I lit a few candles yesterday. Reading the gruesome report of the events in Peshawar had me rattled. Two days prior I was hanging little ornaments on my tree in memory of each person killed in Newtown, MA and now 148 lives were gone at the hands of the Taliban. Children and teachers were shamelessly killed.

My daughter walked out to a dim kitchen and she knew right away.

“Pakistan mom?” I nodded as she sat down to join me and we stared at the candles hoping the light was strong enough.

My son had a different response.“Candles mom?  How will that help?” He had questions, lots of questions, and so finally I pulled up a recent news article and we read it together and my candles did nothing for him.

His eyes filled with tears. “I’m scared, mom. School should not be scary.”

I did not correct him.

“Things like that don’t happen here” would have been my response a few years back. Maybe we don’t have the Taliban and the US remains largely a much safer place to be educated than in many places around the world yet uncertainty has now crept into our haven as well.

For once I did not know how to comfort him.

After a bit I reminded him of one of our favorite books The Three Questions based on a Tolstoy fable. In the book a panda named Stillwater is trying to teach a friend how to determine who the most important person is, what time is the best, and what actions are the right ones to take. Through some experience he learns the most important time is now, the most important person is the one you are with, and the most important action is the kindest one.

And so that is what I tried to tell him.

“So Bug, right now I am feeling helpless. I can light this candle and send my thoughts towards people far away. I can show you I care by listening to your concerns even though I have no answers."


He wasn't completely satisfied, but his gaze drifted toward the candle. He took my hand and we sat there lost in our unsettled thoughts together. 





Oh Friday, we made it!

So many troubles, but there are bright spots. I read these and am reminded yet again of why I love reading and writing.

It's dark and December and the country feels sad and drab. And yet I get to work HERE and I think one way of not letting the darkness settle in too much is to make a plan for sunny days. Mine will involve catching a few free concerts and seeing a few plays next summer in my hometown of Winona. If you are within driving distance OR need a little getaway, I can hook you up! My town shines in the summer- outdoors and in the theatres, we really have it all and I feel so lucky to call this place home. But what I really want to say, is make a plan to visit a friend, go see a live performance of something, book a camping trip. Planning for future fun really does help.

I am not in a position of power, nor have I ever really wanted to be but I do believe women are extraordinary in leadership roles. I found THIS fascinating. We don't have to compromise the essence of who we are, especially if who we are is simply kind. It was a refreshing read after all the bossy/lean-in talk.

Finally, I just have to talk to you about Molly Barker.  She has created a movement called The Red Boot Coaltion. If you poke around on the website, you will find that Molly cares deeply about the world, the sense of helplessness we feel regarding politics and lack of meaningful conversations, and the overall sense of unrest in our country.  She has tried many things to make an impact and what it has come down to is very simple. She wants to engage folks in a discussion about what matters to them. She believes that at our core we are more similar than different and to that end, she is seeking what she calls Red Booters to inititate conversations around the country. I am one of them!  We talked on the phone yesterday and it was like talking to a twin (one who is a runner and has been around the country doing really important things while I am chubby and home schlepping kids) but a twin nonetheless. We are both sensitive, passionate, hopeful about the world and believe in the innate sense of kindness of the human spirit. And so, we talked and she told me how to get started and I smiled and I just simply could feel in my bones that gathering people in Winona to work the ELEVEN STEPS is what I am meant to do. I have gathered some interest and will hold my first meeting in January. I am so excited!  And if you are remotely interested in doing one in your own community or joining me, please let me know. I would love to see you, support you, encourage you, listen to you.

And that is the key. One of the most important things Molly and I discussed was listening. I have said more than once on this blog that other people's stories matter. I have said people just want to be heard, and Molly's position is that the internet has given people unprecedented abilities to share but we have tuned out. We don't listen so much as react. And I know with my whole heart that the listening as we discuss what each of the steps means to us as inviduals is going to be key. It is not about being right...it's about gaining perspective through listening.

Can I tell you again how excited I am? It reminds me a great deal of my work with Minnesota's marriage equality and I have rarely felt more alive than when I was engaged in that work..

And finally, I want to announce that I am designing a workshop with the same women who worked with me at Camp Empowerment. This workshop will be for adult women and we are simply giving women two and half days to think only of themselves in THIS place. We will write and move and meditate and create a vision for a life we desire and support and listen to each other and ourselves. More details will be coming but clear your calendars for March 13-15th. 

Enjoy your Friday. Plan something, read something, and revel in what makes you happy.



Weighty matters.

I was in a bit of a rush, sailing through a department store searching for something to wear to an event I will be attending Friday night. My eye is consistently drawn to the same lines and colors so it seems like it should be easy to shop, but I wasn't feeling great because I have gained weight and this does not make for a fun shopping trip.

But I persisted in spirit and mind because I get to have clothes that I feel good in no matter my size. A woman came up to me and said, "My daughter, she's chunky. She has, what do you call it? A muffin top? Do you think this would fit you?"

Hmm.....there aren't too many ways to interpret this other than I am most certainly chunky too. But in a moment of personal growth, I didn't let this send me running away without a purchase. Instead, I said, "You are a brave woman buying clothes for your adult daughter." I purchased my clothes and never really answered her question.

It's been a weird year, a difficult and trying one. I have ushered my family through a lot of uncertainty. My husband's ego was tested time and again in various work places. My daughter was diagnosed with a difficult but treatable disorder, my son is in the pit of puberty, and the things I tried to prioritize fell away. Often I felt like a bit of a puppeteer struggling to keep one hand talking to the other.

I put my family first. I took in the world as the sensitive person that I am. I ate my way through a lot of pain and tried to walk and talk and journal and listen to my husband and my friends and my children and last but not least myself, and then I ate some more.

My oldest brother is an alcoholic. He earned his 3 year chip for staying sober. I felt I earned some chips too in this last year, but mine were potato and chocolate. And as different as my life looks from Kelley's on paper, I know we share a common core. We are anxious about the world around us, it affects us deeply, and to cope we have to find ways that sometimes soothe us. Thankfully and with true grit, he has recovered and has taken to walking, walking, and walking some more, and chugging diet Mountain Dew. It might not be the real prescription for long term health, but when you think of the alternative I'd say he is doing quite well. 

I'd venture to get that many of us numb ourselves. It could be with food or exercise or the internet and in doing so we get carried from one moment to the next. I am not dumb. I understand real addiction. I am not risking my life or someone else's with my extra piece of chocolate. And when I have made these attempts at escape, I was admitting to myself that sometimes the pain was too great.  

Through my attempts at soothing and healing, I have gained some padding. My dog was recently hit by a Fed Ex truck and the vet said her extra weight saved her. Her legs are not crushed and her liver is not damaged because of her padding. Maybe my padding saved me.  Instead of thinking I was careless, I am choosing to see it as being full of care. It was me trying to so hard to keep it together and failing late at night when the lights were dim and the house was finally sleeping. Sometimes, in order to hang on, you have to let go.

I did not let myself go. Instead, I found a way to stay. And despite what I gained in pounds, I didn't lose a single friend, a child, a husband, or an animal. In fact, I have stronger relationships and feel deeper love for everyone in my life. I have lived through some terrible things and I have been witness to some terrible things and yet I have held on. I have risen to the occasion and I am still here.

It would be easy to suggest I am over-thinking, but this is me. And part of being me is trying to figure things out. I don't need any more health tips regarding coconut oil or the natural drug, exercise. I know! We all already know. And I am growing because I can look back at this year and see myself with loving eyes. I had coffee and tears with good friends. I read stories with my babies and shared tense and loving conversations with Big Man. I had too many hugs to count and comfortable silence when the talking was done. I  took a chance and tried some new things like meditation and writing for healing. Yes, I had too much of this and that, but what I had was just right for the moment I was in. 

I am still thinking about that woman and what she said to me and what I hope she doesn't say to her daughter the next time they meet. What I hope is that she pulls her in for a long hug and whispers into her ear, "I am so glad you are here." 

That is exactly how I feel. I am so glad I am here. 




More than wishful thinking.

We are all shopping and chopping and flying and driving and working and studying and praying and worrying and hopinghopinghoping for a better day tomorrow.

I am sitting in my old rocking chair trying hard not to let the news overwhelm me. I am thinking of Ferguson and Michael Brown and Officer Wilson and my friends who live in and around St. Louis. I am thinking about all the parents who have said painful good-byes to their children and I am thinking how much healing we have to do in this country.

Tomorrow I will sit at a table with my sister and her partner in her new home that she worked so hard to attain. I will meet her partner's family and my kids will wrestle with their father and terrorize the pets and I will smile and nod and bring myself back to the moment I am in. 

I am finally beginning to realize at this point in my life that our job is to take in the moments. I now look at them like energy- the storing up of light to fuel the darker days. 

I saw a documentary once about kids in India- impoverished, living in what many in my life would describe as absolute squalor and yet these kids were happy! Their eyes were bright, their smiles wide and what I noticed more than anything was that they were alive. They played with garbage as if it was a new toy. They sang and danced and ran and the universal whooping of happy kids was not mistaken.

So I know that the where and what of our lives is not nearly as important as the how.

And that is why I feel like we all have to get pretty serious about the HOW. How are we going to move forward in the aftermath of Ferguson? Every single time we have a national tragedy there is heartfelt prose and little action. And what I have finally realized is that we can no longer look outside ourselves for answers.

I have asked myself some tough questions. I am white. I am privileged. I live in a white community. I am economically secure. So what do I have to offer? What can I do to push my own boundaries, to be included in a conversation that matters because clearly people are not being heard.

When I was in Africa alone, I did not feel scared simply because it did not occur to me to be scared. Sure, it felt weird to be white in a sea of really beautiful black skin yet had harm come my way I would have been shocked because I have always walked around not expecting anyone to harm me. I do not know what it is like to live in a constant state of fear for my personal safety . And yet in this country I am baffled by people who live in America who live this way all of the time.  I am baffled and I am sad that I am baffled because clearly I have missed something pretty big.

We get to be thankful tomorrow. We get to love our family and take in glow of candles on the table and the clamor of giggling kids and the scents and the smells of a delicious meal as we huddle with our little families around the Thanksgiving table. And we also get to say to ourselves, "Not everyone has this. What can I do?"

I found THIS and it looks pretty interesting. I am going to check it out. I am going to start a meeting. I am going to try to talk to people different than me, I am going to do it because not doing it seems unthinkable. This was started because a woman was fed up with the lack of genuine conversation and debate within the political arena.  She, like me, firmly believes there just has to be a better way and I believe that the parameters she has created for conversation would be great to use as we navigate our way into talking about Ferguson as well. 





Plus, red boots!  

I am also going to talk to my kids about their privileged life and think of ways to push their boundaries as well. I think all of us need to do quite a bit more thinking outside ourselves.

Peaceful Thanksgiving to all of you. Store up so you can show up. That's my plan. What is yours?


Let it be



You made it!I made it! Go get yourself a cookie or a good book or a glass of wine...heck, all 3 if that is what it takes to help you unwind from the business of living. I have fruit to arrange on big white platters for The Nutcracker Tea Party fundraiser coming up this weekend. I have carpools to drive so Thing 1 can tap and serve at the tea party and practice for her roles in The Nutcracker.It's not going to be a free and easy weekend. 

But.

I can read. At 9:30 p.m. snuggled up in bed I can read. It's what I do every night so tonight will be no different, but I hope you have a pocket of time to check out some of my favorite reads from the week. So much food for thought. And some fun too.

We all spend time on the internet. We think we are wasting time, but this guy BEGS TO DIFFER.I would totally take this class and since it came from The New Yorker, I can banish all guilt about my internet life,right?

But no matter how you navigate your internet life, chances are some of you have to navigate married life. Here are two very different ways to look at marriage. First, this from The Atlantic. I am happy to note we did take a dirt cheap honeymoon (points for a honeymoon) and that our wedding cost significantly less that $30,000 (points for being cheap). But we invited more than 100 people and my only regret is that we didn't invite more. But, once again, we were cheap. And honestly, we don't talk a lot about how we look except to say that we like each other and really strive to wear the love goggles. Or maybe they are kindness goggles as suggested in the next article. THIS study takes a closer look inside lasting marriages and the results are not surprising. It reminds me that as much as I can find snark amusing, it isn't helpful in marriage and we really must be conscious all the time of turning toward our partner. All relationships are work,but the ones that matter the most are hardest and the simple act of consistent kindness has a big payoff. I cannot tell you how glad I am to have read this because even when we know, it is good to be reminded. 

This also provided me with an important reminder of just how to be with my kids, or anyone for that matter. We don't always need to multitask. We can set the phone down, we can close the lid of our computer, we can look someone (our child!) in the eye and simply listen. It's a small yet really big thing.

It may come as no surprise that I am an extrovert. Much hullabaloo had been made in cyber space about recognizing and valuing the power of quiet in the world. I am all for that, but we extroverts deserve our place in the spotlight. And because we want attention, we ask for it. I don't know about you, but is spotting one of us really that hard???

Finally, if you've not heard of The Oatmeal, allow me to introduce you. THIS is one of the funniest cartoon stories I have read and if you like it, there is much more to discover. Simply go here and enjoy. You are welcome!



The ways that we remember.

Sunday, November 9th

Good christ, I think. A Veteran's Day sale?  How lame, tacky, gauche, rude, simply disturbing. I was ruffling through the Sunday fliers and these sales, they rankle me. I let it go.

Tuesday, Veteran's Day

"Hey mom! Do you have a picture of Andrew?  I want him to be in our slide show."

Of course, the slide show is TODAY and it would have been more useful for Thing 2 to bring this up even yesterday.  I said as much but he shrugged and then sat there.

"I didn't know him, but I am still sad for his loss. Kandahar, right? He was in Kandahar. If someone asks, I want to get it right."

"Yes," I tell him, "it was Kandahar."

And then I think if we all did the same, ask simple clarifying questions, we could get so much more right in this world. I have always been a bit of a dreamer and here is yet another thing I let go.

This is a big moment in my family, both kids engaging in a conversation about our family's military history.  Soon Thing 1 and Thing 2 are tossing around the family stories of who has served, who earned awards, who died, and how weird it is to have fundraisers for Veterans and why boy scouts send popcorn overseas. I mention that I always send popcorn overseas.

"How can we help them with popcorn?" asks Thing 2.

This is a good question.

He thinks some more and then says, "Well, there are parades and we make boxes to send overseas and then there are hospitals named Veteran's Hospital. How much more help do they need?"

He's not being rude or disrespectful. Quite the opposite. He is turning over what he sees and hears. From his eleven year old vantage point in middle America, we have parades and we have a specific area in our town park dedicated to Veterans. We make slide shows and we collect food and toiletries we send to service people around the world. There are hospitals just for Veterans and we say thank you to those we see in uniform.  A former neighbor is now a 19 year old Marine and we explained what it means to go to "boot camp" and why are are grateful.  And stores offer sales and discounts. A Veteran's life doesn't seem so bad.

Ha.

I segue into a brief conversation about unemployment rates and mental and physical health needs, but I can see I am losing him so I stop.

I mention his cousin in Canada has the day off from school.The whole country shuts down on Veteran's Day.Their appreciation of those who died while serving and of those who have or are currently serving appears just a bit deeper and wider than ours for the respectful attention they give this day.There is reverence in the silence maintained during little parades throughout Canadian villages and I am certain each child is well-schooled on the purpose of this day.

I feel like we try to teach the same, but commercialism seems to paint a garish picture for those seemingly untouched by military life.

***

My former neighbor was beaming when I saw him unloading bunches of radishes in the produce aisle that he manages in the local Hy-Vee.

"How was it?" I asked. I knew he had just returned from San Diego where he watched his second son graduate from Marine boot camp.

"It was awesome. I am so proud...so proud. But, you know, he still seems like a kid. I can't quite get my brain around it. He's grown, he's changed, but his mom and I? We still see a little boy."

I am quiet. I don't know what to say.

"Congratulations," I offer. I hope it he knows it's as much for him and his wife as it is for his son's achievements. They must let go with pride and fear. Weirdly, I suddenly wonder if he paid attention to the store flier about the Veteran's Day sale. How does he feel about meat being an extra 15% off ? I don't ask.

I send up a prayer asking that his son have a long and meaningful career. I hope he lives to become a Veteran. That would be a luxury. The image of a Purple Heart for bravery floats through my mind's eye. I hear those Taps from that cold and windy March day and I see people crying and I feel Andrew's spirit and I look at this father, his pride so large he seems almost unable to contain it.

I say good-bye and I recycle the flier and I hope what we can offer his son, after many years of service, is more than a discount on meat. I hope that his son's service becomes an integral part of our story that ends with one about how our country takes care of those who care for us.

Didn't I mention I was a dreamer?



Let it be Friday!




Do you guys remember my Friday pants blog? It's time to get comfy. 

I think this guy has a nice pair.


I am going to try something new. I read a lot on the internet and some of it is good and some of it not. I am going to share a a few of my favorite things I have run across in the past few weeks or so. Check them out and let me know what you think. Think of this as your reading pile for the weekend. You are welcome:)

First, a good read.  I don't watch Girls, but I know of Lena Dunham. What strikes me most about this book is that though she is 18 years younger, I could relate to her concerns and fears. She discusses sexuality in great detail, which is a refreshing change of pace coming from a generation where we fought over Judy Blume's Forever.

 Some people won't like it, understand it, and will simply be appalled by it. But I liked the frank way she discusses her sexual life while being gentle and tender toward her family. Both are qualities I greatly admire in a person and a writer.

Like many who voted 6 years ago, I was full of hope. And truth be told, I still am. I will come out as a person who just really chooses to believe in the idea that people, even politicians, do care. And so, with that and all the criticism Obama has gotten, I stumbled across two of these articles. First, a pretty detailed look at the Obama presidency so far from conservative Andrew Sullivan and second, how kind Canadians view how we treat our president. They are much better able to articulate what I have been feeling and seeing. Finally, this just made me look at all of it in a whole new way.

Turning away from politics, I also found THIS video really profound. Women spend way too much time looking back and longing for what was or planning ahead to what we could have if we just worked hard enough. Eckhart Tolle is not wrong at all in his idea that real power resides in NOW. This award winning video tackles how so many of us carry our bodies in life. The take home message for me is to enjoy the one you have in this moment.

I also have to give a nod to a woman I only really know through Facebook. She is author Debra Monroe and she has become a virtual mentor in that I read what she writes and follow her intelligent discussions with some of her writing colleagues. She has been most kind to me when I reach out which is astounding since we have never met. She had this beautiful hybrid prose/poem published and it makes me most excited about her upcoming book called "An Unsentimental Education."   Though I no longer work at The Book Shelf, you can bet I will use her Wisconsin roots as a means of getting her to take a detour our way.

If you don't think you like poetry, please check out Mary Oliver. She is simply amazing. My favorite so far is this book and here is one to get you hooked. I try to read a few each morning and they always get me off to a good start.

"I Go Down to the Shore"

I go down to the shore in the morning
and depending on the hour the waves
are rolling in or moving out,
and I say, oh, I am miserable,
what shall - 
what should I do? And the sea says
in its lovely voice:
Excuse me, I have work to do.

Finally, THIS cracked me up because I am child of the '80s and an adult Swifty.  Also, I can't tell you how many times I have had to shake it off this week. Sans the shiney spandex and poofey hair, it's a good little mantra to carry you through your day.

I am fending off a cold, looking forward to seeing Thing 1 tap in Shrek (the local high school musical) and planning a tiny surprise for Thing 2 (brag alert) who earned his way to the honor roll in his first quarter of middle school. This might not seem like a big deal, but transitions for him are hard. Several teachers noted they could see this and there is room for improvement, but quite frankly, he did it. An Despite his organizational struggles he cares enough to try and stay at it. I think we need to celebrate.

I hope you find something to celebrate, too.  Happy Friday!

Election Time!

I love voting. There hasn't been a single election cycle that has passed when I don't think of Maya Angelou saying to a crowd of thousands in Lincoln, Nebraska twenty-three years ago, "Your debt has been paid. Now go. Do. And do it better." She was talking specifically to women, young African Americans, and anyone who had ever been marginalized. Through the hard work of their predecessors, these same people were allowed to rise. To Angelou, not honoring their hard work through thoughtful action was disgraceful.

I know people are frustrated with politicians. They are disillusioned, disappointed, tired, jaded, exasperated, fed up.  Election night six years ago seemed so full of possibility. So many people from all sides saw a bright shining light of hope. It felt real and pure and unlike anything people in my generation had experienced. And then it came crashing down with the economy. The finger pointing and name calling started and everyone lost sight, more interested in being right than really working together.

And yet I have enough friends who have significantly different political viewpoints than me, but we are able to be friends. We can talk about important things that matter to us. And guess what? We are more alike than we are different. When I stay open and look for the common ground, these conversations do not become tense. On the contrary, they become some of the best and most real conversations I have ever had. 

Which is why I will vote anyway choosing to believe politicians aren't all that different from me. I will believe they care, and I will believe this time can be better. Though it's often hard to determine which dictates, your actions or your beliefs because the two are intertwined, I will teach my kids the secret to staying true is acting upon your core beliefs while staying open to possibilities you can't quite see yet. 

Voting is one action is that leaves little doubt. It says your voice matters because it does. 

And how could anyone let Dr. Maya Angelou down?  I'm not going to chance it.

Be heard.


Putting it all together when things fall apart.

I used to think I wanted to write myself into a happy ending. I know, finally, that the ending isn't the point. It really is so much about how you just do stuff everyday. How you get up and start over again or how you get quiet in the middle of a tense moment and re-group. It is saying over and over as many times as possible in as many ways as possible that you can do this or that and you choose to do it with all of who you are. It is staying inside of every moment rather than floating away. It is not questioning other people's motives, but rather examining your own. What do I want, need, desire from this particular minute? If you care about this at all, it takes constant vigilance. Paying attention is work. I think that is why I have avoided certain things- because I know they will force me to pay constant attention to something I do not want to pay attention to. One is the collection of essays I am working on....it's hard to go to certain places because getting inside those places is just like having it happen again.

***

People who exercise on a regular basis are tapping into a very intimate connection between their mind and body. Many people aren't connected to their bodies. Sometimes I am one of them. I can look down and see what I might be doing without really feeling what is going on.

***

The internet can take us away from ourselves. For many, it has taken the place of a book. This scares me though  I am just as guilty as the next person for using too much time reading something I had not intended and here I again, I have to say, "I do not choose this."

***

In the journey with my daughter learning how to feed herself, we have had to go back to some basics. What does hunger feel like?  Are you hungry? Here is some food. After you eat it, how does it make you feel? She can answer these things, but she can't yet ask for the food. We are still working on that part.

***

It's been a twisted sort of gift, unemployment and health concerns, fear of moving, loss of innocence. All of it has forced us to be in every moment sometimes quite raw, quite overwhelming in all of it's FEELING. So many times, I wanted to sink myself.  The depression I knock away most days really wanted to settle in and I had to pay attention to my mind, my body, my spirit and feed it only good stuff. Friends and family who comforted and listened and encouraged, food that fueled and walks that energized and words that released. I failed many times. Over and over again, I failed and then got up and tried again.

***

You might say blchhh when I share that I am more in love and loving toward Big Man than I have ever been. It's not popular to sing about your own love story. If you are happy with your mate, it seems you keep it to yourself.  He regrets so much, but I keep telling him about the gifts we received. The renewed sense of this one life of our own making. The sharper focus on our tiny little family of four who love each other without question. The way that we turned toward each other rather than away. The way he accepted my help and admitted he needed me. The way we each fought different battles and held each other up. UP! Neither of us are rock star gorgeous or particularly unique, but together we are something I can't find in any book and it's just hard not to put that down in print.

***

My head spins at times. Lately I have been struggling to take in the beauty, the striking orange leaves all over the valley I live in. Often, my eyes settle on that one leaf still stubbornly green. I feel that way sometimes. Not willing to change or let go and yet it is inevitable. I am changing. I have changed, but I am me.

***

Big Man and I don't always agree on what I write. He holds his cards close. Part of me figuring out life is putting words on the page. Part of what I get out of my writing is learning that through reading about my questions, people relate to me. They appreciate my honesty. What, it seems, people are drawn to, is my willingness to question parts of my own life. It feels a constant dance to honor those in my life who are part of my journey without overstepping. Kids add another layer. I have listened to this very conversation in a room full of published writers whom I greatly admire. They have the same concerns as I do.  What I have settled on is that as long the perspective remains mine I feel good.

***

I had to re-read this piece ten times. I posted it. I took it down and now I am posting it again. It is true and it will stay. 

***

All people have doubts, even when we speak from our truest place. I think this is good because it means we care. In the end, though, our truth must speak loud enough not just for others to hear, but to affirm to ourselves that we matter. And that is the real truth. 

Meet Lois

So I have this terrible little voice in my head. She kind of looks like this and is certainly not my friend.
I have named her Lois simply because I do not know anyone named Lois. Lois doesn't work for me. She works against me and she has been driving my life for some time. She doesn't say kind things. If I heard her speak to a friend the way she speaks to me, I would be embarrassed. And so in this journey I am on, I really trying to work with Lois. It is sort of like training a dog. And I am no good at training dogs. If you met my dog, you would clearly understand what I am up against. But the deal with my brain and Lois, is that she really has just ruled for too long.  I am in charge and she just needs to know that. Here are just a few things that Lois has said to me over the years:

Why is this so hard for you? Everyone else can do this.
You have really let yourself go.
Why are you yelling? You are such a bitch.
You can't do that.
Scaredy cat. I knew you wouldn't do it.
That was dumb. How could you lose the keys? or your wallet? or that important piece of paper?
Why did you say that? People will think you are nuts.
You can't.
Compared to other women your age, you really haven't done much.
Get a life!
Your kids are a mess.
All talk, no action. Again. You will never change.
Why aren't you more organized, pretty, fit, smart, put together?

She's a gem, isn't she? So, yeah, Lois is really a witch and as much as I would like her to be gone, it really isn't that simple. I have to retrain her.  I have been working on this ever since we started helping our daughter through her issues. She has a mean voice, too, and it was driving her to do some really awful things. Part her training was to simply recognize when this mean voice was talking and notice her and then replace her voice with something that the strongest version herself would say. So I am doing this, too. And since I have started, I have noticed lots of people talking about similar techniques. They envision this voice as someone who is only a very small part of them. It's important to recognize they exist and try to find a place for them. The reality is that our frenemies like doubt and fear will always be around, but they do not have to be in charge.

I wish I could tell you I am having this PHENOMENAL experience and my life has totally changed. It's not like that at all. It is a journey and it takes practice. I have gone to a meditation center to learn more and what I am realizing is that my brain has been out of whack for quite some time. I also have to keep practicing and noticing Lois and being gentle with Strong Lisa. When Lois starts talking smack about how I meditate, I know I have gone too long without working at it. 

In a doctor's visit yesterday, my practitioner actually PRESCRIBED meditation. When she saw my history of depression, she started discussing mindfulness and meditation and practically jumped out of her chair when I told her what I had been working on. Strong Lisa wanted to shout, "Bring back the high five because I am on this!" 

But I just smiled and Lois glowered... which was totally fine by me. 

****

As aside, I have to admit that Big Man suggested I try meditation during the heart of our unemployment months. He did because his ego was out of whack, We have different struggles regarding negative thoughts and even different methods for meditation. But none of that matters. It has helped each of us in different ways.  All of this is to say, hon, YOU WERE RIGHT!




On Football and Life

I went to listen to Steve Almond discuss his newest book called Against Football. It wasn't so much that I am a passionate hater of football. More precisely, I was wondering what a former fan of the game had to say about how he arrived at the topic. Steve is a talented writer who has really forged his own creative writing path. I knew this book was not a diatribe in the formal sense....I knew it carried some weight. What he said was that it really came down to the fact that he was ashamed of his love for the game despite the growing evidence that football harms people for life and that the industry itself does little to protect those who play it.  Furthermore, he said, "We need to write about what brings us shame."

This stopped me so much that I scribbled it in my notebook.

I looked up the official definition. Ashamed: embarrassed or guilty because of one's actions, characteristics, or associations.

I started thinking about all of which I feel shame for--times when I did not speak out are only the tip of the iceberg for me.  Here is an incomplete list:
1.  Yelling at my kids.
2.  Leaving the house when I am angry.
3.  Digging up the past 
4.  Forgetting my parent's anniversary.
5.  Being overweight
6.  Watching my daughter get sick and not being able to stop it.
7.  Asking my husband to interview for a job that did not deserve him. He made himself vulnerable by admitting to some problems he'd had and they did not treat him with kindness and if I think too much about this, it still can make me sick. 
8.  Believing in feminism while I stay home to raise kids while my husband is the primary breadwinner. 
9.   Having a garden but buying Quick Trip pizza because I wanted a night off.
10. Sending my son to Boy Scouts though they don't really support gay rights as a national organization.
11. Not attending funerals of people who were important to me to important to someone I love.

I am not saying these make sense. I am only saying that my shame comes from something not ringing true for me in each of these things. 

So Steve got me thinking about how shame arrives when what we believe and think and feel does not line up with our actions.  One of the speakers I heard last weekend said this very thing. She was discussing living a life of integrity. When what we do and say and believe all line up, we are walking in that sweet spot. Something wasn't ringing true for Steve and that is when he began his closer examination of football, it's culture, and so on.


And yet walking with integrity at all times is hard. I mean, I don't think it's always hard. I just think that our world has really gotten haywire- we trend, you know? There is a trend and we jump on or off ,and we just don't really think it through. Everything has become so political- food and football and feminism and religion and school. Somehow it ends up being a right or left thing, and yet isn't all just a human thing?


We are full of dichotomies.We are black and white and grey. And I mostly feel grey. I have rarely drawn a hard line in the sand for anything. It was my biggest struggle as a teacher and lately, I have had to develop a hard line for my son. He's in a phase where his tone toward me is less than respectful. I simply cannot tolerate it and because I love him more than anyone I want more out of him. He needs to be constantly corrected and there are ramifications for him. I want him so badly to see how he hurts me and then get it so he simply stops.


But lessons are hard to learn and they keep coming at us until we get them and I am not in charge of his time frame. I want to be and that is my lesson. My impulse is to feel shame for his behavior and yet, it is his behavior and not mine. I can teach and he can learn...or not. His behavior does not fit into the life of integrity I wish to live and yet all I can do is stay the course and pray that he will join me. 

I admire Steve for just plunging in and investigating and trying to go forth in a way that speaks of integrity for him.

That is our journey, right? To figure out a way that rings true to us and for us and deep inside us and then, have the courage to live it.

Who knew I would get all that from a brief talk about football? But lessons are everywhere if we are paying attention and I guess that is just part of it......paying attention.

Seeking, Part 2

So I have been sitting with all I heard a week ago, ruminating and wondering what rises to the surface and curious about what has stayed with me.

I am re-reading my notes and here are just a few things that stand out:

We are all spiritual beings having a human experience.

Your life is always speaking to you, but whether we are listening or not is up to us.

You are co-creating your life through the energy of your intentions.  In other words, what you put out you get back.

I could take any one of these things and write for hours, but really I think I will just let those statements sit with you.

What each of the speakers was trying to do in his or her own way was to get at each of these.

 

Elizabeth Gilbert, who wrote  Eat, Pray, Love and The Signature of All Things, spent her time talking about Joseph Campbell and the hero's journey. What she realized is that while there are no examples in historical fiction or mythology of a female hero, it does not matter. When she decided to leave her first marriage, she realized she would have to be her own hero. The other point she drove home is that a hero's journeys is not without struggle. It is not a romantic straight line to happiness. It is bone deep work with ups and downs and when you are true to your deepest longings, you can hurt others and make mistakes because your journey is not theirs. Yikes! Hurt people? Who wants to do that?  But you forge ahead anyway because if you are listening to what you know and believe and feel to be true about you, you will manifest what is meant to be yours. When you are working with the universe to get what you want, things will appear.
When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.


This isn't physic hokey-pokey. I think it's just part of people really following the path they are meant to follow. I also think that if you are paying attention, what you need is often right in front of you.

Sometimes, though, we get confused with wants and what is really meant for us. This is a hard lesson to learn at 12 and 36 and 45 and beyond.

Gilbert's own journey did not involve marriage, life in the suburbs with 2.6 kids and a dog. Something else was calling to her and it took a very hard knock for her to get this, but she says the universe was whispering all along in her love and zest for travel and quests and journeys inside through her writing. All of this took her far away from the kind of life she imagined would be required to raise a child and so she made the difficult decision to leave her husband and set off on discovering the truest version of herself that she could find. This moment in a hero's journey is called Crossing the Threshold. For her, it was a prayer on the floor of her bathroom when she realized she could not go one more day living a life that was not hers.

She wants us to pay attention to those whispers, those nudges, those moments that make the hair on our neck stand up or our head tilt to one side in a question, or cock our eyebrows up in surprise. Those moments are there if we are open to them and they are there to give us information about what moves us. We don't have to cross the threshold in a big and dramatic way. We can simply follow it in the way that we are meant to, but often as imperfect humans we get too caught up in the shoulds. Being true to you involves no apologies and no shoulds, but it isn't easy.

First you have to be willing to ask the question, and then you have to be willing to consider the answer. You may not like it because it can involve some unraveling of a life you already have and that, of course, takes work.

Women with families often lament, "Who has time for this?"  But her challenge is this--we only get so much time. How you are going to spend it is entirely up to you. Really. You.

We are co-creators of our lives which means part of it is in our control.

I am only starting to unpack this week. I am ruminating. The notes are copious and profound, but I haven't stopped reading them. Everyday I take out my notebook and I thumb through it until I stop on a word or a phrase that catches my eye. I am talking to friends who want to know more and I am working with a woman who feels as passionate as I do about really asking these questions. It's all really big and good and hopeful and very hard.

But it's worth it because we only get one go 'round. Why not do it in the way you want? Really, why not?
Be the hero of your own story-answer or ignore. It doesn't start until YOU start.

Seeking, Part 1.


Five months ago a dear friend and I were chatting on the phone. She was going through something very difficult and her head was spinning. I was feeling overwhelmed because Big Man and I didn't have a certain future. I didn't yet know if I should start packing or register the kids for summer camps in Winona. Stress was high for both of us in very different ways.

We needed something outside ourselves to pull us forward through some difficult days. I had seen that Oprah was advertising a Live the Life You Want weekend. I wondered out loud, "Could we go?" She said, "Yes. I will book it!" We looked at locations knowing it didn't matter where we went, only that we went. We chose a weekend in Auburn Hills, Michigan because the timing worked best for both of us. Because my finances were uncertain, she booked the tickets and our airfare before we fully understood what we did and before we could change our minds.

We kept this little plan to ourselves for a very long time. We weren't trying to lie or hide anything. Yet even in the midst of a time when neither of us felt like we could see straight, we knew that this thing was just for us. It was just about us and the journeys we found ourselves on and it wasn't going to be Oprah giving us a new car. It was going to be about us facing the fact that where ever we were, we, ourselves, had put us in this moment. And without speaking specifically about this, we each kept it tucked away inside ourselves. This is mine, I thought over and over again. If I talk about it, people will cast a judgement and for once, I do not care at all what others think. More than that, I don't want to field disdain, jealousy, or questions. This, I thought, is only for me. Jessie did the same 

And so it was the exact carrot we needed. It pulled us through some tough times and I confess, I forgot I had even signed up. She'd say, "Can you get the hotel?" and I'd think," For what?" and then laugh. Oh yes. We are going away. Alone. Without kids or spouses...just us. 

I know some people find Oprah too much. Big Man likes to make fun of her magazine. "Whose on the cover this week?" he'll ask, but I know what she is about. I listen when I can to her Super Soul Series and I have heard her enough to know that really understanding, seeking, trying to discover your purpose is something that matters enough to her that she created this class/weekend to help others.



She spoke without pause for two hours on the first night. She wove her own personal stories into the essential message that this life as a human is a gift. For so many reasons, it is just as likely that we could not be here or show up in a different form. We could be a rock or an ant or a piece of grass. But each of us in this LARGE STADIUM filled with THOUSANDS arrived on this planet in human form. Despite the size and numbers, it was quiet. You could hear the people breathing next to you and it seemed as if her words just dropped onto each us, settling into our hearts, expanding our brains, filling the empty spaces we were seeking to fill. It was a moment full of life. 

Set into the context of time and space, this gift of our own unique life seems small and yet she believes that because of this amazing chance that we showed up as human, we have an offering. Our purpose is to heed the call of our lives. We are deadened so often to the call. We get caught up in life drama that we forget to listen and pay attention.

Sitting next to Jessie was an 80 year old gentlemen accompanying his wife. This was a dream come true for her and yet he was in it as much as she. He laughed, he danced (yes! we all danced), he listened and learned and felt happy to be receiving the messages.  I was inspired by his presence, his interest, his desire to be willing to keep learning and to not stop asking the questions....why am I here?


I have some clear ideas about why I am here. I have goals and I feel called to act on them, but I am easily derailed by the business of life. It would be an understatement to say the last seven months really knocked me for a loop. It seems there is never a right time to go for what you want. The only time, ever, is now. I have also spent much of life feeling bad for being so "sensitive", so overwhelmed, so easily irritated and bogged down by all that life seems to offer.  

What I was seeking was a shift in my thinking. I knew I needed to learn how to see things differently, in a more positive way. To see my attempts at stumbling as just experience. And that was a big lesson from the first night. Any perceived "failure" is really just information. It's a lesson in what did not work and an opportunity to self-correct. 

And so I am on a big self-correct mission inside my head.

I am thankful for that pinprick of light on an awful April day when what I wondered out loud was really a question from a very deep space inside me. I asked and we both said YES! to something we did not completely understand. Though I didn't exactly know what I was seeking, it seems the universe did.


There are many lessons from the fourteen hours I spent with some truly gifted seekers so generous in their desire to help us all along on our own quests. I will share more as I sort through it, and yet I know what I can capture with words will be inadequate because I am only just getting started. But the important part is that.... I started.

Using my wisdom for a change.

 
I started to write about some of the following: unemployment, eating disorders, social status, raising a sensitive child as a sensitive adult, middle school-the weird, cool, nerdy, and lame, letting people down, and the writing life.
 
All of these things are important to me, but I couldn't hone in on any of them. Every word felt forced, as if I was writing for a cheesy parenting magazine in which I fake being the "expert."
 
The truth is I am not an expert in any of these things. I have a doctor in my home and Google at my fingertips and while that might seem like a boon to some, let me tell you I feel just as uncertain as the next person. But at 45, I have gained some wisdom and here is one truth I know:  transitions are hard. We happen to be going through several. I am getting used to be the main parent again. I am helping my daughter through some difficult times, I am prepping my son for the onslaught of middle school, and I am contemplating my own future and goals.
 
I was gifted with two younger women in my life who were listening to me weigh in about various ramifications to the decision I am facing. I talked through it and they nodded and finally one looked at the youngest of us and said, "See? This is what age does. It gives you perspective and you realize no decision is truly the end of the world. I am just now learning this."
 
I was struck by how someone has credited my age for something (in this youth-obsessed culture, age seems to be a major minus) and how I must have sounded more confident than I felt as I weighed out the pros and cons. Later in this same week, I was voicing another concern about this same opportunity and my companion at the time said, "Well, this won't be a problem for you because you have experience with life. You get it."
 
And I am really trying to own all of this because they are right.  At some point our experience equates to wisdom if we allow ourselves to see it and acknowledge it and claim it.
 
And so in a startling change of pace, I am not letting these transitions and choices beat me down. I am riding them. I am letting the river of chance and opportunity and change take me knowing that wherever it leads, I will be just fine. My record of landing on solid ground, so far, is pretty good.

I received some flowers yesterday for no reason from a friend I met on this blog. I was touched and humbled by this small act of kindness and when I look at these flowers I am thinking of the people in Fergusun. I am thinking of James Foley and his family and all journalists risking their lives to tell the truest stories they can. I am thinking of  every single victim of a senseless shooting. I am thinking of my little town struggling to find ways to make a dent in the mental health issues plaguing our young adults. I am thinking of so many parents who lose their children to suicide. And I am thinking of how the summer of 2014 became the summer of the ice bucket challenge for ALS. I am thinking of those who suffer from ALS, a debilitating and heartless disease that shows no mercy. I am hoping against hope that with every single bucket poured and every dollar raised, those afflicted and those who are caregivers can feel the love and compassion. It is truly amazing to watch the simple act of pouring water turn into a viral cause that has raised millions of dollars. It is a bouquet of humanity in a desert of so much sadness.

These flowers are speaking a certain truth to me. They say, "I care about you. Thank you for being you. I am here for you." The truth is not always so pleasant, however. When we tell the truth with our words and actions, people don't want to listen. The truth is that racism still exists. The truth is some people are heartless and cruel. The truth is that ALS is so ugly people don't want to hear about it. The truth is that some people will take their own lives and we we will never understand why.

What is also true is that some people send flowers for no reason. The truth is that one small act can create a chain of similar actions that brings national attention to something previously ignored. The truth is that when I speak the truth, some people may not want to hear it because it isn't convenient to them. The truth is that I, too, don't want always want to know the truth because it hurts.

So we take in what we can. We listen and digest and turn over and set aside and move forward or hide out and some of us act. We often feel our little acts mean nothing but then I think of the ice buckets!

And probably more than anything, that is what I do. I think. I think of a victim or a senseless act and in that moment, I want to believe I am somehow lifting up the suffering. I hold the name of a person or place in my head and heart for just a few seconds on a continuous cycle and I want to believe that these seconds add up to minutes and hours and days and months and since time is never-ending no one is ever truly forgotten.

Little actions like flowers and pouring ice water on your head or holding a thought may seem small in the context of our overwhelming problems. But small is good and we are good and we can do these little things and we need to keep doing them. Just keep doing them.







Hard Stuff



The small town that I live in has experienced it's share of youth suicides. In the last three years, 3 young men have taken their own lives for reasons we will never know. The recent death of Robin Williams has everyone talking about mental health and as horrible as it all is, talk is good, so very good, because it keeps us thinking and watching and listening and searching for better answers and more help.

I had a moment in Camp Empowerment last week when we were discussing how we make choices. One girls suggested that pro and con lists always work for her. I wondered out loud if the answer you wanted was ever different than the answer that can appear on the list. Another girl chimed in with this, "Well, I have wanted to kill myself, but I know that it isn't a good idea. People would miss me. It would be hard on them."

Right then I started to sweat because I am not a trained counselor or specialist in any such thing. I have never worked for a suicide hotline or have any claim to being expert in the field.

Yet I do know how it feels to be down. I know how it feels to be so far down that you can't really see up. I have lived with my depression like many live with it and that is really what you choose to do...you choose to live with it.

And so that is what I said, "You know deep down ending things is not right so you make a choice to live through the hurt."

I used to spend a lot of time thinking there was something terribly wrong with me. Of course there was and yet I also spent time thinking I should be able to change it if I just did this and that and this other thing. So when I finally sought treatment after the birth of my son, a kind nurse gently saved me with these words, "It's not your fault, honey. It's chemistry."

I got some meds and I was able to pick my head up long enough to look around and examine more closely what I needed to do.

Medication is not magical. It does not solve everything for everyone. It does not cure that restless and sometimes hopeless and persistent feeling all of the time. What my medicine does for me is give me the ability to put forth the effort to do all of the other things I need to do to stay on top of or ahead of the cloud, the monster, the hole.  I need to walk and talk and write and connect and move and see a counselor and cry and write some more. Without medicine, not only do I not do these things, I don't know I need to do these things.

I have never contemplated suicide. My down is either a low grade solid gray or an amped-up and overwhelming red anger that makes no sense to me when I am well.

And that's the thing. When I am sick, I cannot imagine being well though I know enough to understand that I have been well and the sickness is not what I want to choose.

It takes constant vigilance, constant monitoring, constant attention.  Self-care is not a weekend at a spa. It is a daily walk, time to write, a deep breath in the middle of a tense conversation, an evening meditation, a visit or two or three to the doctor to manage medication, talking to therapists and friends, yoga or pilates, and books upon books upon books. It is a quiet room and the shades drawn and petting my cat and loving up my dog and more deep breathing and healthy food and reaching out to my husband and not comparing my journey to anyone else's. It is the work of my life and sometimes none of this works. And so what is left is to wait it out, let it do it's thing before that storm passes and I can see the clouds roll away and I can step out into the light again. That's what I do. I try to always step out into the light.

It will be controversial so say I get why people choose a different path. There are so many who are hurting more than I ever have and if that is true, then I get why they seek relief. Many will say it is selfish, but that is not true. It is, at their weakest moment, their only version of self- care they can think of. What I want to say is that you just alwaysalwaysalwaysalwaysalwaysalwaysalways have to go toward the light. It is there. It is waiting for you. It can be yours for a minute and then another and then another. Minutes stack up to hours and it is soon a day and then another and you get to live and work and fight for a better way.

But it is a fight and sometimes people lose. And so, all I want to do is help people with the fight. I want us all to be helpers, lovers, watchers, listeners, encouragers, hand-holders. Let's be fighters with big hearts and warm hands and tender gentle ears. We can all do that. I know we can.

Camp Empowerment: The end is really the beginning.


Thursday brought more reflection. I kept reminding them to add any practice or idea that seemed to fit into our "tool kits" for their future use. Claire Marie, the performance director for Seed Performance Art in Winona, spent the rest of the afternoon leading the girls through dialogue and giving them scripts to read that were based on empowering scenes. I took this time to leave because my poor daughter has been at camp with me in the wings. It hasn't been bad, but I really wanted to give her some time to be without me and so I did.

Erica and I left the last day as a sort of reflection and celebration of sticking with us and really trying. We had the chance to ask them what tools seem easily accessible to them and the laughing yoga, breathing, journaling, and movement came up. Three cheers for tools!

Finally, we presented them with gifts. I gave each of them a pen and a small notebook and a few of my favorite empowering quotes. Erica presented a hand-written note, a rock with their word on it (a word that reflects what they revealed to us about who they are at this time in their life), and a bead that represents the power of being female. Erica and I hugged each girl and had a private message for them. After every girl received her own round of applause, they immediately dug into their notes and quotations.

Erica and I collapsed and laughed and wished Annika were here and the girls simply enjoyed being in such a safe place.

****

Tools for Life and What Empowerment Really Means

On Friday evening after camp was finished, my daughter wanted to talk to me. She is struggling mightily with her own issues, and she felt overwhelmed. I let her talk though I have to confess, I was tapped from the week which is exactly what it means to be a parent. I knew I had to rise above the exhaustion and do this work. So she talked and I listened and after she was all finished, I only had this left to offer.

"You know, babe. You have all the tools. At some point you are going to have to make the decision to fight for it. Fight for what you know and believe to be true."

And there I was confronting every single minute I have ever had in my own dark place.

And to me, that is what empowerment is-- the choice to turn what you believe in your gut into active truth. Our struggles may vary wildly, but we all have choices. My baby has the tools and I do, too.

The real work, the dig-deep-and-get-messy-and-fight-for-it work, is using them.