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Monday
Jun092014

Riff on This: Go

Crochety middle-aged people like me are sometimes overheard saying things like oh puh-lease. Kindergarten graduation? Give me a break. But when I saw the stack of hand-decorated mortarboards in Ezra's classroom, I knew this was the kind of celebration that didn't take itself too seriously.

In the run-up to the end of the school year I found myself more astounded by this kid Ezra is becoming than where-did-the-time-go nostalgic. He surprised me last week by taking over a Dr. Seuss book at bedtime and reading to me out of the blue. (And with that, Hop on Pop catapulted into first place in my personal ranking of books in the English language.) When he was a baby I used to stare at him and wonder who are you? and now every day he reveals a little more of himself.

The teachers told the parents to wait on the playground while the kids lined up for their processional. Suddenly 100 kindergarteners shuffled down the walkway, each wearing a paper graduation cap and holding a laminated piece of paper inscribed with one word, usually an adjective. One by one they passed the teacher with the microphone, stopping to hold up thier sign and say

I'm Sophie, and I'm curious!

I'm Ben, and I'm smart!

I'm Neveah, and I'm funny!

I'm Aiden, and I'm an artist!

And finally, here comes Ezra.

Engineer. Of course.

Afterward I asked his teacher where the words came from. She said we asked the kids to think of a word that describes who you are on the inside. And I laughed because I'm amazed to think Ezra knows himself so well at age five.

If he was finishing high school I might have given him that Dr. Seuss graduation classic, Oh The Places You'll Go but instead I wondered if I could possibly settle on one word that describes who I am on the inside.

Mother? Witness? Storyteller?

On Facebook last week, an old friend posted a letter from Hunter S. Thompson to someone who had asked him advice for finding your purpose. He wrote it when he was only 22, and while I don't tend to take advice from people who have barely escaped adolescence, the Good Doctor had an interesting perspective on finding and creating meaning even then.

...[Often] we set up a goal which demands of us certain things: and we do these things. We adjust to the demands of a concept which CANNOT be valid. When you were young, let us say that you wanted to be a fireman. I feel reasonably safe in saying that you no longer want to be a fireman. Why? Because your perspective has changed. It’s not the fireman who has changed, but you. Every man is the sum total of his reactions to experience. As your experiences differ and multiply, you become a different man, and hence your perspective changes. This goes on and on. Every reaction is a learning process; every significant experience alters your perspective.

So it would seem foolish, would it not, to adjust our lives to the demands of a goal we see from a different angle every day? How could we ever hope to accomplish anything other than galloping neurosis?

...[So] to put our faith in tangible goals would seem to be, at best, unwise. So we do not strive to be firemen, we do not strive to be bankers, nor policemen, nor doctors. WE STRIVE TO BE OURSELVES.

But don’t misunderstand me. I don’t mean that we can’t BE firemen, bankers, or doctors— but that we must make the goal conform to the individual, rather than make the individual conform to the goal. In every man, heredity and environment have combined to produce a creature of certain abilities and desires— including a deeply ingrained need to function in such a way that his life will be MEANINGFUL. A man has to BE something; he has to matter.

As I see it then, the formula runs something like this: a man must choose a path which will let his ABILITIES function at maximum efficiency toward the gratification of his DESIRES... In short, he has not dedicated his life to reaching a pre-defined goal, but he has rather chosen a way of life he KNOWS he will enjoy. The goal is absolutely secondary: it is the functioning toward the goal which is important.

This little ditty loops through my mind as I wonder where do I go from here? Does who I am on the inside match who I am on the outside? For Ezra, it may take years to know if the desire to build leads him to engineer. Hell, here I am, ostensibly a grownup still asking myself the same questions. I hope we both get to become who we are, most authentically and satisfyingly.

In the meantime, Ezra's making a beeline for summer vacation.

 ---

Some of my compatriots in this month's blog hop have much bigger adventures to report.  Hope on over to Lindsey Garrett to see the epic GO she's documenting.

Thursday
May292014

The Illusionist and the Thief

Nagging, anxious chatter in my head made it impossible to sit in the house over the holiday weekend. My team was at work, so I should be too. Deadlines. Notes. Doubts. Legos. Mama, will you play with me? Mama, will you play with me? Mama will you play with me? There's a friend in a hospital bed on the Front Range.

This is what shoes are for, so out I go and the air up there is like a Xanax. It unclenches you. For some reason my eyes and ears work better up there than they do in the city. Every bird in the valley sings in its own language, pay attention. It is a relief to do this, to notice what is here right now. Sprays of glacier lilies spring up in the marshy fields fed by the snow melt, a daytime constellation of yellow stars. In a grove of a zillion juvenile aspen trees I find an ant marching through a forest of tiny orange mushrooms on a downed log.

The mountains don't know it's the First Official Weekend of Summer. Here it is only now spring, and the valleys are the tenderest green. Later the sun will bake and harden all of this and the greens will deepen and the lilies will give way to heartier Indian paintbrush but now the colors are like an ache in me, because I know how short-lived this season is. Does the glacier lily think it will live forever?

The news came in fragments and Facebook posts. Hey man, you might want to Clorox down my edit bay. Doctor says I'm out for a few days. Pneumonia. Collapsed lung. Coma. Antibiotics. He'll wake up any time now, he's 43 and healthy, after all. And we are invincible.

Wake up.

Wake up.

(Insert snarky Facebook post here. He'll laugh when he wakes up.)

Wake up.

Back in the office us old-timers started to hug, worried. We grew up together, professionally. We are jarred and confused and scared for his family. And for ourselves.

I am a talented illusionist. I have a trick up my sleeve that involves creating a life that feels solid. Inevitable. Constant. I fall for it every time. We all do this, right? It's a sleight of mind that makes it possible to move through our days with a sense of meaning and purpose. We are durable and so we build things like friendships, families, television shows, careers, and homes.

Is this the delusion of the naive? I can't be the only one shocked when, as substantial as this life feels, it is revealed to be a tissue-thin veil disguising one real thing: we are fragile beings. We only get a short season.

Spoiler alert: He doesn't wake up.

Yesterday the news came. That's a wrap. And with that dark humor it's confirmed once again that he chose the right woman all those years ago. It's something he would have said.

This sensation of losing Mike is familiar. It is the feeling of standing on a high place, looking down. Your logical mind believes you're safe.  There is a solid bridge with hand rails, after all. But your stomach nervously knots up anyway, waiting for the unexpected lurch that throws you. This is why we need the veil, I guess. To settle the stomach. To make it possible to focus enough to use your eyes and ears and hands and build something.

Mike, I will remember you for the long, hard hours we put in together trying to build better stories.  I will remember your humor, your pride in your family and your big dreams. Your determination to take risks to grow stands in my mind as a pointed challenge. You were robbed, and so were we.

 May we all find peace.

Thursday
Apr102014

Riff on This: Hide and Seek

All of Cherish Bryck's images are expressive in the extreme, so I knew she would select something evocative for our group of friends to riff on.  Looking at the image above now, it seems playful to me.  When she first sent it, however, I saw someone obscuring herself.  The question of whether there are things I'm not facing is alive for me these days anyway, so it's probably natural that I saw it and ran in that direction.

You might as well answer the door, my child, the truth is furiously knocking.
--Lucille Clifton

 

(To see where my friends went with this, hop on through to Cherish.)

Monday
Mar102014

Riff on This: Spacious

Meghan Davidson presented our little sisterhood with this image as our jumping-off point for this month's riff.  I've been one of the biggest fans of her 365 Impossible Self-Portraits project for the past almost-year, but ohmygod this month's riff made me realize exactly how impossible that project must actually be on a day to day basis.  In addition to having to come up with a different self-portrait idea EVERY SINGLE DAY, she has to contend with the challenges of instant film, one take, very little control over her exposure, no post-processing.  Every.  Single.  Day.

It is inspiring and intimidating and a little bit (a lot?) magic.  When she posted the shot above for us to riff on, I couldn't even get my head around exactly what I was looking at.  I still haven't the foggiest notion of how she did it.  And though I was nervous about taking on any one element (self-portrait, silhouette, double exposure) I finally found myself circling around the idea of what my internal landscape looks like these days.

Here's a hint: it doesn't look like the image below.

But I'd like for it to.

I find myself in a crowded moment, where the to-do lists and the obligations and the to-and-fro join with the multiplying stacks of paper to make me feel... constrained.  I have found myself whispering one word to myself like a little prayer in the past week.

Spacious.

Spacious.

Spacious.

I try to believe that there is enough room in my head, and my heart, and the vast universe for all that my life currently contains.  

I can visualize this on a warm winter day, with the kick and glide of my nordic skis, my breath, hard and rhythmic, and the blistering white of the snow laid out over a Rocky Mountain valley before me.  It erases boundaries and covers the tangled earth in a peaceful and soothing blanket.  That's how I want my interior landscape to look - calm, undulating, expansive.  Spacious.

---

To hop on around to see if my other creative muses are less tortured than me swing on by Meghan's blog next.

Monday
Feb102014

The Lucky Ones

Today I am acutely aware of this one thing: life is not fair.

Tomorrow I board a flight to Minnesota as proof for a family member that love still exists, even as she says goodbye to her husband of 14 years.  A viewing.  A church service.  He didn't deserve this.  She doesn't deserve this.  We are too young for this.

It was benign, until it was not.  Which, come to think of it, is the basic nature of time as it does its number on each of us.

I watch Ezra sprout up by the day.  The chubby toddler cherub has receded almost completely, stretched into angular boy before my eyes.  He has been so self-contained for so long that it is a welcome surprise to discover that he suddenly seeks comfort against my body. He slithers right into my arms and I don't know what triggers this, but it is all innocent and intimate and I revel in this benign moment when we are the lucky ones.

----

Tara Romasanta inspired this image.  My photographer friends and I decided to shake up the blog circle this month, so Tara took this picture, and we all set out to discover what it sparked in each of us.  To me, her image is about touch, and the sweet power of innocent intimacy so I wanted to try to capture what that looks like in my life right now.  If you follow the link to Tara's blog and onward, you're sure to be surprised and delighted about what my compatriots did with the prompt.