Monday, March 19, 2007

Days Like That

As I was leaving to walk at lunch today, my coworker came in overwhelmed and tired cursing mistakes made by others and how crummy she felt. I smiled and offered to help. She shifted in her shoes. I don’t think she wanted me to show her up. I don't think she heard me saying "I've had days like that."

Walking at lunch today, I watched cars passing by on a street that used to be a one way street, but isn't any more, I watched the driver of an SUV slam on his breaks as he narrowly avoided a head on collision with another vehicle who was actually in the right. His face turned red with anger as he leaned on his horn. I watched it dissipate into shame as he saw the freshly painted double yellow line on the right of his car. He looked up at me at that moment and I smiled at him. He flipped me off as he drove away. I don't think he heard me saying, "I've had days like that."

Walking at lunch today, I passed by the building where I went to marriage counseling not quite a year ago. There was a woman coming out of the door. She had a cell phone pressed to her ear and she tried hard not to meet my gaze. Her eyes were watery and ringed in red, her face was sallow and there were dark circles telling the tale that she'd either been crying a lot or sleeping very little, or, probably both. I smiled at her and she turned away. I don't think she heard me saying, "I've had days like that."

Walking at lunch today, I gazed up at a cool spring sky, and took in its lovely color, breathing it deep into my soul. I spun around a bit and was grateful for the day I was having, for the life I am having, for my own special story to tell. I stopped to see an old man in a funny hat across the street gazing at me with a smile on his face. "It's a good day for a walk!" he called across four lanes of traffic. I smiled and nodded, "It is indeed!" I shouted back. We stood and regarded each other for a moment. Finally we both turned in opposite directions and went on about our days. But I heard him loud and clear. He's had days like that.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

A Dummy's Guide to Fasting...

Occasionally, those of us with very loose religioius ties try things that many other faiths do on a regular a basis, because it seems like a pretty sound spiritual practice. It's been awhile since I've done anything of the sort, but I decided to do a small fast this weekend, for both health and spiritual reasons...clearing out my system from a few different angles. I used to do this back in the annual spring cleaning and I figured if there were ever a time to get back to it, this would be it. The boys were with their dad, and I loaded up on juice and tea and a couple of good books, I parked the television on HGTV and I was on my way. I did some reading, and some discussing, and I want to share some very basic things I taught myself this weekend.

1. Mega Green juice is chock full of all kinds of good things for you to be taking in to your body. But don't put it in a glass that you can see through. There is something about drinking something that tastes like yummy papaya juice but looks like water from the haunted lagoon that may be good for fasting, but really bad for finishing the juice. Don't look. Just drink.

2. Health food stores have a way of dashing any hopes that a fasting weekend will somehow be cheaper than a regular weekend.

3. While walking sounds like a wonderful thing to do when you are taking care of your body for the weekend, you should probably either do it on a treadmill or walk in circles around your house. Only an idiot decides a four mile hike is a good idea when they've done nothing but drink water and juice and tea for 12 hours.

4. Even if you don't like V-8 juice, it becomes delicacy after 16 hours of fasting.

5. If you go into a fasting weekend with fantasies that you may one day find yourself able to take on a healthy vegan type of lifestyle, dreaming about pork chops dashes those plans fairly quickly.

6. The quickest way to sabotage yourself on a fasting weekend is to decide you MUST go buy cupcakes for your child to take to school for his birthday. And buy them somewhere that Girl Scout Cookies are being sold. And where crab meat wontons are on special. But 38 hours is pretty good, for someone who is rusty, right?

Anyone want a wonton?

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Life as you know it is about to five...

...four, three, two...there! Do you feel it? No? Ok go back and try it again. I'm sure you'll feel it this time.

Life is a constant tumble of change. You breathe in, breathe out and somewhere in that breath, life has changed irrevocably for someone, probably you. Maybe you sucked in some germ, maybe in a zen moment you reached a higher consciousness, maybe you decided to buy those damn cute shoes even though you shouldn't. Maybe somewhere someone decided that you are the person they'll love 'til the end of times, or maybe they decided to sue you. Maybe your kid discovered his passion, or maybe she discovered where you hide your secret chocolate stash. Maybe someone you love just was born, or born-again, or breathed her last breath. Maybe that damn butterfly is flapping his wings again wreaking havok on your weekend with a resultant late spring snowfall in Iowa. But it has been said in simpler terms...the only thing you can depend upon is change.

Change is frightening...and exciting...and chaotic...and refreshing...and exhausting. How ever you choose to look at it, change is a fixed aspect of our lives. We grow, experience, age and falter, and move ever closer to our final change from this life to whatever moves beyond. Human beings try to outsmart the "butterfly effect" by being prepared for anything. But it has occured to me lately that this is a frivilous waste of time. We can't predict what is next any more than we can predict which leaf might fall from the mighty oak first. We might ultimately be able to get even that to a really terrific educated guess, but to what end? Once it falls, we then look at each other and say, "Ok...we got that one. Now what do we do?"

A year ago I wouldn't have thought about life like this. I was managing everything and enjoying nothing. I was on a schedule, on time and in a groove...a groove that resembled a rut in retrospect. And then, the earth moved and my rut was gone and all that was holy in the world of order abandoned me. I found myself crying a river of tears one night and giggling madly with the girls the next. My once predictable role of mother to my children became as complex as navigating a mine field. My own personhood was a strange new land of discovery. And the bizzare thing is, I loved every minute of it. The hurt, the anger, being oddly self-possessed in some places and completely unable to mask my emotion at others. I've climbed through my own hang ups and examined them like my son examines the bark on trees. And it all felt like living...not existing, but really living. This change, this is the stuff that makes a life a story worth telling. Living through challenges helps us measure who we are, both to ourselves and to others. Possessing joy with willful abandon gives the world the gift of our presence.

My advice to you today is don't wait for a rift in your own time space continuim. Get out there and embrace the changes being tossed your way today...experience them, love them, hate them, mourn them or celebrate them. But let them surprise have a gift in that.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

How long?

"So how long does it take, this process?" asks my gruff, but good-guy Scottish boss. It is a question that has been asked of me about 300 or so times since my marriage fell apart last spring. It's funny how being in the process of getting a divorce is supposed to make you some kind of expert on the subject. Funnier yet, is how many women come to me for advice when they are having trouble in their marriage. I rarely say it but I can't help but think, "Um, you are the one that still has her husband in her bed, why are you asking me?" But I don't. I guess they think that misery loves company. Or maybe, they've noticed I'm not that miserable, and they are intrigued by that...I don't know. But I get questions all the time about how much lawyers charge, how often you have to go to court, etc. And the truth be told, I'm almost done and I still don't really know. I've gone through it all, but it has really been a blur of bad timing and strange innuendo. And even if I could make sense of it, it doesn't seem possible that what I've been through has been a normal process. Nothing about this is normal.

But I do think I've come up with an answer, or maybe more appropriately several answers, to this "How long?" question. Since the decree should be going before a judge very soon, I thought I'd take a moment to write it down. How long does it take to get a divorce? Well, this is just my experience, but:

  • from the 11:30 p.m. revelation from your husband that he loves you too, "I guess" to signing your final decree of divorce, it takes 50 weeks, five days, and eleven hours
  • it also takes seven years of trying and not really knowing why nothing seems to work
  • it takes .5 seconds to say "Yes." instead of "Can we make this decision after the baby is born?"
  • it takes 30 + years of carrying your self esteem around at the bottom of your purse, and pulling it out, in shock that it is tangled up in teeny tiny knots that you will need tweezers to work out
  • it takes twenty-three hour long visits to your own therapist, countless hours with your children's therapists, and monthly visits to the pharmaceutical counter at Walgreen’s
  • it takes many sleepless nights, staring out the window, with rocks in your stomach
  • it takes as many hours of free long distance as you can rack up - and several hours that aren't free
  • it takes hundreds of hours of dealing with the angst and anger of your children, answering questions to which you don't really know the answers
  • it takes five hours to take a parenting course that teaches you not to call your ex bad names in front of the kids
  • it takes too many billable hours with the cheapest lawyer you could find
  • it takes 37 years to start it, I haven't quite figured out how many it will take to tie it up
I always used to get a bad taste in my mouth when I heard stories of women who party it up right when their divorces were finalized. But I understand now, it isn't celebrating an end, it is celebrating a commencement. I will officially move into a new phase of my life this week. It is my pinning ceremony, the turning of a tassel, the signature on my diploma. I've passed this test. Now I get to take on some new life. Somebody, please, buy me a drink already.

Monday, March 12, 2007

The Buzz About Maddy

I read an angry mom blog today about the newest Disney Princess, slated to hit theaters in 2009. I'm accustomed to parents who are angry about Disney Princesses. Lets face it they are riddled with problems for parents of someday women. The characters are entirely too focused on getting their men and the industry focuses too much on sexual stereotypes that are, if not harmful, completely one-dimensional.

Princess Maddy, who will star in Disney's "The Frog Princess", will take on an entirely new set of problems as well as a lofty goal. Maddy will be the first ever black Disney Princess. Here is Princess Maddy, sassy girl from New Orleans! A princess in New Orleans? Ok...I'll bite.

For my friends who have little dark skinned girls with tight dark curls, I know Maddy might be a welcome sight. One such mama has told me how she worries for her daughter's self-esteem when she tells her mother she wishes she could have straight blonde hair and blue eyes, because then she would be beautiful. We know these little girls need to see their own images of beauty. Disney, long suffering for its lack-luster performance in the realm of diversity, is trying. And it can't hurt to have those little girls who have the straight blonde hair and blue eyes completely revel in the loveliness of a woman of color as well, right? Oh my, but she is the picture of loveliness too, isn't she? But then again, if Disney thought it suffered at the hands of irate Muslims when the presentation of Middle Eastern culture in Aladdin was perceived to be stereotypically violent and blood thirsty they might be in for a surprise here. If they screw up presenting New Orleanian African Americans...well...I'm sure there's enough fodder there for the next fifteen Shrek movies. Word is that the plot line includes some voodoo, so it sounds like they've got a leg up on that! Whew!

I started to wonder why this mattered to me at all. While my children are biracial, they are boys and the chances of them being significantly impacted are relatively low. I'm all about women empowering themselves and each other, but I can honestly say, it wasn't a feminazi rage boiling in my blood when I started reading about Princess Maddy...nor was it a white privilege shame.

When I was in college, I was lucky enough to do a show called "Talking With..." It consists of eleven monologues from eleven different and incredibly interesting women. My favorite still is a barrel-racer named "Big Eight." She'd been in the rodeo since she was a child, and she loved it with everything that she was. After years of living her simple life, the rodeo was "bought" by a company that decided it needed to be packaged differently. She tells some seriously funny stories about rodeo clowns dressed up like astronauts and the choreographer that used to work for the "Ice-damn-Capades" and about how they asked her to "haul her ass through the barrel races done up like Minnie-damn-Mouse in a tutu!" But the end of the monologue, it sticks with me. I think of it often even 15 years later, even though the role wasn't mine.

"Someday, somebody is gonna take what you love. Buy your rodeo. Turn your pleasure into the Ice-damn-Capades. Do you hear what I'm saying to you? Yer just merchandise to them. Yer just merchandise..."

In the end, that's my problem with Disney. Women are just merchandise. Ethnicity is just merchandise. New Orleans is just merchandise. Welcome to the main stream, Princess Maddy. You've come a long way, baby. Now please bend over.

What Eleanor didn't tell us...

"No one can make you feel inferior without your permission."

Eleanor Roosevelt

I love a good quote, don't you? When such a powerful thought can be boiled down to one simple statement, it is rather awe-inspiring. It is such a popular craft that almost anywhere you create an account for personal purposes online, you are encouraged to share your favorite quote. The problem, I'm finding, with quotes is that they are too simple. We read a quote like the one above, and I'm sure you've all read it before, and we think "Yep, that sounds about right." Some of us might even say a little, "Amen, sister!" And often we think to ourselves, that is one we need to remember, because "that one is one I need to focus on!" And then two or three months or even a couple of years go by, and you read the quote again...and this time maybe you are thinking, "Oh yeah! I KNOW this. I've GOT to remember it." If you are like me, about the 784th time you run across this quote you are smacking yourself on the forehead and saying, "Why the hell can't I get this? What is wrong with me?" And look at that, Eleanor Roosevelt just made you feel didn't give her permission did you? Or did you? Hell you can't even remember a stupid quote, how the hell are you supposed to remember if you gave someone permission to make you feel inferior? The problem is not really the idea behind the quote; the problem is it doesn't make the reader go through the work of getting to that idea that the writer (or speaker) had to go through. So while you might think you've got it, you've only got its essence.

This occurred to me tonight as I drove home from work. I was humming along, windows down fresh, cool spring air blowing on my face and I was thinking about maybe writing a blog about Maddy, the newest Disney Princess to be launched in 2009. And I was smoking a cigarette. And I drove past a very put together looking woman on the street walking and pushing a toddler in a stroller. She gave me a look...a look I could only interpret as disdain, but I'm fessing up that it was only my interpretation. And I began making excuses to myself about my smoking and getting annoyed about presumptuous people judging me. "She's never waked in my shoes!" I lamented. And then someone pushed the pause button and I really stopped and thought about my own internal dialogue. Truth is, I had no idea why that woman shot me that look. Maybe she thought I was judging her for having her obviously mobile toddler in a stroller. Maybe she just remembered a bill she forgot to pay. Maybe a bug flew up her nose. And yes, maybe she was judging my smoking. But the truth is, all of that is irrelevant, because all the negativity that was affecting me was coming from ME. Wow.

I finished my business at the bank, already knowing my blogging subject matter had changed, when I came to a two way know one of those places where the sign is posted "Through traffic DOES NOT STOP." And there was someone else across the way, coming from the opposite direction. This stop is just beyond the rise of a little hill, so sometimes it is a little hard to see the "through traffic." The woman across the way thought she saw an opening and started across and I tapped on the gas, but slammed on my breaks quickly when I saw an oncoming car. The person in that car also slammed on the breaks, tires squealing, horn blasting. As my "other side of the road" counter part whizzed by me, the driver of the car that had stopped was waving her hands and yelling, though I don't know what. And my internal dialogue took off again with excuses that it is really hard to see and "Gee, you don't have to be a bitch!" I only realized a few minutes later that I was in fact feeling guilty for my moment of having stepped on the gas, even though I had stopped in plenty of time. This problem, I surmised, runs deep in me.

I've actually been working a lot on my internal dialogue, and the fact that I'm seeing this behavior in myself says a lot to that. It is easy for us to get angry with ourselves for all kinds of things and project it out on other people. This is what happens to me when I find myself brooding over slights, real or imagined...the person I'm usually getting unreasonable flack from is myself. I don't know that I've found the cure, but I'm really working on being gentler in the way I talk to myself. The funny thing is, it results in me being gentler with the people around me. I stopped being mad at both these ladies almost instantly, in fact, I found myself laughing and hoping that their evenings got better, and I allowed myself to go on and have a better evening too. What a cool gift.

Just wanted to tell you that.

Yes, I did.

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