Monday, January 31, 2011

On Being Bold And True: Week Four

This post is the fourth in a series of Monday posts On Being Bold and True. Each week I have written a post about something I feel passionately about, something I am proud of accomplishing, or something that is intensely personal that I might not otherwise write about. I have chosen to write about things that make me who I am.

I am writing this late on Monday night because of the very thing I chose for today's topic:
I am a procrastinator.

I think, rethink, and overthink most of the decisions I make. I make plans for most of what I do, and the follow-through can take awhile because I consider every angle, check and doublecheck the facts or procedure, and proceed with caution.

This has always been my process. To be honest, I'm tired of it. I don't need to become reckless, but I need to stop spinning my wheels.

When I look at the words on the vision board I created I see:
How to Break Free
New Best Friends That love You Back
Live Your Best Year
Live Your Best Life
Are you just getting started
a world with more birthdays
The Future Is Bright
Accept Them Fully
fresh start
Have your coffee black
the healing garden in bloom

I will turn 55 in February. What exactly do I want 55 to look like? How do those words and phrases on my vision board fit with how I see myself and what I want? How do I get there from here?

I need to stop procrastinating. I need to take some leaps of faith.

So here's what I have decided to do: for the month of February I am going to post here every day. I have said that I want to write more, and I have decided that I will start here.

There will be plenty to write about. I have things I've started that I need to finish. I have things I've wanted to do but haven't. I have ideas that I need to develop or abandon because they have been taking up space for too long.

Please feel welcome to check in as time permits. Believe it or not I have thought about doing this before now, but I've been concerned that posting every day would put some people off.

See? I have perfected the art of procrastination to the point that I use what other people may think to continue to put things off!

We'll see how it goes. That I've written this out is one step in the right direction.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Time Out

Last weekend Leo was very unhappy, meowing and pacing and not wanting anything to do with Ken or me. At one point he was so loud that we couldn't hear each other talk. He didn't want to settle down in any of his regular spots; he took up residence in the corner behind the television. Leo put himself in time out ~

I could see him when I got down on my hands and knees ~

He was out of reach and stayed that way for hours ~

I could understand how he felt. Sometimes we just need to be left alone. I needed a time out on Tuesday, so I took myself "out" for the day. I had errands to run, nine separate stops I needed to make. I wasn't trying to get away from anyone because there wasn't anyone at home, but I needed to be someplace else, away from my normal routine. I interacted briefly with lots of people I don't know, and I crossed everything off my to-do list. The best part of the day? Sitting in front of the floor-to-ceiling window at Barnes and Noble, eating soup and watching the sun set. Sometimes it helps to get away.

Monday, January 24, 2011

On Being Bold And True: Week Three

This post is the third in a series of Monday posts On Being Bold and True. My first "Bold and True" post is here. On Mondays I will post something I feel passionately about, something I am proud of accomplishing, or something that is intensely personal that I might not otherwise write about. I am choosing to write about things that make me who I am, which is to say that what I write here may not match another person's experience or opinion.

This week's topic is something that I haven't written about nearly as much as I expected to when I started this blog. Early on, I created a category for the topic and it contains only twelve posts, which I didn't realize until now when I checked.

The topic: writing.

I have shared bits and pieces about how I feel about writing in those twelve posts. I have considered sharing further thoughts but, for reasons that are hard to explain, I keep putting it off. This "On Being Bold and True" series seemed a good place to dive in.

Writing has always been an important part of my life.

I started keeping a diary at a young age and continued until I was in high school. When I was sixteen I read Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, where detectives searched the daughter's diaries for clues to the cause of the murders. I gathered up my diaries and burned all of them in a trash can in the back yard. That was a lot of years ago and I don't remember what I was so worried others might read, but I remember feeling like I had no choice but to destroy my personal writings.

I started journaling again when I went away to college and have had a sporadic record over the last 37 years. I have thought about destroying those journals as well, but I haven't for reasons which aren't clear, just a nagging thought that I should hang onto them.

I have never thought about being a fiction writer. I write about my personal experiences. I write about what I think and what I learn, and it's the way I process what I think about what I learn.

That's either why I love school or why school loves me. In 1998 when I wanted to go to graduate school I chose Goddard College, where writing is a major element of the curriculum. The person who was my second reader, a teacher/researcher/writer, said in my introduction to a group of people that my thesis was the best example of using research to inform practice that he had seen in his fifteen years of teaching. That was the greatest compliment he could have given me; I credit all the writing I did with my success. When my advisor asked me what I thought of my work, I replied honestly that when I went back and read the entire work I had a hard time believing that I had written it.

When I am engrossed in what I am writing, I lose myself. Ideas come to me, my mind makes connections, and I understand things in ways that make sense only when I'm writing. I process while I'm writing, and I gain further understanding while I revise and edit.

So what's the problem?

I get lost in my writing. That's not a problem when I have a reason and a deadline for what I'm writing. It feels like a problem if there isn't a specific reason to write or a reward at some point.

One reward for writing on this blog is the connection I've made with other women, and many of my online friends are writers. I appreciate good writing.

Another reward is a written record of this life journey I am on and how I have changed over time. It's helpful to look back over where I've been when I think about where I'm going.

My husband and my daughter have told me I should write a book. I wonder what I could say that others haven't said. There are so many people writing books. What do I have to add?

For Christmas my daughter surprised me with a book of my blog posts from 2008 and 2009.* I was speechless. As I read through the pages I wonder where the words came from. The words came from the writing, the process I go through when I'm writing. The writing changes me; through writing I can change my thinking, answer a question, or solve a problem.

It's time to move past any concerns I may have and see where my writing takes me.

It seems like a good idea to do more writing as my journey continues. I have mentioned before that I wanted to write more here. Then I wonder how much is too much.

So I'm going to play with that a bit and see what happens. As you can see from this post I'm working some things out. I would be interested in any insights you might have ~

*My daughter used SharedBook and was able to surprise me because she has my password. I am going to ask her to help me do the same with my posts from 2010.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Road Not Taken

There is a world of difference between the knowledge that I made choices along the way and acceptance of the choices that I made. I am coming into the acceptance stage. In celebration I am sharing my favorite making-peace-with-the-path-I-took poem ~

The Road Not Taken
by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that, the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

(The Poetry of Robert Frost, 1979, Henry Holt and Company)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

In Words And Pictures

I have been reading about vision boards for years. Martha Beck has written about them in Oprah's magazine, and they have been mentioned on a variety of Oprah's shows about positive thinking and taking charge of your life. It was not a project that appealed to me. Then last fall I started cutting words and pictures out of magazines, with no plan for what to do with them. I have moved the small pile of papers from surface to surface, room to room. Then just after Christmas Mir of Woulda Coulda Shoulda, one of the first blogs I started reading in 2008, made a vision board. She's a practical, no-nonsense woman. If she could make a vision board, I certainly could, too. My "out" was going to be that I couldn't find enough pictures to fill a piece of cardboard, but that wasn't a problem. Yesterday I started placing pictures and words, and today I taped them down. I am not sure what it all means but if there was ever a year I could figure it out, this is the one. This is my finished vision board ~

The upper righthand corner is dominated by a daylily that came in the mail on a brochure. I don't know why the tape measure captured my imagination. The board is heavy with trees and flowers, and there is more than one serving of healthy, colorful food.

The bottom righthand corner is my favorite section, with its vibrant colors and favorite words. The beautiful glass bead necklace is layered over an abstract watercolor of trees. There's an abundance of purple. The little girl in the center of this section has blown a bubble with a cupid inside ~ that's the first image that caught my fancy months ago.

The top lefthand corner features cool colors and a scene from the Thames River. Great Britain is on my "to see someday" list. I resisted the bottles of wine but kept going back to it; I genuinely enjoy a glass of wine with dinner.

The bottom lefthand corner has a bowl of miso soup in the center, which looks so delicious that I will try it the next time I see it on a menu. I knew I'd include the tree on the aqua background the minute I saw it.

The poem above the woman with her arms in the air is the perfect centerpiece: one step/one step/i stop/i take one breath/one breath/warm sun above/white snow/below i breathe/i take/one step/one step by Rosemary Wahtola Trommer, "Climbing the Ridge"

Monday, January 17, 2011

On Being Bold And True: Week Two

This post is the second in a series of Monday posts On Being Bold and True. My first "Bold and True" post is here. On Mondays I will post something I feel passionately about, something I am proud of accomplishing, or something that is intensely personal that I might not otherwise write about. I am choosing to write about things that make me who I am, which is to say that what I write here may not match another person's experience or opinion.

A quick word about why I am writing about these things now: my word for the year is "unafraid." There are things that have come to mind as I have been reflecting on where I am in my life, how I got here, and where I want to go next. I have been considering decisions, events, and relationships that have shaped my life; some of these things I have had control over and some I have not. Regardless, they are the threads that weave the fabric of my life.

* * * * * * * *
In the spring of 1979 Ken and I were happy with our lives. We had been together for four years, married a year and a half. We had jobs, had bought a house the previous fall, and were happy with how life was unfolding. It felt like a good time to start a family.

I was an executive assistant at a small non-profit. I loved my job and finally felt like I knew what I was doing. When I found out I was pregnant I didn't know if I would return to my job after the baby was born. I shyly told the executive director I was expecting, and I was extremely embarrassed when, a week later, the chairman of the board congratulated me on the news. I stammered that I didn't know what I was going to do; he smiled and said, "You're going to have a baby."

My due date was January 31, 1980. Things progressed normally until December 5, when I started spotting. After I was examined, my doctor admitted me to the hospital for an ultrasound the following morning. Since my doctor was a first-year resident, he collaborated with one or more doctors at every step along the way. I believe he made decisions that saved lives, literally and metaphorically.

Ken and I learned on December 6 that we were expecting twins. Once we recovered from the shock, we were ecstatic, as was everyone we told.

I wasn't put on bed rest, but my doctor recommended that I quit working so I could take it easy and put my feet up for extended periods of time. My co-workers and supervisors were supportive and gracious, and the board voted to pay me four weeks severance when I submitted my resignation. There was no one to take over my duties, and I didn't think it was fair to be out for an undetermined amount of time. Until that moment, I hadn't made the decision to not return to work.

Life changed again when contractions started on December 24. By 7:20 p.m. I had delivered naturally, under general anesthetic, two baby girls.

My first daughter was stillborn.

My second daughter weighed 4 pounds, 2 ounces. From the beginning she was able to breathe on her own, get all of her nourishment through breastfeeding, and spend hours at a time in the arms of her parents. She was perfect in every way, and we adored her.

Ken and I felt every possible emotion that you can imagine young parents can feel. We were overjoyed with the birth of one daughter, and despairing over the loss of another. The conflicting emotions churned for a very long time. The healing process took years.

On New Year's Day 1980 my doctor made a decision that would not be approved today: he released my eight-day old daughter into my care. She weighed 3 pounds 15 ounces. There was a list of instructions as long as my arm, weekly check-ups were required, and we went nowhere but the doctor's office for four months; I didn't care because my daughter was coming home. From that moment she was the focus of my attention and the center of my world. We followed the doctor's instructions to the letter for the first year, at the end of which I was finally able to breathe a sigh of relief....

Ken and I went on to have more children, and it worked out that I was the parent whose first responsibility was their well-being. I made decisions about my life based on what worked best for the children because I loved them and could meet their needs.

We had learned how to live on one income, and we had proof that if a child's needs were the priority the child would thrive. We had no extended family in the area. While we had friends who could pinch hit in an emergency, Ken and I had only each other to rely on day in and day out.

I love my children and do not regret one moment I was part of their lives. It was what I knew to do. I didn't try it any other way, so there is no way for me to know what else might have been possible.

There is not one moment when my daughter learned about her sister; she has always known, as have her brothers. In fact, my daughter would like me to write about what it has been like to be a mother. I don't know where that idea might go....

But that's a topic for another Monday ~

Friday, January 14, 2011

January Is For Finances

This is the month I review accounts, start collecting tax information, look at our budget, and begin to get a picture of what the coming year looks like financially. This year will look different from the past several because our youngest graduates from college in May, and I made the last tuition payment on his behalf this week!

Well, as they say, it's always somethin' ~ just as I was patting myself on the back things began to fall apart.

My first clue that this was going to be a strange day should have been that the stars have moved and there are now 13 zodiac signs. I will let that sink in if you haven't heard the news.... The magnetic fields between the moon and the earth have caused the relationship we have with the stars to change so a new sign of the zodiac, Ophiuchus, has been inserted between late November and early December. I think that means that I'm not supposed to be an Aquarius any longer. You know what? I'm staying with what I've always been. I like being a water bearer and all that says about me, and what possible difference could it make anyway? I mean, really....

When I couldn't log into one of my online accounts I wasn't too worried. If I haven't used the same computer consistently to pay the account, there is a request for a special log-in ID, which I ask for and is sent to me by email. No problem. Except that I typed the first one they sent me in the wrong box, and it was voided. Back to the beginning to start the process over, which I was able to complete successfully the second time.

Then the mail came. There was a letter and a statement about MY school loan that I couldn't make sense of. I pulled out my file on that account and nothing matched. I checked the account online and the account summary page looked different. So I called the 800 number on the back of the letter and fortunately got a person right away. Just days ago the loan was split into two accounts and is now managed by two separate entities, with new interest rates and monthly payment amounts which need to be made to the two separate accounts. I will wait until I get updated payment coupons before I resume making payments to any account. I told the person on the phone that I had confirmation numbers for all payments I have made, and she suggested that it would be a good idea to hold onto those.

Did I stop there? Oh, no. I had to keep testing the stars to see if things were as out of line as they appeared to be. This week we received updated credit cards for the account we have had the longest; we don't use the cards that often but keep the account, well, because it was our first VISA account. In the past when I've activated newly minted cards I've called the 800 number from my home phone and a polite recording has said on the other end of the phone, "Your card is now activated." Today? Not so easy ~ confirm that we received two cards, punch in the account number, punch in the last four digits of Ken's social security number, punch in the security code on the back of the old card [which is in a drawer somewhere], reset the PIN, and then I got the recording that said my cards were activated.

Okay, I finally got the message: I will not try to accomplish anything else that has to do with finances. I just hope the ATM is working tomorrow....

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

On The Twelfth Day Of January

Outside, there is a wall of snow ~

And windchimes that will not be silenced despite the weather ~

Inside, shamrocks bloom on the windowsill ~

A cat sleeps in his new favorite napping place ~

A rainbow of new turtlenecks are folded ~

And a desk defies organization in spite of the owner's repeated efforts ~
Such is the state of life at 512 on this day in January.

Monday, January 10, 2011

On Being Bold And True: Week One

This post is the first in a series of Monday posts On Being Bold and True. Anne at One Little Window made a proposal that I found intriguing: every Monday we post something we feel passionately about, something we're proud of accomplishing. We speak those things that, if we stand tall and proud within them, make us who we are. The goal is for people to listen to, learn about, and support each other, to honor those things about others that they feel passionately about but that they otherwise might not write about. Her entire proposal is here. If you'd like to join in, leave a comment for Anne with a link to your blog and she will add you to the list on her sidebar. I encourage you to visit Anne's blog in any event because she is an interesting, thoughtful woman and a wonderful writer.

On a personal note, I write about my individual journey here. I am a sensitive person myself and try to not write anything that someone could misinterpret or be offended by. I value everyone who reads here. My goal is not to raise controversy but to share things near and dear to my heart that I don't otherwise write about. I am going to see how "being bold and true" feels for a week or two, and then I will decide whether to continue or not.

Here I go ~

When someone asks me what I am passionate about, I do not have a short answer. My deepest passion is a thread that runs through everything else in my life.

I feel passionately about democracy, specifically about our country's representative democracy. I believe that each one of us has a part to play in our government. Abraham Lincoln's words succinctly describe my belief in a "government by the people, of the people, for the people."

I live this passion.

My children went with me to vote from the time they were infants. We always discussed current events and issues around the dinner table. Each of my children registered to vote when they were 18 and have voted in every election since.

My students learned about the importance of democracy through class meetings. I was an advisor to student council and organized schoolwide mock elections. Twice I took students to witness the convening of the state's Electoral College. I invited local politicians to speak to students about their positions and referendum issues.

A government such as ours depends on the participation of all citizens. It is critical that we listen to each other, talk about issues, and disagree respectfully. One person has one vote, and we cast those votes for the people who will represent us at local, state, and national levels. If we are unhappy with the results, we try again next time. In the meantime, we have the freedom to speak, argue our case, and work to change the laws.

We do not have the right to tell lies and spread rumors about people we disagree with.

We most certainly do not have the right to act violently toward people who do not share our views.

I was in second grade when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. I remember the announcement over the school intercom that our president had been tragically shot in Dallas. I didn't understand how something like this could happen in my country.

I was twelve years old when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. My sixth-grade teacher came to school the next day in tears; we wrote essays and talked about what this tragedy meant to us personally and to our country. It was that same year that Robert Kennedy was assassinated, and again our country sank into despair over what it meant to be a free, democratic society. At what cost would freedom and civil rights belong to all of our country's citizens?

The shootings this past Saturday in Tucson, Arizona shook me to my very core. I am devastated by the reality that this type of violence still exists in my country. The past two nights I have gone to bed in tears, frustrated and angry and inconsolable, fearful about what this means for elected politicians and the respectful political discourse necessary in an open society such as ours. I wonder how we can go forward as a country to solve our problems, as we need the voices of all the people to be the best we can be.

In my despair, I started pulling books off the shelves, looking for consolation and reassurance that we will get through this. I pulled out a slim book ~ a book of words and photos of Martin Luther King, Jr. selected by Coretta Scott King. The book is organized by category and the excerpts are not dated; I have chosen a few selections to share here, in an order that appeals to me, that remind me of where my country has been, how far we have come, how far we still have to go, and what might be possible ~

"When evil men plot, good men must plan. When evil men burn and bomb, good men must build and bind. When evil men shout ugly words of hatred, good men must commit themselves to the glories of love. Where evil men would seek to perpetuate an unjust status quo, good men must seek to bring into being a real order of justice." (p. 51)

"Many people fear nothing more terribly than to take a position which stands out sharply and clearly from the prevailing opinion. The tendency of most is to adopt a view so ambiguous that it will include everything and so popular this it will include everybody. Not a few men who cherish lofty and noble ideals hide them under a bushel for fear of being called different." (p. 24)

"Hatred and bitterness can never cure the disease of fear; only love can do that. Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illumines it." (p. 90)

"We must work passionately and indefatigably to bridge the gulf between our scientific progress and our moral progress. One of the great problems of mankind is that we suffer from a poverty of the spirit which stands in glaring contrast to our scientific and technological abundance. The richer we have become materially, the poorer we have become morally and spiritually." (p. 67)

"Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend." (p. 18)

All excerpts from The Words of Martin Luther King, Jr., 1987, Newmarket Press.

Friday, January 7, 2011

What Is There Beyond Knowing

Volume Two of Mary Oliver's New and Selected Poems was a Christmas gift. I've wanted it for some time. I bought it and put it away, and when my husband said he wanted to give me a book I told him I had just the one. It's lovely ~ as wonderful as Volume One, which is full of sticky notes that mark my favorites.

This is one of my new favorite poems ~

What Is There Beyond Knowing
by Mary Oliver

What is there beyond knowing that keeps
calling to me? I can't

turn in any direction
but it's there. I don't mean

the leaves' grip and shine or even the thrush's
silk song, but the far-off

fires, for example,
of the stars, heaven's slowly turning

theater of light, or the wind
playful with its breath;

or time that's always rushing forward,
or standing still

in the same-what shall I say-

What I know
I could put into a pack

as if it were bread and cheese, and carry it
on one shoulder,

important and honorable, but so small!
While everything else continues, unexplained

and unexplainable. How wonderful it is
to follow a thought quietly

to its logical end.
I have done this a few times.

But mostly I just stand in the dark field,
in the middle of the world, breathing

in and out. Life so far doesn't have any other name
but breath and light, wind and rain.

If there's a temple, I haven't found it yet.
I simply go on drifting, in the heaven of the grass
and the weeds.

from New and Selected Poems: Volume Two, 2005, Beacon Press.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

My Word For 2011

Until I read Carolynn's post at A Glowing Ember I hadn't thought about choosing a word for this year. In years past, when life was busy and it helped to have a focus, a specific word would rise to the top and set the tone for the months ahead; two favorites I remember were "simplicity" and "flexibility," which was my choice at least two years in a row because it worked so well the first time.

I was reminded of the practice when I read the post, but no special word came to mind. Over the course of a couple days I tried on a few words but nothing rang true. I wasn't going to force the issue.

Then New Year's Day I was making the bed and a word came to mind. I wondered where it came from and why it came to mind while I was doing some mundane task, minding my own business and not thinking about much of anything. I tried to dismiss it. No luck. The word stayed with me. It made me uncomfortable.

I thought if I could find another word that meant the same thing I would feel better about making that my word for the year, since my self had obviously latched onto the idea of having a word in 2011. I wanted a gentler word, a softer concept to think about. I wanted a word that isn't a negative and doesn't have so many syllables. I pulled down my Webster's New World Dictionary, which was no help. I leafed through my trusty Random House Roget's Thesaurus, which usually comes through for me, but to no avail.

I had to face it. This year a word chose me.

And a funny thing has happened ~ this word fits. Without even trying this word has become a one-word mantra when I think about the year ahead.

My word for 2011 is "unafraid." How's that for a message from the universe?