Sunday, February 7, 2016

Sunday thoughts

Bee d'jour
I was asked to talk about intimacy in my Unitarian* church this morning.  I thought I'd put it up here.

I’m surprised that I’m the one up here talking about intimacy. I’ve been single for over a decade, haven’t been on a date in over four years.  I am that cat lady, but I don’t even have the cats.  So sure, I’d love to get up in front of a bunch of people and talk about intimacy!  Next, I’ll be offering tips on how to fly an airplane.  

But my life is not without intimacy.  I have deep, trusting relationships with both of my adult children that I cherish beyond words.  And I have a number of close, significant friendships that sustain me.

I believe that the highest expression of humanity is to connect deeply, truthfully, and altruistically with others.  It’s what builds empathy, creates kindness, and makes life worth living.  Our deepest need is to connect.

I also believe that, as we all know but keep learning over and over (oh, is that just me?), we only have control of our end of the rope.  We can set the stage for intimacy to happen, but it takes willingness, commitment, deep vulnerability, honesty, and an absence of secrets on both sides.  I distinguish between privacy and secrecy – secrecy is rooted in shame; privacy is rooted in the sacred.

I had the huge stroke of good luck to have an essay I wrote published in the NYT last spring.  The piece was about my daughter’s bout with depression as a teen. Depression is one of the many taboo topics in our culture -- we don’t discuss certain things, out of fear that we’ll be met with judgment.  If we are good parents, this wouldn’t be happening, so we best keep it private.  We’re silent about the forces that shape our lives:  failure, disappointment, loss.  Because we fear that no one wants to hear about it, or they’ll find us out, and discover that we’re flawed.  That we’re sometimes sad, we fail, we’re uncertain, we lose hope.  We’d rather be that person who’s living life to the fullest, successful at all our endeavors; our kids are healthy and happy and we are tireless! We are thin and productive, calm but energetic, dynamic and taking the world by storm, but kind, well-read, thoughtful.  And our pants make us look super cute! 

I’m proud of the response to my essay. It seemed that my words tapped into a well of secret grief.  I received hundreds of personal e-mails from people, telling me about their son or daughter who was depressed, and thanking me for sharing our story.  Not because I had any answers for them, but because for a moment, they didn’t feel alone.  Someone else had gone through this.  I had placed a lantern on their path, illuminating the tiny footprints that Marisa and I left, like a sign saying, “someone has been here before.  Keep going, you can do this.”

Being vulnerable is the first step in creating intimacy.  It starts by being willing to show your weaknesses and then dealing with whatever comes.  It’s not a mistake to be vulnerable; it’s a mistake to meet vulnerability with judgment.  There is no shame in struggling; it’s a natural outcome of being a thoughtful person deeply engaging with life and experiencing all of the difficult things that happen.  Its time to tell our unvarnished stories, and say, look world.  This is me.  This is what’s really going on. 

And when someone trusts you enough to share their tender frailties, listen.  Imagine what the world would be like if, when we shared our deepest, most difficult truths, like, “I don’t love you anymore.”  Or, “I’m scared.”  Or “I don’t know if I can continue.” – imagine if our truth was met with a generous, gentle net of encouragement and appreciation for our honesty.  Imagine that world, and then create it. 

*It's actually a Unitarian Universalist Church; the two denominations merged in 1964.  But that's too much of a mouthful.  The difference is that the Universalists believe that god is too good to damn them, and the Unitarians believe they're too good go be damned.  Either way, we don't believe in hell.  And many (like me) don't believe in god either.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Write write write

Coelecanth, ink on cardboard, 1/31/16.  
Thought to be extinct for 66 million years,
and then, poof, re-discovered in 1938, hanging out near
a deep ocean cave.  Don't let that be you!
Many of us think about writing, and wish we would write.  In fact, we're going to, as soon as we get time.  And an idea.  And a pen, and a bit of privacy, all at the same time.  We have better chances of being struck by a meteor than having all of that come together.  (Confession:  I made that up.)

The biggest problem about writing is all of it.  First, getting ass to chair.  Then, once you get there, having an idea, and feeling like the time expenditure is worthy, and ignoring the giant and distracting time-suck of the internet, and sticking it out through those first uncomfortable moments where the blank page stares at you, judgingly, and you write your first reluctant words.

But guess what?  THE WORLD NEEDS YOU TO WRITE!  It sounds cheesy, but it's true.  Here’s why: if you slice everything away, and look for the core of what you need in your life, it’s richness and connection.  We need the ups, the downs, the intimacy, the boredom, and the excitement that creates the texture that gives our lives meaning.  And sharing that truthfully, with vulnerability, connects us.

And here’s why:  because you have some experience or information that the world needs.  

Instead of letting the moments that comprise our life disappear, or letting our secrets build into paralyzing shame, or letting our joys go uncelebrated, or letting our lives become mundane, we celebrate by writing about all of it.  The dark and the light, the things we’re proud of, the things we wish were different.  And suddenly, their power is gone, poof, just like that.  The thing we struggle with?  A million other people struggle with that too, and you just lit a tiny candle on their path.  They are not alone, and neither are you.  That funny thing that happened to you yesterday?  Don't let it disappear like pocket lint.  Treat it like a baby. 

Week 1 will focus on silencing the inner critic.  The biggest obstacle that keeps us from writing is that irritating voice that says, “What could you possibly have to say that's interesting?,” “Is this really the best use of your time?” “You’re not a very good writer!”, and so on.  Yes, that voice.  We'll gently shush that critic, in the way you would quiet your toddler when it’s just not time for them to talk.  

Week 2 will be about sparking creativity.  There are times when we feel particularly creative, and times we don’t.  We’ll do some playful writing exercises, and identify practices that help us access our creative selves even when the creativity seems so distant from where we are. 

Week 3 will be about finding joy.  I know, that seems lofty.  Like, if I had that, why am I sitting here, drinking a glass of wine alone, writing this silly blog?  I don't have the secret, but you do, and it just might involve slowing down, taking the time to write and remember all of the amazing strokes of good fortune that have come your way, and even though terrible or even just boring things happen every day, there’s so much to marvel at.  

Week 4 will be a chance to go a little deeper into one piece that you've started during the previous sessions.  This will be where you take the baby out of the bunting and dress it up a little bit for the world to enjoy.

The fifth session will be an opportunity to read your work aloud at a private venue with our invited guests.  

Natalie Goldberg says, “The deepest secret in our heart of hearts is that we are writing because we love the world.”  I’d like to add that sometimes, we love the world because we write.  Writing is holding the pretty little marble that is our life up to the light, twirling it around this way and that, falling in love with how it glitters in a certain light, and letting other people see it.  

Click here to sign up.

Dates:  2/21, 2/28, 3/6, & 3/20 (writing); 3/26 (evening reading)
Times:  4-6 on Sunday afternoon for all writing classes; 7-9 for reading  

Writing classes will be held at The Yoga Garden in downtown Duvall.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Advice Column, The Podcast

Well, we're trying something new today.  My son, Riley, is learning about editing sound and recording humans and so on.  So, we've been recording our typical advice column discussion.  Here's the first one, just to try it out.  It might be too much blah blah blah, and I trust that you'll let us know.  Enjoy.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

"Working" at home

It starts out great.  You roll downstairs and have a cup of coffee while scrolling through Facebook, and just for old time’s sake, you look at the traffic websites, grateful that you aren’t affected.  You look out the window at trees, and think about how lucky you are to just stay in this beautiful setting.  Well, it’s kind of a mess inside, but still, looking out the window is lovely.

You decide that, with all the time saved on commuting, you can throw in a load of laundry before you get started on your work day.  But as you press the detergent pump thing, it doesn’t spring back very quickly.  Is that because of the temperature of the room (60 degrees)? You decide to start a fire, which is good, because it’s the first thing all day that requires you to be fully dressed.  You go outside to get wood, and it seems as though, since you’re already outside, you might as well take a walk.  That way, your mind will be clear and READY FOR WORK.

After your walk, you go back inside and decide you should probably make another cup of coffee before you get started.  While the water is heating, you remember that it’s freakin’ cold in here, and you forgot to bring in wood.  You go back outside to get some wood, and notice a really cool dead spider on a log, so you pull out the microscope to look at it.  You capture a picture of spider teeth, which is amazing, and wonder if it’s weird or creepy or too self-involved to post it to Facebook.  You can’t decide so you do nothing.  

Then you remember your first question of the day, which was, why was the laundry soap pump so slow?  You realize you aren’t 100 percent certain how pumps work, and feel a little embarrassed by that.  Like, if a six-year-old asked you to explain, could you do it?  I mean, you kind of get it, but is it about reduced pressure in one area?  And where does the spring fit in?  So you google it and get lost in some technical answers, and then find one that makes you laugh out loud.

The sound of your own laughter makes you realize that you haven’t heard a human voice in a while, and you wonder if you’re maybe getting a little bit off, turning into that person.

You decide to get to work, and begin doing whatever it is you do.  For some of us, it’s writing the same damn report:  “The site was vegetated with a forested community dominated by Douglas fir, with red alder and western red cedar occurring occasionally.”  You’ve written this sentence so many times that you briefly consider sticking your head in the oven but decide not to because you should probably clean the house first, leave things in a better state.  You google, “sticking your head in an electric oven,” just to learn.  And then, for old time’s sake, read Ariel.  And so on.

This is why we have coworking, people!  You get to go somewhere, hear other human voices, stop obsessing about weird house abnormalities, and have a little companionship.  There’s a herd mentality that works.  Because you’ll notice: Everyone’s working here.  No one is researching confessional poetry or how soap dispensers work.  Me too!  I’m totally one of the herd!
For this reason, I’m grateful to the Tolt Hive Coworking community.  We’re sponsoring a really fun writing workshop, with all proceeds to benefit the Tolt Hive community.  Check it out!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Horoscopes for the New Year

Pisces (2/19 – 3/20):  I received a text the other day from one of my favorite Pisces; he sent me a photo that demonstrates his prowess with sorting laundry by color.  It was the first text I've ever received about dryer lint, so you can imagine the complicated joy I'm feeling right now.  Pisces, find your own complicated joy this week!  You might have to

Aries (3/21 - 4/19): One of my [many] problems is that now that I need reading glasses, which is recent, I have trouble reading on my side in bed, the preferred position.  The side bar presses into the side of my head, and the glasses shift upward, away from the eye area.  Is anyone working on this problem?  It seems like a pillow with a cushioned half-pipe embedded for the glasses arm might work.  Can you work on that, Aries?  Because here's what we know:  the only think you have control over is working hard, doing good things, behaving well.  Everything else is out of your hands.  And what could be more important than creating a half-pipe pillow for the reading impaired?
Taurus (4/20 – 5/20):  While I was searching the internet for glasses though, I came upon these bed prism glasses.  I suppose if you want to lie on your back and hold your arms up in the air for hours at a time, turning page after page while wearing super dorky tortoise shell prisms, well, go for it, but Taurus, they haven't solved the side-lying problem.  Although, for lots of reasons, I am the perfect candidate for the prism glasses.  I know.  Taurus, think about the prism this week, and what it teaches us:  that light is full of color!

Gemini (5/21 - 6/21): I know someone who's been trying to reduce the moisture content in honey that isn't fully cured, which has led me to wonder how to expedite evaporation.  Which factors are more important:  increasing surface area, external temperature, ambient humidity?  Of course that led me to want a chocolate fountain.  Because what's better for increasing surface area than a waterfall made of sticky sweet goo?  Gemini, may your week be all about sweetness and increased surface area.  (Try not to get too sticky.)

Cancer (6/22 – 7/21):  I looked into chocolate fountains in the usual ways:  E-mailed a list of likely suspects who thought I was planning some sort of chocolate orgy; looked into renting which isn't cheap (Like, $450 for 2.5 hours.  I know!); and finally, Ebay.  Remember when ebay was new and so were beanie babies?  Yeah, me too, but Cancer, that has nothing to do with your horoscope.  I was just bringing you back to that time when we learned that the very first thing you do before you bid on something is check the shipping and handling fees.  I forgot about that, because now we're all Amazon Prime, some nice lady will bring whatever you order to your house for free in like, 15 minutes.  So, I bought a fountain for $17.  Shipping and handling was only $43, but it came immediately, and strangely, it was the same nice Amazon lady.  It came instantly, all the way from Florida, because the seller must know that when you need a chocolate fountain, you can't wait even a minute.  Cancer, don't waste a minute this week on things or people that don't bring you great joy.  This is it, Sistah!

Leo (7/23 – 8/22): So, after first having buyer's remorse about the costly shipping and handling, and the fact that who needs a tacky chocolate fountain, anyway?  Well, Leo, I turned that ship around and decided to own it.  I am that person, the one who may show up at every potluck from this point forward with the fountain.  Leo, look for chances to turn your own ship around when necessary.  Or drive, full speed ahead, when you're on the right track.

Virgo (8/23 – 9/22):  Honeybee males are all fatherless, sadly.  Which is hard to wrap your brain around.  How can a creature involved in sexual reproduction be fatherless?  I have to think about that like, a thousand times a day to keep it straight.  But here's how it goes:  Queen bee goes on one (or maybe a few) mating flights where she hooks up with a bunch of drones (male bees, not Amazon delivery service).  After this, she has enough sperm to last a lifetime.  A short lifetime, but that's all she gets.  She then lays eggs for the rest of her cloistered life.  If she dips into her stash of sperm to fertilize them they grow into female worker bees, but if she doesn't, they grow into drones.  So, the male bee has a grandfather but not a father.  If your week gets complicated or seems to lack mystery, Virgo, come back to this puzzle.  

Libra (9/23 – 10/22):  Do you guys remember chutes?  Am I making this up, or did houses used to have more chutes?  I remember friend's houses with laundry chutes, and there were dumbwaiters in my favorite books, and then when I worked in the Smith Tower, there was a really cool mail chute. (In fact, if you're ever in Seattle and need to mail a letter, I suggest you go up the Smith Tower to do it.  You can hear it dropping all the way down.)  And there were those pneumatic tubes at the bank.  Did we give up on chutes, Libra?  I don't know why we would do that.  This week, Bring Back The Chute!  (And, if you're not to busy, can we get a few bumper stickers, please?)

Scorpio (10/23 – 11/21):  I've been trying to figure out pluperfect, not as a verb tense, but as a state of being.  I think it happens after the complete exhale, when you look back fondly at that one excellent breath that will never occur again.  Do it, Scorpio.  Celebrate with breath. (And, if you need to really celebrate, hit me up, I have a chocolate fountain.

Sagittarius (11/22 – 12/21): I woke up a few weeks ago with a back ache, the way I do, and though fer chrissakes, it's time for a new mattress!  And it was, Sag.  I ordered a Casper bed online from my bed, like a shut in. (Practicing, in case it becomes true.) And just like that, poof, a new mattress arrived on my doorstep in the tiniest box imaginable, considering it held a giant mattress.  It was like one of those dinosaurs that you drop into a glass of water, and it grows from tiny to huge.  Exactly like that, but without the water.  Or the dinosaur.  I put it on my bed frame, and it grew in all directions to a full queen size mattress, and I think it might become my best (although a little one-sided) relationship ever.  It doesn't expect a damn thing from me, and is just there, waiting to provide comfort, day and night.  I would totally recommend it.

Capricorn (12/22 - 1/19):  I read a review of this book, which I can't wait to read.  One of the points is that so much of our sense of self is tied up in the future, the person we'll become when we get it together, the person we're striving to be.  But eventually, Cap, that sense collides with our mortality.  This is it.  How we behave today is who we are.  Live it, own it, celebrate your good fortune.  

Aquarius (1/20 – 2/18) I bought a ticket for the gigantic powerball lottery, and now I'm a little terrified that I'll win.  I think that would ruin my life to come into wads of cash all of the sudden.  That's not what the humans need, Aquarius, and I'm a little sorry I got swept up in the frenzy.  Luckily, the odds are terrible.  

PS:  If you enjoy this blog it, it would be great if you either like the FB page or follow it by clicking the "join this site" button on the right.  Thank you!

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Is it a fish or an elephant?

My Dear Jennio,

I am operating the lamest fake travel agency ever.  You've been standing at the end of your driveway in the dead of winter, bags packed, waiting for instructions about your trip for weeks now.  I'm so sorry for my slowness.  But finally, here's your itinerary.

Because you value and are generous with time, and you don't really like to be away from home where your loved ones and books reside, I'm sending you back in time so you get more of it, this thing you both value and are free with.  (I know.  It always comes back to time travel with me.)

But here's the thing, Jennio.  I woke up this morning, thinking about the constellations and the more I thought about it, the more choked up I became.

That's Pisces.  Do you see it?  A pair of fish? Me neither!  Let's get some help.

Do you see it now?

I know.  What if we have it wrong, and those stars have been pigeon-holed as a pair of fish, and really, its a sea monkey or an elephant?  What if the inner elephant has been waiting to get out, and that little piece of sky has been misjudged, misunderstood, misrepresented for millennia?  
Same stars, different interpretation.  Do you see anything now?  Me neither!

 What if one of us had been there and drawn it differently?  Would we behave differently?

Or maybe there's a nobler reason for the sketchy constellations.  Do you think so?

For your trip, Jennio, you'll be going back to ancient times to hang out with the original dot-connectors.  3,000 years ago, when Greece was on the tail end of flourishing.  You'll see what they saw, know what they knew, and hopefully, bring something good back to us.  Maybe its an act of generosity to see the fish.  Maybe that was the point.  They planted a gigantic message up in the sky, a reminder for us all to be forgiving, squint as hard we can in order to a see beautiful pair of leaping fish connected by a silken ribbon.  We practice on the dark indifferent sky, but carry that home with us like 3D glasses so that we can see the tender beauty and magnificence in our own imperfect mortals too, because it's there.  We've believed in the sketchiest lines between stars and called it Pisces forever; can we do that for each other?

You can see why I'm sending you on this journey, Jennio.  It's more than a vacation; it's a critical mission.  Because sometimes, I can only see the elephant, although I believe in the fish. I don't think I'm the only one with this problem.  Maybe that's why it's so dark in all ways at this time of year:  to strengthen our fish-seeing muscles.  [Oh, dear readers, don't get all up in arms (or trunks, as it were).  I do love elephants too.  In fact, I'd like to see Babar with his clothes off.  Oops, that quickly took a creepy turn.]

Before you go back to Greece as it was 3,000 years ago, you should refresh your memory on a few things.  Let's not think too hard about how women were treated.  Same ole stuff: oppression and sacrificing virgins; you'll be able to figure that out pretty quickly.  But do study the paradoxes of time travel!  This is essential to protect not just your well-being, but the fate of the universe.

  1. You can't change history.  They tried that in the Time Traveler's Wife, and sheesh, look how it worked out.  Don't try to kill Hitler or fix the hanging chad problem. 
  2.  Don't try to bring information from the present back with you.  Leave your iPhone at home.  But I don't think there's harm in bringing things we used to know forward again, do you?
  3. Of course, I'm sure you'd never do this, but don't kill any of your ancient direct relatives, or poof, there goes Jennio.  (Is that a normal travel agent thing to say? "Don't kill anyone on your trip!"  I'm not sure; I'm new at this.)
  4. If your journey happens to be like a bus ride through history, absolutely don't get off before your stop.  You need to minimize the risk of colliding with a prior version of yourself, because that will muck things up forever.
Travelling Mercies, Jennio.  Maybe Sisyphus was laughing.  Let us know.


PS:  If you need a fake travel agent, feel free to write.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Tick Tock

When I was a new-ish mother, I attended a Tupperware party.  This is before I caught on to the whole thing, women trying to make parties out of guilt and plastic.  If anyone needs plastic shit, they go to Target.  They don't go to a party.  We all know that now, but I was still figuring it out, trying to fit in with the other moms, and woo-hoo, I got invited to a party!

The first thing we did was to go around the room and say what our favorite piece of tupperware was.  I didn't listen to the other answers because I was busy trying not to panic.  Favorite tupperware?  Really?  Is that a thing?  I don't even have a favorite color or movie.  (I did have a favorite Monkey, though:  Peter.)  

When it came to me, I made something up. I said I really liked these plastic salt and pepper shakers that we took on picnics when I was a kid.  They were white towers shaped like the space needle and embossed with a gold "S" and "P" that flaked off over the years.  I really didn't like them at all, but I did like picnics, so I felt like my answer was true-ish.

We progressed around the circle, each person recounting their favorite juice pitcher bowl with a snap-on lid, until we got to one woman who said, "I don't have a favorite piece of tupperware."  And I immediately thought GRRRR!  WHY DIDN'T I SAY THAT? 

So, this brings me to my point.  I think.

I asked Ms. Jennio three random questions in order to plan her trip, because she's my second customer for the Fake Travel Agency, and I've been a little awestruck by one of her answers:   

What is your greatest extravagance?
Time. I spend time on people and interests like there's no limit to it. But - eek, Betsy, there IS. Time is runneth-ing away from me. And from everyone.

I've just been thinking about that for days now.  It was just such a surprising and lovely answer that I haven't even been able to do or think about much else.  Except for make a dumb zoetrope with the Patterson Video that didn't really turn out.  (Zoetropes are best viewed FAST, and Bigfoot, of course, moves slowly.  Possibly due to the big feet.)  

I looked into how various famous people answered that question (because it's from Vanity Fair's version of the Proust Questionnaire.) PS, I have learned how to pronounce Proust.)
Arthur Miller:  New York restaurants
Walter Matthau:  sweaters
Jack Lemon: cars
Dustin Hoffman:  disposable glasses
Joan Fontaine: a car just for her dogs

I can't even wrap this up in an interesting way.  Time.  Can you believe it?  Greatest extravagence = time.  I so wish I had thought of that.  It might be my New Year's resolution extravagence.