Category Archives: Family

What’s Waiting on the Other Side of Turmoil?

–a Thanksgiving poem in a difficult time,
ending with a paraphrase of Julian of Norwich
which also contains a reference to Husker Du

 

What’s waiting on the other side of turmoil?
We can hope, but the ugly truth is we don’t know
if all will be well and every everything will be well.

We’re partial to our own peculiar ordeal.
Our depth of field’s so shallow it can’t show
what’s waiting on the other side of turmoil.

It’s hard to line up the practical with the theological.
Would Julian say, if she got her car stuck in the snow,
“all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well?”

I bet she sometimes just muttered “oh well.”
I bet she had her doubts a mothering God controlled
what’s waiting on the other side of turmoil,

the gruesome news, the shit at work, the hell
through which we make each other go and go and go.
If all will be well and every everything will be well,

the obvious question is when? Does anyone know?
Could one tiny seed of calm actually grow?
What’s waiting on the other side of turmoil?
When will all be well? Will every everything be well?

_____

It does seem to me the setting on turmoil is turned way up lately.  But this Thanksgiving I am trying to nurture little seeds of calm where I can.

vanessa20130506-0650

Vanessa Quivertail when she was a baby kitteh.

 

 

The Noble Gases (continued)

1
No wonder I can never remember all eight—
there are only six. I have a place mat
with the periodic table of the elements on it—
I guess it’s time to get it out again.
The ones I never forget are neon
and radon—bar signs and killers in the basement.
I usually remember Superman’s Achille’s heel,
thus krypton, and if I think of Jason, I might
think of Argonauts and thus argon, but
usually I don’t. Almost never will
I think of helium, the most famous one,
the silly voice, the birthday balloon,
the one that can overfill your lungs
and kill you, leeching all your oxygen.

2
There are so many things I can’t remember
all at once. Did I lock the door or not?
Trying to cover up for a name I forgot,
I always introduced myself to my friend’s mother.
I wanted her to say her name back to me.
She never did, but one time said through her teeth,
“I know who you are, god damn it.”
I know her name now, but she’s dead. I don’t need it.
I forget whole poems I’ve written. And other names,
of course, of people I ought to know, and students,
within weeks (or days) of turning in final grades.
I forgot how to start the Lord’s Prayer more than once.
My father’s early Alzheimer’s makes this shit
fraught so I try to console myself with lists.

3
The boys sat in the back, playing chess in their heads.
My friend Beckie and I decided we had too many plots
of Gilligan’s Island in our bright enough heads
to do what they did, several turns in before someone forgot
where some piece was and they argued and then they were done.
I rear-ended a Jeep that same trip, having forgotten
to keep far enough back, forgetting to count
one thousand one, one thousand—ouch.

The noble gases are noble because they’re inert,
unchanging, unlike those brains with the tangles and plaques.
And which noble gas is it inside a laser can fix your eyesight?
Which one makes the IMAX movies so bright?
It’s xenon, which, until a friend pointed it out,
I’d forgotten. I can never remember what all I lack.

With thanks to Max Garland,

and Beckie Hendrick,

and John Heasley (who did remember xenon)

photo (1)

I can’t not love the Cardinals

I will always be a St. Louis Cardinals fan, but I’m not as big a baseball fan as I used to be. Less time for television viewing. No cable television. No reliable free radio coverage until recently when I got a smart phone (we’ll see how next season goes).

And also, steroids.

I sometimes think the last 20 years should have a big, fat asterisk next to it. It’s hard for me to get swept away by a game when I think so many of the players are gaming the system. Thus, Albert Pujols with his bigness always made me nervous (though as far as I know, he’s not on the lists of “guys we’re pretty sure are juiced.”)

Plus I never liked Tony LaRussa’s hair. (And I never forgave him for the way George Will gave LaRussa credit for some of what Whitey Herzog did with the Cardinals.)

But I can’t not love the Cardinals, even when they’re stinking up the field the way they did Monday night against Boston. Once I start, I can’t stop watching this moment during which I am fairly certain Wainwright was jinxed.

But even if they hadn’t won last night (whoo hoo!), I’d still love them.

Basically, here’s why:

Seriously.

Seriously.

Watching the gods: these aren’t really normal people. We’re watching them do things we could not do.

Literary nature of the game: lots of people have written about this. It’s true. Bull Durham is my favorite movie, partly because of this.

Geographical identity: I don’t know when I’ll ever live in Southern Illinois again, but being a Cardinals fan is part of how I remind myself I’m from there.

Lust and objectification: Can I help it that I first REALLY noticed the Cardinals in 1982, when they won the Series, when I was 17, in the flush of my first waves of womanly hormone energy and girlfriends of mine pointed out things like “Tommy Herr has a great butt.” Objectification is bad, of course. But wow, are these guys fun to watch. Some more than others.

Family Ties: whatever else makes us different, the vast majority of my Southern Illinois family and I are Cardinals fans, and we can always share that. I love it that my Gran’daddy, who’s been gone for two years now, was a HUGE Yadier Molina fan. (I never told Gran’daddy my theories about Yadi waxing his eyebrows.)

Links to my past: I was such a huge fan in the late 80s. I remember sitting on the deck of one of many trailers I lived in while a grad student in Carbondale, listening to KMOX, drinking a Budweiser, sweating like crazy because birds had built a next in the a.c. and I didn’t want to bother them. I don’t want to ever forget that part of myself.

History and tradition: I never got to see Stan Musial or Lou Brock play, but I have a #6 cap and I would love, love, love to own a Brock-a-brella. St. Louis has been so dominant the last few years, it almost seems it’s cool now to hate them (NOTE:  they were NOT dominant in the late 80s and early 90s when I spent the most time actively following them), but it’s an awesome club with a rich tradition and I’m so, so happy to see them relying on their farm clubs again.

I tend to cheer for the underdogs, nonetheless. I would love to see the Cubs dominate, head to the World Series and win, win, win.  The last time the Brewers were threatening, I actually cheered for them against the Cards in the playoffs. I didn’t really mind when Boston won in 2004 (but I do feel like it’s our turn now, regardless of the arguments made by the Red Sox fan I’m married to).

But when it comes down to it, if the Cards are playing, I’m on their side. I can’t not love them.

Pedagogy Stew: April 2013

Objects in Motion

I’m so glad dance is part of my son’s education.
Sometimes, sure, an object at rest remains at rest,
But tonight an object in motion continued in motion—

A whole school of molecules kept dancing,
From slow solid to wavy liquid to hyper gas.
I’m so glad dance is part of my son’s education,

unlike mine. When I dance I’m like a squirrel on the ocean.
My grade school almost never danced—toomany Baptists.
Just like the law that keeps all those objects in motion,

he’ll continue to feel what he’s learned, not just emotion—
it’s embodied learning at its cellular best.
I’m so glad dance is part of my son’s education,

not just text and audio, not just construction
paper, more than dioramas, more than tests.
The law says an object in motion continues in motion,

and here’s proof. Still dancing, past bedtime, way past.
Those filthy feet look like a month of dirt amassed.
I’m so glad dance is part of my son’s education.
An object in motion continues in motion.

At least every quarter, the River Valley Elementary Studio Schoolin Spring Green has what is called a “culminating event,” where students display what they’ve learned in the previous unit. We’ve seen art galleries, tableaux, singing and now dance. Students worked with local professional dancers, along with their regular teachers, to choreograph the states of matter and the laws of motion, and at the end of February, we got to see them dance to “Solid Liquid Gas” by the band They Might Be Giants (as well as more classical works).It’s not just what you learn—it’s how you learn it, where you learn it, and how you demonstrate it. All of it matters.

Or, as one of my former students said recently, “You don’t break with your arms. You break with your butt.” He had just executed the most authoritative break I have ever seen. The pool table in the UW-Richland student center always has a mix of some of our most and least diligent students. This particular student has not had the most straightforward path through our traditionally-takes-two-years Associates Degree, but he has some solid momentum going now. It has been interesting, and encouraging, to watch him at rest, in motion, and exerting force—not necessarily in that order.

There are so many ways, and so many places, to learn the laws of motion.

Creative People Say Yes (Sometimes)

I once came upon my cousin Reid practicing different ways to say “no.” He was 3 or 4 at the time. “No, I couldn’t possibly,” he said. “Absolutely not.”

He was onto something, that little ‘un. At least in my family, saying no takes practice.

Saying no? I’m big on it. Sometimes I’m even good at it. I certainly like the IDEA of saying no.

I’ve written about a fair number of times:
“How do I do that? How do I become the sort of person who says no to things?”

Clitter-Clatter Clutter Time , which references two terrific posts by my favorite tattooed Lutheran blogger, Nadia Bolz Weber, “The Spiritual Practice of Saying No,” and its companion piece, “The Spiritual Practice of Saying Yes!”

The Sarcastic Lutheran says, “The people who are inclined to say yes to everything do all the work and then burn out and become resentful about the people who are inclined to say no to everything. It’s as though the world is divided into martyrs and slackers.”

I don’t make a very good martyr or slacker, either one, not for very long.

I worked enough 50+ hours this spring semester, I worry my slacker credentials are in danger of not being renewed.

Busy as I’ve been, I’m nowhere close to martyrdom. I have some regrets, but I don’t regret all of the times I said yes. (Or came up with something to do that no one even asked me to do.)

Recent things that added to my to do list that I am particularly happy to locate in the land of “yes!”:

  • In addition to volunteering in my son’s classroom at the River Valley Elementary Studio School a couple hours a week, presenting a lesson on storytelling, with a way of talking about narrative arc that was a big hit.
  • Leading the Westby Co-Op Credit Union Board of Directors and branch managers in creativity exercises.
  • Serving as a (paid) reader for writing sample/placement tests for incoming UW-R students, and as a local developmental writing coordinator (unpaid).

In general, I am unrealistic about how the number of things I try to get done will fit into the number of available hours, and I don’t necessarily do things in the right order (which sometimes does and sometimes does not qualify as procrastination).

Thus, some of my commitments (such as returning student work promptly) suffered this spring, and probably, saying “yes” to new stuff impacted the ongoing stuff.

In general, I need to parse, pare, and prune my To Do list.

So, in one way, I totally get Kevin Ashton’s “Creative People Say No.”

He is right that “We do not have enough time as it is. There are groceries to buy, gas tanks to fill, families to love and day jobs to do.”

And he is right that “Time is the raw material of creation.”

Time is a precious resource. It must be guarded. I get it.

But wow did that blog post bug me.

(more on page 2!)

If God’s going to all the trouble of sending a tornado after you….

When I was little, I wasn’t scared of tornadoes.

My Dad always said, “If God’s going to go to all the trouble of sending a tornado after you…” and I actually don’t remember the exact words of what came after that, but the idea was, just give up. If God wants you to die in a tornado and you survive that tornado, he’ll send another tornado. Or a car wreck. Or a brown recluse spider.

I found that profoundly comforting when I was a child and beyond, but I’m sure my Dad’s calm helped, too. (Note to self: try not to freak out ENTIRELY as you’re fleeing your own home, your child in tow, to your parents’ basement across town. When I said, “Get in the car right now!” I’m pretty sure I had the same intonation & volume as “You can’t handle the truth!”)

Back in the 70s, there were watches and warnings pretty much all the time, it seemed, from March through September. We ignored watches entirely, and only grew concerned about warnings if the sky turned green.

Dad and I used to stand in our garage and watch sheets of rain come across the open field northeast of our house. He was probably smoking a pipe. I was probably petting Wooly and Daisy (the best dogs ever in the history of the world).

Regardless.

I now note several problems with Dad’s tornado wisdom.

1. Even if my belief in God had not changed, OH MY GOD. Really? I’m a good Baptist girl and God might just, out of pretty much fucking nowhere, send a tornado to kill me? And I can’t get away no matter what?

2. My belief in God has changed. I have a kind of wacked-out sort of X-Files Mulder/Scully hybrid of beliefs. As in:
a. I want to believe.
b. Maybe God could steer tornadoes in a pinch, but tends not to.

3. The basically impossibly huge question of how a loving God could allow horrible things to happen. (I’m not going to solve that here. Sorry if you’re disappointed.)

When I lived in the second of a series of three trailers I called home as a graduate student at Southern Illinois University, I began to have a recurring nightmare about tornadoes. In it, I would wake up in the middle of a horrible storm, feel the trailer begin to shake, watch the walls suck inward, watch the roof blow away, and then try to hold onto my bed to keep from getting sucked into the sky. Then I would wake up.

I suspect this had to do with being in miscellaneous precarious emotional situations in those years. And also living in a trailer. “God’s bowling alleys,” my brother always called trailer parks.

(So, o.k. What is it with men in my family and tornadoes?)

But during one actual tornado warning, I stayed in Trailer #1 and announced to God, “I’ll just die here with my cats, thank you.” Very green sky. Large branches flying by the window. Trailer rocking in real life, not the dream world. (Oh, that girl. I could just smack my 21-year-old self!)

I think, over the years, I’ve just grown less and less fatalistic. Certainly less suicidal! It is also possible my frontal lobe has developed some.

And then having a husband I love and I son I am OVER THE MOON ABOUT makes storms really stressful.

We’ve had a wacky weather week in Wisconsin. More storms coming.

Is it possible, in what I now called the land of “Zen Baptist” on my faith journey, to take wise precautions and yet be at peace about whatever comes?

Sure hope so.

Because what comforted me as a child, comforts me not at all right now.

_____
Here’s what fun about social media. Someone named Kevin posted this on Channel 3000’s Facebook page. The comments are hilarious. Including: “it’s sunny in beloit” and a whole thread of “don’t take pictures while you’re driving” and “it’s not a tornado.”

So. Probably not a tornado. (No one actually said it was.) And also not my picture. But gracious. I wouldn’t mind some boring weather.

Not a tornado.

Not a tornado.

“How do I do that? How do I become a person who says no to things?”

(If you’re keeping score at home, this is also “How to Get the Pay Raise You Deserve, Part V”)

Here’s one of my favorite drums to pound:

You can raise your hourly wage by working fewer hours.

(You have to be on salary for the math to work.)

How? Here’s how to do less:

10. Take people at their word. Take them up on their offers. For example, when I get an email from someone who says, “Would you like to do X, or do you need me to do it?” I mostly say, “That would be great if you would do it! Thanks!” Because what are the possibilities there?

a. It was a passive-aggressive way of asking me to do it.

b. It was a genuine offer to do X.

c. It was a way to try to shame me into doing it, hoping I wouldn’t admit to “needing” anything.

So, for a. my response is that I might sometimes accede to passive-aggressive bullshit without realizing what I’m doing, but when I see it, I like to mess with it, and play dumb, and pretend like I’m dealing with someone who says what they mean. (Because they totally should say what they mean, or at least stop talking to me.)

For b., my response is THANKS! Then I try to make the offer back  when I can. (I’m not a selfish jerk. I’m just trying to stay relatively sane.)

For c., I would, if I were forced to name names, say call 1-800-Shame Resilience and ask to talk to Brené Brown. She’ll give you the what-for. And I have many, many needs about which I have so little shame that I’m happy to let someone else feel needed.

My need to admit I have needs and someone else’s need to feel needed = pie and ice cream.

This is how great it feels to be needed.

This is how great it feels to be needed.

9. Ask for help. Don’t even wait for someone drive their passive-aggressive sedan by you so slowly that it’s easy-peasy for you to grab the bumper and ride your skateboard along in their fumes for a while. Just ask for help.  You’re a good person. You’re helpful. When someone who isn’t ALWAYS asking for  help asks you for help, do you think that person is horrible?  (Don’t tell me if you do.)
8. Pretend you’re someone you’re not. Would the Mansplainer say yes to everything asked of him? He would not. If you were a rock star, would your personal assistant field this request to you? He would not.
7. Wait to say yes. Lots of people have talked about this, so I won’t say much. But it’s pure gold in terms of effectiveness. It’s hard to say no in the moment of social pressure ACK ACK ONE OF THOSE BAD DREAMS WHERE I CAN’T SPEAK, but it’s way easier half a day later to email and say, “I’m sorry. I just looked at my to do list and my calendar and I just can’t.”

6. Don’t LIE and say you looked at your to do list and your calendar. Actually do it. And try to make it a really accurate to do list and a calendar on which you’ve sketched out when you’re going to do what’s on the list. (Please allow me once again to recommend Things and “Sunday Meeting” by Kerry Rock-My-World.)

5.Stop thinking up new things to do that no one even asked you to come up with.

4. Don’t wait until your wicked-burnout ways land you in a health or relationship crisis (they will, eventually). Get that calendar back out and imagine you’ve been warned that approximately two weeks from now, there will be a one to two-day crisis that you absolutely have to deal with.

Or, if that feels icky, imagine that the grandmother of a former student wants to give your campus a check for $100,000 dollars and because that student spoke so fondly of you, you have to accept the check in person. Two weeks from now. It will take two days.

What would you do? Cancel some stuff? Ask people to cover for you? Reschedule some stuff? Imagine blocking out two whole days. Make a plan.

Then follow through.  Or, if that feels too indulgent, do it for one day. Or an hour.

If you really can’t do it just for yourself, to get caught up, or catch a movie, or take a nap, or work on your favorite part of your job that you never get to work on, or go on a date, or WHATEVER, then schedule an appointment with a healthcare professional and use sick leave. That is what sick leave is for. It is for when you have a health problem. If you can’t make time for what is important, you have a problem.

3. Find that one thing on your to do list that you haven’t done yet, that you don’t want to do, that you keep putting off, for whatever reason. Cross it off your list. If someone else needs to know you’re done with it, email them and say, “I’m so sorry, but I said yes to too many things this semester/month/week/year/time on the planet. I am not going to do this. I am very, very sorry.”

This is not the BEST way to be a people pleaser, but you know what? Ms. People wasn’t pleased at how long it was taking you to do whatever. At least now Ms. People can make other plans.

And even though it wasn’t taking up your time because you weren’t doing it, it was taking up a lot of psychological energy hanging around on your to do list. Kind of like that creepy guy that kept asking you what kind of batteries he should buy with his special massage implement when you worked at Spencer’s Gifts.

2. Check in with people who know you & will tell you the truth (their truth, anyway) who can fulfill these roles (these might or might not be people you actually work with, and these may be the only useful roles the fun house mirrors play in your life):

MIRROR: person who sees things pretty much as you see them in terms of philosophy, values, work-life balance, who respects you and cares for you. Ask the MIRROR person: am I working too much? am I working enough? Jussssssssst right? Make adjustments as needed, in consultation with that person.

FUN HOUSE MIRROR SKINNY WORKAHOLIC VERSION: ask someone who lives to work and works to live the same questions. If that person EVER, EVER, EVER says something along the lines of “You’re working an awful lot lately,” you know it’s crisis time (see #4 above).

(Don’t wait for that person to say “You’re working too much.” They don’t believe that is possible.)

FUN HOUSE MIRROR LOVE-HANDLED BELUSHI-BOY: if you say to this terrific guy, who’s probably wearing a Hawaiian shirt & shorts with 700 pockets, “hey, am I working enough?” and he says, “No, you’ve been super mellow and ready to play pool a lot lately” go back and double-check with your MIRROR and then make a plan if you need to. Could be you’re making time for a precious friend or it could be you got TOO GOOD at setting boundaries. Don’t worry if that happened, because

Here’s what there will always be plenty of: people asking you to do stuff. You will never lack for opportunities to do a little back-fill if you realize you were slacking. Which you probably weren’t.

1. Do whatever you can to be the kind of person who operates from a base of worth and plenty rather than inadequacy and scarcity.

I still struggle with this, but I’m trying to listen less to the voice in me that wants everyone to like me all the time, especially the people I don’t like. I’m trying to listen more to the voice that says I am enough, and that I get to be picky about who rides on the bus with me. People who bring me down can’t get on my bus. Or they at least can’t sit in the back where we’re singing “One Tin Soldier.”

This isn’t possible for all of us, I know, at least maybe not now, not this year, not this week, not with this boss, not in this job, not in this economy–I get it. I feel it. I feel gobsmacked by it sometimes. But when and where it’s possible, we need to listen to Nancy Reagan’s quavery, moneyed, seat-of-power voice:

JUST SAY NO.