Monday, July 30, 2012

A Circle This Morning

Transmission:  I felt the Earth turn today, in the morning while opening the shades.  Fall is coming.  This I appreciate more than the first greening of spring, as the heat and humidity of a southern summer limits my range of activity and desire to live fully.

This morning is cooler, darker.

And yet I shouldn't be deceived by the change, as there are two more months of heat yet to live through.  A North Carolina summer and a Michigan winter have similar affects on a mind.  I look outside like a patient dog waiting for the master, waiting for the heat to pass so I can go out.  I like to run in the morning, and nine o'clock is my favorite hour.  There is golden light spreading sideways, not punishing from a direct beam overhead.  In this light, everything has a true color not washed out in white.

The skin on my neck and arms glows with moisture from the balmy air.  I can breathe.  Have the trees release something good at this hour?  Moisture gathered during the night is absorbed and consumed by leaves, earth and air.  The day has begun.


    "Only love can make it rain.
     The way the beach is kissed by the sea.
     Only love,
     Can make it rain,
     Like the sweat of lovers laying in the fields.
     Love, reign o'er me."            ---Pete Townsend


I wonder what I can do with the life I have been given.  Maybe that is part of the problem.  There's too many examples to follow, instead I should just look within and go forward on inner-pilot.

Writing must be one of those choices, repeatedly suggested.  And for a while I practiced it publicly, but this became a problem because the format prevented full disclosure of deep issues that should remain private.  Therefore the scope could not include levels of realism that would add real depth and conflict.  A blog is like a social coffee gathering, and not a place to discuss the long term affects of mistreatment, abuse or betrayal.

It is not the place to explain the negative consequences of habits, dependency and addiction.

I guess it could be a place for all of that, but not under the banner of a children's handmade shop with a creativity theme.

But once while writing under this banner, a transmission arrived.  Unmistakably I heard the still small voice suggest that I let God provide for me.

Does this mean write?

Am I an addict dependent upon my enabler to keep me supplied in my basic needs and would a writing career reinforce those circles of exchange?  Is this an element of my psyche ingrained from 18 years of smoking?  Or is this my role in our family?  Why do I hold back when I could be forging a path into self sustaining support for me, for us?  Could my dependence be killing my drive to love?

That last question scared me so much I walked away to fold laundry.

If I wrote what would come out would be a book of questions.  Transmission practice is a conversation.

"I just don't know how to proceed."

"I suppose one word at a time."

----See?  It's like that.  A question, an obvious answer.

"All the questions have already been asked.  Yet someday, someone might read my questions.  Does that matter?  They have their own code of living."

To this, no response.  It's like that.  Sometimes a clue, sometimes dead silence.

Circling around the issues.  Circling around and around like the routine of maintaining the house.  I begin in the kitchen, maybe washing last night's dishes and starting coffee.  Then off to my desk for more circling, around those familiar haunts online, the same places over again, where people I've come to trust are faithfully present.  Each day the time is just a little later when I extract myself from the screen, now not as endlessly fascinated as I once was, but my need to be inspired or validated for the day keeps me hanging on.

It becomes more meaningless, less fruitful, more artificial every day.  When this feeling creeps in, I can leave my chair and go out into the bigger circling of home, yard, neighborhood, city, state, country, then home again.

The circle continues.  And somehow I know that the writing alone cannot sustain me.  Not yet.  Not until it consumes me like a fire fed on logs with sap that crackles, leaving beds of glowing red coals to instantly ignite a new burning.


Sunday, July 15, 2012

Taking a Break


You know the feeling you get when you have been trying to accomplish many different things at once for such a long time that everything ends up being a half-hearted attempt at best?  Perhaps I've reached the threshold of ENOUGH.

I can't promise that there will be more to come, here in this space.

Taking what has been a long overdue time for private reflection, I'm turning in.

Your friend in peace,

Jenny

Friday, July 13, 2012

Resistance

       There's a rut on my path and I'm pinning my wheels in the mud.  It happens to even the most determined, headstrong dreamers.  Today I have at least a possible explanation for how this happened.  Through Elliot's recent assertion of independence, which grows daily, I looked at myself and realized that he gets it from me: I am after all, experiencing a hopeless case of mid-life extended adolescence; perpetually resistant to instruction.

      I like to find a flaw in the tapestry of wisdom, then use that flaw as a reason to reject it.  I want to make my own interpretation and mold it to my need.  I wonder, are we genetically coded to resist?  Or is this a cultural trait of the American?  Our individuality seems to require this trait, otherwise we would be a civilization of clones, raising flags and marching in honor of a dictator.

     I am subversive and resistant, even at the cost of productivity, practical solutions and efficiency. 

    This means that sometimes, I am foolish.


I discovered that like my son, I am resistant to instruction when:

1.  The instructions are tedious and technical:


      
You will notice when you change the exposure level as demonstrated in the last tip, the shutter speed also changed to suit that particular exposure. You can however set the camera so it's the aperture that changes to suit the required exposure instead. To do this, press the exposure compensation button example of exposure compensation button down while turning the rotator to the correct exposure. This way it will be the aperture that is changed and not the shutter speed.

Therefore, before setting the correct exposure, it's important that you ask yourself which setting is more important to keep for your specific shot. Is the aperture more important or the shutter speed? If you're shooting a landscape, then I recommend keeping the aperture (f/number) as you had originally set it to. If you are photographing a moving object like a bird for example, then I recommend keeping the shutter speed setting.


 Now take the photograph.



2.  The instructions have been repeated so often in the media to have lost all meaning.  


In order to lose weight, expend more calories than you consume.


3.  The instructions are too open-ended or vague.

  I don't know how to tell you how to make this couch. The original instructions included are FAR from detailed. You will have to wing the upholstery completely.

4.  The resulting example is an image of perfection.

    



5.  If the instructions suggest that I need to make a large investment of time and finances to achieve the desired result.




 6.  If the instructor appears and sounds like a classic authoritarian.


 7.  If I am already deeply involved in a habitual practice and the instruction requires a disruption of my routine.


8.  If the instructions trigger fear at the thought of risk.

 

 

  

 9.  If the instructions are so clear, simple and direct that my adolescent mind rejects them based on a masochistic need for complexity.

If you want to change the title, try brainstorming.



                                                                   ******

     Anne Lamott once wrote about becoming yourself by route of discovering what you're not.  Perhaps because I am fond of Lamott and her witty sarcasm, I suddenly don't feel resistant.  I have been resistant to changing the name of my blog, shop, fb page, twitter, etc for all of the above reasons.  Months ago I was reminded to simply practice brainstorming, at least five minutes a day.  This resulted in a great tag line and mission, but still no viable title.  Perhaps I'll begin again by following Lamott's advice and begin with the obvious; the "what it's not."

Then I asked for more instructions, wondering how people choose names.  How to name your dog seemed like a good place to begin.


5 Tips on Naming Your Dog (from dog-answers.com)

  1. Choose a name that will be easy for your dog to learn. A two-syllable name usually works best. Get your dog used to hearing his name often. It should be spoken in a gentle and happy manner. There is no sound more pleasant for a dog than the sound of his own name.

  2. Don't give your dog a name that sounds like a command. Avoid names like "Joe" (No), "Jay" (Stay), or "Fletch" (Fetch).

  3. Your dog deserves a respectful name. The attitude you and others develop toward your dog can be affected by the name you give it. Avoid derogatory names like Bozo and Doofus. Steer clear of names that have negative connotations like Diablo, Lucifer, Satan, and Cujo.

  4. Your dog's name should not sound like any other name within the family, a close friend or neighbor. You want to avoid confusion and hurt feelings. (My neighbor and my dog were both named "Charlie", and my neighbor would think I was yelling for him whenever I would call my dog in from the yard.)

  5. If your dog is going to be around kids or the elderly, avoid upsetting names like Nightmare, Killer, or Monster.




Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Photographic Memories

     Right now a pile of boxes are smack dab in the middle of my bedroom floor.  It's not like me to leave out a mess.  I'm more of a stuff everything into a closet type of organizer.  I absolutely DREAD the chore of cleaning out my closet space, but it's been affecting how I feel about myself and my work for a while.  With the wonderful, absolutely wonderful rain and a free schedule with no demands, I went into the closet yesterday and stood there for a while.  It was stuffy and hot and a disaster.  I've often thought of taking down the outer wall to this closet and creating a meditation space.  I'm sure I could find another closet to hang my summer sun dresses, wedding gown and jeans.   While many people love the idea of having a spacious walk in closet, it is the place I throw things that I have no idea what to do with.  Mostly, there are memories that I find difficult to sort through.

     On the floor of my closet there are boxes with photographs and journals that I cannot seem to organize because during the sorting I get all weepy inside.  Looking at one photograph leads to looking at another.  Before I know it, I've been sitting for an hour, stuck in the sticky goo of memory.  I don't like to read my writing voice of eighteen years ago, or even one year ago.  I don't like to look at pictures of myself as a young mom.  It's funny, but aging doesn't seem to bother me.  I looked at a picture of Emily and I when she was two, and then compared myself with a quick glance in the mirror.  I like me better now.

     Like a person driving by an accident on the road, I couldn't turn away and glanced through the first journal I wrote as a new mom.  At that time I was in the grips of post-partum depression and living away from my parents and brothers, my home church, my neighbors and extended family.  My first husband worked long hours on second shift.  I didn't know a soul in the town where we were living.  I had recently left college and my own licensed home day care to take on full-time motherhood.  The joy of my new, perfect, sweet daughter was clouded by sleep deprivation, isolation and dependence.  In this journal wrote that I was ashamed and shocked to realize that I had been watching up to 10 hours of televison in one day.   This wasn't me.  This couldn't be my life.  I was an active young person who loved people, books, crafting, sports, the outdoors.  This couldn't be me.  I'm surprised that I made it through those months (years?) without medication or therapy.  

     I have no idea why I've kept that journal for so long.  Journals are sometimes a place to cry out one's despair privately.  I should have thrown it away.  Maybe today, I will.  Today I'm going to face the memory pile again, sorting through pictures, organizing everything as carefully as possible.  This was my life after all, and while much of it was beautiful, there was pain and loss too.  It's hard to look at Emily's young life in photographs and remember that her room here still sits empty for most of the year.  I asked myself yesterday how it was possible that I let go and lost my daughter.  Then I have to remind myself that she isn't lost; she's healthy and alive and discovering her life's journey.  I don't have much to say or do about it, and that's the way it is.  It feels good to reconnect when you don't have a ton of expectations for one another, but can talk like friends talk to one another, with interest and support.

     But let me tell you, it's hard to go through the boxes.  While being a new mom changed everything, it also brought me closer to who I am.  If it weren't for Emily's arrival, I  may have spent years chasing a society based expectation, instead of having many years to develop and grow into the ever complicated me.

     Yet being intuitive and mindful has its drawbacks.  If one spends too much time getting wrapped up in the philosophical side of life, focus and purpose can become blurred.  Just like watching too much television can  make a person's life miserable, so too can being an over active thinker.

     Several years ago, well, maybe more like thirteen years ago, I realized that I needed to have hands-on projects going almost all the time, or have a job that requires constructing, organizing or assembling.  I do take periodic breaks with nothing on the table, but I find that when I don't have an active project going for at least two weeks, I start to get obsessive about perfection and orderliness.  Then I don't like me very much.  I can't breathe.  Richard notices the that the cleanliness factor has gone up, and instructs Elliot to be neat with everything.  We all try very hard to keep up the standard and then in the following days, everything floats back into it's unorganized position, like random particles of unrelated parts.  The world shifts and turns, and so does everything that's not packed in a closet, hung on a hanger, folded in a drawer, put on a shelf.

     In a last minute discovery before leaving the pile of memory, I happened upon my papers from college.  Which got me thinking and wondering about whether or not I had done anything really beautiful while at Guilford.  Soon, a memory arose to the surface that has me full of an idea for my next project.  In my imagination, I can see it through to the end.  Which will help me hurry up with the boxes and get back to the table.










Sunday, July 8, 2012

Elliot turns Eight

Today the house is quiet.  The only sound I hear is the occasional tick of the coffee pot and the snapping of Lego bricks.  Sunlight is beginning to stream in through the eastern windows while traffic will soon flow in a steady rhythm of folks headed to church.  We are waking up with hair that sticks up in all directions, tired but happy after celebrating with friends. 


Spaghetti and Meatballs for everyone!  
Elliot took extra time to really think about his birthday wish.  I love that he is thoughtful and I hope his wish comes true.
Note to self:  two hundred water bombs are not worth the effort:  no one got wet during this water game!
Elliot is so thrilled with his gifts that his expressions of gratitude produce ear plugging and cringing. 
What party would be complete without a reenactment of Medieval warfare and the slaying of a dragon? (No one was harmed in the making of this scene)


Despite the heat, it turned out to be a wonderful evening. Everyone whom we invited came and there was plenty of food, drinks and fun.  While it was challenging to entertain two weeks in a row, I'm thankful that my husband understands my belief that building community is important for our family.  This year, we have all been blessed with great friends and kind neighbors.  Elliot is learning that hosting a party involves plenty of hard work and preparation.  He's also learning that a party is really about celebrating the people who have offered their friendship to us.  For the first time in his young life, Elliot really understood the deeper meaning behind any celebration. If it's your birthday, and you have friends to share it with, it's not really about you, or the gifts, or even the cake.  It's about the people you love and appreciate.


 Every year, after the party, we say that we are not going to host a celebration every year.  But his time, while the adults gathered on our deck, enjoying the sights and sounds of the children playing, we were already planning to gather again in the fall.  We imagined cooler air, a campfire and pumpkin carving.

To celebrate today, I'm closing this post with a few quotes.  Thank you friends and family who visit us here, who celebrate with us from far away.  You are appreciated and loved, just the same as those who are able to be here in person.


Melody Beattie: “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”

 Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Friendship should be surrounded with ceremonies and respects, and not crushed into corners. Friendship requires more time than poor busy men can usually command.”

Hafiz of Persia: “We don't need sugar, flour or rice or anything else. We just want to see our dear ones.”


Ralph Waldo Emerson: “I awoke this morning with devout thanksgiving for my friends, the old and the new.”
 
 Robert McAfee Brown: “How does one keep from 'growing old inside'? Surely only in community. The only way to make friends with time is to stay friends with people…. Taking community seriously not only gives us the companionship we need, it also relieves us of the notion that we are indispensable.”

Anais Nin: “Throw your dreams into space like a kite, and you do not know what it will bring back: a new life, a new friend, a new love, a new country.”

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Why E.B. White would have Blogged

 I have an item to write on my blank Christmas Wish list.  I know it's a little early to start thinking about that list, but usually I'm so full of anxiety about the holiday that when December arrives and someone asks me what I'd like to receive, my mind goes completely numb.  This year, I'm being proactive.  This year, I intend to remember that there is one thing that I would enjoy opening and consuming during the holidays.  I'm imagining a vision of me sitting next to the fire while heaps of snow are falling outside (a girl can dream, can't she?)  In my hand is a copy of Essays of E.B. White or Letters of E.B. White.

 I was a kid who walked around in the scenery of White's books.  Now that I am grown, I find an oasis in his stories.  While I am grounded in the present with it's heady forward motion, White's stories remind me to  step back into the memories of when I sat on the bank of a creek watching and listening with rapt attention as red wing blackbirds sang their clear, sharp calls among the cattails.  I was a child close to the earth, as James Taylor would say.  I smelled the soil and the grass and felt the moisture of summer mornings.  I was allowed plenty of solitary time to observe the natural world and to enjoy it.  While I also did my share of chores, much of my early life was spent outdoors, embracing the change and beauty of every season.

In addition to being a storyteller of the highest order, if White had lived today, I think he may have blogged--despite the fact that he was a very private person and did not want public attention.  There are many of us who use this medium but who also shy away from crowds and big scenes.  Of course my argument here is open for debate, but my claim is based on the issues he attends to in the introduction of Essays.  If you mentally replace the word "essayist" with "blogger" in the following paragraphs, you'll understand what I mean.

He writes:

"The essayist is a self-liberated man, sustained by the childish belief that everything he thinks about, everything that happens to him, is of general interest.  He is a fellow who thoroughly enjoys his work, just as people who take bird walks enjoy theirs.  Each new excursion of the essayist, each new "attempt," differs from the last and takes him into new country.  This delights him.  Only a person who is congenitally self-centered has the effrontery and the stamina to write essays."

He continues:

"There are as many kinds of essays as their are human attributes or poses, as many essay flavors as their are Howard Johnson ice creams.  The essayist arises in the morning and if he has work to do, selects his garb from an unusually extensive wardrobe: he can pull on any sort of shirt, be any sort of person according to his mood or subject matter---philosopher, scold, jester, raconteur, confidant, pundit, devil's advocate, enthusiast.  I like the essay, have always liked it..."

But then,

"The essayist, unlike the novelist, the poet, and the playwright must be content in his self-imposed role of second-class citizen.  A writer who has his sights trained on the Nobel Prize, or other earthly triumphs had best write a novel, a poem or a play and leave the essayist to ramble about, content with living a free life and enjoying the satisfactions of a somewhat undisciplined existence."

While the following statement seems to disprove my argument, even bloggers who write under pseudonyms usually follow the unwritten code that blogging is about at the very least, emotional truth, even when we don't feel at liberty to reveal all.

"There is one thing the essayist cannot do though---he cannot indulge himself in deceit or concealment, for he will be found out in no time."

He states that "natural candor" is the basic ingredient to any essay.  I believe that natural candor exists in the blogs that I love, whether or not the writer has fully revealed their legal identity or whether it is even possible to reveal the whole truth about a person in writing.

White continues by addressing the issue of the ego's role in writing essays. By acknowledging it's existence, he takes a light-hearted poke at himself thereby deflating the pompous balloon of self importance.

"I think some people find the essay the last resort of the egoist, a much too self-conscience and self-serving form for their taste; they feel that it is presumptuous of a writer to assume that his little excursions or his small observations will interest the reader.  There is some justice in their complaint.  I have always been aware that I am by nature self-absorbed and egotistical; to write of myself to the extent I have done indicates a too great attention to my own life, not enough to the lives of others."

And while this may have been a difficult inner conflict to resolve,  I am so very thankful to E.B. White that he paid "too great attention to (his) own life."









Sunday, July 1, 2012

Upcycled Fun for the Economist with Grandiose Notions

It was a grandiose plan.  The kind I have a tendency to speak out loud before knowing where the resources will arrive in order to implement such whimsical notions.  It wasn't practical.  Soon, I would have to pay up.  I put it out of my mind while we traveled in the first part of June.  But once home from vacation and the laundry done, I needed to get to work.  I also needed help.

Remember when I wrote about Happy Mail?  It was my plan for keeping the household in a state of peace while four children negotiated loudly and fought for everything, including bagels with the most raisins, to the biggest slice of watermelon. To ease tensions and save my sanity, I gave them an incentive.  Every day, if they were able to work out their problems peacefully and without hurting their sibling's bodies and feelings, they would receive a small prize in their mail box. We called the reward system "happy mail."  After a while, I got frustrated with making little handmade trinkets every day and switched to tokens.  I told the children that all the tokens they earned would be put in a jar and that when the jar was full, we would do something fun together.  I was initially thinking about about a pizza outing or roller skating.  Then, one day, we had a meeting.  What could we do together that everyone would enjoy?  Someone, (was that me???) suggested a back yard kiddie carnival with games, handmade prizes and treats.

Like I said, sometimes I am inspired by grandiose ideas and then have to make good on my promises.

I wasn't thinking that our carnival would arrive in the middle of a 100 degree weekend.  Due to negotiations with custodial care and a swim team schedule, this weekend was the only one that worked for the children.  Richard sweated buckets, but mowed the lawn and helped Elliot and I set up everything we had worked on during the past week.  Since this carnival was low budget, we used boxes, scraps and found items to build a mini golf course and carnival style games.  Richard set up the pool we bought last year, and one hour before the carnival began, we were finally finished and ready.  It was so hot that the balloons we used for a dart game kept popping from the heat.

I had conflicting feelings about spoiling the children, even though everything was made using something we recycled, except the food.  Richard was cranky, and feeling a little bit resentful.  It was a lot of work. I watched him work and grumble, appreciating his continual gift of love and sacrifice.  I am grateful to him and the way he got over his sour mood to enjoy the evening, in spite of the sweat and earlier irritation.  I am continually thankful to him for accepting me as I am, imperfect and impractical in my creative and whimsical lifestyle.

When the children arrived, there were smiles and wows, laughter and the noise of splashing.  The handmade gifts were hugged and played with. There were games of skill, yet everyone won something. Our new neighbors with their sweet two year girl joined in the fun. There was a table spread with hotdogs, chips, veggies and a beautiful white frosted coconut cake that the children's mother brought. Everyone stayed late and went home tired and happy.

Then a storm blew in and Richard and I, after a long, long day, rushed into the back yard to collect everything that threatened to be blown away and damaged by the rain and wind.  This actually saved us from having to clean up the next day, which was also in the 100's.

Today I am tired...and thinking about the fact that in six days we will do this again for Elliot's eighth birthday.

I could have done it differently, all of it. But then I think about the memories we are making, and how much Elliot's life is enriched by his friends.  His cousins all live hundreds of miles away, as do his grandmothers, his sister, and his uncles and aunts.  It could be a solitary kind of life for a boy who is home schooled as well as living like an only child.

I am fully aware that it would be easier to pay for a party hosted and cleaned up by someone else, or not have a party at all.  But this is what I love to do.  I love to make things, share my time, and celebrate these moments of my son's growing up, before that day arrives when the gift he'll appreciate most is a check and a card, or a phone call from far away.









So, Richard if you are reading this, thank you.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart for helping our son to have a vibrant, busy, fun childhood.  That you are involved in Elliot's childhood everyday, guiding with love and support while also teaching important values and behaviors is something I celebrate inside.  I'm so thankful to be living and sharing life, parenting and our happy home with you. 






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