Help!

Three weeks ago I started yoga classes. I quickly remembered the terminology from years ago, but the moves…not so much. Muscle memory seems to be struggling at the moment. Surrounded by blankets, blocks, and straps, twice a week I find myself working to move as the lithe instructors do. I am not lithe.

Two weeks ago we took a 15 hour drive to Augusta, Georgia. We went to visit dear friends, have Thanksgiving, and attend a wedding. We remembered our old hometown well enough, and our friends were welcoming and gracious. The trip was fine until we were returning home and got north of St. Louis and the blizzard took hold. We slid off the road. A good Samaritan stopped by. He couldn’t tow us out, but his buddy is a cop, so the cop came by. The cop couldn’t help us, but he had a buddy who had a tow shop. Three hours later, we were towed out and in a hotel.

One week ago, I got far behind in my work schedule. I was turning up late and unprepared for meetings. I fell behind on emails and lost track of an entire project. A colleague jumped in to save me during a meeting. Another understanding colleague gave me an out on that project.

Too often we take on things we think we can do. “I can do this!” “I’m a strong independent person.” “I don’t want to bother anybody.” “I’m all alone on this one.” These thoughts and multitudes of others populate our brains – calling us to struggle and suffer alone.

Well, I’m calling bullshit. Let’s end this year and start the new one with the idea that it’s totally fine to use the yoga blocks and do a modified plank. There’s no shame in getting a tow – in fact, it may be the only way out. We probably do have colleagues committed to the work and mutual success; let’s find them and team up.

You do not have to be alone. Whatever it is that you need – there are individuals, groups, and whole societies that stand ready to support you. If you don’t know who or where those are, reach out or call out or scream out. Create a group. We are here. No matter how awful things seem, we are here. The commune is everyone’s to call upon. So, as you enjoy the holiday season and begin the new year, please remember: you are not alone. From auto accidents to yoga and everything in between: call for and use help when you need it.

To paraphrase the movie “Love Actually”: If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that help actually is all around.

 

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Sleep in Sunday: On Choosing Joy

You know what’s been missing? JOY.

There are any number of reasons for this lack of JOY. One of those reasons, though, is the idea that we must do things “because.” There’s no phrase or clause after the “because.” Just doing things “because” can result in a loss of JOY.

I grew up going to church. Every Sunday. I believe we were at one time Lutheran – maybe a short stint as Presbyterian – and a fair number of years in the Baptist church. My mom played organ and piano. Dad was a deacon. My sisters and I attended Sunday school and then church, and, when we were very little children’s church. You know: that’s the part of the  service where the little ones get called up to the floor near the pulpit, get a short object lesson of some kind from the pastor, and then get shuttled off downstairs for stale animal cookies, watered down koolaid, and cotton ball craft while the adults listen to Bible readings and a sermon.

(Full disclosure: I don’t know if that’s how church still goes in any of the places I have ever attended.)

I’m not singing hymns this morning; I did not have to get dressed up; I have not brought a casserole to share after the service; I do not intend to return later for a business meeting followed by Sunday evening services.

Because the fact of the matter is: I don’t go to church any more.

And I’m going to tell you: Sunday mornings are JOYFUL.

I am making brunch. Or getting coffee. Or going on a walk. Sleeping late. Planning the week. Doing laundry. Reading a book. Texting friends. Writing poems. Playing with the dogs. Watching a movie. Composing letters. Fixing the sink.

Sunday mornings are about enjoying life for me.

There are people who find that JOY in church, but, you see, church started out for me as a chore. That’s what we had to do Sunday mornings when I was growing up. It was a job – we all had our tasks at church. Not the least of which was to sit still. When I was in college, less church and more hangovers, but I digress. Then, as a young mother, I made my family attend church in much the same fashion I had as a young girl. Perhaps even more so  because – ta da! – we became missionaries for a while. Talk about a job! Later in life, I attended church because it was required; part of the social contract of living in the South is church. In fact, I will tell you that when I lived in Georgia, and I would introduce myself to someone, I was usually asked my husband’s name and then what church we went to.

Do you notice what’s missing here?

JOY.

There was no joy in church for me. Church was a task to be performed, a show to play a role in, a Bible verse to memorize, an outfit to wear, a song to sing, comparisons to endure, a series of conversations to tolerate.

Now, you may think that I simply chose churches poorly. As I intimated at the beginning of this: I have been Baptist, Lutheran, Non-denominational, Presbyterian, Methodist, Open-Bible (the speaking in tongues kind), and Episcopalian. In all of these iterations, I found one common denominator: Burden.

I held on to church for so long because it was the “thing to do.” Because the neighbors did it. Because I had been brought up in the church.

Not because I wanted to.

The past few years I have let church go, and I have found more JOY on a singular Sunday morning than I had over decades of pew-sitting.

I do not know how you choose to spend your Sunday mornings. Perhaps you attend church. Vacuum your carpets. Visit the elderly. Bake pies. Watch crime shows. Wash your cats. Detail your car. Brew beer.

What I want to say is: whatever you do with your Sunday mornings: do it with JOY.

Or whenever – it doesn’t have to be about Sunday mornings. It is about JOY.

As we look toward the upcoming holidays and our schedules and our obligations, maybe you have something that is a task you’ve wanted to get rid of for a while. Perhaps you want to resign from the committee or put the brakes on a project. Do it. No explanations needs. No self-excoriation.

Just choose JOY. 

 

 

 

 

Do You Know What Is Happening? (Or, why I’m not writing what I want to write)

I have been wanting to write about how every man I have dated more than once or have been interested in more than a passing way over the past nine years is now involved in a committed relationship of some kind. I’ve been self-indulgently and angstily thinking about this a lot. A lot of self-questioning is going on over here.

But, for all women my age – married, single or somewhere in between – something much more important is going on right now.

You remember how your parents used to tell you that you could be anything – no, really – you can do anything. Women’s rights has really opened things up for you. Women used to be only certain professions (nurses, teachers, housewives), but now that we are in the 1980s! The 1990s! Things are different. I was told I didn’t need to get married – I could do whatever I wanted. I was told I was not going to college to get an Mrs. degree.

When I was 17, I went to Planned Parenthood with a friend and obtained birth control with no more trouble than a cold speculum and a pamphlet.

My sister, on more than one occasion when I have balked at career moves, has said to me, “Don’t be one of those women.” Meaning, I assumed, that I should take opportunities and run with them.

My gay friends were simply friends. In retrospect, I was not that helpful to them. Still, I loved and supported them. And still do.

At home, I learned a requisite number of things that only boys used to be taught: changing a tire. More importantly,  I remember the feeling of absolute power using my own power tools around my own house – no husband in sight.

If you grew up white, middle-class in the Midwest, with fairly educated parents, your experience was possibly similar to mine. Or, maybe yours was wildly different – either way, here is the point, my friends:

Things that we have assumed to be settled and accepted are being debated and eroded in some of the most insidious ways. Women’s reproductive choices and a health care and insurance system that supports those is being deleted, and not slowly. Workplace and social equality for our queer friends is being rescinded at an alarming rate. Student loan forgiveness programs, and, indeed, access to higher education for our children are being pushed further and further out of reach. Our friends’ and our friends’ daughters’ experiences of sexual harassment and rape – whether they happened 30 years ago or yesterday – are being whitewashed so as not to ruin the lives of the perpetrators.

What are we doing? We are working. We are cooking supper. Taking art classes. Checking out library books. Feeling sad our children are leaving for college. A few women my age still haven’t given up on online dating.

Nothing is wrong with any of those or a host of other things that we are involved with. BUT – there’s always a BUT.

BUT the thing is: we have assumed that everyone had and has and will have the advantages we had. This is not the case.

I know, you’re thinking: sources. Give me sources for these assertions.

This is not that kind of article.

This article is asking you to think about the privileges you have enjoyed over your lifetime, and check on them to make sure they are still commanding a wide berth in our society. It’s possible they are not, and if not, you might want to do something. Get informed. Write letters. March. Vote.

There’s a much talked about novel-turned-TV-show, The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood. And, if it teaches its readers nothing else, it teaches us to pay attention.

The dating article can wait for another day.

Today, it’s time to pay attention.

From 5th Grade and Beyond

“I don’t know – must have been about 5th grade.” Whenever I remember something of any kind of importance from my grade school era, I say that sentence. Evidently, 1978 was a watershed year for me. I haven’t really had much insight into this personal peccadillo until I recently made an effort to pinpoint the wherefores of what I have come to call “my 5th grade default.”  In the course of thinking about this, I remembered something one of my 5th grade teachers did that has had lasting influence.

Mrs. Crone was one of my 5th grade teachers. If I remember correctly, she taught us English. Mr. Gift did science and math, and Mrs. Sauerman presented us with history lessons. But, it is Mrs. Crone that stands out to me because she took a personal interest in my writing and my dancing. She encouraged me; she asked me to stay after school on more than one occasion to talk about writing and dancing and music. She played music in her classroom. She was unabashed in her enthusiasm for the arts.

One day Mrs. Crone asked me – and I agreed – to dance for our class.  She had all of the kids move the desks to the edge of the classroom, played the music from a record, and I can vividly remember her smiling a true, genuine smile throughout my ballet performance and leading the applauding and the standing ovation.

I don’t remember my peers’ specific reactions, but I know that this was one of the last public solo performances I did until decades later. My peers thought Mrs. Crone was a little “off.” She was weird. And, man, in 5th grade, I wanted to fit in. Hanging out with Mrs. Crone was not cool. So, I decided she was weird, too. I quit going in after school or talking about dancing or music or anything creative. I didn’t want to be weird. I needed to be cool – even if that meant giving up a few things.

For the next few decades I did some creative stuff: I still wrote some things; I was in drama and band; I directed a couple plays. But, I gave up solo performance (unless it was in the basement and involved some bad pop music, I didn’t dance in public again). In some way, I had perverted my teacher’s enthusiasm and support of my endeavors into a need to hide and not be different. Oh, sure, my peers helped, but I acquiesced all too easily. I didn’t want to stick out.

Have you ever had a Mrs. Crone? Someone who really believed in something you were doing – someone who unabashedly supported you – someone who you turned your back on? I am chagrined when I think about that. I wonder what kind of friendship we might have maintained had I been willing to accept her love and mentorship. I wonder if I might have had more solo performances well before I was 47. I wonder if I would have known that Mrs. Crone sang soprano, was active in an opera house for over two decades, and was a writer herself – before I read it in her obituary.

Mrs. Crone was teaching our class that sharing your art – whatever form it takes – with the world is a wonderful thing. She was teaching us to love and support each other in our endeavors. Maybe fifth grade was a little too young  to learn that lesson, but I’ve got it now. I’m sure my performance back in 5th grade was not standing ovation-worthy, but Mrs. Crone believed that creativity was. And now, some forty years later, I think I’ve got it.

Priorities: Summer Edition

Today is the societal end of summer. The gray haze of Canadian wildfires hang over our town, and the pools are all officially closed. In past years, I have made lists of things to get done during the summer. You know: plant certain flowers, clean out the garage, organize the closets. I didn’t do that this year, and so because I am prone to thinking and reflecting, I sit here wondering how we spent our summer. What did we do with our extra daylight, with the arguably slower pace, with vacation time?

A beautiful early summer day on Macbride Lake brought us out to the water about three months ago. As youngest son and I paddled, we noted the large homes on the water – docks, pontoon boats, motor boats, paddle boards – were all going unused. There was no excuse for the waste of the day; we posited that everyone who owned lakefront property should be making the most of the day: they should be on the water, on their decks, with their friends and family.

Many of us are terrible at using our time well. Not only are we not as productive as we could be, we also waste time in a way that we don’t even enjoy. We get stuck in routines that don’t bring us joy; we spend time with people we complain about; we engage in hobbies that are more chore than cheer. Perhaps some of that was true of your summer; perhaps you are feeling such pressures as the academic year looms.

I dubbed the past three months the summer of friends. Our summer started off with middle son being home, and we had a weekend at my aunt’s and uncle’s house with extended family and pets. We even took a dip in their pool; a chilly proposition in early June in the Midwest. Later that month, my dear friend and her daughters included our house on a road trip they were taking, and we got to show off our corner of the world and reminisce. Youngest son and I spent a beautiful day with another wonderful person one early July, a friend who is from Iowa but whom we met in Georgia and was back home for several weeks, and we spent the day talking, laughing, eating, and surveying her place near Pella.

Later that month, I traveled to Seattle for work and in doing so, not only had the opportunity to learn with several excellent colleagues, I also got to visit with a writer-friend, a professor-friend, and a former student-friend. While I was there, youngest son got to spend time with his grandma and grandpa. As soon as I got back from Seattle, one of my cousins and his family came over and spent the weekend, treating us to a Jim Gaffigan show. We also enjoyed a whiskey/wine/beer tour of our area. Right after that, youngest son and I were off to the lake with college friends and their sons; then, as soon as we got back from there, two dear friends were coming through town, and we were lucky enough to be able to dine with them before they continued on their trip. We snuck over to Des Moines to see my dad and mom in August.  I haven’t even mentioned our local outings to Pride events, concerts, and restaurants with friends in the area. Those were sprinkled into every summer week. Summer wrapped up with middle son home again for a month before going off to London.

And, now the summer is, for all intents and purposes, over. My summer flowers are fading; my garage is not cleaned out; carpets have gone unwashed, and the cobwebs around the doorframe might just stay until Halloween. And, no, I still don’t have a kayak, much less a lake home.

What we do have are memories with so many beautiful and wonderful people. So now, as we head into what society would have us believe are the hectic days of fall which will be followed up by the madness of the holidays, I find myself wanting more summer. That is, more time with friends, family, more time with the people that matter. And, if I can create that, then I will be making the most of the days in any season – no list needed.

Goodbye: A Prelude

“Don’t break my red plate.”

“Don’t get attached to inanimate objects.”

“I have to; the animate ones keep leaving.”

Never before has that six year-old exchange held more meaning that in the past few months, especially in the past two weeks. Just a few days ago, eldest son, his partner, and their daughter (yep, my granddaughter) moved to Hawaii. Just today middle son left for summer adventure in Seattle and LA, along with participation in a dance intensive in North Carolina. Youngest son is taking driver’s ed: a definitive step toward many more goodbyes. He is also starting high school in the fall – yet another milestone that heralds more farewells.

We are in a culture that doesn’t like to say goodbye. Saying that word has fallen out of fashion. If you type in “it’s not goodbye, it’s see you later” into YouTube, you get over seven million hits: original songs, movie clips, poetic tributes, and inspirational talks. Move that search out to Google, and you’ll get 39 million hits.

We don’t want to say goodbye. This is prevalent in modern dating culture. It seems to be (and I ran this by people in several different age brackets) standard to ghost a person you don’t want to see any more. For example, you have a first date – maybe even a couple of dates – and then: Nothing. No texts, calls, emails…no returned correspondence either. If this happens to you, you have been ghosted. The person in question is disappearing; they don’t want to say, “Hey, I’m not really that interested” or “This isn’t working out” or the old standby, “It’s not you; it’s me.” No one wants to say goodbye in any form.

We can also see this reticence in the funeral industry. Like all industries, the funeral industry evolves to stay relevant. And, in the end, we all use some part of that industry. However, a desire to avoid the finality of a goodbye caused by death plays a role. A number of factors, including rising costs; creating new traditions; and a move away from traditional organized religion, encourage families not to view a funeral or other life-end memorial as a goodbye, but as a celebration of life. If we meditate then party, we don’t have to say goodbye.

Why? Are we trying to keep our options open? Are we thinking: if I don’t say goodbye, then the person isn’t really dead? Or my friend hasn’t really moved away?  Or she might still date me if I want to re-up later? What’s happening here?

Farewells are hard. I have divorced twice; I have had close contemporaries and young students, as well as beloved elders, die; I have been ghosted; I have moved. I have sent two sons to college and into life. Goodbyes are a part of all of life.

Goodbye is a contraction from the 16th century “God be with ye.” Seems appropriate. Child going to college? God be with ye. Not interested in dating him any more? God be with him. Dear friend passed away? God be with her. Yes, totally appropriate. And needed.

We need to be able to say goodbye to people. It’s an important skill. Saying goodbye well teaches resilience. It draws a line, and it allows those being left behind to adjust to an absence. Being able to say goodbye means that we can leave someone and move forward. When goodbye doesn’t involve the finality of death, it’s easier; but even when it is funereal, it’s a prelude to the days where we have to go on living.

I’m not saying goodbyes are easy. But, I’m afraid that the lack of sincere, sometimes heart-wrenching goodbyes are rendering us incapable of moving on in a healthy way. Sure, I cry when a son leaves to move 3915 miles away. I have cried when my loved ones have died. I cry with others when their loved ones die. I cried when I got seriously ghosted earlier this year. Shoot, I cry when a contestant gets eliminated on RuPaul’s Drag Race.

In their various forms, these goodbyes help me into the next act.

Yes, goodbyes are tough to swallow. And, yes, sometimes the next act totally sucks.

However, goodbyes are not the end of a song; they are  the entr’acte.

Goodbyes are the prelude to what comes next.

 

Springing Time

“Would you like a refund? You know…this is a hard medium…and you really don’t have any talent here.”

Years ago I signed up for and started a watercolor class. I’ve always wanted to learn to paint, and I enjoy the softness of watercolor. But, two classes in, the refund offer – in front of the whole class – was more than I could bear. I took my money and ran.

This past July a moment happened in my poetic life that had the same effect – I ran away. I quit. I stopped.

Well, it’s spring, and spring is a time of renewal and rebirth, according to the ancients. In the 14th century this time of year was called Springing Time, in reference to the plants springing from the ground. A new round of life. Another chance.

I drive a great deal in my job – all over Eastern Iowa. Because podcasts and music only do so much, I enjoy looking at other drivers. And, you know what I see? Bovine stares. Boredom. (They’re probably listening to local radio stations – you do know they still regularly play Duran Duran and Paula Abdul, right?) But, the stare. It’s death. It’s the I-have-to-do-this-to-make-money-to-pay-the-bills-to-go-to-the-grocery-store-to-buy-food-to-make-even-though-I-do-not-want-it-and-those-ingrates-at-home-will-complain stare. You know the one? It’s the stare that tells you about a life constructed without enough thought; legos, mortgage payments, and repeat episodes of shows that weren’t that good the first time around.

Well, folks – it’s spring time. And, I know it’s spring time because the schools I work with are beginning reflections on this past year and planning for next year. I know it’s spring time because daylight savings time has made early morning rising a chore. I know it’s spring time because I slept with the windows open last night.  I know it’s spring time because even here in Iowa we have a few daffodils up. I know it’s spring time because it’s the end of Masters’ Week in Augusta.

And, since it is spring time, perhaps it’s time to cast off the resignations of the past; time to find a non-bovine facial expression. Maybe you have some springing you’d like to do? I don’t mean the things you see as the usual requirements of spring; I mean some activity, hobby, habit of mind that you’d like to grow into?

Let’s go obvious: flowers. Have you always wanted some great flowers around the house or in a pot on the deck? Get them! Plant them! Start some seeds so you have cucumbers in July. Cleaning out the garage? Well, okay. Probably needs to be done, if it’s anything like mine.

How about an activity? It’s cliche to say it’s time for running or biking. It could be that. Or go for the less obvious: learn to play Call of Duty with your son; figure out how to bake bread from scratch; choose a new sex technique to try with your lover. Maybe something as simple as smiling more – even and especially in line at the grocery store?

Really, it can be anything. It’s time to spring; whatever your thing is, get out from behind the bovine stare, and embrace the spring. Sign up for the class. Put the festivals on your calendar, and actually go to them. Scoot down the the lake and rent a kayak. Adopt the pet you’ve always wanted; learn a yard game; read more; get out your old guitar and tune up; take painting lessons.

It really doesn’t matter – there are myriads of things you can try or do no matter where you live. Open up your world and jump in!

And, no matter what you choose to spring into, don’t let anyone try to force a refund on you.