Monday, January 23, 2012

What do you do with the hole?

I was at the beach, sitting by myself along the waterline. While watching my kids play, I slowly dug a hole next to me, carefully scooping out handful after handful of sand.  Eventually, I had a deep crevice, and a giant pile of damp sand.  What to do with the hole?  I had nothing to carry water from the ocean with.  I was far too comfortable in the afternoon sun to get up and go in search of seashells.  So, eventually, with nothing else to fill it with, I just filled it back up with the sand I had taken out of it in the first place.

I was percolating yesterday on why, sometimes, it's so hard to let go of things.  We often make efforts to cut certain things out of our lives.  Sometimes, that means activities or foods or actions or even people.  Am I the only one that finds this hard at times?  It's not so much the initial cutting.  It's more having the strength and the resolve to not go back to whatever it was.

It occurs to me this morning that letting go of something is much easier to achieve if we have something else ready to go in the hole we made when we cut that something out.  If we've stopped smoking, maybe we need to find something to do with our hands.  If we've decided to cut out ice cream, maybe we need to make sure we're occupied during the time that we'd normally find ourselves eating ice cream.  If it's a dead friendship, maybe we need to make sure we're engaged in other healthier friendships so we aren't tempted to pick up that old broken one back up.  If we don't have something ready to take its place, eventually it just becomes easier to fill the hole up with whatever we took out of it to begin with.

Thursday, January 19, 2012


The fall of 1996.  I was 20 years old.  I had my first apartment. I was a junior in college. I was young and idealistic.  And I was a new wife, the ink barely dry on our marriage certificate.

To say that I was a good cook would be stretching it.  A lot.  To be honest, I knew almost nothing.  I could make fishsticks and poptarts and ramen.  But, I was determined, with a young wife's zeal (if not talent), to stretch this pitifully limited knowledge into something resembling Martha Stewart.

But, did you get that part where we were 20 years old and in college in our first apartment?  We were also dreadfully poor.  Our entertainment center was cinderblocks and 2x4's.  Our bed was first one that we borrowed out of my dad's garage, replaced later with one we pilfered from the apartment complex's garbage pile.  Our desk was brought from Joel's parents' house. Our couch had been acquired at a garage sale.

The only moderately new thing in the place was the refrigerator, and that has its own story.

The first couple months, money was pretty tight.  I had a work study job at the college, and they gave me as many hours as the financial aid allowed.  But, Joel hadn't yet found a job.  He worked temp office jobs for a bit, and then finally he landed a position at a computer warranty company.  Only trouble was, on Saturdays, he had to be there at 5am.  5am.  I wasn't any different then... 5am should not exist. Ever.

But, on his first day, I was determined to be "a good wife."  While he was in the shower that first Saturday morning, I got up.  I dragged myself into the kitchen and I decided to make him pancakes.  I'd made pancakes at home... it was one of the few things I could prepare.  But, at home, we had one of those big pancake griddles that you plug into the wall.  Here in my new apartment, I had only a skillet you put on the stove.  And our stove was gas, something I hadn't quite gotten used to cooking with yet.  I knew virtually nothing about making pancakes on the stove... like oiling the pan or... turning the burner down, I guess.

They just cooked so fast.  They didn't cook this fast at home.  It seemed they'd hardly been on the skillet before it started smoking and the bottoms turned dark brown, seemingly needing to be flipped.  But I was trying.  I wanted this breakfast to be nice for my husband, as I sent him off to work. So I made the pancakes the best I could.  And then realized we had no syrup.  You can't have pancakes without syrup.

But I was trying, see.  And I'd been trying for a few weeks.  I'd taken to frequenting the "cooking" and "frugal household maintenance" areas of the local library.  So, I had this book.  I can still see it in my head, I checked it out so much in those first few months.  Now, in this book, I had read that if you added a wee bit of water to a small bowl of jelly... and then microwaved it, it would resemble syrup.  That sounded nice, didn't it?  Strawberry syrup?  So... I followed the directions, and when Joel emerged from the shower, dressed for work, he entered the living room to the coffee table (what passed for a dining room table at the time) set for a breakfast for two.

He was so sweet.  He came in and he sat down, and he dug into those pancakes and he told me how awesome they were, as I finished the puttering around in the kitchen before I sat down on the floor with him.

And then I sat down and dug into mine.   "Dug" might be stretching it.  I took a bite... and then you know how you do when you eat something that isn't quite what it's supposed to be.  Your chewing slows down, a look of almost-horror crosses your face until it fully computes in your brain, "No one in their right mind should be eating this."

It was terrible.  Burnt on the outside.  Completely raw on the inside. And that melted jelly was anything but strawberry syrup.

To this day, Joel insists that they weren't "that bad."  I can't see how he can possibly make that claim with a straight face.  But, he knew I was trying, and maybe that's all that was needed for them to be "not that bad."

And, as my mom says, that's just one reason why I kept him.  He's not that bad, either.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Different Scales

I woke up this morning thinking about honesty and...  equality of analysis.  The differences in how we consider our own actions versus someone else's.

I had a friendship that ended some time ago.  I couldn't tell you all the reasons it did, even if I knew them. But, in part, I know that they have always been angry because they feel I was dishonest with them.  And, in the interest of full-disclosure...  I was.  In part, that was because I didn't know how to be honest about some things without betraying the trust of another.  In other part, it was just easier in some things.  (Nothing said meant to excuse... just to explain. I feel no pride in this.)  But, it's always been curious to me the way they've never seemed to notice the things they were dishonest about towards me.  That's never seemed to matter.

unequal weightsI ran across this in my notebook this morning:

"The injuries we do and those we suffer are seldom weighed on the same scales." --Aesop

and I thought, "Yes, that."

But, it's never enough for me to find a way to settle the past.  What good are our experiences if we can't learn from them, as well as settle them?  For it would be dishonest of me to sit here and tell you that I've never been guilty of these things, too.  Thinking these things over this morning impresses upon me the importance of being honest about my own actions before allowing myself to be hurt or angered over the actions of others.  What right have I to feel indignation over others' doings when they have a justifiable right to feel indignation over mine?

Friday, January 13, 2012

Like A Song

Moments and experiences and people come into your life, and they live there with a song.  Sometimes they sing for you, sometimes they sing with you, sometimes you sing for them.  But when it all fades away, and they are gone, all that remains are the notes of those songs.

birds in skyThey linger in the air and play a delicate haunting melody in your memory.  Sometimes you can't hardly even remember the song they go to, but the notes blow in the wind, tickling your senses, making you smile.

Maybe you forget the real song.  Maybe you forget the tension when the notes didn't harmonize quite right.  When the trumpeter came in on the wrong beat, and the drummer fell asleep.  Maybe all you can remember is the moments of the song that were right, the moments that had beauty.

Maybe that's okay.

Maybe it's okay to remember things for the good they were, and toss the bad into the wind to be carried across the waves of the ocean and buried at sea.

For "the song is ended, but the melody lingers on."

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Freewrite-- Ashes, 20 minutes.


The yellow cab came to a stop outside the airport and I climbed into the backseat, pushing my carry-on onto the seat ahead of me.  The driver turned around to look at me and inquired, "Where to, Miss?"

"Victor City, please," I replied in a tired voice, and we were off.  I leaned my head back against the headrest, and closed my eyes.  It had felt like a long trip, even though I'd only been gone for two days.  A successful one, though.  I'd landed two major accounts, so I'd say that was a trip well-spent.  But, I was exhausted, and I just wanted to be home, climb into my own bed, and curl up for a well-deserved nap.

The trip home had been somewhat of a disaster.  The wake-up call I'd ordered at the hotel hadn't come through, they were out of coffee, I'd nearly missed my flight, and I'd forgotten my phone charger on the kitchen counter at home, so I felt virtually cut off from the world with no way to be contacted.

As we rolled into town, I gave my address to the driver and watched the morning walkers stroll down the street, so intent on going nowhere and ending right back at home where they started. I just wanted to be in bed. The driver's voice pulled me from my tired stupor.

"Oh wow," he exclaimed.  "I think someone just lost a house."

I looked through the front window of the cab to see the smoke from a put-out fire twirling into the sky.

"Oh no," I whispered.  "Oh no, oh no, oh no."  That wasn't someone's house.  That was my house.

My beautiful house with the wraparound porch.  As soon as I'd seen it five years earlier, I'd had to have it.  It was reminiscent of every childhood book I'd ever loved.  It was old and drafty, and probably more trouble than it was worth, trying to keep the pipes in repair.  But I loved it and I had spent so much time restoring it.

There were fire trucks everywhere, firemen with sooty, tired faces...  and no house.

I jumped out of the car before it even stopped and ran over to a group of them.  I recognized Peter, a guy who had gone to high school with me...  now a father of three, and coaching football at the school he'd played for.  "Peter!  What happened??" I asked, the panic rising.  "Why didn't anyone call me??"

His eyes widened, "Oh god, there you are, Jennifer.  No one knew how to get ahold of you... you didn't answer your phone and no one knew where you were staying.  I'm so sorry.  We tried to save it, we've been here all night.  But, it just went up like someone had poured lighter fluid on it, and..."  He gestured apologetically to the ruins and ashes that now sat where my home once was.

I stepped toward where my porch had been, but he put a hand on my sleeve.  "Jen, we just got it out...  It's not safe yet."  But I pushed him away and kept walking.  I couldn't just stand there.  It was dark and smoky and everything I loved was in there somewhere.  The pictures of my mother, my childhood memories, all the letters I'd saved.  It was all gone... how could it be gone?  I knelt to the ground and ran my hand through some of the ashes that had cooled.

A shrill voice cut through the morning, "Why, Jennifer...  what on EARTH happened to your BEAUTIFUL HOUSE?"  I closed my eyes and tried to shut out the noise, but I knew it was just going to keep coming.  Rachel Baxter.  High school cheerleader, daughter of the richest man in town, and first class pain-in-the-ass.  I pasted a tight smile on my face and turned around to meet the oncoming onslaught of annoyance. Rachel was dressed for the morning cool in pink and grey velvet and matching sneakers, her long blond hair perfectly styled. I felt just a little bit dowdy in my wrinkly travel clothes, my light brown hair limp and up in a ponytail. I smoothed my hands across my face, tucking my bangs behind my ears.
Douglas was behind her.

"Hello, Rachel," I said with a sigh. "Doug."

"Jennifer, Jennifer, Jennifer... it is just SO TERRIBLE what has happened to your HOUSE!" She spoke in capitals.  "I guess you can NEVER be too CAREFUL, can you?  I don't know WHAT I would do if anything like that happened to ME.  You just NEVER know what could HAPPEN when you turn your back for a SECOND."

"Yes. This appears to be the second time I've had to learn that lesson," I muttered drily, with a glance at Doug.  "You'd think I'd have learned it by now.” I’d once had his engagement ring on my left hand.

“WELL,” Rachel moved to head back the way she’d come.  “I suppose we’ll LEAVE you to get ON with your clean-up.  WE just wanted to come and make SURE that you were alright.”  She looked pointedly at Doug.  “Come ALONG, Douglas.”

I watched Rachel march pointedly back up the sidewalk the way she’d come.  Doug lingered behind.
I turned around and surveyed the damage again, still not quite believing what had happened while I was gone.

“Is there a reason you’re still standing here, Doug?” I asked, tiredly.

He stepped around me and looked down into my eyes.  That curl over his forehead kept falling into his eyes.  “You’ve got ashes on your cheek,” he said quietly, and he touched his thumb to my skin, slowly wiping it away.  My eyes closed of their own volition.

“DOUGLAS! We’re GOING now,” came from down the street.

I drew a breath and glared up at him.  “Doug... someday, I hope you really understand what you threw away... and for THAT.  I think you’re being paged.”  He opened his mouth to say... something, but I stopped him.  “Just go.  She’s only going to keep calling.”

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Letting Go and Moving On

"You have no power over me."

It's one of my favorite moments from the Jim Henson movie, "Labyrinth."  In the final climactic scene, Sarah finds herself running through the monologue she recited at the beginning of the movie, again getting stuck on what that final line is supposed to be.  Finally, she looks up as her memory is triggered... but it's not just memory that is in her eyes, but recognition and wisdom and triumph as she tells the Goblin King-- "You have no power over me."

You have no power over meI think that moment is powerful for us, too.  To look that and those which knock us down in the face and tell them that they have no power over us...  it's a strong moment.

I read this yesterday and it really spoke to me:

If you want to forget someone, and move on, you must give up hating them. It's impossible to forget someone you hate, because hate takes pieces of your heart - thereby keeping this person within your heart.

When we hold on to anger and hatred toward people, we give them the power to control us.  Despite what we think is our best efforts to forget them, we can't because we haven't yet let go of the venom.  And so, they remain with the power to make us guarded, self-conscious, over-self-protective, victimized, angry, whatever. It's only by letting go of the hate and anger that we can truly give them up and move on with our lives.

I think that's sometimes a lot easier said than done.  I'm not sure that it's so much that the anger is so hard to let go of...  but, especially if it's related to someone you once cared about, maybe sometimes there's a part of you that doesn't want to let go.  At least, when you're angry, there's still SOME emotion there, even if it's an unpleasant one, and you don't have to close the book. But, if you let go of that too, it means that it really is truly over.  Sometimes that's hard to accept.

But, you can't start a new chapter until you've finished the one that came before.  Sometimes you have to close the book. Sometimes you have to cut the final string and embrace the future that is waiting for you, if you can just let go of the past.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

"Everything has been done before."

When I read this sentiment a few weeks ago, it seemed to be given with an air of... defeat?  Sort of an "it's all been done before, so why even bother getting up and trying to do anything?"  I wasn't sure why, but it stuck in the back of my mind for occasional pondering.  I couldn't disagree with the statement, really.  There have been millions of lives that have come before mine, millions of lives and deaths and losses and dreams and failures and hopes and successes.  It's probably true that it's all been done before.  But, the feeling of defeat and hopelessness nagged at me.

It was one evening last week that the little whisper spoke in my ear.

hope"But not by you."


"Not by you.  It hasn't all been done by you."

Then, it was gone and I was left to think over what the voice had left behind.

Everything has been done... but not by me.

Life has value, less by the tangible results that come out of it, than by the relationships and experiences that fill it.  Maybe it's true that everything has been done before...  every experience I have had, and will have, in my life may have been experienced by someone else in the past.  But it hasn't been experienced by me, and that makes it new and valuable and worth getting up for!

Life isn't important for what we can put in the history book, although the history has its own value and is important in teaching us about what has come before and what we can learn from it, if we only listen.  But, the cycle of life, and the experiences that fill it, are no reason to lie in the mud and mope.  There is no defeat until we can look in the mirror at the end of our lives and confidently say that everything has been done, and we have done it.  And even then, it seems that there would be too much pride in the living of such a full life for there to be much room for defeat to exist.

Monday, January 2, 2012

When It All Falls Apart

shattering wine glassAt the risk of over-generalizing, I think that it's relatively safe to say that no one (save for the most pessimistic and hopeless) ever goes into the new year thinking, "This is the year it falls apart!"  No...  we all enter our new years with hopes and dreams and plans and expectations for good things.  But, sometimes it falls apart anyway, doesn't it?  There is only so much that we can control, and sometimes hard things come into our lives that we can't do anything about.

And then what?

I've come to believe more and more that the hard things aren't hard by themselves.  The hard things are hard because we allow them to be hard. We give them substance and power over us instead of taking control over them.  I've begun to understand that the introduction of a hard thing doesn't mean that I have to accept defeat and that things are now going to pot.  When things I can't control rear their head, I can't stop them HAPPENING, necessarily.  But I can control the influence they have on me by my response to them.  I can give them power to darken the clouds in my sky.  Or I can strip them of that power and send them packing.

There are always exceptions to the global sweeping generalizations... but I've learned a lot in 2011 about taking personal responsibility.  It's easy to be a victim.  It requires nothing from you but to be the person that someone else took advantage of.  But, it takes more strength and honesty to look at those situations and understand that you had a choice. And you made it. Your martyrdom isn't a result of you being a victim, but is a result of your own choices.  It's understanding that you had a choice, and what "happened to you" is a result of that.

I think that's a powerful understanding.  It gives you the power over your situation.  Sure, it's not very fun sometimes to look at the situations you're in and have to take the responsibility on yourself.  It's a whole lot easier to blame others for the place you find yourself in.  So, it's not always comfortable.  But, I'm telling you the truth...  it's powerful to understand that YOU have the control.  That you have the power to determine what influence the things that come into your life have over your day, your week, your year.  Over YOU.

This won't be the year that everything falls apart.  Maybe I'm tempting fate with that one, but I'm going to claim it anyway.  This will be the year that I respond to the situations in my life with optimism and hope, determination and strength.

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