Choices.

There is a dark at the end of the tunnel of this week for many of us. The looming transition of power worries or horrifies 4245115019_68ff9e4355many people in our country. I have read real news; I have seen the memes; I have watched some speeches. I’m among the scared and horrified. There is a scarcity of joy in much of this country; even for much of the world as January 20 approaches.

There isn’t anything I can do to stop January 20 from coming, but I can do things in real life. I can engage in purposeful activities to manifest joy for others and for myself. I can make a difference for my community; I can be a source of comfort for friends and neighbors. I can make choices.

I am part of groups: a writing group and an activism group. Both address equality, creativity, social justice, understanding, and the power of voice. By conversing with and learning from others, I can check my perspective, broaden my horizon, engage with others in social justice. I can also support others in their creative lives.

I have signed up to get training (not sure a 20 year teaching vet needs it, but…it’s required, so okay) to teach English and assist with cultural information for refugee populations in my community. I have lived abroad, and it’s not easy when you choose do this, much less when you flee for your life to a country where some neighbors may not want you to be there. I choose to help marginalized families.

Poverty is everywhere, and I can’t solve that problem; but years ago my sister and I gave my parents a Kiva loan as a present, and I continue to reinvest it in women’s businesses.  Our measly contribution has been reloaned in five different countries to support five different businesses, including a bar and a sewing shop. I have a friend who sponsors and visits two children in other countries. Choices to support others in our world.

From an early age, I learned that love is love. It doesn’t matter who you love. People are damn lucky to find someone to love who loves them back –  gender, shape, color, geography, culture – none of that matters. I celebrate your love with you, and I will fight for your love with you.

bbd9a73ca9d14cf9647799c6d308a325At any given moment, I can make a choice to make someone’s life better. I can make a choice to speak out. I can make a choice to support others. I can make a choice to love.

Can I let someone with two items go in front of me at the grocery store and then pay for my 23 things? Yes. Would I make a road trip snack pack for a friend who is traveling to take care of an ill parent? Sure. Will I support my friends’ successes and happinesses without envy? Yep. Might I sit in the hospital room while you doze and recover from surgery? Absolutely. Should we hold hands and talk earnestly about what matters to us? Always. Little things perhaps, in light of the world’s precarious situation, but every bit of good helps.

As David Foster Wallace suggested, the day-in and day-out of adult life is filled with frustrating crap  – regardless of and sometimes because of who is in Washington – but, we can choose what we do.

What are you going to do?

Choose.

 

 

 

 

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The Five Decade List: Update #1

Well, it is the third day of 2017, and I have completed two items from my list. I’ve also started two others (but, I’ll talk about those another time.)

One of my list items was to attend a University of Iowa men’s basketball game. Done. January first, I was excited to attend e2d4d12010eea61d26fca938dc7b30abthe Hawkeyes-Wolverine basketball game with my new dear friend who graduated from Michigan. So, we couldn’t lose. Someone would win.

The people who won were us: great seats;  fantastic company; a close game throughout; and, an overtime victory for my Hawkeyes.

Then, on the second of January, youngest son and I went bowling. I bowled 299 – in three games. Youngest son bowled somewhat less than that. We had snacks and drinks, and enjoyed hanging out together.

So, who cares? Why write about this?

The reflection is this: it doesn’t matter who wins. It’s all about the people you do things with and the memories that you make.

Sure, it was great that Iowa won. But, I applauded when Michigan made a good play. And, new dear friend gamely joined in being the “O” in the I-O-W-A chant that the pep squad led. We were enjoying the time, each other, and the experience. No need to be a rabid fan; no need for trash talk.

On the other hand, trash talk is totally appropriate when one bowls with a 15 year-old male. He deserves it, and he dishes it right back, and it’s all in good fun. Youngest son is incapable of bowling without root beer and french fries, and that’s fine with me. When he thinks back to his middle school days, I want him to think of these times fondly.

Building memories: we all do it. And, this year, I’m striving to do it more purposefully and more joyfully with friends and family.

 

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The Five Decade List

2017 is here. That means I will turn fifty this year. I was not, as youngest son suggested, born in 1953. Still, where has the 50th-birthday-cake8time gone? What have I been doing all these years?

Oh, playing with dolls; learning to drive; being with friends; getting married; getting unmarried; sleeping; working; listening to music; changing diapers; making supper; taking showers; exercising; mourning loss; working some more; listening to people; avoiding responsibility; scooping the cat box; admitting defeat; walking the dog; embracing love; wondering about the future.

As I look at this looming milestone, I am alternately proud of myself and embarrassed. I think of the different iterations I have effected in my life, and I think, “Wow, I’m pretty resilient and great. ” Other days I look back, and think, “What the fuck was I thinking?” Some days I feel like I’m 92 and other days, I am certain I can’t be older than 10. It’s life.

A few years ago, I was feeling very old. Very sad. Washed up. Dark. I even began wondering how soon is too soon to move into an old folks’ home. Many people bemoan milestone birthdays and seek to hide from well wishes and the inevitable comments about how much older or younger they are than their interlocutor. Some people even hide from cake!

Not me. I’m taking a different approach.

I am currently brainstorming 50 things to do this year. These activities range in scope, and may or may not include other people. A few samples: go on a Habitat for Humanity build; see a musical; go parasailing; visit my aunt and uncle; be open to a relationship; read a book a month; write fifty new poems.

A friend messaged me this morning, sharing her intention for the new year. She has chosen a word to define her intentions in multiple areas of her life. I like it.

My approach is to intentionally experience at least fifty different, familiar and unfamiliar facets of life through my list, and to reflect meaningfully on them through the year. I want to grow, learn, and become.

Oh, and I want cake.

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At A Loss

Twelve years ago, December 2,  my middle sister died the day before her 35th birthday. From injuries sustained in a single car wreck outside of Atlanta.

amy-johnson1That’s the nice way to put it. That’s what people want to hear. And, generally, they don’t want to hear details or see tears. Their I’m-so-sorrys are meant well but salve nothing. But 144 months after the fact, I have some perspective. Of course, that doesn’t make things easier; I can still occasionally hear a news story or think a funny thought and want to share it with her – and, then, catch myself with a “Well, damn.”

Still, middle sister would be proud to know that her niece and nephews (two of whom she never met) occasionally call me by her name. And that my sons remember the international fiend fests they had with her – including her cursing of the tofu when it popped in the wok and burned her. And that youngest sister and I send each other Young Ones quotes or Seinfeld references at will.

The past two weeks, though, have been more than hard on some of my friends. Daughters, sisters, wives died. Specifically, three people whom I knew or knew tangentially lost their lives in separate events. Their relatives cannot laugh yet; they are sitting in the fire of grief. Those flames bite at you: when you wake up in the morning and the thought you have is, “something isn’t quite right” and then you remember and the tears come. Those flames scorch when you feel anger at someone who is alive while your person has died. Those flames burn and burn when you can’t stop yourself from thinking, “but, what if…”

I have no advice on how to get through grief. There is no magic spell; no easy way; it’s a road with sharp turns, glass and tacks strewn everywhere, and lots and lots of fog. And even if it never really ends, the fog eventually lifts.

joan-didion-quotes-14436I have advice, though, for those of us who surround those who are sitting in that fire. Don’t try to put it out. The searing pain of grief must be experienced by those whose loved one has died. Sit with them. Avoid platitudes and preaching. Hold their hand. Make sure they eat – or at least drink some tea. Admit you don’t know why. Don’t be embarrassed by tears – those tears will eventually calm the flames. Cry with them.

You know, there’s no magic spell here, either, except to be there. Share happy memories. Agree a lot. Listen. Make more tea.

The holidays can be hard enough without death; add that in, and man, the holidays can take a dark, dark turn. Make space for yourself whether you’re dealing with death or standing in the gap for someone whose loved one has died. Things may not get better, but we do not stay mired. We cannot stay mired. Hope might not spring eternal, but it does spring. And, even life-altering sadness evolves.

Peace.

(For KR, GV, PH and all those who love them.)

 

 

 

A Hard One…

We have all had them.

Holidays where loved ones shunned us. Times when dear friends died. Just those shitty times that we thought were going to be wonderful, but somehow turned out quite differently.

Well, yeah. Nothing horrible happened this year. I mean, 12 years ago, my middle sister had a fatal car wreck outside Atlanta, so this year was pretty tame.

Still and all – perspective and all that aside: middle son went “back home” this Thanksgiving. Let me clarify: two months after he graduated, our family moved 1500 miles away from where he grew up and graduated high school. Since then, he has come home to what – for all intents and purposes – is not home. This Thanksgiving, his dearest friend had her debutante ball, and he was invited. Her family, who has always loved my son, invited his attendance at this important family occasion. How could I object?

He got to see his middle and high school friends. Be a part of his dearest friend’s family. See his old teachers and mentors. I’m not mad.

My eldest son and his girlfriend had a baby earlier this month. I have a granddaughter. This Thanksgiving they wanted to do a “new family” thing. I get that. I have been there. Establish your own turf – what and how you want to mark the holidays and the passing of time. How can I object?

Youngest son is still at home. So, I guess he’s stuck. We had a fantastic meal that we prepared together. We watched movies. We talked. We made Christmas plans. Nothing to object to.

The funny thing is: I have always been the person who wanted some version of Clark Griswold’s holidays. I want a house crammed with people and pets and food and drink. I have never had that. Two marriages. Three kids. One grandchild. What I have always thought I wanted has never happened. But…

… it was a Thanksgiving with one person (a great person, don’t get me wrong!), and was a hard one. Well, it was hard for a minute. Then, it was pretty great once I remembered to embrace what is.

1We all get it – right? No one owes us anything. And, often the whole grass-is-greener scenario is all too real. But, think about this: if this first holiday of the season wasn’t exactly what you wanted: it’s ok. If it was a hard one: it’s ok. Things didn’t turn out how you wanted? It will be ok.

This holiday season, I resolve to embrace what is. Enjoy every person who is there. Enjoy every minute of every candle, carol, and cookie.

My hope for everyone who reads this is that during this holiday season – regardless of your religious and cultural ties  – you are able to take time and have love for all of those in your life.

Let go of preconceived notions and unrealistic demands. Just be. Let the happiness of the season –  the happiness of being alive – envelop you in its graciousness.

Peace.

 

Shhhh

images-4It was quiet. Otherworldly quiet this afternoon when son #3 (the only one at home) and I took a walk. I posited that the normal car noise pollution was cut enough to let us actually hear ourselves think as we wandered the neighborhood, dog on leash, food in bellies, and crisp air on our noses.

Some holidays create this preternatural silence: Christmas Eve, Easter morning, and Thanksgiving afternoon. Neighborhoods usually bustling with yard games, parents shuttling kids to sports, teens heading off to work or out with friends slow down. These activties are muffled in the weight of certain holidays.

It was nice, this silence. We chatted in breathy tones, as if to talk out loud would upset the natural order. We listened to our footsteps. Son even scolded the couple of cars that had the temerity to speed past. We needed silence. Quietude.

Every day these past few months have brought screaming news stories of partisan outrage, social horror, and politics as anything but usual. Don’t get me wrong – the outrage is warranted; the horror is real; and I don’t even know where politics begin and reality TV begins anymore. But, we have had a dearth of quiet – and we need that quiet.

We need to find space and time to calm our own minds and souls. We can’t fight every moment. We can’t read comments every waking minute. It’s a horrible cycle to get stuck in. Read – discuss – rage – comment – fret – fume – read more. And then someone fabulous seems to die.

Don’t get me wrong – there’s plenty wrong with the world and how things are going. And, if we are to live in this world, I think we have an obligation to be informed about it and make a difference where and when we can. However, I also know that we can’t stay stuck in fight-or-flight mode continually. A counselor once told me is that staying stuck in that fight-or-flight mindset has devastating physical and psychological effects on people. We have to find times and spaces to disengage from whatever is creating that conundrum.

We need silence. Unplug. Stay inside. Turn off. Go outside. Listen to nothing. Hear the beating of your heart. 56280158f47827df62b1c7033ec49d46Lay on the couch. Feel the whoosh of blood in your veins. Sit on the porch. Stretch the creaks in your joints. Feel. Breathe. Just be.

It’s likely been an eventful year for you. Possibly a rough year. Maybe a devastating year.

Don’t forget that silence is always available; we need only to welcome it.

 

 

I’m Afraid. Not.

Scene 1:

“You don’t want to move out west. There’s going to be a giant earthquake, and the elderly will be the first to die.”

What? That was the sum up of a friend’s assessment of my plan to get a PhD to eventually teach writing or direct a fountain-pen-on-papercommunity writing program in Oregon or Washington.

In two sentences he told me that I should be afraid, my dreams were foolish, and that I was old. My response was, “Well, I can’t live like that. We had an earthquake in Georgia a few years ago. There are accidents every day. I didn’t stop driving simply because my sister had a car wreck. Life goes on.”

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Scene 2:

Earlier this summer, there was a tragic attack in an Israeli market. Middle son was in Israel at the time; he had been in that market earlier the same day of the shooting. I had friends texting me frantically, asking if my son was okay. I had friends telling me I should insist he come home immediately.

That’s not a thing. I lived in the USSR in 1990-1991. Demonstrations, food lines, a metro stabbing were just a few of the things I was privy to. No. I texted my son. He was fine. I was fine. I wasn’t upset at all.

Sure, there are countries where danger is higher; wisdom is checking the warnings, being a smart traveler, and knowing how to be a citizen of the world. Middle son is fine and continued his travels to Rwanda and is presently in Uganda. Am I worried? Nope. He is living.

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Scene 3:

Back in May, youngest son texted me from school: “We are having a fire drill.”

Me: “Ok.”

Son: “I guess it was a bomb threat. We are at the park.”

Me: “Are teachers with you?’

Son: “Yes.”

Me: “Are you ok?”

Son: “Yes.”

Me: “Okay, see you after school.”

Youngest son was indignant; he felt I should have been worried. Outraged. Scared. I wasn’t. Maybe it was the 20+ years of teaching; maybe it was that I went to my classroom the day after Columbine and talked to kids about it; maybe (as he thought) I was too damn nonchalant. He has to learn how to navigate and live.

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2928da50e17ef551652939ba0f0f90dcYou see, I don’t believe that living in fear is any way to live. I don’t want my sons to think that traveling the world is a ticket to death. I don’t want live safely, thinking that I can’t move somewhere because there might be a geological event some time in the distant future. I don’t want to have dusty lists of regrets and shouldofs as company; I want friends, family, bright colors, open windows, and revolving doors.

Years ago I was conflicted about taking a high pressure job or staying in the classroom. My sister said to me, “Don’t be one of those wimpy people who never try.” (I took the job.) To me, staying home because something bad might happen is a guarantee of depression and hopelessness.

I want my days to be varied. I want my sons to see the world and try to new stuff. Risk is inherent in life. But, so many people act and live out of fear, that I, well, I fear for them. I know that many people are happily ensconced in their communities, friends, and jobs. That is their adventure; I am as supportive of them as I am of the traveler who wants to collect passport stamps. The only problem arises when living becomes so narrow because we are scared. And that – as my dad says – is no way to live.

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