Who Knew a Bedtime Story Could F%@k You Up?

My 4 1/2 year old son started school last week. He is in Transitional Kindergarten (TK) which is a year of publicly funded Pre-K offered at public schools for children who will turn 5 during the school year. Though it's not even quite kindergarten yet, I consider this the official start of school seeing as he has to be there every day, will be doing everything in a classroom environment on a public school campus, and will attend an after school program at least a few days per week.

I'd known the day was coming for at least 3 years, but ramping up to it in the weeks preceding still filled me with emotion--equal parts anxiety and pride (which pretty much describes the make up of my emotional state during every transition my child works his way through).

The first time I teared up was when I put his TMNT backpack in the shopping cart at Target. I stopped to take a picture of the moment and send it to my mom. When it came to crying at the realization that your baby is growing up, I knew she'd understand.

Then I was fine until the morning of his first day. I lay his first day of school outfit on his bed just before I roused him and teared at the thought: the day has arrived.

Then I teared up again as I held his hand and we approached the school. Seeing all the other parents there arriving with their own children finally drove the point home.

But while these were all moments of excitement and a little bit of sadness, I worked through them pretty easily. Things were moving quickly. You can't just stand there and cry in front of a room full of 4-year-olds who look terrified as it is. You suck it up and move on. Anyway there was work and the everyday moving forward of life to contend with. These emotional moments were fleeting.

What I didn't realize, however, was that something was continuing to brew throughout. And what shocked the hell of me was that it would take a children's picture book to bring it to the surface.

After I picked my son up from school that first day we stopped by the library. Nothing special about that; we do it all the time. While I quickly preview books before we choose them (making sure they're not too long or too short or have shitty illustrations that would irritate me), I never read them through. It's a surprise every time when we get to them in the evenings and I learn what the actual story line is.

So I wasn't prepared for the dark horse that lie within Imagine Harry, a book my son chose and which I hadn't even remembered making into our library bag. It was Wednesday evening, three days into the School Experiment when it made it into the rotation.

Imagine Harry seems innocuous enough. Indeed it starts innocuously enough. Little Rabbit has an imaginary friend named Harry with whom he goes everywhere and does everything. Nothing crazy. Neither my son nor I were identifying much with it. Neither of us have ever had an imaginary friend. For the first 2/3 of the book it was simply another tale told with accompanying illustrations.

And then this...

Little Rabbit starts school. Things are changing in his house and in his relationship with the imaginary Harry.

After Little Rabbit has been in school for a while, Harry begins to hang back in the classroom when the kids go out to recess. Harry insists he doesn't need a snack. His needs are diminishing. He begins to fade into the background. (Dear Lord I am tearing up as I type this!!!)

And then one day, during a particularly fun music class,
Harry whispered softly in Little Rabbit's ear,
"I'm tired. I think I'll go take a nap."
"Okay Harry," Little Rabbit whispered back. "See you later."
It was when I read the above page that I started losing it. Oof. Harry begins to understand that Little Rabbit doesn't need him so much anymore. Little Rabbit barely blinks when Harry, who seemed so crucial to him before, begins to distance himself.

Earlier that afternoon I had picked my son up from his after school program. I was so excited to see him and concerned about how he'd been fairing in his new environment with new kids. I was practically frantic by the time I made it into the classroom.

There he was, zooming around the room with a Candyland game piece in hand, alongside a child about three years his senior. They were laughing and doing voices and I swear if I hadn't finally tapped him on the shoulder he may have carried on for hours without even noticing me. Even when I did so, he merely looked up and said "hi," then continued on his merry way.


This was a big change from the kid who three days previous was still clinging alternately to his dad and me as his TK teacher instructed the children to sit down on the carpet. With a forlorn look on his face he'd taken in the surroundings in a state of semi-annoyed mistrust.

What had happened in those three days?!

These two pages followed:

Shortly after the first snowfall, Little Rabbit was invited to an ice-skating party.
When he returned home, Little Rabbit told his mother all about it.
"It sounds like a wonderful party," Mother Rabbit said. "Did Harry have a good time too?"
Little Rabbit was startled to realize that he hadn't seen Harry in weeks.
 Holy shit. This was no joke. Through tears, I kept reading.

"Harry moved away, "Little Rabbit said. "He's got his own house now."
"Oh," said Mother Rabbit, "He's certainly welcome to visit anytime."
I couldn't make it through this page smoothly. I had to stop, words stuck in my throat.

But Harry never came back to visit the Rabbits.
Sometimes at dinner, Little Rabbit and Mother Rabbit talked about him.
"Harry doesn't have a phone at his new house," Little Rabbit said.
"And he never learned how to read or write. So I guess we won't be hearing from Harry anymore."
This one did me in. I couldn't pretend I wasn't crying anymore, and then I was alternating between crying and laughing. Crying because of course I was relating to this story on a metaphorical level and it perfectly symbolized the feelings I'd been having about my baby growing up and becoming more independent...feelings that had been building all week and were now coming to a head. Laughing because I knew it must have seemed strange to my son that, from his perspective, I was ALL KINDS OF BROKEN UP about Little Rabbit's *imaginary* friend Harry moving away, a plot development that hadn't piqued his emotions in the slightest.

He just lie by my side, unsure how to react, wanting to laugh with me or cry with me but realizing he didn't really get why I was doing either. That quiet waiting on his part was making me laugh as well. And so there I am hysterical in both senses of the word, trying to gain composure when he, with his barely-becoming-apparent comedic timing, chimes in with, "awkwaaaaaaaard."

And of course that made me laugh even more.

I kissed his little forehead and, having finally made it through, sang him his bedtime song, snuggled in a for a few minutes, then left him already fallen into the hard, super zonkout sleep that has characterized his first week at school.

Then I retired to the living room.

"This book fucked me UP," I said to my boyfriend, eyes puffy and red, I'm sure. Even in just trying to tell him about it, I was crying again. Then I was crying. Uncontrollable sobs like I haven't cried in years. And then laughing again because I know very well how ridiculous it is to be crying over this book.

But of course it's not about the book. And being a parent himself, my boyfriend recognized this. And so he sat with me and comforted me through the cathartic moment that I suppose just had to happen, however it was going to be brought on.

I'm curious all the time about how things get processed in my young son's mind. I wonder how he sorts all the events he's observing and makes sense of them. The Harry Incident, as I will forever forward refer to it, may be a difficult one for him to grasp. He knows his mom has never gone all whack over a bedtime book before. And a similar book-related incident won't likely repeat itself anytime soon.

Maybe one day he'll come across Imagine Harry again--one day when he is older, maybe a father himself--and he will understand. For the meantime, maybe on one level he'll know it had something to do with love: bold and undulating and sometimes achy but always-and-everywhere-present love, which is of course the best kind of all, and which is worth every tearful moment it may bring about.

Kevin's Sketch

A quickie...

Bron Aur Sleep.


Weighing in on Body Image

Last night I wrote a half-joking status update about doing "emergency crunches and lunges" in advance of a weekend trip to the lake. I say half-joking because I was, indeed, doing the crunches and lunges, but I knew they would of course have no observable impact on my bikini appearance two days later.

My friend responded with "throw in a few emergency self acceptance exercises too." I dug what she was saying. And I liked that she wasn't saying "instead of" but rather "along with."

Finding the equilibrium between accepting one's self (in this case, one's body) as-is and doing what one can do to improve and feel better...it seems to be one of the most pervasive conundrums women face. Sometimes we see a fit body and think 'I would like very much to look like that...I'm gonna step it up at the gym, maybe add in some of that giant rope shit,' and sometimes it's 'fuggit, I'ma eat these BBQ Lays (like, the *whole* bag).'

Sidenote: Yes, I know men face this conundrum as well; I will be writing about women because 1) I am a woman and 2) I've had dozens of conversations with women on this topic and very few with men.

As I get older, I'm starting to realize that the balance, for me, comes from responding not as much to how I look but to how I feel. Sometimes how I feel is related to how I look, but mostly it's related to what I know I have or haven't done to be good to my body and the extent to which I'm enjoying life as a result.

While I agree that it's important to seek out the positive and to accept one's self, I don't think this should stand in as a substitute for actual health.

When I've felt the worst about my body, it was because I wasn't eating well or I'd fallen into a state of inertia. What's to feel good about in that case? Sometimes the feeling was exacerbated by the fact that unhealthy behaviors often have observable consequences (i.e. muffin top). Trying on clothes and discovering we've graduated up a size or two is not as thrilling as it was when we were kids; I will THROW DOWN with anybody who tries to claim the contrary.

But physical appearance isn't everything, either. When I'd gained 30 pounds during pregnancy and had power cankles, I actually felt pretty healthy because I was exercising regularly and eating healthy foods (healthier than I did when I wasn't pregnant...tiny humans growing inside can be incredibly motivating!). Our bodies know the difference between healthy and unhealthy, regardless of our size.

For me a good litmus test is also the question of whether or not I feel sexy. I like to feel sexy (I mean, who doesn't?), and while feeling sexy can have a lot to do with self-esteem in general and the state of one's mind, both of those things are often affected by the knowledge of how kindly a person is treating her body.

Women are quick to lambaste men who report not feeling attracted to their wives because their wives have "let themselves go." Fine. It's okay to be outraged about that. But I personally don't feel as excited to get down when I'm feeling like a blob. I think a lot of partners pick up on this mental block that occurs for women when they're not feeling healthy. A woman who feels sexy is sexy. She is comfortable in her skin, magnetic. Rather than simply expecting our spouses to suddenly become attracted to blobs (meaning women who feel like blobs), why not also do what we can to get ourselves out of the blob-like state of mind?

(Disclaimer...not all spouses. Not all spouses pick up on women's state of mind and respond accordingly. Some just really will not be attracted to a woman who's gained 15 pounds. These partners will have a hard time in life, as will their wives. This is unfortunate.)


Finally, for me, becoming a mother has motivated me to strive for the balance I mentioned earlier because I don't want my body image issues to keep me from taking my kids to do fun things, namely things involving water and bathing suits. I was the girl sitting by the pool fully clothed for a full decade of my life (20-30...I should have been flashing strangers at pool parties in Vegas!). 

My gym/exercise routines are sporadic, at best. My weight stays within a 5-pound range, but sometimes that extra 5 pounds can feel like a deeeeeply unhealthy 5 pounds. Time to rein it in, get things bank inline, feel better as a result.

And then, there IS this part: There are times when I just have to go with the self-talk and say, 'No, I don't look exactly like I want to look, but I'm not gonna be a hermit about it in the meantime. I am not hideous. My cellulite does not define me. I will own what I've got and, most importantly, HAVE FUN. Just go out there and LIVE, and shake my booty if it makes my young son laugh and let my boyfriend grab my love handles (or lonjas, the Spanish slang I've taught him and which he uses with much affection) and know that it's the laughter and the memories that we are forming that are what is important. SHAME on me if I let it be about my lack of perfection.

And then...yes, be healthy, as healthy as you need to be in order to feel healthy...and keep on keepin' on...


On Inviting in Challenge...

Today I watched in abject horror as a little hourglass--meant to depict some kind of behind-the-scenes action--ticked off moments on my computer screen at an agonizingly slow pace. My mouth had been dry for at least 45 minutes at that point, my heart racing with impatience and fear.

I'd just finished taking the 2nd in a series of 3 banking-related exams I'd been in the throes of studying for during the previous 4 1/2 weeks, and I was awaiting my score. It couldn't have been more than 10 seconds (was likely only 5), but it was the longest 10 (5) seconds.

When the result came up, (PASS--yay!), I stared motionless for a spell before finally releasing the breath I'd been holding for longer than what is probably healthy.

Comfort did not arrive quickly. I filled out the optional survey about the testing center just to get my sea legs before standing up. I texted my honey and my boss and then emailed my licensing coordinator to report the news. Then I drove to the nearest beach (which, luckily, was about 7 minutes away) to decompress.

As you may have imagined based on the high drama of my description, a lot was at stake. I'd already been out of my branch for over a month. Failing would mean more time away, the loss of the bonus I'll receive only if I pass all three tests the first time, the added drain on my company's/branch's resources (which actually matters to me), and, most of all, the disappointment I'd feel at having failed. I'd be wondering where I went wrong, wishing I could have a do-over, worried I wouldn't be able to pass the next time either.

Passing was as much about feeling relieved as it was about feeling a sense of accomplishment. 

Possibly more. This was not exactly a personal goal I set for myself and then achieved. It was a sink or swim kind of thing: Do this or you'll be looking for another job at some point.

It was a challenge, but not the warm and fuzzy rewards kind of challenge.

It did, however, get me thinking about challenges in general, and about setting personal goals in the first place. I didn't used to do it at all. Any goals I managed to accomplish were sort of pre-formed for me by virtue of the fact that I was a student or held a job. I put forth my best effort in those areas and was pleased when the outcomes were favorable. Until I was about 1/3 of the way through my year-long GGA blogging project a few years back, I truly wondered whether I was even capable of seeing a personal goal through to the end. What a sad thought; I was already 32 years old!

I now know I'm capable, but I haven't done a lot with that knowledge. These recent exams made me realize I missed the feeling of achieving something difficult. The exams were akin to the sort of challenge I'd have faced in school--just thrown down there for me, do it or don't. But the experience made me long for the greater-reward, more meaningful sense of accomplishment I know I feel if, unrelated to anything already expected of me, I decide to put myself up to the task of achieving something difficult.

What was stopping me?

Well, that's easy. It is just so, soooooo much more comfortable to humdrum along and pretend there is nothing more satisfying to be done in this world than to successfully feed a family and get children tucked in for the night. Like having just finished folding the last load of laundry were an orgasmic experience and walking away from day #119 of the 265 days I will spend at work this year were an alarmingly triumphant accomplishment.


This is called getting by. This is maintaining.

Do you realize that while I sit here thinking and writing about how little I challenge myself to do, people are forming foundations, launching innovative products and ideas, overthrowing asshole governments, designing and perfecting and administering and truly stretching the limits of their known skills and abilities? They are running ridiculously long races and researching the shit out of shady goings-on to keep the rest of us informed. They are adopting children with special needs and writing entire albums of songs, working 2 and 3 jobs and figuring out new ways to put together and cook ingredients, rendering the mundane act of nourishing our bodies an unforgettable, transcendent experience.

They are. They are doing those things and so many other things that to simply think about makes me feel tired.

So maybe I don't need to change the world in a sweeping gesture next week. But I need to remember this feeling. This feeling, in words, translates this way:

There are things I can do if I try. I will likely not be able to do all the things I try to do. If I were able to, the things I was trying to do weren't interesting or challenging enough. They were not pushing my limits or causing me to grow. But all the things I dare myself to do will leave me knowing more on the other end than I did before. They will stretch my experience and grow my knowledge, if even just a little bit and even if (especially if?) I fail at them.

They will all be worth more than 100 days spent doing what I know is easy and predictable and comfortable.

So then...what's next?

Kevin's Sketch(es)

Speaking of challenges! Tonight we did a 30-minute Manzanita challenge...I was finishing up my blog and Kevin did these two sketches in that time. Can you guess which one he did with his eyes closed?


What is the Danger in Loving Too Much?

Yesterday, when I dropped my young son off at preschool, he immediately walked up to another boy in his class and said, "Neel, I like your shirt." His voice inflection went up on the word "shirt," cheerful and excited.

Neel did nothing by way of response. He blinked and then followed the teacher's just-issued directive to sit on the carpet for a story. My son did the same.

Just before I walked out, I turned back to see my son talking to his friend, smiling like he always does. I couldn't help but feel a little sense of worry, a protectiveness. I wondered if the kids in his class smile at him the way he smiles at them. I wondered if they return his kindness and his giving 

I recognized in him my same propensity to love, big and vulnerable.

I've written before about being protective of my son's feelings. This is something every parent experiences and must learn to manage. We wish we could shelter them from pain. We know we can't. We attempt to bridge the resulting gap.

It was two years ago when I last visited the topic, and though my son's sweetness was apparent by then, I didn't know just how big a part of his personality being kind and supportive and loving would be. He is a shirt-off-his-back kind of person.

I wish I could claim some sort of credit for his generosity, but I know I can't. This sort of thing is either in one's nature or it isn't.

Last night I watched him sleeping, spent from a day of playing at preschool and again later with his grandma. I swept the sweaty hair off his face and thought about the name his father and I gave him. His name means "friend," and it's a name we gave him very much on purpose. Last night I thought about how thoroughly he lives up to that name, and how I hoped he will have a life full of friendships with people who show him the same goodwill he so naturally extends to others. I have never once seen him do or say something unkind to another child. I've seen him endure plenty of rejections and acts of thoughtless cruelty of the kind only kids--genuinely unaware of the effects of their actions--are so free with; he always responds with more kindness, more openness, makes attempts to understand. 

I thought about his future relationships, wondering if he will fall into an often-painful pattern of being the one who loves more, who gives in, the extender of unanswered good faith, the forgiver...the sucker.

I thought about something I'd read the day before--one of those "words of wisdom from a woman married 70+ years" kind of articles often posted and re-posted on Facebook. What struck me were these words: "Don't be afraid to be the one who loves the most."

I knew what she meant.

There was a time in my life when I'd come to the conclusion that the world was divided into those meant to love, and those meant to receive love. Most people do both, but some people seem more comfortable doing one or the other. I'd been in a number of relationships wherein I felt like the giver of love. While at times I wished I could sit back and merely receive, giving little in return, I knew this was not in my nature. It's possible I could overcome that nature, but I knew in my heart I didn't really want to. I was and would always be a lover.

Now I understand that not all relationships have this unequal balance. It's possible to be in a relationship where both parties give freely of themselves, allowing each to accept the other's love wholeheartedly. These relationships aren't operating under the mistaken idea that to give love is to lose power. They are aware of the exponential power created by a cyclical, swirling exchange. In such a relationship, fear doesn't even factor in--fear of losing the other, fear of losing the upper hand, fear of putting one's self too far out on the limb. There is just the knowledge that loving feels better than withholding love, and there is the joy at having found another person who sees things the same way.

Having arrived at this place in my life feels nice...I am at peace. But apart from being in an equal-exchange-of-love relationship, I have the sincere belief, now, that it is impossible to love too much or too completely, regardless of what one receives in return. If my heart is full of love, there is nothing to be gained by anyone involved if I decide to keep it to myself. It's not a limited resource. We feel love; we give it away; we make more...and again, and again.

So in that light, I look back at my son and think that I need not worry about his tender heart. My baby's heart is so strong that it can give of itself all the time, as much as he wants, without its foundation ever growing weaker. In fact it is strengthened. Every time he reaches out to another person with a "hi" or gives a gift or flashes his smile, or says some encouraging words to a child who's trying to make something happen, he is adding to the body of goodness in the world. It doesn't matter whether others respond in kind. If he was born to give love, withholding it would be a painful and pointless endeavor. If, in the course of his life, he should happen to find others who return it and give of themselves freely as well, so much the better.

There are so many things we parents worry about and traits we see in our kids that preoccupy our minds. Worrying that my son will love too much should be least among them.


Thirty-Something Woman Seeks Single Floor with a Good Beat for Dance and...Dance

Some people love to dance. Some people would love nothing more than to be eternally excluded from any invitation/expectation to dance.

I fall into the former category.

This hasn't been a my-whole-life thing. Yes, I begged to be signed up for ballet classes (an endeavor that lasted a total of probably 6 months, max). I also begged to be signed up for jazz dance classes at Freddie Finn Studio when I was in middle school, but that was mostly because of the awesome jacket the studio issued its students (at what I imagine was a hefty price), not because I had any particular talent in the dance arena. 

In reality, for 2/3 of my life, the idea of dancing in public was terrifying. I was a shy kid and most definitely not into performing. But extending beyond my lack of desire to entertain, I was loathe to do ANYthing that would attract attention to myself, even positive attention. As I got older, I lamented the fact that finding rocks large enough to crawl under and disappear proved an ever more difficult desire to fulfill.

But something magical happened on a crowded, dim lit basement dance floor in Cleveland, Ohio (of all places). It was there my then-coworkers from Mexico and Peru introduced me to Salsa, Cumbia, and Merengue music. It was there a couple of brave men, undeterred by my impossible tallness and spastic lack of comfort in my own skin, first showed me that dance could be a wonderful, wonderful thing.

Here's the thing I've maintained about dance ever since: Dance teachers should never, ever try to introduce students to a style of dance without first treating them to extensive exposure to the music of that dance.

Somebody could have talked to me all day about the steps associated with the dances (Step step step...pause...step step step) and drawn highly illustrative diagrams. They could have shown me countless YouTube tutorials and walked me through a hundred power point slides. But nothing made me understand the rhythms and the feel of those dances like standing in the midst of a sweaty, writhing dance floor entirely peopled with lovers, knowers of the music itself. Closing one's eyes to absorb a moment like that is highly advisable for the sinking-in, deep down staying power effect it has.

That is how and where I first came to make nice with dancing.

And I was comfortable with those Latin rhythms and the fixed nature of the dances' basic steps. I could master those and then, once in a while--with a seasoned and talented lead--be turned and twirled and whatever other level-up moves I may be able to not distaster-ize.

But what, then, to do about freestyle dance on club dance floors? What about the dreaded wedding reception dance floor?

These were places unfamiliar and/or uncomfortable. These were places where people were watching and evaluating. These were places where you may need to develop actual moves. Moves?

Moves, I could not boast.

I still felt like an awkward wallflower in these settings. I felt a-rhythmic and reluctant. But more than anything I felt a return-to-roots sense of shyness.

Maybe it was alcohol that stepped in a couple of times to help alleviate that feeling, initially. (Liquid courage isn't only good for greasing the hitting-on wheels.) It was probably that. It wasn't enough alcohol to get drunk on or throw all caution to the wind over. Just enough to turn down the critic's volume level a few notches. It was enough to quiet the voice in my brain enough that I could hear the voice in my rhythmically beating heart, as corny as that sounds.

And that. THAT is what it was all about.

It was about letting the joy of feeling my body in motion overpower any fear I may have had about how I was being judged. And, with some experience, it no longer incorporated any sort of fear over how I was being judged; rather, it was a complete lack of interest in whether or not I was being judged at all.

People want to judge? Fine. I can't stop them.

But also, this: they can't stop me.

Published in the Mercury News San Jose Jazz Festival program guide, 2005
And after time in that mode, nothing was needed to grease the wheels because I knew that if I stayed in the present with the music--allowing it to move through me--I would get to feeling intoxicated, even sober as a Quaker. And it was a better sort of intoxication, too. There was no suddenly sleepy side effect, no middle-of-the-night digestive issues. It was just pure adrenaline and joy and the absolute oneness of body and soul. Just writing about it right now makes me wanna jet out the front door and make for the nearest ANYwhere that music is playing.

Which brings me to the present.

Last weekend I went out with coworkers to celebrate a couple of their birthdays and ended up at a club in San Jose. I've been to this place a number of times and found the dancing scene to be okay-fine there. I was having fun for a while.

But twice during the night I had to bust out a move I had never in my life done before, this move having nothing to do with dancing. It was a finger wave in the direction of two separate men who brazenly walked up behind me and put their hands on me while I was dancing. I know a lot of people go dancing looking to hook up. But even if I were looking for that, I might expect even a momentary exchange of eye contact--some tiny signal that I were interested--before being groped. Not cool.

I found myself wishing there were some kind of place to dance where this is not an issue.

My friend Kate had told me about a weekly dance session she sometimes attends called 5 Rhythms. It's a loose, freestyle session where you can just go and do your thing to music, outside of a club setting. She met her boyfriend Maor there after they connected on the dance floor--without even having to exchange words (so cool). I found the nearest, equivalent-sounding thing (Ecstatic Dance in downtown Oakland) last Sunday and checked that out.

The setting was great--a big-windowed, sunlight-filled dance floor at a bona fide old club called Tropicana. It had a lot of promise at the outset: smiling, friendly looking people who danced freely and openly without a trace of judgement or predatory intent. Some did incredible yoga poses on the sidelines. Some danced in interesting and intimate exchanges with occasional lifts. Some took part in the donation-based massages being offered off to one side. There were children, which was wonderful to see.

But ultimately, I couldn't get into it. I wasn't connecting with the music and it was more crowded than I'd anticipated, especially for such a large space. Also, the vibe was a little toooo free flowy for me. I like a little edge, and I got the overwhelming sense that if I were to move in any of the beat-centric ways I might at a club, I'd be upsetting the superflow vibe.

Argh. What is a 30-something, not-looking-to-hook-up, flowy-but-not-suuuuuper-flowy woman to do to get her groove on these days? I wish I had an answer to that. I fear the best prospect may lie at a rave, which I am way too old and anti-Molly for. Maybe it's at Burning Man, but who's got the extra $500 bucks lying around for a ticket?

I truly don't know. All I know is that I hope to find an answer because nothing makes me feel as alive as a good, sweat-drenched evening of dancing.

Kevin's Sketch

So it's been a little while, but Kevin got back into the mix this week with a doodle/sketch he made while listening to a long safety training module in preparation for work at a Lawrence Livermore Lab site. Downside: I was in the room listening to this safety module as well. Upside: Sketch to post!

Q-Bert's Astral Body


You're a "Proud" German, and That's Okay

A couple weeks ago (at the outset of the World Cup adventure) a friend posted a status update on Facebook mentioning that, though WWII is long over, he still finds it unnerving to see large numbers of Germans gathered, cheering and chanting.

He was joking of course, but something in his comment rang true and hit home.

Though my background is half-German (and half-Mexican--a mix my Mom lovingly refers to as "Beanerschnitzel"), most of my life I felt distant from my German heritage. Not only were the relatives on my Dad's side of the family physically far from us, they felt--at the time--unrelatable. When I saw them (once every 1-3 years) things felt strained, quiet, reserved. I contrasted this with the warm, laughter-filled homes on my Mom's side, homes of people we saw regularly, and the result left me feeling, well, Mexican (Chicana anyway, which is the term for a woman of Mexican heritage who was born and raised in the United States).

I was proud of my Mexican heritage and felt drawn to study Spanish, to listen to music in Spanish, and, eventually, to go to Mexico for a summer. But it was more than just my attraction to my Latino culture that caused the divide; there was something that felt kind of...icky...to declare myself a "proud German."

This is what war does to people. These are the lasting, reverberating effects of unchecked psychopathology. Two generations before my birth, one insane failed artist captivated a nation and ordered the genocide of 5-6 million people. Years later my Dad and his siblings--the children of German-born immigrants--were teased and shamed and called "Nazis" at school. And forty years after that I have still felt loathe to fully claim and embrace my German roots.

Let me not come across as trying to diminish the seriousness of the war itself and the appropriateness of people's long memories. The war touched and ruined many, many lives for many years to follow. It is natural that its effects would continue to echo.

But there are few people living who had much of anything to do with committing those atrocities, and my family members are certainly not among them. My family members are also not racist or anti-Semitic. There is no reason why I should not have the same desire to express pride in my culture that is held among so many people all over the earth. 

We of German decent have a dark black mark on our history; it is true. But we can overcome it. We can recognize that the horrors of the Holocaust were real and represent one of the biggest mistakes mankind has ever committed. In recognizing that we can vow to never let such horrors occur again. We can also recognize that the people who were born to this legacy reflect the country's bright future, not its dark past. 

Germans have done amazing things. Their engineering feats are incredible (who doesn't appreciate a beautifully designed and constructed German automobile?). Germany has produced some of the greatest philosophers of the modern era. It gave birth to pioneers in the field of psychology. And Germans are so fucking efficient! So dang punctual. Nobody gets things done on-schedule like a German.

We can also be terribly uptight and rigid. We can be cold and serious. We take up a lot of space and are hairy. We aren't so funny. Everyone (even collectively, as a culture) has faults.

I want to begin embracing all of it. I no longer wish to feel culturally torn between pride and not-so-much. The people of both my backgrounds aren't even so much characterized by the accomplishments of their countries or the (oft-true) generalizations that can be made about them as a culture. They are characterized by the love they feel for their families and friends and their desire to find happiness in this life.

So. Screw it. My loved ones and happiness seekers are German (-American). And I'm proud to count myself among them.

And I will joyfully and without shame cheer for them this Sunday as they compete in the World Cup FINAL. Woohoo!


This Relationship is Not for the Squeamish

When I first learned that the man who is now my boyfriend was a biologist, I thought it was the coolest thing ever. Everybody does. When I tell people he works in rivers and in other outdoor spots, seeking and catching snakes and frogs and salamanders and the like, they express happy surprise that a person could actually make a living in such a way.

Kevin is one of the few people I know who earns money doing exactly the thing he loves and was born to do. There is a painting hanging on his son's wall featuring a lizard in the foreground of a thriving river scene, detailed and accurate. Kevin painted it when he was still in high school. Who does that? It's so interesting to me that he still loves to create art that features the creatures he is called to study. So many people spend good portions of their lives in search of their passions; his have been there all along.

I am not called to creatures in the way that he is. I'm not hot on the idea of handling a frog or a fish or a bird or any number of the other things I've seen him so naturally come into up-close contact with. I appreciate animals...just...from a little distance.

I do love, however, that I'm learning so much about animals from Kevin and that my 4-year-old son is, too. Yesterday we were at a shop where a cube-shaped glass case sat atop a table, displaying jewelry. My son said to the shop owner: "Where is the animal? Isn't there supposed to be an animal in there?" I'm guessing he got the idea from these, the four such glass cases in our home:

Tupac, the 23-year-old Horn Frog
Kingsley, the (hiding) California kingsnake
Molly, Baby Jr. and Drag-ron, freshly named fish in the tank Kevin gave to my son on his 3rd birthday
Assorted (mostly hidden) fish in the beautiful 50-gallon tank
I've enjoyed learning about all these animals, as well as Kalima the cat (the first cat I've ever lived with)

She's a sweetheart, otherwise I would have never wanted to share the space with her!
Lately, Kevin's interest has been piqued by a new kind of creature. Out in the field all spring and summer, he encounters many different life forms, and he's been captivated by spiders recently. That's all well and good, except that the captivation sometimes takes the form of collecting. At the moment there are about 20 vials sitting on his desk, each containing a unique spider specimen suspended in a solution (oooh, love that alliteration), waiting to be gifted to California Academy of Sciences for their collections. Still all well and good.

And then there was this...

Last week I came home from work and Kevin told me he had a surprise. He revealed a (very thin, I must emphasize for dramatic effect) sandwich bag in which was kept this "surprise":

Wolf spider, fresh from the fields of Livermore


I can't say I'm super thrilled at the thought of this little dude taking up residence in an old fish tank in our home, but then part of me is. My son saw it for the first time and said, "cool spider, Kevin!" I like that he's getting the early start with the natural world; that was definitely not a part of my experience. We all watched the spider consume a cricket the other day, which was a truly fascinating experience. And I love that Kevin's son, having been raised this way, embraces all things creepy and crawly. 

I may not ever get to that point, and I can't say I'm dying to help him capture more 8-legged friends (though I did catch one and save it for him as a sort of welcome home gift (what a strange combination of words)), but I am learning to be comfortable sharing the living space with other sorts of living things.

Anything that causes me to grow and expand my horizons that is not dangerous or unhealthy is exactly what I've signed up for. Bring it on.


Plan B, in Which Nothing and Everything are Accomplished

Sitting in the posts section of my blogger profile is a half-written draft of the post I was working on for this week. As is often the case with me and things in general, and me and blogging specifically, I had planned out the exact 2-hour block of time during which I could finish it and get it posted. It was to happen last night after dinner and my son's bath and story and bed times.

Once executed, my plan would represent a tiny victory of order over chaos; it would help me prove to myself that--in the midst of working full-time and navigating the schedules of two children--I can set goals and manage circumstances and do all the things I want to do, given enough prep time.

I was headed up the stairs to our apartment with my young son when the tiny monkey wrench came softly wafting out of his mouth in the form of a song (no less), tempting me to cast aside all I had carefully worked out in my mind in favor of a spontaneous Plan B.

"Ticket to Hollywood," he sang. "Got a ticket to Hollywood."

"Oh," I said. "I know that song."

The song is from a Bollywood movie I saw a few years ago and which I used to watch over and over again at bedtime when a bootleg, horribly sub-titled copy found its way into my possession.

"Have you seen the movie it's from?" I asked.

"There's a movie?!?!" my son said. "Can we watch it?"

I loved this idea. This idea of us watching this movie together--I knew he would like the songs and the dancing. But the idea didn't fit with the plan. He was leaving for his Dad's the next morning, so if we wanted to watch it it would have to be that night. It would mean the erasure of the two-hour block and the execution of the plan and the proving to myself and the whatnot. It would mean pushing back the bedtime and skipping the books.

And also: it would mean the chance to do something different and fun for my son. For both of us. We could watch it together in my room, in the big cozy bed he would just love the chance to snuggle in for a spell. It would mean sharing with him this goofy movie that has taken up residence in a tucked away spot in the archives of my life experience.

It seems like people, parents, are always talking about trying to find ways to enjoy their kids in the moment. We know the importance of finding these little opportunities to slow down and take them in. We also know it can be a difficult thing to do when schedules and transporting and work and the attempt to maintain consistency are seemingly at odds. Sometimes, the answer just has to be "no." Sometimes the opportunity has to be missed because the details, the things we have to get done really are that important.

And sometimes they're not. And a blog post can hang out in blog limbo for another week. And the kid can go to bed late. And he can have some popcorn even after he brushed his teeth. And the bootleg DVD doesn't play anyway so you have to find it on YouTube except they charge for it on YouTube so you watch a different Bollywood movie that is subtitled (but he can't read) and he somehow is completely captivated anyway, and blissfully snuggly and sweet, and you realize that it's not about this movie or any movie, ever. For him, it's about the chance to be by your side. For you, the chance to have him by yours.


Nowhere to Run...Nowhere to Hide

Last week, on his final day of school, my older son and I walked the two blocks from our place to Tucker's, a best-ice-cream-in-the-whole-land, 70-year-old family-owned business here in Alameda. A couple doors down from our destination, some kids on bikes behind us called a greeting out to my son. "Hey Joe," he said to one of them.

It was the third time in a row we'd been walking down that way and run into somebody he knew from school. And it made me realize that this is how it's gonna be for the next untold amount of time or so: We go out. We recognize and/or are recognized.

It was a strange feeling. I've become somewhat accustomed to anonymity. I've worked at 4 different branches of my employer bank now and none of them have been near where I lived. I've only on the rarest of occasions run into customers outside of work. And I also haven't had a kid in school where I lived before this past year, so I had to go way out of my way to run into other parents I knew.

Then we moved to a city that feels like a town, though we're right smack in the midst of the ultra-populated northern California Bay Area. A lot of people who live here grew up here. Many of them have generations of family dug in.

And then my younger son played t-ball. We sat with some parents at a game we got tickets to through the little league last Friday night, and then two mornings later, no makeup and hastily clothed and in full-on hag mode, I ran into one of those t-ball moms at Safeway. It was 8am on a weekend, and she was in the same haggish mode, so that eliminated the awkwardness, but still it was...different.

I'm used to being able to hag it up at any given hour on any given day at the grocery store with zero fear of run-ins. And it's not that I'll fear these run-ins in the future. But I do have a heightened awareness of their increased likelihood.

This is something I've longed for. In the brief period I spent living in Flagstaff, Arizona, I experienced the feeling of community. My girlfriends Nicole and Kelsi and I always ran into people we knew when we were out, and this gave the town a sense of magic for me. Somehow, every encounter felt meaningful.

I spent the years that followed living in large cities, and while I often ran into people I "knew" waiting for a bus or lightrail in downtown San Jose, they were more likely to be transient folks I'd encountered in that same spot before than friends.

What we sought in moving to this town-y town was a place that felt small. Somewhere our kids could grow up and feel safe, where we could walk to places we wanted to be and where schools were well supported (most important was finding a place like this that didn't also feel horribly suburban and distant from things like public transportation). Now we've found that and I've realized I have to get used to all of what it entails.

Community is not something you can really be selective about. You are part of it or you aren't. You can't know the people who live nearby but then UNknow them when you see them at the grocery store without the proper anything on.

One of my girlfriends moved here from a small town in Kansas and every time she goes back now, she and her husband run into multiple ex-boyfriends and their families all around town. I can't imagine. There is something so wonderful to me about the fact that I'd have to make a truly concerted effort to make physical contact with anyone I went to high school with back in Arizona. And it makes me wonder if our kids will one day want to be as far as they can be from this island where they've come to land.

They'll cross that bridge (literally and figuratively) one day if they need to. For the time being I'm glad we'll be surrounded by other parents we'll come to know. I may even want to work at a branch in this town one day, if I think I can handle the idea of knowing all my neighbors' financial business (which would not be my preference). 

I just have to make the mental shift into Smallsville mode.

And I think it is time to implement mandatory hair combing before any venturing outside the house. 


Grandparenting in Freedom Country

At work the other day, I got to talking with an older Russian customer. The man had one of the thickest accents I've heard and his English was at times very rough. But he managed to communicate just fine and was eager to...so we talked.

At one point he asked me if I had children and their ages. When he learned I have a son his grandson's age, he asked, "but do you spoil the child?"

I contemplated that thought. "Spoil" would have certainly meant something very different to my WWII surviving German grandparents than it means to most contemporary parents. Still, I felt it safe to say that I didn't. "I don't think so," I said. "He doesn't get whatever he wants."

"My son," he said. "He let the child get always what she want. Now...she no get from me what she want? She cry and cry." He made a dramatic tears-falling-from-eyes gesture and described what sounded like a full-on tantrum.

He continued, "then I ask...am I be too hard with the child? He always let her choose what she want. She always the one decide. I think...maybe this okay in freedom country."

I loved that. I loved watching this man in his late 60's--a man who could have certainly been dialing it in at this point--putting sincere thought into the choices he was making as a grandparent and striving to understand the parenting choices of his son. I loved that he was adjusting for the differences in culture and truly considering how they may or may not affect parenting decisions.

And I loved the phrase "freedom country."

It's a difficult thing to make these kinds of considerations, for any parent. It's difficult for me to avoid having the knee-jerk reaction: "this is not okay for my child because when I was a kid... or it must be this way because when I was a kid..."

It would be an easy road to take to simply say: somebody already figured this parenting thing out for me. I turned out fine, so I'm just gonna do it exactly as my parents did and find other things to obsess about.

That said, there is a lot I can learn from how my parents did things. For example, I happen to agree with my customer that spoiling a child is ill-advised, even in a "freedom country." However, if I press myself to say why a child should not get everything he wants, the first justification I want to reach for (the tried-and-true because if he does, he will not learn to accept "no" and will think he can ALWAYS have everything he wants)...well, it comes up short. Aren't we always trying to communicate to kids that they can have everything they want? Can't not taking no for an answer and finding ways to navigate/work the system help a child develop some pretty effective and prized survival (or let's call them "thrival") tools?

The difference, I suppose, is that we want kids to reach for the things they want, not to expect that those things be handed to them.

(Good, we figured that out. I don't have to start spoiling my children on a technicality.)

Nobody has figured out the perfect parenting formula, and no good parent would just kick her heels up and relax with the knowledge that she is doing a good enough job. We will always be thinking and questioning, in many moments and over a good many decisions.

Then one day, as the theory goes, we will launch our children into the Great Unknown and watch like creepers from the bushes and try to restrain ourselves from intervening while they quite blissfully fuck things up for a bit.

And then we will watch with smirks on our faces when they one day begin to obsess over their own parenting decisions. This is just how things go.

I know my folks and my boyfriend's folks have parenting wisdom well beyond the scope of what we can see from our perspectives; they must often see us doing things that they think we should have done differently, and with good reason. I also love that they don't always rush in to share that knowledge, though. They have stepped back to let life move forward.

But I like how my customer reminded me that, even as they watch us from just out of earshot (too far to hear them suck in their breath as we step boldly into the latest colossal parenting error), they are always thinking about us, and our children beyond us...always concerned with our familial contributions to the world that will extend beyond their own lifetimes. I love that he reminded me that grandparents care about us and our babies probably more than we can imagine.

How lucky we all are for that.


We Are Deep...In the Marrow of It


I'll just start with saying that the blog I was working on last week didn't save an update in which I'd made major edits and written the bulk of the content. I was so bummed I couldn't get myself to revisit it. So I'm officially missing a week of the Manzanita Project. I may get to it one day, though the time-sensitive nature of the subject matter (on turning 36!) may prevent that. So there's that. And here's this:

This week I'm thinking about girlfriends. Specifically, I'm thinking about the women in my life who have kept me laughing over the past 20 years and been there for me when I didn't feel like laughing much.

It started like this: for my birthday, my kind and thoughtful boyfriend Kevin surprised me by installing a new stereo system in my car and having a broken speaker fixed. He said he knew how much I love music and didn't like that I did so much driving, unable to enjoy music during all that drive time.

So the new stereo has a USB port, and I've been plugging in my iPod, getting back in touch with a whole ton of music I'd been missing. I love putting it on random so I can be surprised every time and can ensure there is no shortage of variety. And that's how I came to hear my gal Kelsi coming through the speakers yesterday. "Monkey!" I said, "that's Auntie Kelsi singing!"

He took it in.

The song we heard was a now 15-years-old one called "Amazing," which Kelsi  wrote on the heels of returning from Mexico with our friends Nicole and Rachel and me; we'd gone as human rights observers to Chiapas in the summer of 1998. We came back with a friendship solidified by adventure and conflict and soaring, ridiculous dreams.

One of the lines in the song says that our friendship involves "infinite inspiration, language laced with laughter, late-night conversation." I heard that line and thought about all of the above...how much we'd done of it over the years and how much things have changed in each of our lives.

Between us we now have at least 10 kids, including stepchildren absorbed along the way. We've lost track of Rachel (that's why it's at least 10 kids, rather than a final head count), but last we were in touch, she was living in a yurt in Northern(er) California with her husband and daughter, making and selling natural soaps and beauty products. She never was one for convention.

None of us were.

Or maybe I was.

As I sit writing this, I'm listening to this other of Kelsi's albums on Spotify (you can, too!).

There's a song on it that was written about a night we all went salsa dancing in downtown San Jose, one about Nicole's first pregnancy (surprise!), one called Ask Me that is so raw and sad you just want to reach out a give Kelsi a big hug.

It's a musical time capsule. A beautiful tribute to togetherness, and to lack thereof. I love that I can listen to it and remember those unfathomably carefree times in our lives and be equal parts sentimental for them and relieved that things have settled into, well, more conventional patterns.

My gals are forging ahead as they always have, as am I. We have less contact and many more miles between us. Our daily dealings look much, much different than when we all converged on our one-bedroom duplex on 11th street after work at about the same time each early evening and sat on a couch facing the open front windows and smoked cloves and watched the world (and our halfway house neighbors) go by.

We have looked into and summarily dismissed a handful of religions, we have tried on and left hanging outside the dressing room various relationships. We have held numerous jobs, driven a dozen cars, and transitioned into having grown-up discussions about things like health care and women's rights (well, that was always there) and the appeals and drawbacks of homeschooling.

The title of this blog is from a song of Kelsi's called All That:
We are deep...in the marrow of it,
we swim in the richness.I can't get enough of it.
In the case of this song, "it" referred to love. For me, now, it refers to life (words which can often be used interchangeably). We are somewhere around the middle now. When I met Nicole and Kelsi (at 12 and 14, respectively), we were near the beginning.

What will happen between now and the end? How many more changes of address and meeting spots? Will our kids grow up and marry each other after all like we used to joke about, long before there were real life kids to refer to by name? :P

These women are two of the gifts I have been most grateful for in my life. They have caused me to grow in ways they are somewhat aware of and ways they couldn't possibly know (ways I myself can sometimes only understand years later). If they were the only two girlfriends my life had known, I'd consider myself abundantly blessed.

Cheers to my gals. I love you both.


Will the Real So-and-So Please Step Forward?

Last week I received an invitation that I sat on for a few days before responding to. There were a couple of reasons why I wasn't quick to offer a "yes," but when it came down to it,  finances was chief among them. Finally, it occurred to me that--rather than cite other reasons and then have to come up with *other* other reasons the next time around (as this was already the second such dinner I'd opted out of)--I'd just come clean.

I Replied All (nooooooooooooooo) to the original invite email with the simple (if wordy...it's me we're talking about here) request that people not take it personally if I don't attend these dinners for the foreseeable future as, in my current focus on paying off debt, spendy sit-down dinners were not in my budget.

I took in a little breath before hitting the "send" button (I am still pretty new to my current location and this was something of a naked confession) but for the most part I felt good about sending the email. As I stated in the message I wrote, it's always my preference to be honest about things and (as this blog clearly demonstrates) I don't mind people knowing my business.

A few people reacted with surprise to the email and assured me it was not necessary for me to be so revealing, which got me thinking about the concepts of "my business"/"personal business."

There was a time in my life during which I felt like a was one version of myself in some scenarios and another version in others. Actually, I still feel that way at times. The way I experience it now is not necessarily negative. I'm reminded of the Walt Whitman quote "Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself (I am large, I contain multitudes)." I have a lot of thoughts and reactions going on in my brain and every "version" of myself reveals another part of who I am. They are all the real me. But that's not what I'm talking about.

I'm talking about living through a period of my life where I felt strongly the desire to hide or even bury/destroy/erase parts of myself. I tried so hard to kill off these parts that when one of them surfaced (for example, I laughed at something I felt some people would not approve of my laughing at) I felt overwhelming guilt and a sense of failure. I was failing at pretending to be somebody I wasn't. And as profound as my desire was, I could not get myself to buy the lie I was selling.

With some distance and perspective, I came to realize that I no longer wanted to hide parts of myself (except, you know, my actual physical parts. This is not a blog about the journey to Nudism). I no longer wanted to sign up for any kind of friendship or activity that would require that of me. 

This went for work as well. I didn't want there to be a version of me meant for work and one meant for real life. I mean yes, of course to some extent we ALWAYS have to keep some thoughts or the more colorful descriptive words that come to mind to ourselves if we want to remain employed, but my word! I spend 45 hours of every week in that location, surrounded by the same coworkers. I don't want that much of my life to be passed in the dazed, semi-human state that is a person trying to fake it.

Ok, let me just disclaim a bit to say I understand people in management roles need to keep up a level of professionalism and should probably not blur too many lines with their employees, but I also appreciate that both my bosses reveal their senses of humor openly and celebrate with us openly as well. Neither pretends to hail from some sub-category of humans better suited to rule and immune to the desire for camaraderie, conviviality, co-conspiracy even (within audit compliance, of course).

Life is simply too short, the portion of it spent at work too great, to be any other way.

And it's more than that. It's more than just the desire to be open and have fun at work. That's pretty easy. I've finally realized it also turns out to be not as difficult as I'd imagined (once over the initial fear of it) to let my faults show freely as well. I shared with my coworkers that a nice dinner wasn't in my budget because the thought of being honest about the things that aren't perfect in my life no longer embarrasses me. I was never trying to pretend anything else was the case. It's okay with me if everyone knows that about me because trying to pull off any other version of reality sounds exhausting and stressful, and to what end?

How liberating it feels be to my authentic self, even while sporting the synthetic fabrics of my uniform.

I don't want to have anything to hide. I don't want to be terrified of a chink in the armor. The armor is heavy. It's unwieldy and unflattering and I couldn't even dance in it anyway. 



This will likely be the briefest Manzanita Project post I've written. It's Mother's Day, and I'm taking a break from the work of writing as well (is IS work...it's the most satisfying work I've ever though, so it's work of the best variety).

Today was a day of pure indulgence. Not the champagne and strawberries kind (though there were mimosas), the kind that involves sitting back and doing nothing while other people buzz around, doing nice things.

I was treated to coffee while Kevin made biscuits and gravy to take to my folks', where we were meeting Kevin's folks as well. When we got there, I sat down with my fellow Mamas and relaxed while the boys (the men, really) prepared a breakfast FEAST!

We exchanged gifts. I received a sweet card from my Mama, a beautiful homemade card from the boys and a super cool, custom-made photo card from Kevin's folks.

Then we all went to Monkey's t-ball game and baked in the sun.

When we got home, Kevin did four loads of laundry, went shopping and made dinner, all while insisting I not lift a finger to help. It was a really weird feeling, having to sit on my hands...made me antsy for sure. But I felt cared for and looked after and appreciated and loved, by all the people that matter most in my life.

What a beautiful gift.


Facebook Isn't Making You Sad

In the past couple of years a few friends told me they'd quit using Facebook because they were sick of people trying to make their lives look perfect via status updates and shared photos; comparing themselves and their own lives to these "perfect" friends was depressing/annoying enough that they'd preferred to opt out altogether.

I pressed one of my friends on this to learn more. From her perspective, people were always trying to one-up each other and to make other people feel bad in their Facebook posts. This worked to make my friend feel self-conscious, angry, and in a state of disbelief about the true happiness of these friends whose so-called perfect lives were clogging up her newsfeed.

I have a hard time identifying with this outlook.

It's not that I don't believe it may sometimes seems people are trying to make their lives look perfect on social media. In fact, I imagine people may put me into that category, given that I choose to keep what I post mostly positive and I generally post pictures featuring smiling people (though I stop short of untagging myself from unflattering pictures). I am not such a simpleton that I can't understand where this sentiment comes from.

I just find it unfortunate that anyone would choose to internalize these posts from others and let them ruin their own experience with what I think is a pretty entertaining way to connect with people and learn more about their lives.

There are a few ways to look at the people who seem to share nothing but their own perfection online:

Perhaps they refrain from posting the less-than-glowing moments because they are embarrassed or ashamed about them. Who can't relate to that?

Perhaps they don't like to dwell on the negative because they believe it prolongs the return to happier places. I respect that and I fall into that category as well. Yes, lame stuff happens or I get into a funk for no reason at all. I will allow myself what I believe is an appropriate amount of time to feel shitty, but I don't necessarily want to post all over the place about it and drag every friend, family member or acquaintance into my little mud pit. I will share those trials with my honey or a trusted friend or family member and work on through it in a less public way (unless I'm working through it on this blog, haha). Maybe happy over-posters are annoying, but if so then so are super negative people who are always posting complaints and rants.

Perhaps people are choosing to share the good and happy and cheesy-as-fuck stuff going on in their lives because they're operating under the preposterous notion that their "friends" are actually their friends. They imagine these friends may be interested in the positive things happening in their lives. They imagine it would make their friends feel joyful to know one of their own made good or found a nice person to love or has a child he adores or is just so damned excited to be where she is at the moment that she had to stop and "check in." It makes me really sad to think these people are mistaken about their "friends"--who, it turns out, are not truly friends at all but rather ill-wishers there only to spy on and measure up against and make fun of and resent.

Finally, there is the possibility these perfect posters truly ARE out to make themselves look better than everybody else and to make other people feel jealous or inferior. I believe this would have to be the rare exception. If I know anybody like this, I am unaware of it. If I know anybody who exhibits behavior even *close* to this, I may also know of some insecurity there that is being (over) compensated for. While I may experience annoyance, I should simultaneously strive to be compassionate and to give the benefit of the doubt. So Janie Awesome wants to make herself look good. So what? So crucify her.

To me, the interesting question that arises from Janie Awesome's posts is not so much "Why does she do that?" but "Why does it bother me?"

People are annoying sometimes, people! I mean, that's the nature of people. I don't think Facebook is to blame here. It's just that Facebook concentrates all those potentially annoying behaviors into a condensed little feed, and seeing a few of them in a row can just smack some people down and leave them feeling done with the whole thing.

But this is really too bad. If somebody's behavior were really that annoying to me via Facebook, chances are it would be pretty annoying to me in real life too...and I wouldn't be hanging out with that person.

Which brings me to the bottom line question that I think arises from my imagined annoyance with Janie Awesome's posts, which is "Why am I "friends" with her?"

As I write this, I'm thinking of a few situations in which I've experienced the very dynamic I referred to in the beginning of this--negative reactions to posts I've seen in my newsfeed. There have been times I've felt pressure to "friend" a person for political reasons, or as a seemingly complex matter of fairness. I'm sure I've been "friended" for similar reasons. It happens now and then. Sometimes I don't consider these people true friends, and it's posts from people in that category that leave me feeling most likely to having negative reactions.

But I don't like having ill feelings toward people who are just sharing what they feel moved to share on a site I joined voluntarily and which I voluntarily visit. I also don't want to unfriend these people because it violates the principals behind my accepting the friend request in the first place.

I think one viable solution in this situation is to hide the posts of that person. I save both of us whatever invisible, yucky outcomes are resulting from my negative reactions to their posts.

A more ambitious and grown-up solution would be for me to move ever more diligently toward true authenticity...to be in a place where I would never be fake "friends" with somebody for "political reasons or seemingly complex matter of fairness." I'm getting there.

An even more ambitious and grown-up solution would be for me to take absolute responsibility for my own life and my own emotional responses. In so doing, I'd realize there is nothing in the world a person can post about his or her own life or state of happiness that should cause me to feel bad about myself or what's going on in mine.

Happiness should perpetuate itself, and if I am in a healthy emotional place (regardless of my current circumstances), I will see that one person's expression of joy should not feel threatening. On the contrary, it is a wonderful reminder to me of the joyful experience available to all of us. I am reminded again of the Marianne Williamson quote at the bottom of this blog.

As is true about most things, getting to this ideal place I'm speaking of is a process for me and I don't believe it to be easy. I will see posts that I react negatively to from time to time. I just want to remember that Facebook isn't causing me to feel unhappy. My friends' behaviors (unless they are cruelly and unkindly directed at me) are also not causing my unhappiness. Whatever is at the root of it is within me, and it is there that I can turn things around.

So please, don't desert Facebook just yet. I still want to see what you have to share, even if it makes you appear outrageously content and well-adjusted. 


A Lot of Living to Do...

A few weeks ago I wrote about some of the veterans I've had the pleasure and privilege to meet at my new work location. I see them and others regularly now, and it's always a wonderful change of pace to have one of them come and sit at my desk for a while. They tell me the stories I'd be asking my grandpa to tell me, if he were still alive.

One of these men, a WWII vet who participated in the Berlin Airlift, has stopped by a few times recently. I've mentioned my stepson has been building WWII era model airplanes, and he drops by to give me old calendars depicting combat aircraft in large, color photos...meant, I believe, to be inspiration for the model-making. Pretty cool.

Anyway, a few days ago this customer came to order foreign currency in advance of a trip he was taking to Germany. For the second time, he has been asked to be present for ceremonial honors bestowed by none other than German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

But he was buying currency in addition to the Euro he'd need for the Germany trip. I asked him about it. He became whatever happens at the intersection of shy and giddy and a little bit proud.

As it turns out, he'd been contacted a few years back by the grown daughter of a foreign-born woman he'd met abroad during his service. He and the woman had dated--she had even flown to the United States to visit him once--but she'd returned to her country, they'd gone their separate ways, married and raised families, and 60 years later both found themselves single again.

Now, on the heels of his trip to Germany, he was going back to visit her and meet her family.

Here's what strikes me about this: My customer is game. At 80-something, he is game. Not only that, he is lucid as can be, appears years younger than he is, is in great shape, has a full head of hair, is adventurous. At 80-something, he has a lot of living to do.

What an inspiration.

We have a family friend who was similarly located by the son of her old flame some 40 years after they'd parted ways. The two were reunited and enjoyed a few wonderful, loving years together before he passed away.

Yesterday I met a woman who'd just divorced her husband of 50 (yes, 50!) years, and she told me that while it was difficult at times, she was excited about the beginning of her second life.

At 35, I sometimes feel like I've already lived a dozen lifetimes. I tell people stories of things I've done, situations I've lived in/through  (human rights observer in Chiapas, Mexico at 19, adult ESL instructor at 25, married in Karachi, Pakistan at 27, co-restaurateur/K-12 substitute teacher at 30), and I feel like I'm talking about another person in another space and time. And this is what I love about the life I've lived so far. I love that it keeps moving forward into unpredictable realms (don't ALL our lives?). I, too, strive to be game and to welcome all those new twists and turns as they come.

Allow me to venture into the beyond-all-hope corniness level for a moment and quote the Andy Dufrense character from The Shawshank Redemption: "Get busy living or get busy dying," he says. And then let me go one step beyond that hopelessly corny level to quote Johnny Cade from The Outsiders when he tells Ponyboy Curtis (on his deathbed), that "sixteen years ain't gonna be long enough."

Whatever it is, I think, it ain't gonna be long enough.

I know I've heard people talking about reaching an age and a level of satisfaction with the lives they've led that leave them feeling ready to die. I can't picture it. I'm not sure I believe that a life lived fully and without regrets of the shoulda/coulda/woulda nature automatically leaves one in a state of acceptance about The End. It's possible, but I definitely don't want to imagine if I DON'T seize upon all that life has to offer and experience the alternative, which I imagine would be a state of panic.

If I'm 80-something and I receive that call, the one that says "Please come here," wherever "here" is, I want to answer it, with joy.

Up to the end, I want to remain open to the promise and possibility of new experiences, or to new versions of old ones. The answer to every invitation should be "Why not?" (And there are a lot of very, very good reasons to decline invitations. But in the absence of them...)

I think living like this is perhaps the best way I can think to honor those who would have loved to live longer. What more profound way is there to disrespect my life than to be gifted with 60 more years of it only to sit around and do nothing interesting, take no risks, refrain from adventure? To not embrace love and embarrass myself and to retell the embarrassing story if it means having the chance to make another person laugh. To not travel as far--physically, emotionally, intellectually--as I think I possibly can...and then to go beyond.

If you're reading this (or if I've yet to meet you!), no matter who you are, I'm happy and honored to be here on this journey with you. And I hope you'll say yes to adventures with me for many, many years to come (especially you, Kevin Wiseman :) ).

Kevin's Sketch

(A small portion of his ever-evolving Aliento del Diablo, growing richer in strange and haunting detail by the day)