do every day to make a difference for yourself and the people you know.

Think about it.

Join me.

 

 

(photo credit: Des Moines Register: http://www.desmoinesregister.com/news/)

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What’re You Gonna Do?

This weekend youngest son was belittled. Not just in a hormone-driven-middle-school-hallway-lashing-out-because-you’re-there kind of way. By adults. Purposefully.

I did not hop right up and go out there and dress them down. I didn’t knock on their door and demand reparations. Later, I thought of writing one of those open letters. The kind addressed to a certain category of person that the writer expects people to read and identify with, but that category of person never reads nor identifies. But, that’s not where I ended up. And, as a result, I have ended up here: I failed.

thistleThis is what happened: Sunday afternoon youngest son took the dog out. When he did so, evidently one of our neighbors (we have lots – we live in a condo) thought that the way that son was preventing dog from eating everything on the ground was too rough.  (It may have been; I wasn’t there. Dalmatians will eat everything they sniff if we aren’t careful, and then they poop it out in unexpected ways and places – in short, it’s not pretty, and as they say: an ounce of prevention.)

Well, these adult neighbors yelled at youngest son, called him “princess,” and “little shit” threatened to “take your dog away.” Not teenagers. Adults.

Son came inside. Reported this to me and my response was, “What did you do?” I do try to get as many sides to the story as possible. He told me he had forcefully pushed the dog away from eating dirt and pulled him into the house. I had him demonstrate. Okay. “What did you say back to them?” I asked.

At this point he broke down in tears. “Mom, you don’t get it. They were grown-ups. They were mean to me.” He wanted me to hurl invectives and threaten bodily harm should their eyes ever glance our direction again. He didn’t realize that adults can be real bastards even (sometimes especially) to kids. He needed me to don my boxing gloves and knock some heads. Kick some ass. “Mom, what’re you gonna do?” was his plaintive sob.

Indeed, what was I going to do? What was I going to do? I talked through the situation with him; I coached him on alternative responses he might use for future reference; I hugged him; I scolded the dog for being a bottom-dwelling scum sucker.

What I didn’t do was go seek an altercation with these neighbors. That’s what son wanted me to do. And, on one hand, I feel like maybe I should have. On the other hand, I feel like people spoiling for a fight don’t deserve to get what they want.

You see the world seems extra full of people who are looking for something to complain about – something to fight about – something to litigate about – something to bitch about. I don’t want to be one of those people; I don’t want my sons to be those kinds of people. Furthermore, I don’t want to encourage or indulge those people. I want them to be shut down because the world refuses to interact with them on that low level at which they operate.

That’s all well and good. As I re-read and revise this, I realize that I am right. I also realize that – by son’s standards – I failed him. He wanted me to stand up for him that afternoon by going toe-to-toe with these adult bullies.

The thing is, though, that in doing that, I would have modeled behavior I don’t believe in; and, sinking to the lowest common daisiesdenominator cannot be the answer (despite how certain political candidates act). So, I forced him to look for lessons he could learn from this situation. I encouraged him to consider his actions and reactions. We even talked about what he might have said to someone if he were the adult.

I can stand up to bullies. I will stand up to bullies, but I sincerely hope the people across the street were just having a bad day. I’m trying to cultivate daisies instead of thistles.

Join me.

For the Love of God on January 25

“Every day I drive by that house. 714 East Washington Street. And, they have had their Christmas lights on since December 21. It’s ridiculous. Last Friday I drove by more slowly –  the early evenings are lighter, you know? Not only are the lights still on, but there are four packages on the porch. Four! Two medium-sized and two quite large. Those boxes are still there today, illuminated by – you guessed it – those goddam Christmas lights. It’s not like me to take the Lord’s name in vain or anything, but I’m sure you see my point. I mean, take down the lights or at least turn the fuckers off. And really, the mail piling up around the door – it’s just an eyesore. Jesus Christ. Sorry, I mean – well, you know. A little consideration. This is a small town, and if one house looks trashy, we all look like shit. Honestly. Some people.”

“Kristin, isn’t that the Ellis place?”

“I dunno. . . I guess, yeah, now that you mention . . . that name sounds familiar. . . yeah, why?”

“Look here.”

The December accident on Highway 101 has claimed two more lives. John and Judy Ellis will be interred Wednesday at 3pm in a graveside service at Peaceful Haven. They are preceded in death by their three children, John Maxwell, Eliza Grace, and Sarah Madeline. Their fourth child, Thomas James remains hospitalized in critical condition.

“Oh, God.”

 

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Close Enough for Jazz

The alarm went off at 5:00am. I was up and out and ready by 5:20. Bed made. Hair combed. Deodorant on. I didn’t want to be late. I always follow the rules.

This morning was perfect. Even gray skies and a light powder of perfectly white snow – just like in my game Xenon 6: Battle for Galactigar. Mom made fried eggs and toast with jam. She knew it was big day for me, but I played it cool. We got to school at the exact time for me to help with the equipment – just like Mr. J asked us to.

It was short drive to the competition, but me and Mikey sat together. Everyone was sleepy; it was pretty early. We got there, unloaded the stuff, and got set up. The band got tuned up. I didn’t like it when Mom made a big deal out of me making Jazz I, but she likes to brag on me. Anyway, I did practice all summer: my teacher told me to practice two hours a day. I always follow the rules.

Tuba is what fat boys were supposed to play, and I follow the rules. I sweat through halftime shows on the 50-yard line in the fall and sit on my padded ass in the stands in the winter. But when I heard Bruce moved away, and Jazz I needed a bass player, I was all about it. Used Fender off Craigslist: check. Lessons: check. Practice till my fingers bleed: check. Result? The only sophomore in the top jazz band. Would anyone see me? Nope. But, they would hear me. Like I said: perfect.

The set went perfect. Like no negatives on the critique for the rhythm section. Then we all went down to the cafeteria for food. There was a long line, and a couple of the kids cut the line. Mikey and Scott and me waited. We are all rule-followers. I got pizza, chips, and Mt. Dew. By the time I paid, there wasn’t much space at the round table, so I sat right next to the group. We all have matching shirts, so it didn’t really look like I was sitting alone; I was right next to the whole crowd. Everyone talked and laughed and joked – we knew we’d made the cut for the final showcase later that night.

After lunch, we all just kind of hung out around our homeroom space. Some kids watched other bands, but almost everyone just sat around and talked or got on their phones. Some of the seniors went out back with kids from other schools; they were totally smoking pot. I kind of wished I would’ve brought my DS, but I didn’t want to look like an idiot. It’s hard enough to be the sweaty fat kid.

After a while we went back down to the cafeteria for drinks and snacks. We had to wait until 5:00pm to get the official word about the showcase. No one was really watching, and they had these kind of mini-pies next to the cupcakes. All the kids got cupcakes and Pepsi; they paid and sat down where we had lunch. Except there was space this time, so I knew if I hurried, I wouldn’t be the kid at the other table again. Without really thinking about it, I took a pie, and walked right past the cashiers and sat down.

Maybe no one noticed. Maybe the adults thought I’d already paid, but whatever – I was sitting with the whole group this time. Cherry pie isn’t really my favorite. I really like apple or chocolate much more. But, hurriers can’t be choosers, and, anyway, I was sitting with the group. My seat was saved, so I got up to go buy a drink.

It was just then that I saw her: a volunteer mom at the cashier stand. Looking at me like she knew.  She seemed to stare through me as I walked around the cordons, weaving in and out obediently. I selected another Mt. Dew, and walked purposefully over to the accusing volunteer mom’s cash box. I smiled.

“Two dollars,” she said.

“Here you go!” I chirped, handing her a crisp twenty. Mom had given me forty dollars for food. Usually she only gives me twenty, but this was an all-day and potentially late-night trip. As the volunteer mom counted out my eighteen dollars change, sweat trickled down my back, pooling along my first fat roll. I smiled at her, wondering if she was gonna say anything about the pie. My brain darted around the maze of excuses I could make, but my ability to be a creative liar was hampered by my desire to get back to the table and be the bassist in Jazz I.

I could feel her laser eyes boring through the back of my skull as I rejoined the group and gobbled my pie just in time to head back to the auditorium. I made sure to put the pie wrapper in the garbage, and I recycled my pop bottle. Like I said, I follow the rules.

We got back to school about midnight. I helped unload all the stuff, and even got to carry in the first place trophy. I called Mom after everything was done even though some of the older kids took off to party right away. Just as Mom pulled up, Mikey said – real quiet like – “I saw.”

I turned around and said, “Thanks, Mr. J. That was a great trip.” One of Mom’s rules is to be polite to teachers, especially those who put in extra time. I try to follow the rules.

 

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On the Island

Quit thinking that people are trying to vote you off the island.

This is a sentence I used with students when they said that teachers had it in for them or they were never going to college or that their parents hated them. The level of stress that I see in working adults, high schoolers, and even middle schoolers is insane. People seem to have embraced the concept that everything is an extreme happening. Storms are apocalyptic; meetings are perilous; dates are last chances; a phone call is dire. Really, folks? Settle down.

Storms are weather. Meetings are part of working life. Dates can be fun (even bad ones!). Phone calls are communication. There are few weekly or daily decisions that the average person faces that are life and death. Life is life. All kinds of events populate our calendars, and we seem to have really lost the art of rolling with the punches.

The political climate has served to set our collective teeth on edge. Candidates are screaming that America is failing – that Wall Street houses Satan’s personal minions – that terrorists lurk on every corner – that their opponents are idiots. Whew. Is it any wonder that we feel like everything is out to get us?

We also are out to get ourselves. We self-sabotage. It’s like we are afraid to made a decision, take a stand, and move forward. New job? Go for it. Same old job? Lean in. New lover? Live it up! Move? Commit and embrace your new community. Empty nest? Reinvent habits and routines to live for yourself. New hobby? Dive in! Had a baby? Love and hold her! No need for histrionics.

Don’t be afraid to commit to living life. While we are the superstars of our own movies, the fact is the theater is pretty empty. Realizing that no one thinks about you as much as you think about yourself is not depressing – it’s freeing. It frees you from performing roles that are inauthentic to where you are in life. This allows you to grow and change and form new alliances without fear of being voted off the island.

Don Jose Ruiz writes, “Humans are the only animals on earth who punish themselves a thousand times or more for the same mistake, and who punish everybody else a thousand times or more for the same mistake.” Not only do we punish ourselves for mistakes, we also punish ourselves for successes and even daily living. Furthermore, we anticipate that others will punish us, as well. So, we carry stress and fear into every situation.

I remember when my boys were young, I would second guess what I made them for supper. I would castigate myself for waking up late. I would spend energy wondering if they were involved in too many/not enough activities and the right kind of activities. I hung out with people (mainly now ex-husbands) who were more than happy to engage in the Laura-flagellation that I invited them to. It was all so unnecessary.

islandLet’s make a decision today that we will live our lives, quit assigning apocalyptic vocabulary to everyday events, and embrace life with its continuum of change.

We are on the island for a short time – let’s enjoy it.

Join me.

 

 

For Sale

Jason had been saving his money since he was old enough to hold on to his dad’s coat pockets. Bouncing across fields of fresh powder, whizzing along snow-packed country roads: these were his only joys. School was a drag; dyslexia and auditory processing deficiencies combined to make classroom life living hell. Every day for the nine-month winters, Jason shoveled drives, walkways, and scattered sand for anyone who would hand him a dollar or two. During the brief summer, Jason planted flowers and mowed what little grass had time to grow. Four years of saving opened the door to Mick’s Snowmobile Clearance this past June. Clearance maybe, but it was his own snowmobile. The short summer months couldn’t pass quickly enough for Jason.

During the warmer days, Jason saved up fuel money, waxed his new baby over and over until Grampa said, “You’re gonna polish that thing inna the ground, son.”

By November, Jason wasn’t shoveling driveways. In January, he wasn’t scattering sand. By February, he still wasn’t bundled up flying across the fields. Rain and cold – some ice – a light dusting of snow here and there.

“Unusual winter,” the old folks said.

“Mother Nature has it in for me,” Jason concluded.

“Don’t worry, next winter will be a doozy,” Dad said.

After three years and 243.4 inches of not snow, Jason gave up.

Some say he moved to Florida the day after he turned 18.

The Duluth Tribune has a P.O. Box in Texas to bill for the classified ad.

The snowmobile with the sign sits in the front yard, rusting and hoping for a buyer just as Jason hoped for snow years ago.

 

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Playin’ With My Heart

Remember the last time you ran down a hill, balls-to-the-wall, no holds barred fast? No thought of the end of the run, your feet, your knees, your jiggly boobs, or bouncing ass – or – most horrifically – what others would think? Remember?

Yeah, me neither.

Show choir competitions show me more than dance and music: they show me kids who are all-in. I try to watch the whole stage, but in every group my eye is invariably drawn to the girl or guy who is leaving it all on the stage. All smiles, all choreography, all singing: they perform as if the whole show rests on their shoulders.

sledOn New Year’s Day a dear friend of mine had a sledding accident in which more than one bone was broken. Lying in a ditch, she had to call out to a nearby child to go find an adult. She was hospitalized  for several days. When I talked to her recently, she mentioned she was still going to go sledding. Many people would hang up their flexible flyer after such an accident – I probably would.

How about the one where you meet a new person, and you think, “Damn, this is a cool person.” You want to hang out, get to know him or her, but you must moderate your desire. It doesn’t matter if it’s a friendly relationship or a more romantic one: you have to hold back. Time your calls. Pace your texts. Any time after about first grade, it’s just not cool or acceptable to be really excited about a person.

How did we learn these restraints? Why do we brake ourselves? What has led us to the idea that if we get scared we should give up? Answers: life, pain, rejection, fear.

So many of us can remember when a counselor or parent told us, “You can’t do that – you’ll never make a living at it.” Just yesterday at the aforementioned show choir competition, I was working concessions with another mom. She mentioned her middle school daughter wants to go to college for make-up design. “Very cool,” was my reply. The mom went on to say that the daughter would need to have to have a back-up in case “Hollywood didn’t work out.” The now-defunct college counselor inside of me silently agreed, but the real me said, “Kids have a cool way of putting things together and creating the jobs they want. It’s no longer a be-a-doctor-lawyer-accountant-or-teacher world.”

My friend’s broken bones do not call me to the sledding hills any time soon, but I have taken up boxing. Hitting that bag with hand-wraps and gloves on: I love it. I’m all in. I’m a badass. But still, I balked when a colleague burst into incredulous chortles, “Really? Huh, well, okay.” Why do we rain on each other’s parades? If you’re lucky enough to find an activity you love – then do it. Don’t let anyone cast a shadow on you.

This past September I attended a wedding. The bride and groom were my age, and this wasn’t the first time around for either of them. The thing really struck me about this gathering – and continues to inspire me still – is that these two people are really into each other. And, they weren’t afraid to show it.  I saw it at the wedding and in their Christmas card: they have the kind of I’m-crazy-about-you-and-I-want-everyone-to know love that one doesn’t often see.heart.2

Society tells us not to phone. Echos tells us we are losers and shouldn’t try. Friends advise us to decline the once too often invitation. Our pasts whisper that we don’t have the talent to take up something new. Our bodies hide from the possible laughter of others. The siren call of the you are not enoughs lure many to shipwreck against the rocks of premature old age and resignation.

We cannot let that happen. Not to ourselves. Not to our friends. So, do your thing. Make that call. Take up that sport. Join that group.  Get excited! And, when you do, ignore all naysayers (most especially those inside your head) and instead think of the response a friend of mine had when I told him about a goal of mine: “That’s so fucking cool!”

It is. He’s right.

Join me.