Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Getting Right With Me


Ahhh, the holidays. That magical time of year when all of the family dynamics, good and awkward, are laid bare and magnified. For years, it began before Thanksgiving when Bubba and I would square off to pitch our respective holiday preferences to each other. My family or his? Or neither - should we just stay home?

Over the last fifteen years the discussion has evolved from a careful, quiet waltz to a quickstep. We know each other well enough now that we can state our case without hurting feelings and we know when to offer compromise and when to dig our heels in. Whew! Some things do get easier with time.

Others, not so much. Like the inferiority complex I get when I begin to envision the holidays with Bubba's family. This year we are hosting Christmas dinner at our house and, while I have had an enormous amount of fun decorating and planning the menu and shopping for gifts, when I woke up this morning, that same old feeling sprouted in my gut and took hold. I have 24 hours to feel it, acknowledge it, and yank it out, roots and all. In the past, I would have eaten Christmas goodies to bury it and watered it with wine and coffee and mulled cider. In the past, all I got for my efforts was an acid stomach and a sore jaw. This year, I'm trying something different.

I'm going to spend some quiet time listening to all of the reasons I feel as though I don't measure up. I will anticipate certain gestures or phrases that I know very well fertilize that seedling of self-doubt in my gut and think about how to shield myself from them. I will do my best to remember that this is my Christmas celebration, too, and that while I am now part of this family, I am under no obligation to do things as though their blood runs in my veins. My house, my rules:

1. Gratitude
2. Honesty
3. Love
4. Generosity of spirit
5. Openness
6. Self-respect

Those are my rules for this holiday. Anyone who wants to break them is welcome to step outside until they can honor them once again. My gift to myself this year is to take the time to get right with me before everyone comes to celebrate with us. I have a good feeling about it.

Happy holidays!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Mind. Full. Ness.


Had an hour to kill yesterday and I was captive in the mall without any shopping to do and I'd already had my coffee. Luckily there is a very cool newsstand in this particular mall and the Starbucks employees were only too happy to get me a free cup of ice water upon request. I wonder if it was the simplest drink they'd made all day, what with the expanded holiday menu of eggnog, caramel (salted and not), peppermint, chocolate and various other festive flavors.

Sorry - took off for tangent-town there. Anyway, I purchased a copy of the latest Yoga Journal and Shambhala Sun magazines and settled down to read for a bit. I came across an article that perfectly fit my frenetic needs for the moment (short, easily digested, impactful) on mindfulness and was instantly hooked. I am afraid that, while I love food and drink, I sit squarely in the center of that camp who uses both to self-soothe. I have also cultivated the habit of multi-tasking for no particular purpose whatsoever. Example: unless I am at a table with other people, I never eat or drink without also reading or surfing the internet or dashing off an email or twelve or talking on the phone. None of those activities are time-sensitive, so it's not as though I need to be doing them while simultaneously eating or drinking. It is also rare for me to sit down to do something (write, read, perform surgery on a beloved stuffed pet, watch the latest episode of "House" or "Parenthood") without having at least a cup of tea or coffee or fizzy water or a glass of wine next to me. I have come to equate the acts of eating and drinking with doing other things. In other words, I am completely UNmindful when it comes to eating and drinking.

Now, read this excerpt from the article I read and tell me how much you want to stop and be mindful the next time you put something into your mouth: "After writing for a few hours I'm ready to reward myself with a [lemon] tart. The first bite is delicious. Creamy, sweet-sour, melting. When I take the second bite, I think about what to write next. The flavor in my mouth decreases. I take another bite and get up to sharpen a pencil. As I walk, I notice I am chewing, but there is almost no lemon flavor in this third bite. I sit down, get to work, and wait a few minutes. Then I take a fourth bite, fully focused on the smells, tastes, and touch sensation in my mouth. Delicious, again! I discover...that the only way to keep that "first bite" experience, to honor the gift [of the tart] my friend gave me, is to eat slowly...if I do anything else while I'm eating, the flavor diminishes."

The glands at the back of my mouth began releasing saliva with the description of the first bite. But when I began following her thoughts and movements throughout the next few sentences, the sensation was lost. That's exactly how I eat. Anticipate. Realize that first bite. Move on mentally and shovel the rest in until the plate is empty. Be sad that it's gone because I only really enjoyed the first bite and forgot to savor the rest. Decide I want more. Get more. Repeat the entire sequence.

It occurred to me that when babies are taking their first tastes of food, they are a captive audience to the mindfulness of eating. They are fully experiencing the smells, tastes, and textures of the food that is going into their mouths and, one one hand this is awesome and exciting, but it's not all that strange that they reject some foods entirely because of this overwhelming experience. As adults, we have learned to dismiss most of the sensations associated with foods after that first bite, but babies aren't reading or writing holiday cards while they are tasting food. They are simply eating and experiencing that entire process and all it brings with it, for good and bad.

I am taking Lola and her best friend out to lunch today for their holiday "date" and while I know the table will be loud and giggly and rambunctious, I am going to do my best to eat slowly and mindfully and be present with each of the sensations that accompany my lunch. I'm willing to bet I will eat less but feel more sated at the end of it.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Water, Water Everywhere...


Ahh, the irony. Too much water means that I can't use any. The rain has been coming down for days, forcing motorists to push their wipers to the limit and bus riders to wait a few feet back from the stops to avoid the deluge coming from the streets whenever a car goes by.

3:00 AM Monday morning: Lola appears at my bedside, "Mama, what is that loud buzzing noise?" Oh, crap. Her bedroom is directly above the septic alarm. The backyard has absorbed as much rain as it can and the septic holding tank can't push any water off into the drainfield/pond. Bubba slides out from between the flannel sheets, pushes his feet into his slippers and pads outside in his underwear to flip the switch that shuts the screaming alarm off.

6:15 AM Monday morning. Reality hits us all. No showers. No dishwasher. No washing machine. No flushing toilets. We can't afford to put any more water into the system. Bubba's on his way to the airport for a business trip, so he jumps through the shower as quickly as he can, but the rest of us pull our hair up into ponytails or under caps and get dressed.

With my low-flow toilets, front-load washing machine and low water usage dishwasher, I generally think of myself as being pretty conscious of the water I use, but this puts a new spin on things. At least once a year I find myself in this situation and am reminded that too much water in the yard means no water for me. The three minutes it takes to get the water in the sink warm enough to hand wash something is an absolute no-go. Instead, I pour water into the teapot and warm it up to wash the thermoses out for the girls' lunches. I am more careful with what I touch so that I don't need to wash my hands every few minutes.

Just getting through a morning having to think about every task in terms of whether or not it will add water to the septic tank taxes my brain. And it makes me feel incredibly grateful to not live in a place where this is a daily chore. By this time next week, I will be able to flush toilets with wild abandon and Eve will dawdle in the shower for an extra few minutes of warmth. We will have a houseful of guests for Christmas and I won't follow them around reminding them to turn the water off when they're brushing their teeth like I do with my kids.

For now, there are puddles of standing water in the yard that the dog is enjoying immensely and I'm going on two days without doing a load of laundry (not exactly bugging me, I must say). Throughout the day I find myself wondering how many new ways I can find to cut our water usage and hoping they will stick with us all long after the septic tank is back in working order.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

This Blessing


Blessings are not hard to come by, especially in times of turmoil, but it often takes me a while to discover them. And sometimes when I do, I feel conflicted. As though I ought to be angry or frustrated or hurt like some of the people around me. In solidarity. But instead I can't stop smiling because I feel like I've unlocked some hidden door that lets out light and warmth shining toward me.

A member of my family has been hurt by another. Someone she trusted and relied upon has been taking advantage of her for a good long time and, when confronted, had the audacity to admit it without showing any remorse. The waves are widening out and touching many people and for a while, the betrayal seemed to grow by the minute as additional evidence was uncovered. Those of us closest to her are pitching in to understand the depth of the mess and begin to clean it up and, from the beginning I've pitched and rolled between two poles.

I was upset and sickened by the acts of this person. Almost immediately I heard a voice inside me calling for compassion and forgiveness and understanding. Right on the heels of that voice came another, "It won't change anything. Or fix anything. And it's disloyal." I felt as though I needed to show my anger in order to support my family. I decided to sit with all of this for a while and see what settled.

Yesterday a page from The Four Agreements came to me: don't take it personally. What a relief! The things this person did weren't about me. Or my family. Any of us. They have nothing to do with us except that we caught the fallout. Flashes of sadness for this person came throughout the day - what terrible lessons and circumstances led her to this? I hope that she is able to find some help. Some relief. Some understanding and compassion for herself some day. I still hesitate to speak these things out loud, knowing that many others in my family are still reeling from the pain and anger, the practicalities of cleaning up the mess left behind.

This morning I wondered: what if this person had been family? What if she had come to one of us and asked for our help? What if she had admitted her bad behavior, acknowledged her weakness and asked for forgiveness and assistance? If she were family, it would certainly have been granted. Not necessarily without anger or regret, but she would have been held in love, stayed within the circle of the family, and had people to stand by her while she worked through her troubles.

I don't mean to say that I think anyone ought to reach out to her and offer this. It is not my betrayal to recover from, not my mess to clean up. I am not prescribing any particular set of actions. But I am not angry or seeking "justice" or retribution, either. That simple shift, the question of 'what if she had been part of the family' gave me a vantage point from which to open my heart to pure understanding and compassion. I no longer feel any pull to go back to the other extreme of anger or betrayal. I am sad for everyone involved, but am free to hold them all in love and hope without feeling disloyal to anyone.

And so tonight, I will carry a smudge stick of sage to the house, ask permission to light it and walk through the house with only the purest of intentions and love as my guide to cleanse the space and offer hope. My family may think I'm nuts (okay, they definitely will), but I will know that, for me, this experience has been a true blessing and I am ready to accept all it has to offer.

Monday, December 06, 2010

The Days are Packed


With book reviews, visits from family, and birthday celebrations.

We had a houseful over Thanksgiving and it was pure joy to watch my girls play with their cousins in the snow. The two-year-old twins got to experience their first glimpse of the white stuff along with their family's puppy and my girls and CB were only too happy to introduce them to snow angels, snowballs, rolling in the snow and hot chocolate to warm up afterward. The house was full of noise and a clutter of dishes and coffee mugs, snow boots, jackets, board games and truly creative Lego creations and I was sad to see it end, but exhausted and ready for a break. At least until we do it all over again in four weeks.

My mom came up this weekend to help us celebrate Eve's birthday, a tradition she started eleven years ago when the little monkey was born. Capitalizing on the tween girl attraction to everything shopping mall, I created a scavenger hunt for Eve and her friends that had them sleuthing through stores to find things like the ugliest pair of shoes, a sweater they all would wear, something with more than ten buttons, Hannukah decorations, etc. They were armed with digital cameras and had to snap photos of each of the items on their list and they only got kicked out of one store for taking a picture of "copyrighted information." I'm pretty sure that they weren't trying to re-create the stinky perfume they were photographing...

The final item on the list was to find a gift for a child in need to put underneath the giving tree at Lola's school. Bubba and I gave each team some cash and it was so sweet to watch them pick up the toys that they used to covet not so long ago and all talk at once, lobbying for the gift they wanted to choose. They made excellent budgeting decisions and were sure to pick things that, as Eve put it, "kids really want, not NEED." We finished off the evening gorging ourselves on Thai food and hot fudge sundaes and the girls played tag and hide and seek until they finally fell into sleeping bags around midnight. I'm certain that every year I think Eve is at my favorite age, but the rapid chameleon shifts from child to young woman that take place before my eyes are so miraculous. One moment they are rolling their eyes at the grown-ups tailing them in the mall, insisting that they're old enough to be left alone, and the next minute, they're oohing and aahing over a cute stuffed animal in the shop window. They chatter about how cute some celebrity boy is and then pretend-vomit as they catch sight of lacy underwear in the store, wondering who in the world would wear something like that!

Saturday, Lola had her first basketball game of the season and these girls are firmly in the land of little-girl. They are still working out how to be aggressive with each other, too timid to put their hands up to block the other team's shots and trying to figure out how to politely dribble around their competitors without knocking into them. When someone makes a basket, the entire team stops to scream and hug the lucky girl before running down to the other end to resume play, and often they cheer on the other team when they make a basket as well. Lola's cheering section consisted of Eve, Bubba, myself, my mom and both of Bubba's parents. Every time she glanced into the stands and saw us with our eyes attached to her she grinned that grin that warms you from the inside out.

Today, everyone is back at work and school and CB and I are here alone listening to Annie Lennox sing Christmas songs and wrapping Christmas gifts. I will slowly put the house back together, stopping to reminisce about the last two weeks with every turn. These moments more than any other are filling me with peace and love and hope. When the house is back to its normal state, I will light a candle and send out my wish to the Universe that everyone can experience some measure of family connectedness and joy today and every day.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Visit from JoAnn Deak


I attended a Parent Information Series at Eve's school last night and the speaker was
Dr. JoAnn Deak
. She is a psychologist who has done some amazing studies on the brains of adolescent girls and has written extensively on her findings. I discovered one of them a few years ago on my own, but was turned on to her most recent book by the headmaster at Eve's school, never knowing that JoAnn is actually on the advisory board at the school.

Monday, she spent the entire day with the teachers at the school, talking to them about how to recognize, validate, and work with the unique structure of the adolescent female brain. She then spent two and a half hours in the evening presenting her findings to parents and fielding questions of all types.

Some of the highlights:

The lubrication of nerve cells and brain cells is largely made up of water. When children are not drinking water or other fluids throughout the day on a regular basis, they are literally not thinking as well as they could be. It has been shown that even with 1-2 oz. of water every hour, children's brains perform far better than if they only drink during lunch breaks.

Between the ages of 10 and 20, the emotion center (the amygdala) of a child's brain is literally swollen. The information they receive through their senses travels first to the amygdala and then through the logic/thought processing portion of their brains.

The brains of girls are designed to choose flight over fight, theoretically because of their role in caretaking of the young of the species. It is our job to help build their self-esteem by encouraging them to take risks despite their fears in order to prove to themselves that they are capable. They no longer need to run from saber-toothed tigers to protect their young. They can choose to take on difficult tasks without risk of dying.

While testosterone is the prevalent hormone in male adolescent brains, oxytocin (the tend and befriend hormone) is most prevalent in girls. Want to spur them to action? Threaten something they care about. They are more likely to protect a pet or a loved one than stand up for themselves.

Self-esteem is affected by actions. The more girls do, the more capable they feel, and the better they feel about themselves. Girls tend to do more with their fathers and talk more with their mothers. Fathers have the single biggest affect on an adolescent girl's self esteem when compared to anyone else in her life. Make one snarky comment about her weight and you're setting her up for an eating disorder. ONLY ONE REMARK. Spend more time with her just hanging out or building something and she will feel capable and loved.

Girls have two language centers in their brains and boys only have one.

If a girl is not making eye contact with you, she is not processing what you are saying.

If a boy is making eye contact with you, he is not processing what you are saying. He is probably obsessing about that mole on the side of your nose.

Information intake and information processing cannot take place simultaneously in the brain. Talk for a bit and then ask your child a question about the content (even if you have to pretend to lose your train of thought and say, "where was I?"). This switches the activity from the intake to the processing portion and they are more likely to retain and assimilate the information.

For more, check out Dr. Deak's books. She is a lively speaker and a brilliant researcher.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Reminder

"People who are serious about pursuing their vocation look for purchase, not for a map of the future or a guided way up the cliff. They try not to cling too closely to what seems to bar their way, but look for where the present point of contact actually resides. No matter what it looks like."
David Whyte in Three Marriages

It's the end of my class with Lisa Romeo. It is fitting that outside all is frigid temperatures and solid white landscape. I feel bound by the walls of my house and my mind.

The more I read the more I wish I could write in the way that books light me up, stoke the pilot light inside me and blow that steady breeze that ignites the roaring flame. Today I laid on the couch under my new red blanket, scraping my bottom lip between my teeth, flaring my nostrils, consumed by Emma Rathbone's lighter-fluid prose:

"Mrs. Dandridge is a pile of a person who smells like someone's weird house....She makes a big deal out of getting up and sitting down....She is also in the business of making me want to punch things. The way she says my name, all smug and unwinding, as if she has me summed up and pinned down like a display beetle, makes me want to punch the sky. And then punch the sun for crowding the sky. And then punch a door and maybe a stepmom."

Lisa has taught me much this past four weeks and I have absolutely devoured her knowledge. Every time my inbox alerts me that she has returned some of my work with her notes, I first breathe and remind myself that I need this feedback and it serves to make me a better writer. Generally, then, I concoct some reason to be busy checking my Facebook status or asking my children if they need a snack or transferring laundry from the washer to the dryer before I can come back and actually read her critiques. Because I know that I don't live up to my own standards. I am not yet the writer I want to be.

And now that the class is over and I feel stuck, not able to busy myself with my regular routine of taking the girls to school and making lunches and walking the dog, I have found the David Whyte quote I squirreled away months ago. And I am reminded to just find the spot where I am right now and use that.


Monday, November 22, 2010

And So It Begins...


Holiday shopping. Knowing that if I am to purchase, wrap and ship gifts to England before December 25th, I had better get a move on. And I am one of those people that doesn't have to be in the "holiday mood" to shop for Christmas gifts, but I hate having a deadline. I actually wish that Christmas was celebrated in a totally different way in the United States so that I could get gifts for people I love whenever I dang well please.

Of course, I know retailers and economists everywhere are cursing me right now. What would we do without the holiday season to bolster our earnings/spending? What would we do without this naked consumerism to spur us to spend?

Don't get me started...

There was a time in my life when I would collect gifts throughout the year. If I was traveling and saw something that stopped me cold, yelled at me to GET THIS FOR _________, I would. And then I would bring it home, slap a sticky note on it with the recipient's name (lest I forget that moment of clarity I had when I bought it) and tuck it in a closet. Unfortunately, this often led to some people getting mountains of gifts and others woefully short on items under the tree. Some people are just too dang hard to buy for.

I stopped doing this for several reasons, not the least of which was the economic prosperity of the 1990s when people began spending money like it was raining from the sky and I ended up with things to give them that they had already purchased for themselves. I also married Bubba. He is one of those people that believes in absolute equality in gift-giving and he also has to be "in the mood" to shop. Unfortunately, for him, getting in the mood requires that Christmas be no more than 72 hours away and we find ourselves in an enormous mall with six thousand other frantic shoppers. Not my idea of holiday cheer. He didn't exactly agree with my tendency to overspend by purchasing gifts all throughout the year, either. A few years after we got married, we began drawing names for gift-giving at Christmas and that put the final nail in the coffin of my yearlong gift buying.

I encourage both our families to draw names before Halloween so that I can get a bit of a jump on my gift buying, even if Bubba prefers to wait until the last minute. The honeymoon has been over long enough that I don't even feel badly about not accompanying him to the mall, so he's on his own when it comes to getting stuff for the people whose names he drew.

I will admit that while I hate shopping, I love buying gifts. Enter, the internet and catalog shopping. I can shop from the comfort of my very own couch and have items shipped directly to my door. No parking lots. No lines. No frantic shoppers.

I still wish that we could get rid of the massive holiday gift-giving tradition and just get things for people when we want to for no special reason at all. Ironically, I feel like that would make those gifts all the more special. But far be it from me to buck the system that much. I've got to take baby steps...

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Work of Art or Work in Progress?


I love a good philosophical discussion. Especially when it is a pure exchange of ideas versus an attempt to come to some conclusion. Add in tea, smart-as-a-whip women, and some chocolate, and I'm in Heaven.

The other day we happened to be discussing a book we were all reading, despite the fact that this gathering of women is in no way, shape, or form a book club. One of the ladies wondered aloud how the writer could possibly reconcile the idea of free will with his notion that there is some predetermination of outcomes.

Back in my college days, before I truly discovered philosophy and was strictly a Science/Math/No Such Thing As Woo Woo Spirituality kind of person, I would have laughed in the face of predestination. I would have taken the definitions of both free will and destiny to their most concrete meaning and decided in favor of free will, assuming that the two could never co-exist. Never. Ah, ah - don't even try to take the conversation any further. Lalalala I'm not listening!

Predestiny scared the crap out of me. The idea that I couldn't be in control of each and every moment of my own life frankly sucked. The notion that some of the nasty things I had lived through were actually supposed to happen to me was unfathomable. Even considering the possibility that I couldn't make my own decisions and effect change gave me hives. As I have grown and lived, suffered and triumphed, read about and experienced things that I can't explain using laws of matter and physics, I'm not so sure anymore.

Kristine entered the discussion by talking about her parents' 50th wedding anniversary and went off on a tangent about not booking a photographer to take any family pictures, despite having a conversation with her brother about it months before the event. Of course, it turned out that as the entire family was assembled in one place celebrating, a stranger came by, engaged them all in conversation and offered to take their picture. Of course he was a professional photographer who proceeded to take hundreds of shots of them all, burn the images to a CD on his computer on the spot and present them with the finished product before the party ended.

So it occurred to me to wonder whether this was an example of precisely what we were dancing around. If Kristine is one thread in this tapestry, running through at some angle she can't comprehend, one part of this work of art she doesn't have the perspective to appreciate, does she have free will even as she is bound by the borders and edges and the threads that surround her? She can dive down beneath an adjacent thread and come up an inch or so farther down the line.

Before I risk becoming too nebulous, let me put it this way: Say Kristine and her brother had booked a photographer for their event. If it turns out that this other photographer was "destined" to be the one taking the family photos, it is possible that despite the first booking, the original photographer gets sick or cancels for some reason. In that way, it was through no action of Kristine's that the events occurred, but the eventual outcome happened because it was supposed to. Is it just the stuff of fairy tales and horror movies that we can't escape our destiny or is it possible that even as we exercise our decision-making skills according to our beliefs and knowledge, there is some larger framework that exists that will, in some subtle way, exert itself to effect the outcome that needs to happen?

I used to need to know the answers. All of them. I used to think it was possible to find them - that they existed out there somewhere and I simply needed to discover them. Now I accept that, as one thread in this vast tapestry, it is my connections to others and the ultimate picture that we all make together that are more important. I don't have to know all of the answers and I can still exercise my free will to make decisions for myself and my family and know that if I dip when I should have flown, it will all work out in the end and the end result will not suffer.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Finding the "here" here

Bubba and I spent the weekend in San Francisco. Alone. Together. Sans children. I'm pretty sure the Universe was smiling down on us, with its fog-free mornings and 70+ degree weather in November. I'm not sure why, but I'll take it.

We arrived Friday afternoon and checked in to our hotel down by the ferry terminal. We could hardly wait to toss our suitcase into the room before setting off for a walk. Bubba gets to the Bay Area a lot, but generally his trips are confined to the airport, taxis, and office buildings of clients, so he was eager to explore, too. We found excellent coffee, quirky shops (Bubba's favorite is one whose slogan is "tasty salted pig parts"), and some pretty impressive people-watching opportunities. I love the flavor of San Francisco: thin twenty-something men in their skin-tight yellow or red jeans, aging hippies in their Birkenstocks and dreadlocks and tye-dye, joggers in outfits carefully chosen to showcase their body ink.

It wasn't until we got to Fisherman's Wharf that I found disappointment. Fifteen years ago, it looked like a wharf. Planked walkways, the scent of sourdough bread as much a part of the air as the barking of sea lions, and local artisans hawking their handmade goods against the backdrop of masts and sails and Alcatraz in the distance. Today, it could be anywhere. The shops are those of Anymall, USA; Dreyer's, Hard Rock Cafe, Crazy Shirts and GNC. As we walked, the buildings rose around us on both sides so that we couldn't even see the water beyond the stores.

This is where globalization is too much for me. I want to visit a place as a tourist and find the meat of that place. I want it to stand out and be different. I want to be able to think of that place and have its trademarks spring instantly to my mind. I don't want to find Starbucks and Build-A-Bear in every town I land in. I want to know where the best local stuff is. Who are the individuals that make up this place and why do they make it special? What have they taken from their history here that speaks to the evolution of this place?

We got out of there as quickly as we could. Back to the grittier, dirtier, less homogenized part of town. We saw homeless, street performers, tasted cheese from a local artisan dairy, and found a little authenticity. I don't want to pretend I'm not a tourist, I just want to know why I ought to come back and visit this place. What can I get here that I can't get from my own space on the planet? Thanks to globalization, I can find San Francisco sourdough in my local grocery store. I could order a t-shirt for the National Champion Giants online. But to walk the sun-warmed planks of the piers and listen to the sea lions bark and watch a feather-boa clad drag queen rollerblade by on a Saturday morning - that is a trip worth taking!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

One More Word About Bullying


Bullying is in the news everywhere these days. I see friends on Facebook posting notifications about meetings at schools. Last week at Eve's school, they held a Community Meeting to talk about the rash of recent suicides by teens who suffered at the hands of their peers. Do an Internet search of blog posts on bullying and the results will overwhelm you.

The thing is, bullying is not a new phenomenon. It has evolved with our culture and stretched its skinny fingers into cyberspace where it is easier to hide, but it isn't new. Nor does it stop when we leave school.

Driving home from dropping Eve and Lola at school this morning, I was listening to NPR. Steve Inskeep was talking to Tina Brown of "The Daily Beast" and she was recommending her favorite stories to listeners. One that struck me was this article in the NY Times about women in Afghanistan setting themselves on fire to escape abusive marriages. Such instances are not isolated. Women all over the world resort to desperate acts with the tools they have available when they are faced with a lack of options. This is not any different from a gay teen committing suicide in order to escape ridicule by his or her peers.

When I began to see bullying in this light, I noticed it everywhere. Any time a situation exists where one person has power over another, bullying can happen. When there is a group of people who exploit that power for their own personal gain, even if it is for entertainment, and isolate their victim from others, desperation occurs. While our survival instincts are strong, it is often more tempting to end our own suffering and, when we have few avenues to achieve that, suicide becomes an attractive option.

Before we can begin to address the issue of bullying in schools, I believe that we need to identify all of the ways in which we as adults engage in similar behaviors. We need to come to terms with the fact that there are so many times when we are guilty of the same kinds of acts that abhor in our children's lives and fundamentally change the way we view and use power in our lives.

Can you think of some other examples of adult bullying behaviors in the world?

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Dream, Part Five


Part four is here.

My final wish for women and girls everywhere is that they have choices. That they be presented with options and given the freedom to exercise their will. Certainly this doesn't mean that young girls ought to be able to make difficult or momentous decisions beyond their developmental capabilities, but it does mean that we need to assess their abilities closely, listen to them when they talk to us about their desires and beliefs, and take those into consideration when we help them choose their path.

When we are given options, we are given trust and responsibility. Inherently, we are being told that we are valued as independent or semi-independent entities who can be relied upon to weigh variables and decide accordingly.

When Bubba and I began giving our daughters an allowance it was initially very difficult for me to let them spend it. Their weekly spending money actually only comes out to one third of their allowance, given that we put one third into a savings account and the other third into a charity account which they are free to donate at their own discretion. Lola uses her money every Thanksgiving to "buy" turkey dinners from the Union Gospel Mission for homeless people in our area and Eve generally sends her money to a local animal shelter. Their savings accounts are to be used for big-ticket items that are strictly "wants" versus "needs" and must be pre-approved by Bubba and me, but their spend money is fairly unfettered.

I don't know whether it is because Lola is the younger child and used to hand-me-downs, or if it is just her personality, but she tends to forget about her allowance within 40 seconds of getting it. Eve, on the other hand, mentally spends hers half a million times before the cash ever hits her hot little hand. I'm not sure "burning a hole in her pocket" is accurate because I don't think the money ever makes it that far.

Over the years I have had to learn to bite my tongue when Eve tells me about the new song she's going to download or the cheap notebook she wants to buy. When she used to get the Scholastic Book Order form from her classroom, she would tuck it under her arm, head up to her room, and sit in the beanbag circling items and counting on her fingers for an hour. More than once she has blown her stash on books that take her less than 15 minutes to read and come sobbing to me that she wasted her money.

But therein lies the rub, doesn't it? Along with choices come consequences and unless we have choices, we can't learn how to make more difficult ones. Without suffering the sometimes negative outcomes of our rash decisions we would continue to make poor choices over and over again. Learning can't happen without mistakes. Mistakes can't happen without action. If we aren't trusted to take action, we can't learn or grow.

My wish for women and girls everywhere is that they be given the chance to test themselves. I want them to be nurtured and cared for and have a safe place in which to make mistakes, but that won't mean anything unless they are given choices to make. Too often, as people in power, whether benevolent and loving or dictatorial and fearful, we trick ourselves into believing that we know best. All too often, I've discovered that I can be surprised when I stop and take the time to listen to others' perspectives. There are things which I couldn't possibly have known or circumstances I was unaware of or deeply held beliefs I wouldn't haven taken into account that may drastically change my point of view. From time to time we all make choices we wish we wouldn't have, but being given the freedom to choose is worth the possibility of screwing up. Just ask someone who doesn't have that freedom.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Dream, Part Four



Part Three is here

One of the most insidious by-products of being valued less than others is the feeling that you have nothing to offer. There is nothing so disheartening as the notion that you are either completely disposable or that your efforts are in vain and the fruits of your labor unnecessary.

In the early twentieth century, as the economy in America began turning from a subsistence model to a production model, women became increasingly disenfranchised. In the subsistence model, everything they contributed to the household, from farming to childrearing to producing clothing and food for the family was seen as vitally important to the family unit as a whole - not more or less valuable than any other member of the family. As men began to leave the household to seek paid work in factories and towns, women were left with more of the household chores but were valued less simply because it was money that made the world revolve and they were not paid for their efforts.

As my children grew from toddlerhood into true childhood they began to ask for ways to contribute. Even before then, they loved to play with toy versions of my vacuum cleaner and run the dustcloth over the coffee table and bookshelves. Today, they take pride (and, yes, sometimes complain mightily) in taking out the garbage, feeding the dog, and setting the table for dinner. Last Saturday night they shooed Bubba and I out of the kitchen, prepared a menu with beverage choices, cooked a pot of pasta and made a fruit salad and a green salad and served us dinner at a table lit with candles. The idea that they were grown up enough to produce an entire meal for us tickled them for days and Lola still presses me to tell friends and family about their endeavor.

Today seems a particularly salient day to be making the point about how important everyone's contributions are, given that tomorrow is Election Day in the US. There are thousands of individuals who will choose not to throw their ballot into the mix simply because they don't have any faith that it will make a difference one way or the other. The simple idea that one's opinion doesn't count removes most of the motive for sharing it. Why the heck should I vote if the outcome is already decided? Why should I raise my voice and articulate my thoughts if nobody is listening?

It is up to us to create a space where everyone can add their talents to the pot. Everyone must feel as though they have something to offer in order to feel empowered and valued. We need to create an 'economy' where we honor contributions of thought, emotion, and action that don't necessarily result in monetary compensation. It is useless to be part of a community if your voice doesn't count as much as everyone else's. The feeling of pride and self-worth that comes from knowing you have added some value - even if it was to offer food for thought - goes a long way toward encouraging individuals to continue contributing. Enough practice with this and the sky is the limit.

Continue to Part Five

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Dream, Part Three


"Life's challenges are not supposed to paralyze you, they are supposed to help you discover who you are."
Bernice Johnson Reagon

Part Two is here.

None of these pieces of my dream for women and girls can exist in a vacuum and while many of us can and do challenge ourselves regularly, it is so important that we experience inspiration and encouragement from others as well. Whether it is a boss or a mentor, a parent or a teacher, or simply a throw-down from a friend or adversary, often those obstacles placed in our way by others are more likely to get us moving than any we could make for ourselves.

When I think of times I was challenged I have a difficult time containing the list. It appears in my head as one of those trick cans of peanuts you can buy at novelty stores and as soon as I pry off the lid colorful snakes come erupting out in all directions. I attempted to categorize them and quickly realized that it didn't matter.

Giving someone a difficult task to complete or asking a question that prompts them to really think deeply and introspectively is truly a gift. Not only does it give them the opportunity to test their skills, but it sends the message that you believe they are capable of completing the task. My daughter whines and drags her feet and avoids doing the homework that is the most challenging for her, but when she finally resigns herself to doing it and makes her way, however arduously, through the process, she is always rewarded with pride in her own efforts and work ethic when she is finished.

If we live in a world where we marginalize certain groups of people by not asking them to do things that require creativity and focus, hard work and critical thinking, we are doing them a disservice. So often we would rather be in a position of influence and power where we simply give others orders or tell them what we think instead of asking them to do the messy work of finding answers and coming to conclusions. For so many years in this country we believed that women were not capable, physically or mentally, of doing many of the things men could and we didn't allow them to test that theory. They were not challenged because it was automatically assumed that they couldn't rise to the task.

My father wanted sons. He got one, but then I came along. And for the first few years of my childhood, I was compliant with my parents' plan that Peter play soccer and I dance ballet. Gradually it dawned on me that because Dad coached my brother's soccer team, my brother got to spend a heck of a lot more time with him than I did. Every Saturday we would pack a cooler and a blanket and head out to watch Peter run around on the field with his team as Dad stood on the sidelines hollering instructions to them. I wanted to do that, too! I didn't want to be sitting on this damp blanket eating orange slices and watching them chase each other around. Put ME in, coach!

I lobbied. I fought. I pled. I batted my eyelashes. I drove my father nuts. Finally he decided that the only way to shut me up was to put me on the team. That Saturday I got my very own black-and-white striped polyester jersey, put on some of my brother's old cleats, and Dad sat me in the goal. I was the keeper. This was the ace up his sleeve. I was to be the goalie in a game of soccer between two teams made up of boys three years older than I was. He figured I'd run screaming off the field before the first quarter was over.

I think I probably gave up ten goals that game and I know Dad was pissed. He did not like to lose. Neither did I. I was bruised and sore, grass stained from cheeks to ankles, and more tired than I had ever been, but you couldn't have wiped the grin off of my face for anything. I had just proven to myself, if nobody else, that I could rise to the challenge and at the age of eight, that lesson stuck with me for a good long time.

Let's do all of the women and girls we know a huge favor and put them in situations where they are asked to do just a little bit more than they think they can. Let's be sure to let them know that we have confidence in them as they embark on this lifelong journey to discover just who they are and how amazing they can be.

Continue to Part Four

Sunday, October 24, 2010

'Dream,' Part Two


Part One is here.

“Man is a special being, and if left to himself, in an isolated condition, would be one of the weakest creatures; but associated with his kind, he works wonders.” Daniel Webster

The second part of my dream is that women and girls feel connected. There is nothing so challenging, supportive, inspiring, comfortable, or exciting as a community. Ideally, each of us has several overlapping communities in which we can move as members. We have co-workers or schoolmates, family ties, groups of like-minded people who share our interests in hobbies or passions, and each of these people supports and challenges us in different ways.

So often, young girls who see themselves as 'different' are afraid to find community. They are embarrassed or ashamed or simply unsure of themselves and end up isolating themselves to the point where they cannot share their gifts or their difficulties. For many of these girls, this translates into their adult lives and they move through their days without any touchstone of reality except their own, which is often skewed.

In many cases, this makes these women and girls easier to control and manipulate and, whether by conscious effort or not, they are preyed upon by all kinds of people. In the wild, it is the lion pack that picks off the zebra who separates from its group. It is the same with humans.

I would like to see a world where girls are taught that their communities are rich with opportunity for them and encouraged to find their own place in them. I want to see them connect with each other instead of working to alienate those girls who are different from them. It is developmentally normal to want to conform in the teen years, but we need to learn to respect those who don't. I want us as a society to recognize our strength in connection to each other, in learning from each other and sharing ideas without anger or ownership. I want girls and women to feel as though they are a part of something bigger than themselves and use the leverage of these groups to push themselves farther than they thought possible. Often all it takes is one interested person, one mentor, one like-minded party to spark the connection. And the impact that this simple act can have on the self-worth of a young girl or lonely woman is monumental. Validation is a powerful tool and it is through connection and community that we can nurture each other and, in turn, ourselves.

Continue to Part Three

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

I, Too, Have a Dream

At the recent breakfast fundraiser for the Women's Funding Alliance, each attendee had two 3x3 slips of paper sitting at his or her table setting. At the top read: My dream for women and girls is...

The idea was that everyone would complete this statement on one of the cards and slip it into the envelope at the table to be forwarded to the organizations' staff. The other card was for us to take home, complete, and share with the other people in our lives; co-workers, friends, family, etc. An evangelistic outreach, a tangible wish that would cause ripple effects in the community and get people started talking about how to realize these dreams.

My dream for women and girls is
  1. That they feel safe,
  2. That they feel connected,
  3. That they feel challenged,
  4. That they feel as though they contribute,
  5. and that they have choices.
Each of these concepts is so vast that I have decided to begin with the first one and write about my thoughts until I've unearthed every shiny nugget I can. Subsequent posts will explore each of the remaining issues. I hope you stick with me as I explore these issues.

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Safety is so basic. Such a central spoke around which all of our other emotions and actions revolve. By safety I mean emotional and physical safety - being free from harm, both inflicted by ourselves and others. Although, it is my opinion that generally we don't seek to cause harm to ourselves unless we've been taught that by others.

Safety is the umbrella under which we fly. It is the basic assumption that allows us to go forth into the world and explore our limitations. If a child knows that they can roam freely within certain boundaries and someone will be looking out for them, they will seek with abandon. If a woman knows with certainty that she can speak her own truth without being ridiculed or physically attacked for it, she will learn to be her own best advocate. We have all seen dogs who have suffered abuse - they shy away from even gentle touch because they have learned that when someone reaches out to them it likely means pain. Women and girls who have been mocked or whose opinions are discarded, whose emotions are labeled as 'silly' or 'ridiculous' or 'overblown' stop thinking for themselves. Women and girls who are physically punished simply for existing on the face of the planet with a vagina have no recourse. We cannot change who we are, so we sink into the background.

I want a world where little girls grow up assuming that they will be watched out for, cherished, protected. One in six American women (as compared to one in 33 men) will be sexually assaulted at least once in their lives.* Add to this that less than half of all sexual assaults are reported to police, and you're looking at more like one in three women/girls sexually abused. In my neighborhood there are fifteen children. Eleven of them are girls. That means that in my neighborhood alone, at least three of these girls will be raped, molested, or otherwise sexually assaulted in their lives. I am not okay with that.

Nor am I okay with the fact that more than 25% of American women and girls have experienced some form of domestic violence in their lives. There are hotlines, crisis shelters, scores of resources available to victims, books written on the subject, self-defense classes, attorneys whose entire job it is to specialize in this area of the law. I want a world where women are not victimized. By anyone.

I want a world where women and girls feel safe to express themselves and their opinions without worrying about harm coming to them. I want a world where women and girls can go out with their friends at night without worrying about being assaulted. I want a world where we recognize the gifts that women and girls have to provide us with and we protect their voices and their bodies and allow them a safe place to explore their world and share their ideas with all of us.

I don't think that is too much to ask.
*statistics obtained from www.rainn.org - Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Before and After


There are so many milestones in life that we take for granted after they've come and gone. Those acts that we wait for, sometimes prepare for hour after hour, and once they are performed, there is no going back.

Driving.
Passing a momentous exam.
Having sex for the first time.

There are others that are not quite so enormous, but still have an impact. Getting your first cell phone or laptop. Your first library card.

Bubba and I are holding out on Eve. Despite her carefully calculated attempts to convince us otherwise, she is not getting a cell phone anytime soon. She has interviewed all of the other girls in her classroom to determine how many of them have their own phone. She has banded together with a classmate who is similarly deprived and they have made bar graphs and pie charts to display the cruelty with which they must contend. Eve, knowing the limits of my patience, is an expert at the art of parry and thrust. She pushes pushes pushes until I am just about to the wall and then she retreats. Sometimes for days at a time and just when I least expect it, she strikes again from a different direction. I can hear the gears in her brain turning, working on new angles to use.

I don't really remember when I got my first cell phone. For me, the equivalent pre-teen angst was most likely being allowed to wear makeup or shave my legs. I never had my own phone in my bedroom and, as a latchkey kid, the lobbying to be left home alone was not an issue. I was struck this morning by the thought that, although I must have pleaded with my mother to wear eyeshadow and mascara, I don't really recall that first day I went to school all made up. Ironically, I can count the number of times I've worn makeup in the past ten years on the fingers of one hand.

I have a friend who refused to own a cell phone for years. While the rest of us had ours tucked into our purses or pockets, she held out on some principle that was mysterious to the rest of us. She didn't need the 'toy,' wasn't intrigued by the notion of calling people whenever she wanted to, and as soon as Skype became available, she even got rid of her home phone. She does have a cell phone now, I suspect due to the fact that she has two kids in two different schools and lives in a large urban city and works part time outside the home.

Whatever the reason she finally capitulated (and I know Bubba and I will, eventually, too), I wonder if she looks back on that moment and senses something pivotal about it. I'm betting she doesn't. I'm betting that the majority of times she is compelled to pull her cell phone out of her purse to answer or make a call, she simply takes it for granted. No matter how much Eve fights to have one or how strong my friend's conviction was not to have one, the moments, months, and years that follow the actual acquisition of the cell phone almost instantly erase the memory of the 'before-time.'

I wonder how much of that is due to human nature. How many times have we as individuals and as groups of like-minded people, fought hard and long for something that we truly wanted or believed in and, once we accomplished it, taken it for granted? I know that Eve feels that getting a cell phone will have a domino effect in her life that will make it so much better. My friend thought that the slippery slope she would get on simply by purchasing a cell phone wasn't worth it. I am willing to bet that neither of those things is true.

There are some times in our lives where the before and after are markedly different. For those people who lived before indoor plumbing was widely available in the US, the after had to be unimaginably glorious. Not having to pee in a bedpan in the middle of the night or walk outside in the snow to poop in a wooden shack? Priceless. But for so many of the things we fight for or against, the changes are minimal or it takes us such a small amount of time to incorporate them into our lives that it makes me wonder what we're really fighting for.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Tough Conversations

The trio of girls huddled together at the kitchen table giggle nervously.

"It's not bad," Lola insists quietly.

"I don't even think it's true," her friend and classmate pipes up. "I think that she probably just made it up."

Eve's eyebrows raise in a combination of skepticism and discomfort. As the eldest, she doesn't want to betray her interest too much by adding her opinion, but she clearly has one.

"What's up, guys?" I ask, not wanting to overstep my bounds, but curious as to what has them acting like international spies.

Caught, they whirl to face me, on the other side of the kitchen and blurt, "Nothing!" Giggles erupt from behind their sweet, soft hands and their heads come even closer together as if pulled by an invisible drawstring. Just as I'm about to shrug it off, they decide to tell me.

Haltingly and from a distance of at least six feet away, Lola begins talking without meeting my eyes. It seems that there is a book on the shelf in her classroom that has prompted the girls to discuss and wonder and whisper. It is a book of stories authored by teenage girls that is meant to inform and inspire other girls, but at least one of the stories has them disturbed. Not necessarily unhappy, but certainly upset in the sense of the word that calls to mind a stick stirring up sediment in a clear pool of water.

Lola speaks slowly, starting from the beginning of the story and it soon becomes clear to me that the essay depicts one girl's experience of being sexually molested by her babysitter over a period of several years. Lola is too embarrassed to tell me in the same terms used in the book, so she tries to write it down. Before she can finish, I turn to Eve and ask her if what she knows about it. Standing next to me, she talks with a flat tone, looking into my eyes.

I am aghast. The phrase, "it's not bad" continues to run through my brain. How can she think that isn't bad? How did this book get into a classroom for first, second, and third graders? How many of these girls have read this book and how long have they been discussing it without any adult mediation?

We stand in the kitchen and talk about what each of these girls, seven, eight and ten years old, would have done in this situation. Lola and Eve are confident that they would physically fight back, kicking and hitting and the look of disgust on their faces convinces me they would. Lola's friend maintains that the story is probably not true.

They are all three shocked to hear me say that such things happen a lot more often than they know. Lola asks me whether I know anyone who was treated that way and I assure her I do, but that I won't name names because I don't think that is fair. She accepts this explanation, but wants to know more. I don't want to rattle off the statistics, that at least one of every four females in the world experiences sexual abuse of some sort in her life, and those are only the ones who are reporting it. Others like this young girl who were too frightened or confused go unaccounted for. I simply say that it is important for us to find ways to talk about these issues without embarrassment and share our experiences with adults we trust so that the people who are attacking women and girls can be held responsible for it.

I am so happy that these three girls were courageous enough to share this with me. While I am not thrilled about the way it was brought up to them, I know that the book will be removed from their classroom and the teachers will handle it thoughtfully. It turns out that the book was donated by a parent this summer and was not thoroughly vetted before it was put out on the shelf. (Upon doing some research, it seems that there are many such books, aimed at girls, kids, grieving families, pet owners, retirees, etc. and I discovered that they are full of difficult stories. Unfortunately, without reading the entire book, it would be hard to know whether or not it is age-appropriate.) I appreciate the intention of the book, but I can't imagine letting my seven or eight year-old (or even nine or ten-year old for that matter) read such stories without an adult present who could help them interpret and fully understand many of the concepts.

The fact that a mainstream, American publication like this contains multiple essays about sexual abuse (it does, I found the book and read it) makes me wonder how much we as a society have accepted the fact that our girls will be raped and molested. So much so that we can talk about it years after the fact and encourage girls to "tell" on their abusers. I think that doing so is important, but maybe it means that we need to have a much more aggressive campaign to prevent sexual abuse in the first place. Perhaps we need to teach girls and women to be open about the fact that their bodies belong to them and send the message that this kind of act will not be tolerated. We will not be objectified, groped, talked about lewdly or disrespectfully, or put in situations that are dangerous. Our civic leaders need to be completely upfront about the fact that the rules have changed and women will not be victimized any longer, and if they are, we will not waste time hiding or feeling ashamed. We will not, in any circumstance, decide that "she deserved it" or "she wanted it."

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A Day Late,

but hopefully not a dollar short...

On a typical day at my house growing up in the 1970s I'm certain we used gallons and gallons of water we didn't need to use. All five of us showering, flushing high flow toilets, watering a pristine lawn (one of my father's obsessions), washing the family cars every Saturday morning, boiling eggs and pouring the cooking water down the drain...I could go on but already I'm getting a stomach ache thinking about it.

Even though I'm older and wiser now, I'm certain there are things I could still be doing to reduce my water consumption even more, but I am eternally grateful that I know what I know. That I don't take this precious resource for granted. I have been lucky to travel to other countries and realize first hand how my experience of having water whenever I want it is an anomaly. A luxury. Decadent.

Kathryn Grace reminded me that it is going to take the efforts of those of us who do have access to this precious resource in order to bring it to everyone. I know that the founders of our country didn't specifically note water as a basic human right (truth, justice, pursuit of happiness...), but I'm certain it's on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs and I'm not sure how to pursue happiness without being free of disease. Please visit Kathryn's blog and see how you can help. Even though yesterday was technically Blog Action Day for this issue, I'm pretty sure that they won't mind if you sign the petition a day late. Or start your own efforts, however modest, a day late.


Petitions by Change.org|Start a Petition »



Thursday, October 14, 2010

Finding My Peeps


No, not those foul yellow marshmallow candies shaped like chicks.

Yesterday as I was checking my email one more time before dashing out to get Lola from school I finally got a response from the agent who has had my manuscript since August. I had one of those bumpbump moments where everything except the squeezing of my heart stopped for a bit and I tried to decide whether or not to open it before leaving home. Then my true (impatient) nature returned to me along with my breath and I clicked on it. No go. The comments were kind and seemed genuine, but the agent apologized that, although she enjoyed the book, she didn't have the "conviction" to take the project on. It has taken me about 15 hours to fully appreciate this.

I was disappointed and somewhat at a loss, but decided to sit with it for a bit before making my next move. Well, at least my next tangible move. In the meantime, I've had an absolute hurricane of activity going on in my brain as I examine options surreptitiously while pretending not to. Even to myself.

Fortunately, I had an early morning breakfast to look forward to. The Women's Funding Alliance held their annual fundraising event and there were so many reasons I was supposed to be there that I went.
  • Kathy LeMay was the featured speaker and at the time that the breakfast was publicized, I had just completed a book review for Feminist Review that contained an essay written by her on philanthropy. (The book is called "Moonrise: The Power of Women Leading from the Heart" - it is fantastic and inspiring and uplifting. My review is here.)
  • So many of the local organizations that I support are funded by grants from the Women's Funding Alliance, and I am all for streamlining my efforts, so the fact that there is an umbrella organization that is passionate about supporting the same things that I do in lots of different ways is immeasurably cool.
  • My sister-in-law, who is plugged in to all things "Strong Women" invited me.
  • It offered a morning off from dragging reluctant (ha!) children from their beds, force feeding them protein, stuffing lunchboxes full of snacks and assortments of healthy foods as well as those they will actually eat, and ushering them off to school. Bubba didn't so much 'offer' to do it as show up when ordered to do it.
So, I went. And I was awed. Inspired. Reminded why I wrote the book I wrote and what I want it to stand for. I watched a group of 30 or so teenage girls get up on stage and tap dance at 7:30 to Aretha just to pump up the crowd. I listened and was moved to tears by women who are committed to creating a world where girls and women can express themselves, trust their own instincts, follow their dreams, believe in themselves, and live safely and without bias.

I am reconsidering. If my goal is truly to get this message out, then maybe I need to just do it. Perhaps pitching the stories in my book as a series of articles in the local women's magazine would work. Maybe I beat down the doors of some local, progressive publishing houses and tell them why I love this book so much. I don't know. But I do know that I've been reminded who my "peeps" are and I'm grateful to that agent for knowing that what she needed in order to represent me and my book was conviction. I don't want anyone working on my behalf that isn't excited about this book and the way it gives voice to so many women.

*You can read a little about my project here. I will post about it more in the days to come.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Holding Pattern

Or maybe it's just frustration. I'm not certain. What I do know is that researching and writing my book has so far been a damn sight easier than trying to get it published. I had suspicions that the marketing bit wasn't going to be fun, but I am in need of some mojo to get it going again.

I've had some small successes meeting agents who were interested in the basic notion of my book - two of whom even asked for the entire manuscript. One came back a few weeks later with an email basically stating that "they can't represent me at this time, regretfully." I'm not exactly sure what that means, so I responded asking for more feedback, either on the manuscript itself or how to make myself more marketable as the author. That was six weeks ago and I've had no response.

The other agent has yet to send me anything at all, despite a follow-up email from me just checking in after six weeks of no response.

I had one book publisher to whom I sent my unsolicited manuscript tell me that they would love to talk to me about my book, but as they are a small press, they don't have the bandwidth and are fully booked with projects through the end of 2011. The editor was kind enough to point me in the direction of another press that might be interested so three weeks ago I sent off another package, this time via the postal service.

I've spent time researching agents and publishing houses, really working on posting to the blog regularly, and picking the brains of people I know in the publishing industry (which are, admittedly, few and far between). Every person who asks for a description of the book gets an earful from me and I have had such great responses ("Wow! I'd buy that book! What a great idea!) that it is frustrating to feel like I'm speaking a different language than the folks who have the power to put it out there.

I've talked to some people about self-publishing versus traditional publishing, but I'm not sure I have the marketing skills to really do it justice. As one person put it, "Your book is what we call a 'long-tail' book - it will be relevant for generations to come and will probably sell books for decades. Most publishers want to make their money in the first 90 days which is why they want celebrities or controversial politicians as their clients."

I know that this takes perseverance and dedication and I'm willing to do the work because I have such passion for my book, but I feel like I'm stuck right now. It is hard to know where to turn and really frustrating to listen to authors being interviewed on NPR when that's where I want to be!

Monday, October 11, 2010

All Will Be Well


Bubba sometimes accuses me of being too forthcoming. Especially when it comes to our children. I'm certain he's got a point, but I was one of those people who were born wearing their heart (and mind and opinion) on their sleeve and I see no reason to change now.

Fortunately, neither Eve nor Lola is squeamish, because often my oversharing comes in the form of family discussions around biology or anatomy. All in the name of curiosity and science exploration, except for the few times it has to do with them understanding their own bodies more fully, I generally give them as much information as I think they can process and entertain questions until Bubba is nauseous (or leaves the room) and the girls are satisfied.

Yes, I am one of those horrible mothers who teaches her children the correct anatomical words for even the most embarrassing parts of the human form and I encourage them to use them correctly when appropriate. For those of you who find it more decorous to use words like hoo-ha or pee-pee, I completely understand, but it's only a matter of time before Eve points out that your little boy's "thing" is called a penis. Just sayin'.

I also believe that it is destructive for my family to keep things from them unless the knowledge will do them harm. So when my mother's husband went into the hospital last week with an advanced infection in his big toe that was rapidly spreading due to poor circulation in his legs, I was honest with them that Grandpa was in a little bit of trouble. The girls quickly set about making cards to mail to him and we had a nightly update on his condition at the dinner table. One angiogram, an attempted cleaning out of his blocked leg vessel, and a bypass graft later, it seemed that things were looking up a bit, although Grandpa was going to be in the hospital for a few more days.

Last night, I let them know that Grandpa just might have to lose his toe before coming home. The infection was too strong and the circulation had been compromised for too long to save it.
"Can I keep it in a jar in my bedroom?" Eve's eyes lit up.
"No way! I want it!" Lola was not to be outdone here.

Notwithstanding their concern for their grandfather, the girls were fascinated. Bubba, having missed the first part of the conversation, joined us at the table and asked, "What's up, guys?"

Lola wasted no time in filling him in, "They're gonna whack Grandpa's toe off cuz it's dead and Erin and I both want to keep it. Maybe we can put it in the playroom where we can both have it, okay?"

"Nah, I think it has to go to the Toe Fairy. Sorry to disappoint you," Bubba chimed in quickly. I'm certain the notion of having a preserved big toe in the house was enough to make him move out.

I wonder how much you get for a toe from the Toe Fairy. It is the big one, after all.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

I'm It!

Been tagged by another blogger whose blog I discovered a few months ago. I love her insights in parenting as well as just plain living and I never fail to feel gratitude when I read her posts. You can find her here.

According to the rules of the game, I'm supposed to write down seven things about myself and pass this along, so if you haven't read some of these other blogs I like, I hope you discover the things about them that I love.

But first things first:

  1. Since my father died, I seem to have added his particular passion for the Oregon Ducks football team to mine and am completely, irrevocably rabid about watching their games every Saturday afternoon during football season.
  2. I harbor secret fantasies of being on American Idol. Not because I want to be on television, but because I can actually sing and I never had the cojones to do anything about it when I was young enough to show off.
  3. The only thing keeping me from going to culinary school and becoming a chef is the hours of the job. I don't want to work weekends or evenings.
  4. I have spent so much of my life multitasking that I often wonder whether I have rendered myself ADHD because when I have the luxury of concentrating on just one thing at a time, I often lose my way in the task.
  5. I would love to travel around the world and immerse myself in other cultures, hiking and hanging out at bars with the locals.
  6. My favorite place on the planet is the Oregon Coast.
  7. If it weren't for the litter boxes and shredded furniture, I would have half a dozen cats.
Okay, now that I've sufficiently frightened you with my oddities, the bloggers I'd like to introduce you to are:

Visit and enjoy!

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Do You Smell That?


Have I mentioned that Lola is unusually perceptive? Among her most unique senses is the extraordinary sense of smell she has, which is often a trial to her. She can smell things most human beings can't and she has a wonderful way of describing them to me - the mere mortal who doesn't possess this ability.

This morning she informed me that every person has their own smell. This isn't exactly a new idea, right? I can remember going in to my grandmother's bedroom and being overwhelmed by her Estee Lauder perfume and the smell of mothballs. But what Lola is talking about is their very essence, their aura, if you will. Even if you switch from Estee Lauder to Calvin Klein's Obsession, Lola will still suss out your scent and notice that it is the same.

"But," she admonishes, "sometimes the smell changes a little bit. Like if you're really upset. When Abigail is upset (Lola's best friend) she smells a little bit sour on top of her normal sunflowers and clean laundry smell."

Apparently the dog smells like fur and lemon kisses "which is a very good smell, almost the best," my mother-in-law smells like light perfume and my mother has the essence of apple pie. It may sound ridiculous, but when Lola explains it, I can get the sense of it exactly. The way she experiences each of them, this is exactly what they feel like. I'm convinced she knows.

"Did Papa have his own smell, too?" I ask, hesitating. She only knew him for six years and he was pretty sick for the last year of that.

"Yup. He smelled like warm chocolate and blankets. And when he was sick it was still there, but with a little sad thrown in."

She is absolutely right. That is what my dad smelled like as her grandfather. She is so dead-on with her assessments that I didn't dare ask what she thinks her sister smells like. Or me, for that matter. I'm not sure I want to know...

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Extended Metaphor



I have a little more work to do. For all my excavating and enlightening and understanding, there is still one little rip left to heal in regards to my experience of being molested as a child. Forgiveness. I need to forgive myself and I need to forgive him and until I do, I won't be free. I love the idea, the notion of pure compassion for my abuser and most of me truly wants that, but all of me has to want it and I have to give it freely and purely.

I just might be ready. But first, I have to go to the grocery store. Tonight I am going to a book club gathering at the invitation of a woman that I haven't seen in probably three or more years. Her idea for the meal was to make a "mashed potato bar" and have each of us bring toppings to add. I've decided to mash some yams and bring crispy prosciutto as my offering.

I walk into Whole Foods, thinking that yams ought to be easy to find this time of year, the morning sun rising despite the fog and pushing it away to clear, blue skies and a crisp scent of woodsmoke and cider in the air. I am confronted by rows and rows of potatoes - Yukon Gold, russet, nearly irresistible fingerlings, baby red potatoes nestled together in their red mesh bags - but I can't seem to find yams. Finally, at the very end of the row my eyes fall on a few softball-sized, knobby red garnet yams, four of them that fell to the bottom of the display ramp with a yard of black shelf liner showing above them, and two tiny, white-skinned sweet potatoes up at the top. I grab them all and shove them into the plastic produce bag and one of the red garnets pokes its pencil-sized end through the plastic as I drop it in my basket.

At home, I hurry through lunch, pushing small sushi rolls in my mouth as I mentally prepare for the remainder of my day, all the time wondering when I will sit and meditate on the work I have yet to do in my heart. The potatoes have to get cooked soon if they will be ready for tonight. I smile as I picture the creamy orange puree in a transparent glass bowl, all of these new women swirling the colorful mash into their bland, white potatoes to give them some pizzazz.

It is a glorious autumn day and I am craving sunshine so I grab my stockpot, cutting board, paring knife and peeler and head out to the deck. Starting with the largest red garnet yam, I rake the peeler (my least favorite one in the house, but the only clean one for now) across the contours of the skin, listening for the satisfying cchcchcchcch sound that comes with the thin slice of skin peeling away. Inside, it is white. No bright orange flesh. Not what I expected. I continue to work away, peels releasing and falling to the cutting board in a mound, and I go back in a few places to get in the crevices and valleys where the peeler doesn't move smoothly.
By the time I get to the second red garnet I realize that what I'm doing is my work. These paper-thin peels are all the hold my abuser still has on me. They look so solid and impenetrable from the outside. They are banged up and pocked with knots and dings, but they cover the whole of this potato and they are so simple to peel away. Four big, dark, solid ones - they are the men in my life whom I have allowed to hurt me and take my power away. I peel and peel and soon all I have is four smooth, pure objects. As I peeled, I wished for love and peace and hope and was so surprised not to find what I expected inside these potatoes.

I move to the two small, white sweet potatoes and know that they are my sister and me. Our skin is much thinner, but inside we are the same, substantial, dense grouping of cells that made those larger red-skinned ones potatoes. When all six of them are in the pot of boiling water, they will all cook at the same rate. I will drain them, mash them, mix them with butter and fresh cream and be thankful for the notion that I can make something good and nourishing of this. We are not so different, my abuser and me. We are imperfect humans. I don't have to know why he is who he is or why he did what he did to my sister and me. That is not for me to know. I can acknowledge that I have allowed him to have power over me for far too long and thank the Universe for letting me learn to be strong and compassionate in the face of that.
I wonder what other culinary marvels await me on this journey.

Monday, October 04, 2010

It All Started With This...



If you can stand it, the most amazing part of this talk comes in the last two minutes (in my opinion). I get it if you can't make it all the way through the eight minutes, but it's pretty amazing. Essentially, he is talking about the way our brain uses its mirror neurons in concert with our sense of touch and how this leads to feelings of empathy. It is way more complex than that, so I would encourage you to find a time to sit and watch the video.

Since, however, good things come in threes, it only stands to reason that this morning I would open up my Facebook page and find this daily message from the Dalai Lama, "Ultimately, humanity is one, and this small planet is our only home. If we are to protect this home of ours, each of us needs to feel a vivid sense of universal altruism. It is only this feeling that can remove the self-centered motives that cause people to deceive and misuse one another. If you have a sincere and open heart, you naturally feel self-worth and confidence, and there is no need to be fearful of others."

When I got in the car to drive Eve to her carpool, it just so happened that the Indigo Girls were playing on my iPod. The song? "Let it Be Me." The central theme of the song is captured here: "...I'm among friends trying to see beyond the fences of our own backyard. I've seen kingdoms blow like ashes in the winds of change, but the power of truth is the fuel for the flame, so the darker the ages get there's a stronger beacon yet. Let it be me...if the world is night, shine my life like a light."

And the writing prompt for today? "Open House." I think I'll change it to "Open Heart, Open Mind" and call this a done deal.


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