Thursday, November 27, 2008

Ridiculous Writing Exercise

I found this picture in an old magazine dug out of the back of a shelf at the Columbus, Mississippi public library a few years ago. I love the guy's fabulous outfit, and am still intrigued at the trick he's performing.

I decided to use it as a writing exercise for some high school students I was teaching last year, and they balked. So, I made a deal with them: I'd write a story based on this picture, too. So I did, and you can read it below. You might want to scroll up and take one more close look at the picture.

No matter what Virgil tried, he just couldn't reach that ever-evasive booger. Upon awakening from a fitful slumber in which he was wearing his favorite super hero costume, he sensed the obstacle blocking his breath, both entering and exiting his right nostril. At first he inserted an index finger -- a favored digging, scratching, pushing and gesturing tool for many -- but his pointer only dislodged the booger from one spot and deposited in another, where it became a whistle blowing a C# on an inhale and a D on an exhale.

A musical person might have tried different breathing rhythms and, with pride, kept the crusty mucus in its noisy place, but Virgil is not and never will be musically inclined. In fact, Virgil began feeling like he was slowly going insane with every see-saw see-saw see-saw.

He rushed to the bathroom and quickly unrolled a wad of toilet paper to blow into, but the effort proved futile. It left him with a headache and a magnified sense of the booger's presence.

He began to pace and sob and twirl small tufts of his public hair when, suddenly, he saw the bucket of nails and a hammer. He knew then he had a solution to his dilemma, and he went for it.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Give Thanks With a Laugh

It's Thanksgiving Eve, time to make a list of my blessings and watch Planes, Trains and Automobiles -- a Thanksgiving classic comedy! I've seen it umpteen times, and still laugh all the way through it. John Candy and Steve Martin are brilliant.

My favorite part:

[another driver is trying to alert them that they're driving on the wrong side of the highway]

Neal: He says we're going the wrong way...

Del: Oh, he's drunk. How would he know where we're going?

Another funny part:

[waking up after sharing the same bed on the motel]

Neal: Del... Why did you kiss my ear?

Del: Why are you holding my hand?

Neal: [frowns] Where's your other hand?

Del: Between two pillows...

Neal: Those aren't pillows!

Our Christmas movie tradition is National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, another one I never get tired of. I still laugh every time I see Cousin Eddie drinking eggnog wearing a tight white sweater with a black dickie showing underneath.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Caroline's Art

"The Snowy Night"
by Caroline Grace Carey, age 8

Eliza's Art

"Santa in His Sled"
by Eliza Paige Carey, age 5

The Present (aka: gift)

I don't know why it is so hard to live in the present. Truthfully, it's all we have. I logically know this, but, alas, my mind habitually wanders to the future -- dreaming, expecting, analyzing, planning, fearing...

The dreaming part isn't so bad. Dreaming is a healthy activity, until it gets out of hand and leads to disappointment, resentment, even fearing. And it can.

These future concerns are unrealistic and they rob us of our present joy. We should steep ourselves in gratitude for our blessings. We should emanate our joy to those around us. And that's impossible when we are stuck in the future, the unknown, which doesn't even exist.

I love the Serenity Prayer, the motto of anonymous alcoholics everywhere. Although I never touch alcohol (I'm allergic), I raise a toast and sing a resounding, "AMEN!"

We have to find our groove and go with it, surrendering the rest to God. He's in control anyway, whether we worry or not. The longer we resist the groove, the longer it will take to find our true bliss.

But I'm a slow learner.

My friend Audrey tells me to try and turn the mind chatter into a prayer every time it attempts to steal our present (our gift). She's a pretty smart woman!

Maybe the instruction to "pray without ceasing" is a call to be in the present. To enjoy the gift.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

One-Word Questionnaire

Answer the following questions with single word responses, and pass the award on to 7 other bloggers:

1. Where is your cell phone? counter
2. Where is your significant other? Missoula
3. Your hair color? blonde
4. Your mother? comforting
5. Father? wise
6. Your favorite thing? travel
7. Your dream last night? Vegas
8. Your dream/goal? Truth
9. The room you're in? living
10. Your hobby? friending
11. Your fear? loss
12. Where do you want to be in six years? organized
13. Where were you last night? home
14. What you're not? boring
15. One of your wish list items? camera
16. Where you grew up? South
17. The last thing you did? lunch
18. What are you wearing? jeans
19. Your T.V.? off
20. Your pets? stinky
21. Your computer? awesome
22. Your mood? fidgety
23. Missing someone? sister
24. Your car? Suby
25. Something you're not wearing? lipstick
26. Favorite store? bookstore
27. Your Summer? fast
28. Love someone? YES
29. Your favorite color? chrome
30. When is the last time you laughed? today
31. Last time you cried? Wednesday

Monday, November 17, 2008

Wise Words

"If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to eachother."
-Mother Teresa

Encountering the Enemy

A few weeks ago I reconnected with an old enemy.

Her name is Beth and she was my nemesis throughout high school. To be honest, I never really had any major grievance against her, except that she hated me.

Recently, as I was new to Facebook and trying to figure out its ins and outs, someone suggested I be "friends" with Beth. I thought she was asking me to be Facebook friends with her, so I clicked on it, thinking she must be over her hatred toward me. Well, come to find out, I had asked her to be "friends."

She responded in a respectful but hesitant way, and I thought letting the past stay in the past was the best way to proceed. So we shared a few pleasantries and that was it...or so I thought.

Then, a few weeks later, I get a private Facebook message from Beth addressing the 20-something-year-old conflicts, as well as the lingering hurt she felt from them. I learned a lot from what she shared. I had no idea what all she had been dealing with as a teenager, and I was too young and naive to understand.

She vented and apologized for her responsibility in the falling out, and she mentioned some regrets.

I didn't know how to respond. I felt embarrassed that I was too ignorant to know how hard of a time she was having back then. I was also painfully reminded of how hard of a time I was having back then. I appeared to most people, including Beth, that I had it made in high school, but I was just as miserable as she was.

High school can be tough.

I pondered on her note for a fews days and finally wrote her back. I spilled my vulnerable guts back to her and felt sufficiently purged. I was depressed for a few days afterward, having re-lived some serious rejection and plain-old meanness, but I'm on the mend, feeling good, like a bridge was built over some rough waters.

At first it seemed that stirring up something that is nicely settled is a silly idea. But there is a big difference between settling and healing.

Connection is good. Truth is good.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Life in Another Time

If you could live in any other decade, which would you choose?

I can think of many who would say the 60s were the coolest, what with all the sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. Others may say the 20s would have been the funnest. I know people who would choose some Victorian decade, but I couldn't stand those corsets and heavy petticoats.

I'm not very text-book smart when it comes to history, but I've read so many books set in so many different times, that I think I know a thing or two about times past. And believe it or not, I would choose to live in the 30s. Yep, I would zap myself right back in the middle of the Great Depression.

People were poor and hungry and struggling, and they were forced to lean on God and each other to get through it. Women spent their days working hard making quilts, hoeing in their gardens, cooking, canning, taking care of babies. Now I hate housework more than anything else in the world, so it's not the chores that attract me to the 30s. It's the comeradery. These women did much of their work together. They helped eachother take care of the kids and stitch the quilts and can the tomatoes.

My grandmother told me that as young mothers she and her sister would gather all the laundry and go out and build a fire to start the washing. One of them would wash while the other nursed the babies on her breast.

When she was a young girl in Tennessee in the 30s, her family would gather with other families on Saturday nights and play music together in someone's living room. Someone had a banjo, another had a fiddle. I'm sure there was a guitar, a Jew's harp and maybe a harmonica. They would dance and laugh and sing into the wee hours. It sounds more fun the watching TV any day.

They had barn-raisings in the 30s, where other families would pitch in and help build a barn for a family in a day. I think that is way cool. I wonder how many people would come over to my house this summer and help Jamie and me build a new deck.

Nowadays, we drive into our garages and never even have to see our neighbors if we choose not to. Thousands of us work in cubicles all day long and stare at a computer. Everyone is way too busy to even consider sitting around a quilting rack for days on end making something you can just run out to Target and buy.

But I feel like we are missing out on the kind of relationships that enriched the lives of those people living in the 30s. I think that hard times force us to depend on eachother and good times make us so independent that we can become lonely and not even realize it.

My friend Leah is an extreme introvert. She loves to go home from work on Fridays and close the blinds and hole up for the entire weekend. But she told me one day, "As much as I like to be left alone, I have to admit that every important moment in my life, every meaningful experience I've ever had, has been shared with another person."

Think of all the stories that have been told of people stranded together -- Swiss Family Robinson, The Breakfast Club, etc. These stories are written and enjoyed because they are intriguing. It's a sort of fantasy. Why, do you think?

We are created as a tribal people. It sounds corny, but I believe God made us to be communal. He did say the second most important commandment is to "Love your neighbor as yourself." It's hard to do that if you avoid people, or if your life is so full of to-dos that you have no time for true relationships. Maybe God commands us to love others for our own happiness as much as that of the receiver. Now there's a thought to ponder.

It's possible that our priorities have gotten out of whack in our generation, and we would be happier if we rearranged them a bit. It's also possible that we are headed for another Depression. If that happens, we will be poor, but we may be much richer in ways we never thought of.

Quilters can meet at my house!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Dancing Freedom

I feel an expansion in me lately, an openness that is light and fanciful, and at the same time, serene and peaceful. Like watching fireflies in Mississippi in July.

My heart has been stretched, creating space for freedom to dance and its opposite (like rigidity and expectations) to crumble.

In September, I attended a training for church planting. The long weekend in Denver introduced me to a denomination that is "radically moderate" (like me!) and extraordinarily open and accepting. And they still believe and preach the Word of God. It was a liberating experience after a lifetime of stodgy legalism.

I met Christians from all over the country. Some were Asians, some Hispanic, some Southern. Some were illegal aliens. Some believed in baptizing babies, while others believed in baptism for those old enough to choose for themselves. Some were Democrats, others Republicans. One was an ex-convict. Most drank beer. Many were fun. Nearly none was weird.

I felt so validated. My secret rebellion to the conformities encouraged by the fundametalists was recognized here as an acceptable way to love Jesus. I can still be me.

Also in the last few months I have noticed an acceptance of me and my "misfittedness" among my co-workers and non-Christian friends. It's almost like I can finally breathe easily, like my faith and my church are not at odds any more. The inner conflict has vanished and maybe a new serenity shows in my demeanor, or maybe it's a confidence that I can do something for God without having to compromise my authenticity.

Then my best friend of 25 years, Ray, died unexpectedly. And I miss him terribly. He's the first person I want to talk with when I have something interesting on my mind, and he's not a phone call away any more. I think I am still going through the grieving process, but I know like I know like I know that I loved him well and that he is with God right now.

Then, last week, the United States elected its first black president. I am optimistic.

I am feeling called by God to do something that really matters. I want to work directly with women and girls, and I'm not sure what that will look like yet. I am feeling pulled to let go of my ego and spend more time loving on other people, instead of feeding my desire to know and be liked by many.

And I need to create.

But a new faith is growing in the space that has swollen in my heart. As I grow spiritually and emotionally, I feel more childlike, trusting and free. It's such a relief to realize that most shit doesn't matter.

So, here I am. Open to whatever is next.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Best Books

I'm attempting to create a list of the best books I've ever read. This is a difficult job, but it must be done. Wish me luck.

In no particular order:

To Kill A Mockingbird
by Harper Lee
Truth and Beauty: A Friendship by Ann Patchett
Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt (non-fiction)
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
A Man in Full by Tom Wolfe
Bald in the Land of Big Hair by Joni Rodgers
The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeanette Walls (non-fiction)
Plainsong by Kent Haruf
Indian Creek Chronicles by Pete Fromm
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
The Brothers K by David James Duncan
Mother of Pearl by Melinda Haynes
I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb
Midwives by Chris Bohjalian
The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
The Rapture of Canaan by Sheri Reynolds
Salem Falls by Jodi Picoult
Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
The Little Friend by Donna Tartt
I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe
Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe
A River Runs Through It by Norman MacLean
Young Men and Fire by Norman MacLean
Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Caroline Cast Her Vote

My 8-year-old asked me recently what the difference was between John McCain and Barack Obama. She didn't know which one she should be rooting for. I decided that I didn't want to tell her who she "should" like best, but that I would instead try to explain the differences between political parties.

Now, let me reiterate that my daughter is 8 years old. So, I thought about it for a little while, and I finally boiled it all down to what I thought she might understand.

I said, "Well, one way of looking at it is that Republicans want things to stay the same. Democrats tend to want to change things from the way they are."

Without giving me a chance to further illustrate my point with examples, she skipped away, satisfied.

Today she came home with a poster of the candidate she "voted" for in her third grade class.

Suffice it to say that in Caroline's world, things are just right the way they are!

I pray that whomever makes the big decisions over the next several years makes choices that keep my daughter's world as beautiful as she sees it now.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Who are you? and What are you worth?

Have you ever had someone say to you, "Just be yourself"?

Did you think to yourself, "Okay, but what does that mean, exactly?"

Who are you? Deep down, when no one is looking, at your very core? What about you is real?

Real is who we were before we were told something different. Before our pushy parents got in the way. Before we got the idea that we were supposed to be like other girls or tougher guys, because that’s who everyone liked, or that’s who got dates.

If we weren’t naturally pretty, we tried to stand out as the smart one or the funny one, or the athletic one.. Too tall? We slumped our shoulders. Bad teeth? We never spoke or smiled.

Our "selves" have been altered by our birth order, our community, our socio-economic status, our hurts, our shame..the list goes on and on.

Many obstacles get in the way of us just being us. And so here we are, masked by these expectations and misconceptions and defenses that we use as an excuse for ourselves.

Have you ever thought that if people knew certain things about you, that you would be rejected? have you ever found yourself pasting on a smile when you really wanted to scream with rage?

I'm not saying that there is not a time and a place for certain emotions to bubbloe over. But, if we have relationships based on us living this not-so-genuine condition, what are those relationships worth? Can they be considered authentic relationships? Can you ever get anything out of them than surface pleasantries?

What if we take our masked selves to God? Even though He knows us through and through and loves us anyway, can we say we have a true relationship with God if we aren't coming clean with our whole, true selves?

Where do you get your self-worth? Does it come from the roles you play? Your job?

Give this question some thought. Go on a safari -- a safari into your heart -- and see if you can find your worth stemming from something bigger and deeper than external "stuff." Then name and claim your true self and your true value. It's a good step toward living your best life.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

One More Halloween Pic

Last Saturday night, we had a way-fun Halloween costume party for adults-only at the museum where I work. It was called "Nightmare Afffair," and I got to be in charge of the decorating and marketing for the event. After a lot of hard work, Jamie and I got dressed up as Austin Powers and Foxxy Cleopatra and went to party down with one of our favorite bands: The Clumsy Lovers.

All night, Jamie kept saying to me, "Do I make you randy, baby? Do I?"

While I kept saying, "I'm Foxxy Cleopatra and I'm a whole lotta woman!"

We had such a great time. My whole body ached the next day from all the dancing. I will wear a costume next year that requires more comfortable shoes.