I’m 50! Me & Jodie Foster

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. 

Two-Minute Cosmic Worship Break

My mother serendipitously re-sent me a video that I had been searching for amongst my 4,000 saved e-mails.  I am in need of this video on a regular basis, and once you see it, you’ll know why.  I think I may have posted it before, but like looking up to see the horizon, it must be done often to stay sane.  Enjoy, re-blog, share…repeat.  (Not like shampoo instructions, which are entirely bogus.  Who lathers twice in one shower?)

I can’t seem to get the screen posted right here, so click this link until I figure it out.

Well, okay, it seems that WordPress requires a space upgrade to get the screen to show.  Please click the link, though.  I promise your two minutes will be rewarded!


Playing Chess with Death

Last night, I watched Ingmar Bergman’s film “The Seventh Seal”.   There’s nothing like hitting a gray mood smack on the head with a black & white film about Death!  Yargh!  Into the breach, mates….

First of all, the photography.  Beach scenes, faces, clouds and silhouettes, clean, stark, intense.  They just put me in a mood to ponder dark and light without looking away.  Bring it!

Characters.  One of the questions Steve always asks after we watch a film together is “which character do you think is most like you?”  The characters in this film are icons of human stereotypes, in a way, but rather like the roles in a medieval morality play.  The knight is questing, always.  He wants to know and understand; his intellect is never satisfied.  Steve has a lot of that in him.   Jof, the juggler, is a childlike observer.  He is easy-going and happy, and he has visions.  He sees with his heart and doesn’t understand why others don’t see what he does, but he doesn’t preach about his visions, he writes songs about them.  I think Steve has some of that in him, too.  I identify with Jof myself.  The squire is shrewd, ironic, confident and direct.  He seems very grounded in his ego.  There are some other players, more simply drawn: the actor, the cuckold smith and his loose wife, Jof’s young wife and their baby, a silent girl who attaches to the squire, a witch and of course…Death.

How each of these folks engage with Death is fertile ground for the imagination.  If you’re questing, trying to find answers, strategically engaging Death in a game of chess, what is the lesson you are likely to learn?  That Death doesn’t have any answers, but he’s going to win the game.  And how would you take that?  It makes me think of my younger days, when I was in the throes of religious fervor, convinced that I was learning the big answers to the most important questions.  I wrote terribly pretentious poetry and harbored judgments about everything.  I thought I was going to “figure it all out” eventually.  That was after Death’s first visit to me, and before his second.  I had a few close calls in between that made me think I might be on the right track.  His re-appearance convinced me that I wasn’t really onto anything.  So, the questions remain.  I like how the knight gets increasingly comfortable with inviting Death to sit down and join him.  He learns a few things, he postpones the inevitable, he diverts Death’s attention away from his friends for a while, and he even shows Death that he can be happy while they play.  I am learning from his example.

The scariest part of the film is the depiction of fear itself.  The wailing and flailing and pleading for mercy is utterly desperate and triggers all kinds of panicky feelings in me as I watch.  I do NOT want to slide into that.  That’s the worst evil in the film.   Those people are being tortured and destroyed from the inside out.  It gives me the shivers!   This is a great example for me, too.  I don’t have to engage with Death in this manner.  I have other options.

The storm scene reminded me of a camping trip we took one spring.  After a balmy evening, a thunderstorm rolled in from across the hills to the west.  The sun had set and it grew quite dark, but just over the ridge, the lightning blazed up like bombs in a great war.  It was like watching a WWII movie, all black and white explosions in the distance.  And we were the only campers in the park, in a little nylon tent.   I was kind of scared.  I thought about doing the “safe and prudent” thing, striking camp and driving away.  Steve asked me, “Why?”  Well, because something bad could happen!  Bad like what?  We could get wet.  We could get hit by a falling tree or lightning.  We could, but it’s not highly likely.  We could just watch it and see what we learn.  And we can always get in the car, too, if we want.

So we stayed.  We did get wet.  We eventually went to the car.  We went home the next day.  But we saw the most amazing light show and felt the wind and heard the rain fall on every surface with a different sound.   And we experienced it together, present, honest, alive.   Take that, Fear!  Check!

Parenting On the Dotted Line and Over the Rainbow

Steve & I borrowed a DVD from the library called “Between the Folds”.  It’s a documentary about origami, but not just the decorative, brightly-colored little figures that school kids make.   It’s about science and mathematics and art and exploring the fusion of all those disciplines.  To learn more, click here.  One of the fascinating paper-folders interviewed is Erik Demaine, “an associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Called one of the most brilliant scientists in America by Popular Science, he received a MacArthur Genius Fellowship at the age of 22. Demaine’s work combines science and art, geometry, paper folding and computational origami.”  The interview also includes footage of him with his dad, who apparently home-schooled him as a single parent and prepared him to enter college at the age of 12.  These two bear a touching family resemblance of soft-spoken, constantly smiling Geekdom, complete with pony-tails, facial hair and glasses.  It is obvious that they have enjoyed sharing a couple of decades exploring the world with bright-eyed curiosity.

I also happened upon a Mom Blog called RaisingMyRainbow.  Its blurb reads: “Adventures in raising a slightly effeminate, possibly gay, totally fabulous son.”  Her son is 4 years old.  She writes with wit and whimsy and a very open attitude, chronicling how their family navigates what seems to be a mainstream suburban life with an emerging non-mainstream human being.  It seems very honest to me, no agenda, no axe to grind, no added drama, just very loving and willing to engage with what arises.

Super Kids (photo by Joe Griessler)

I am inspired by this kind of parenting, and I want this to be what I pass on to my children.  My own kids are already in their 20s, though.  But I figure it’s never too late to model something positive.  After all, they may be parents themselves some day.  My parenting models were quite limited.  Growing up in the 60s & 70s, I didn’t know one kid whose parents were divorced until I got to High School.  My dad’s own parents were divorced, but he never talked about that.  My best friend’s parents had been divorced from previous marriages, but that didn’t seem to impact their family life when I knew him.  I got the strong impression that there was a ‘right way’ and a ‘wrong way’ to do everything, and the ‘wrong way’ was to be avoided at all costs.  Consequently, I complied and conformed and walked the narrow way.  It wasn’t a bad response, but it wasn’t necessarily the right response or the only reasonable response.  The difficulties with my response became apparent as my circle of awareness widened.  Other people were living other responses.  Do I tolerate, embrace, include or exclude those people?  What if some of those people are my own children?

“There are as many different ways to be a Christian as there are Christians”, my spiritual adviser told me one day.  He was a former Jesuit priest, born in India, married to a former nun, both still very active in the Catholic Church.  I couldn’t have been more astonished.  My father would never have said that.  There are as many different ways to be a parent as there are parents.  Those ways may be judged according to certain values.  To make any kind of distinctions, you really have to look at those values.  Do you value conformity?  Okay, then call it ‘conformity’.  Do you value love?  Okay, then look very closely at what you think ‘love’ is.  Does love punish?  Does love shame?  Does love reject?  Do you value certain beliefs that you respect?  Why do you respect them?  Because someone told you to?  Because they support something you’ve experienced?  There are so many good questions to consider, but it’s hard to find a safe place to consider them.  As a parent, I felt attacked, judged and defensive.  Competition crept into my parenting way too much.  I own those as my issues, but I also believe the suburban environment supported that.  Parental support groups I was in may have effectively reinforced the competition rather than offered support.

Hindsight.  I was 22 when I became a parent.  I didn’t think about a lot of this stuff beforehand.  However, I have four totally fabulous children nevertheless.   I give them credit; I give me and my husband credit; I give the Universe credit.   In general, if I lighten up on my ego, I can avoid creating stuff that’s FUBAR.  Instill wonder, curiosity, creativity.  Play alongside the kids, and step back.  We are all learning and growing up together, folding rainbows into the process.

Home Economics

It’s ALIIIIVE!!!   It’s in the kitchen, and it’s growing!  I’m waiting for it to double in size, then I’ll screw up all my courage and give it a good punch!  I’m gonna break it in half, then I’ll let it alone for about an hour while the two halves grow again.  It sounds kind of like an amoeba, but actually it’s whole wheat dough.  Yup, I’m making bread.  By the time I get it baking, I’ll be making split pea soup as well, but I have to take a walk to the grocery store to get some dried mushrooms for that.

We have about 4 cubic feet of cookbooks in the dining room.  I often just look up a recipe online, but that makes Steve cringe.  He thanked me this morning for asking him to direct me to one of his books.  So I am celebrating my participation in lower-tech food preparation.  I will not get into my car and drive to Panera for bread and soup.  I will make it myself.  And I don’t want to pat myself on the back for this.  This is not a revolutionary step.  This is what almost every woman was able to do 100 years ago.

I’m not exactly sure what the comparative benefits are to this approach.  I haven’t researched the whole economic picture of Panera restaurant vs. homemade.  I just know that I’m not making an income (aside from being paid for giving one private voice lesson a week), and so I don’t want to spend much.  Is it possible in this day and age to live without spending?  Well, just yesterday, I ran across this news article about a grandmother in Germany who hasn’t used money for 16 years. http://wakeup-world.com/2011/07/18/happy-69-year-old-lady-has-not-used-money-for-15-years/     I really like that idea.  Capitalism isn’t my best friend.  WalMart makes me shudder.  I read about theft in my town paper every week.  What would happen if more of us were able to get off that treadmill somehow and live without using money or coveting goods?  Would we be able to scale back on damage to the environment?  Would we be able to scale back our population?  I know all these issues are intertwined, and I’m still wondering how they effect each other in the big picture and in my personal life.

Steve & I have been thinking about going to a conference on Population that will be held in Telluride, Colorado over Memorial Day weekend.  It’s called Moving Mountains Symposium: Population.  It’s a film festival as well, and features Dave Foreman (of The Rewilding Institute) as one of its keynote speakers.

So all this is just rising in my consciousness as the bread is rising downstairs.  I’m not quite ready to present it all sliced and buttered for this blog, but I like to think that IT’S ALIIIIVE in me in some way.  Stay tuned!

Nerd Love

Last night, we watched the 1955 Academy Award winner for Best Picture, “Marty”, starring Ernest Borgnine.  The year this movie was released was the same year my parents graduated from college and got married.  My mother could have played the heroine, a gentle, intelligent young woman with a narrow Celtic jaw and a fabulously stylish but thrifty wardrobe.  Except she was just 20 when she got married, and Clara in the movie is a dangerously spinster-approaching 29.  Marty is “the stocky fellow”, an Italian butcher and a bachelor at 34.  My dad was “that cute boy on crutches” who was a little soft around the middle due to a bum knee that kept him from vigorous exercise.  The social game of the day in New York City was to go to The Stardust Ballroom, a dance hall “loaded with tomatoes”.  Marty and Clara are the kind who get turned down for dances.  He owns up to the fact that they are “dogs”, but awkwardly, tenderly, they begin to treat each other like real human beings.  They speak honestly together while Marty’s Italian family covers up true emotions with white lies and secrets and his buddies pretend machismo.  The two of them create a little oasis of sanity in the desert of social confusion.  And it’s charming, really.

Happy nerds on opera night

All of us who grew up believing “that love was meant for beauty queens and high school girls with clear skin smiles who married young and then retired” (Tara Mclean) might find a champion in Marty, who recognizes a chance for happiness in being himself, like Motel in “Fiddler on the Roof” who asserts that “even a poor tailor is entitled to some happiness”.   Why does our society put so much pressure and competition into the process of discerning your identity and living authentically?  I suppose that our economy runs on producing that neurosis.  “You couldn’t possibly find love or happiness without our product!”  Maybe there’s a lurking sense that civilization is actually advanced by feeding that neurosis in order to produce those marvelous, gorgeous, socially admirable types.   God forbid that the misfits should breed.  And so, the universal theme emerges: misfits and nerds are humans, too, and we all belong in that category, really.  The “in crowd” and the “out crowd” are fantasies.  We are ‘the crowd’, that’s all.

The Italian mothers in Marty’s neighborhood keep up this refrain: “You oughta be ashamed of yourself.  34 years old…when are you gonna get married!”  Shame.  God, what a horrible thing to put on someone.  I am a mother, I oughta know.  I used it enough.  Now I feel like shouting out, “Never mind what I said before!  Be happy!!”   Aren’t we all entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness  as long as we aren’t harming anyone?  Ah, yes, it can get complicated.  The pursuit of my happiness might impinge on the pursuit of your happiness.  It happens.  I can’t be a happy Italian mamma unless all my sons are married to Italian women and producing grandchildren that I can feed.  Maybe happiness has to be a responsibility that doesn’t require someone else’s participation.  Can I be a happy Italian mamma all by myself, cooking for myself, caring for myself, doing things I enjoy, entering into relationships by mutual agreement, not by obligation?  Marty’s aunt keeps saying, “I’m 56 years old, a widow.  This is the worst time of life.  I’ve got no one to cook for, to clean for…”  Marty’s girl suggests that she take up some “hobbies” and the old women stare at her as if she’s just shot a hole in her own forehead.  God forbid I should take responsibility for my own happiness!  No, make that “God require that I should take responsibility for my own happiness”.

Be happy, people!  Live happy, love happy.