Home. A weighty concept in some ways, but also tending toward the sentimental. It can connote fortification, shelter….and yet, homey can be quaint and trivial. We invent and reinvent our relationship to home throughout our lives. A place to go to, a place to run from, a place without, a place within. Maybe the truth about ‘home’ is that it is changing and fluid. That’s what I want to illustrate.
This photo was taken out of my bedroom window, from within the warm nest where I find safety, comfort, and respite. And yet, the window is transparent. It doesn’t completely shield me from the cold visually, nor does it keep me from feeling it (it’s an old drafty house, not well insulated at all!). It lets me come face to face with the physical realities of frost and even pulls me beyond the immediate perimeter of my house, across the street, up into the trees, and all the way out of the Earth’s atmosphere to the Moon. And still, this is all my home, too. The Universe is where I live. Home is near as well as far. And why should I not feel safety and belonging in all of the world’s manifestations? Cold and death and distance and infinity do not annihilate me, nor do they exalt me. They are familiar and comforting, too. I do not control my home as I do not control the weather…I live in it. And life is bigger than most of us imagine.
I am working on finding The Middle Way in my life and on communicating what I can of that journey to anyone who might find that helpful…with my own children in mind as always. The other day, I came up with a phrase that I am finding useful in describing the continuum of experiences needed to grow and develop as a person: “Feed and Frustrate”. We all need a certain amount of feeding, starting in infancy when we are in our most dependent phase, and continuing through adulthood. We have physical needs, emotional needs, and intellectual needs. How do you determine what is a ‘need’ and what is a ‘want’ and what that certain amount actually is? That’s a good question and leads to examining entitlement, which I will get to in a moment. I want to take a look now at the other end of the continuum and describe our need for frustration.
Frustration, challenge, resistance, a force up against we must push is a very necessary part of development. Consider the emergence of a butterfly from its cocoon. Many well-meaning folks have discovered a curious thing. If, in their effort to be kind to animals, they assist a butterfly in its struggle to free itself from the structures surrounding it, the insect will weaken and die. The butterfly needs the activity of straining to get fluids moving to its wings, to strengthen them for flight and to dry them out. A similar thing happens if you facilitate a chick in hatching from an egg. The work to chip away at the shell, the time and effort it takes to accomplish that task on its own, is vital to the chick’s health and makes it more robust. Without that hindrance, the chick remains weak. We need to frustrate our children and ourselves enough to stimulate our ability to access our own strengths.
Working out the balance of feeding and frustrating is a lifelong endeavor. I find myself looking at my adult children and wondering how I did as a parent. I became a mom at the tender age of 22 and felt all those biological and hormonal urges to protect, provide, nurture, and “spoil” my kids. I also had a pragmatic sense of limitations. My mom might say that’s the Scotch in me. I am frugal. My kids call me “cheap and weird”. I’m not sure I had a notion of the value of frustration, even though I’m sure I frustrated my kids unintentionally anyway. So, they didn’t get everything they wanted, but I’m not sure I taught them a “work ethic” or a “frustration ethic” very well. I am not sure if my parents taught me that, either. Regardless, the responsibility of developing that ethic is my own. It is the responsibility of each individual to examine their ideas of entitlement and challenge themselves to develop the resources necessary to achieve their goals.
I like to learn through story and art. I think of examples of characters who live out their “feed and frustrate” scenarios and find some tales to be inspiring, some to be cautionary. Too much feeding as well as too much frustration can lead to helplessness and hopelessness. One story I’ve been following lately is that of a young man who is an NBA basketball player in his second year as a pro. I like watching Jimmy Butler play. He has the kind of untapped strength that seems to increase with the number of challenges he’s given. While his teammates recover from injury, he gets to play more minutes, and he seems to be growing up before my eyes. I did some background checking and learned that he was abandoned by his father as an infant and kicked out of his mother’s house when he was 13. A friend’s mom eventually took him into her home and gave him some strict rules to follow…and he blossomed. The feed/frustrate formula made him confident in his ability to improve himself, which he keeps on demonstrating on the basketball court.
This idea is not only pertinent to individual lives, but also to systems. Politically and economically, how are we balancing the feed and frustrate formula in order to support a robust society? Are we giving too much assistance? Are we giving too little? It’s a good thing to re-evaluate over time.
So, perhaps I’ve given you something to think about. How do you see the feed/frustrate balance in your life? Where do you think an adjustment might help? If you’re a writer, what is happening on this level in the story you’re working on now? How does that dynamic work in your characters’ lives? Thanks for listening to me hash out my thoughts!
I really like the photo posted on The Daily Post at Word Press today for the photo challenge. The single, blooming red tulip in a field of budded yellow ones is an immediate visual image of what it means to be unique. Outstanding in your field, the only one of your kind, different from all the rest. Snowflakes. People. We’re all unique like that…so does that make being unique – not so unique? Tricky concept, really.
I’ve been spending a lot of time this week photographing vintage games, toys, and books from an estate and putting them up for resale on e-Bay. Part of that time has also been spent researching the object to find out if other people are selling it and for what price. Manufactured goods are not so unique. They’re usually mass produced. But after 50, 60, or 70 years, they begin to be more rare. Others of their kind have been destroyed or lost for good. They begin to show wear in unique ways: non-duplicated tears, rubs, bumps, scratches. But usually, there is another one of that item’s “siblings” out there, somewhere. I guess what I’m learning is that differences and similarities are rather fluid. We are the same AND we are different at the same time. We are connected in mass and atom and substance in numerous ways that we only dimly understand. Categorizing and separating is something that we like to do because it narrows the overwhelming complexity of the world into an order that our little brains can comprehend. But it’s all a game, really. The truth is closer to wonder, the moment when you see something and exclaim “Look at that!” not because it’s necessarily different or special or anything else but just because it IS! Wow! There it is being the way it is and isn’t it marvelous!!
Okay, with that in mind, here’s something I picked up at Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky, and I didn’t know what made it the way it was, but it seemed familiar and strange at the same time.
My best guess is that these leaves are from the tulip poplar tree. The lobes are not formed in the typical way on these individuals. Mutants? Perhaps. I only found one that was like a perfect heart. The yellower one was a relative, sort of the link to the “normal” tulip poplar shape. I examined the edges very carefully to determine whether someone had shaped them on purpose. They appeared to be completely natural. (oh, and the acorn is just for composition and because it had a really sexy luster!)
Variety, diversity, uniqueness. “And I think to myself…….what a wonderful world!”
I was in a mood. A little pouty and weepy, my inner 4-year-old whining, “I just don’t feel special!” God, why does this keep happening every month? It’s so ridiculous. Okay, rather than stuff it and wait for it to go away, I will wrap that little girl in my own arms and listen to her. She wants to feel loved. She doubts her self-worth every once in awhile and wants someone to show a preference for her and please her. “Little One, you are precious,” I tell her. I am taking responsibility for caring for this vulnerable one. Me. Passing that burden on to anyone else is manipulative and fosters a kind of co-dependency. I don’t want that any more. Oh, but I used to rely on it pretty routinely. I had a husband who, for 24 years, lavished me with gifts and compliments and love letters. I have been with Steve now for 4 years. He has never even bought me a greeting card. I do not want him to be other than he is, and I believe he loves me profoundly. So, what is the love letter game about? “What’s in a love letter, anyway?” Steve asked.
Six parts flattery to one part youth…or is that a martini? So I began tomake a list of the elements of a love letter, Cat Stevens’ song “Two Fine People”running through my brain.In one column, I put the parts that I know Steve would never embrace. In the other column, I put the bits that I think he does communicate, albeit in person and not in writing. The list began to resemble another amusing song: “Title of the Song” (by DaVinci’s Notebook), which you really must click on and listen to if you never have before. …Now, wasn’t that fun?
So I showed Steve the little orange Post-It note that carried this weighty list. On the left, I’d written “flattery; promises: to rescue, for future, to provide; declaration of desire”. On the right I’d written “honesty, appreciation, gratitude, description of how I love”. I told him that his description of how he loves is unique and authentic to him and doesn’t resemble Cat Stevens’ (“…though Time may fade and mountains turn to sand…’til the very same come back to the land”). He walked to one of his bookshelves and took down his “Bible”, a copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. “How’s this for a love letter?” he asked and read from “Song of Myself”:
The smoke of my own breath;
Echoes, ripples, buzz’d whispers, love-root, silk-thread, crotch and vine;
My respiration and inspiration, the beating of my heart, the passing of blood and air through my lungs;
The sniff of green leaves and dry leaves, and of the shore, and dark-color’d sea-rocks, and of hay in the barn;
The sound of the belch’d words of my voice, words loos’d to the eddies of the wind;
A few light kisses, a few embraces, a reaching around of arms;
The play of shine and shade on the trees as the supple boughs wag;
The delight alone, or in the rush of the streets, or along the fields and hill-sides;
The feeling of health, the full-noon trill, the song of me rising from bed and meeting the sun.
Have you reckon’d a thousand acres much? have you reckon’d the earth much?
Have you practis’d so long to learn to read?
Have you felt so proud to get at the meaning of poems?
Stop this day and night with me, and you shall possess the origin of all poems;
You shall possess the good of the earth and sun—(there are millions of suns left;)
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in books;
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me:
You shall listen to all sides, and filter them from yourself.
The little girl opens her wet eyes and looks wide. Wondering, feeling alive, an equal to the sun and the trees and the birds in the sky and every playmate in the Universe. Is this not Love, this embrace? I reckon that it is.
I’m not a media watcher. I don’t even own a TV, but for some reason, I found myself drawn to Jodie Foster’s acceptance speech at the Golden Globe Awards this morning. I read the transcript online, then did a youtube search to see her performance of it. How do you get to be a gracefully aging woman of 50? How do you leave behind the fluff and come out real and wise and honorable? That’s what my blog project has been about, so I wanted to see Ms. Foster’s take on it. I was not disappointed. No doubt the lady is intelligent. No doubt she has compassion for the human race. What essence did she distill and pour for us in those 6 minutes of impromptu address being recorded for millions to see? Art is significant work. Media without privacy is exposure and becomes ridiculous and dangerous. Gratitude is important. Relationships are essential even though understanding is fleeting and loneliness is inevitable. And change is the atmosphere we live in, grow in, and die in. Resisting it is a waste of energy. Embracing it is mystically regenerative. I get that. I concur. Maybe I could be her soul sister, too.
Internet news gives me a stomach ache. I just feel sick after browsing through photos and videos and stories about cruelty, stupidity, fear, and all kinds of petty, human activity. I really appreciate bloggers and others who post genuine evidence of our more noble capabilities. Although, sometimes this is attributed to “angels among us” or some non-human inspiration. Is kindness not a human trait? Justice? Wisdom? What do we gain by hesitating to credit people for exhibiting these admirable qualities and then splashing our media with all the “awkward” examples we can fit on a screen? Bleh…I just feel like I’ve been gorging on rancid movie popcorn. Humans plugged into more and more machinery, morphing into robo-sapiens, give me the same sour taste.
Please, somebody show me a living mensch! A human being, acting gracefully. Are there so few left? Browsing through my photo file, I realize that only a handful of pictures actually contain people. Is it because I find beauty in nature and form and so rarely in mankind?
Here’s one I did uncover. I took this shot last March. It shows a retired thespian giving a presentation to school kids on the process of making maple sugar one hundred years ago. He’s describing hand made tools, telling the story as if he were remembering his boyhood. He peppers his talk with jokes to make the kids laugh and pay attention. He is a teacher of old ways, engaging with new minds, passing on a respect for trees. He’s not doing it for remuneration or applause, he’s doing it because it’s important to him. And I think he’s a good example. Can you show me others? My stomach will thank you!
When Steve asked me on Sunday if I’d made New Year’s resolutions yet, I grumbled at him, “I don’t jump on that bandwagon.” I had a sore throat that turned into a head cold and was definitely sending out the “leave me alone!” vibe. I make resolutions to do better every single day of my life, and it often becomes an exercise in self-flagellation. Someone I admire does this kind of thing much better than I do: visit her New Year’s post here. (plugging my daughter’s blog – I typed ‘blugging’ first; suppose I can coin a new word?)
Actually, Steve and I had spent quite a bit of time last week discussing and deciding on goals for this new year. We call it “pointing our canoe”. One of the things I put on my list was to submit something to a publisher every month of this year. Another thing on our mutual list was to plan a weekly field trip to learn and research and engage in our love of the land (land ethics, land management, environmental education) and to get outside every day for a walk. I skipped the first two days of this year with a head cold, but I’ve managed in the last couple of days to walk to the car repair shop, the grocery store, the bank, and the cafe where we breakfast with his mom. Now, this might not sound like a big accomplishment, but let me add one bit of info – I live in Milwaukee. And this is what is forming outside my upstairs window:
That, my dear readers, is a tri-cicle (three-pronged icicle; just coined another word – where do I collect?) photographed through the screened window. The center section of this bad boy is about 4 feet long now. This is what outside is like here, and this is where I want to be every day. I don’t want to make it more comfortable, I don’t want to avoid it. My resolution is all about facing the world as it is and appreciating its wonder as a thing that I don’t comprehend or control.
In a display of shameless nepotism, I am using this blog space to announce a new daily blog that I now follow: The Elsewhere Condition, written by my oldest daughter, Susan. Grad student in linguistics, lead singer in a punk performance band, bride to be, and four foot eleven inch dynamo, she is an engaging writer and earnest soul. Here’s a sample from Day 2:
My other goal for this year is to lead a healthier life, which is rather like saying that I want my novel to be about “good stuff.” What’s “healthy?” How do I know if I’m healthier? Healthier than what? Healthier than the grad student grind isn’t hard to do. I’ve fallen into a morose and processed diet, the cornerstones of which are coffee, cafeteria sandwiches, ibuprofen, and the kind of pastries that come out of vending machines. This is offset by forms of exercise which include running after buses, lifting bags of books, pacing the hallways of the English building, and vigorous hyperventilating. Clearly, I can do better than this, but I’m still working out reasonable and helpful parameters.
My grandfather’s little tax deduction for the year 1934 arrived on New Year’s Eve. Anne Louise McFarland, my mother, grew up believing that all the fireworks and shouting every year on this day was in honor of her birthday. I grew up believing something very similar. My parents didn’t dress up and go out on New Year’s Eve…they dined at home on champagne and escargot and caviar and other delectable treats while listening to “The Midnight Special” on WFMT or to “Die Fledermaus” on TV or video. When I was old enough to stay up with them, we would sometimes catch the Times Square celebration and then declare East Coast midnight and go to bed an hour early. But the reason for the season was my mother, not the march of time. In my late teens, I didn’t go to other people’s parties, I still stayed home…and my boyfriend (soon to be husband) joined us. We enjoyed the best food and champagne and music and silliness and company without ever having to contend with drunk drivers on the roads. My mom lives 2,205 miles away from me now, but I am still planning to stay home and drink champagne and eat salmon and listen to wonderful music and think of her. She is still reason enough for all the joy and love and delight you might see tonight. I’ll show you why:
Graduation, Radcliffe Class of 1955
This is my mom and dad at her college graduation. That’s right, she graduated from Radcliffe, the female component to Harvard, at the age of 20. The woman has brains. With her late birthday and having skipped a year in elementary school, that means she went to college at age 16, all naive and nerdy with bad teeth and a lazy eye and glasses, but with a curiosity and charm that matured and eventually proved irresistible to my father, who, with money and pedigree and a Harvard degree, was “quite a catch”.
Ten years later, the family
So, by 1965, she’s a mother of 4 little girls (that’s me, the baby, blonde, aged 3), running a household, volunteering with Eastern Star and the church and a host of other things. So stylish, so Jackie! This was Massachusetts, you know.
Acadia National Park, I think
And she’s not afraid to go camping, either. This was a picnic picture taken by her mother-in-law. That would explain the handbags and the dress. My grandmother was never seen anywhere without a handbag and make-up. My mother was…often!
1978 in California
Fast forward 13 years. My mother gave birth to a boy when she was 38. She had 4 willing babysitters surrounding her and a handsome husband now sporting a beard. She’d also picked up a Masters degree in Church Music. We moved from Chicago to California where she became more adventurous in cuisine and hiking and music and new volunteer opportunities. This photo was taken the last Christmas that all her children were alive. My sister Alice (far left) died the next August.
1985 – Proud grandparents
A month after she’d turned 50, my mother became a grandmother for the first time. She’d also survived breast cancer by electing to have major surgery, something her own mother had done 10 years earlier. She was housing and caring for her barely mobile mother and raising a pre-teen son at this time as well. Do you see a grey hair? No? Neither do I. My mother is amazing.
Christmas and New Year’s 1989
Mom turns 55. She has 4 grandchildren, a 16-yr old son, and her mother has just died. She’s volunteering as a docent at the San Jose Historical Museum, a position she will hold for more than 20 years, specializing in their music department.
Summer 1994 – babysitting the grandkids
Here, she’s 60. My husband and I are traveling in Europe for our 10th anniversary, and she and Dad take our kids to the beach cottage for a few weeks. My husband survived double bypass surgery on his heart two years earlier. Yeah, Mom came out then, too, to take care of the kids…and me. Who has the energy to be with 4 kids (aged 3, 5, 7, & 9) at the beach for two weeks at the age of 30, let alone twice that? My mother. Although she did let me know (graciously) that it wasn’t easy.
13 years later, back at the beach
In 2007, Mom came out with my sister and brother to see my daughter graduate from college. We all went to the cottage together again. This was my husband’s last trip: he died the following February. My father is not with us on this vacation. He is in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s disease, a condition he had for 7 years before his death. My mother visited him several times a week while he needed skilled care and played the piano for all the residents, jogging memories with old popular tunes and supporting the hymns during chapel services.
March 2010 – photo credit DKK
My father died in March of 2010. I had been widowed for 2 years. My kids and I flew back to California for his memorial service, and Dad’s ashes were buried next to my sister’s and my husband’s. My mother invited the family back to her house and we gathered around the piano again. She played and sang and laughed and cried, and I did, too, right by her side. My mother and I are alike in many ways, and I am so glad, proud and grateful to be a woman like her. I see her smile, I hear her voice, I taste her cooking and her tears, and feel her spirit flowing around and through me all the time. We’re going to party tonight, Mom. Miles be damned! Happy Birthday! I love you!
Naomi Baltuck of Writing Between the Lines has nominated me for the 2012 Blog of the Year Award!Apparently, this is an award which can be conferred multiple times. I think Naomi has gotten nominated 7 times in the year she’s been blogging. I’ve been blogging for a year and one third, and this is my first star.Naomi is a published author and professional storyteller. How cool is that?! Her blog is a delightful place where family, food, twinkly lights, travel adventures and costumes all blend into a magic world of pictures and words that reminds me that the real world is actually that enchanted kingdom where our dreams come true. In her Blog of the Year post, she cites a list of nominations that is currently serving as my map to blog exploration. I have already discovered a poet to follow from her recommendations, and I’m looking forward to that enrichment!
I just nominated a few bloggers for The Wonderful Team Member Readership Award, but I follow another whom I will nominate for this award: Elena Caravela. Elena is an artist who shares her imagination in the form of sketches, watercolors, photographs, oils, and digital blends of all these techniques. I am awed at her skills and humbled by her collaborative spirit. When I write stories and poems for children (which I plan to submit for publishing as part of a New Year’s goal), I imagine her illustrating them because she is all about encouraging the artistic talents of others (see her blog & book: Portrait of a Girl and Her Art).
So, blog on! all you artistic, creative souls out there. “We are made of star stuff.” – Carl Sagan