Category Archives: Daring Greatly

I Choose to Be Here

It’s the middle of Finals Week. Other semesters, I’d be thick in the muck of a grading backlog, trying to get caught up so I could start grading finals. This time, I came soooooo close to having the backlog done before finals started coming in.   Didn’t quite make it, but I’m still in a good place, on track to have grades turned in on December 23.  Which is before Christmas. Which is fantastic.  (I hear from my family I’m not very pleasant when I’m still grading over Christmas.)

Because I am a master procrastinator, and because over the years I’ve been slower than I’d like to in terms of returning graded work to students, I have a spreadsheet going back more than ten years with precise records–when students turned things in & when I returned them.  This semester wasn’t my best ever, but it’s the best in a while.

Why? Was it because it was a lovely, unencumbered semester in which my family life was smooth as pudding and my work life was also smooth and lovely? NO.  We’ve found 7th grade challenging in my house. We’ve been virus magnets this fall. And at work? Well , my campus administrator is moving on. In a couple weeks. And there’s work to be done.

And, oh, what else? Let’s see. My campus is in the process of merging (though we’re not supposed to say “merging” any more, I don’t know why) with a larger campus. All over Wisconsin, fine, little campuses are merging (not-merging) with fine, larger campuses. This has resulted in many, many more meetings and phone calls and emails. None of which are my favorite things about my job.

And yet.  And yet.  I’m feeling as genuinely copacetic as I have felt in a very long time.

Here’s one reason. In September, I listened to Episode 057 ,”How to Stop Fighting Against Your Life & Fall in Love With It Instead,” of the Courage and Clarity podcast. It’s a great podcast–each interview has two episodes. One is the “courage” episode, in which a woman entrepreneur explains how she broke away from her regular life and had the courage to do something risky.  The “clarity” episode explains some specific process or task.

On Episode 057, Steph Crowder (the host, and part of the triumvirate at Fizzle.co, which I love, seriously, ♥, and which I’m sure I’ll write about more at some point) interviewed Catherine Rains, the Hotel Artist.  I was hooked early on, because they were talking about “resistance toward the day job.”

Even before the merger-not-merger was announced, I was finding my job challenging. Maybe everyone does?  But I’m working with Fizzle because I’m trying to develop a side hustle in creativity consulting, and part of the motive for that is being able to retire from my day job, which I’ve been doing since 1991. So even though I wouldn’t say I was miserable in September, was I loving my job? Happy to be there every day? Giving it my best? Prolly not.

A lot of this episode resonated with me, but this especially:

Catherine says that at some point she was in an academic job that wasn’t thrilling her, but she was captivated by a phrase she thought of, “What you resist persists.”  So she started doing what she called a game, of saying, “This moment is my destiny” any time she was in an unpleasant moment at work.  She also said, “I have lived my entire life to be sitting here at this moment doing this thing.” She said these things “over and over again for three months, and at the end of three months, I realized I had fallen in love with my job.” Catherine also talks about:

  • “learning new ways to surrender to what’s in front of me, as opposed to resisting it.  Because resisting it is what keeps you stuck where you are.”
  • “I think that what makes people think that they haven’t gotten far enough is because they’re resisting where they already are.”
  • “When I stopped trying to get somewhere else, and fully sunk into where I was, that’s when the next step revealed itself, without me doing anything.”

There was just level after level of resonating for me. Somehow I decided to go for it.  I tried saying “This moment is my destiny” and that phrasing just didn’t resonate with me. Maybe it felt too whoo-whoo. But then I tried, “I choose to be here” instead, and snap!  Every moment when things at work seemed tense, when I was feeling tired of any particular task, when I just wasn’t feeling the love for what I was doing, I said to myself, “I choose to be here.”

It wasn’t as if everything was suddenly rainbows and sunshine, but there was a subtle transformation. Work just felt good. Within a week or two (which seemed sudden), I wasn’t working on my side-hustle to escape my job. I was working on my side-hustle because it was an important thing I wanted to develop to spend some time on now and more time on later.

Work just felt good.

So then when the seismic announcement of the merger-not-merger happened (about which I have many thoughts and feelings), my response wasn’t doom and gloom or terror. My gut-level response was positive. And still is.  And as we move through the muck of making a massive transition for this merger-not-merger (about which I have multiple thoughts and feelings), I’m still saying “I choose to be here.” It makes a huge difference.

It’s a huge part of why I’m feeling so mellow during finals week, looking forward to a full day of grading tomorrow, a Solstice bonfire tomorrow night, more grading on Friday, then an email to students asking them to check my data entry one more time, and then turning in grades on Saturday. Then celebrating Christmas starting on Christmas Eve. And actually taking a week between Christmas and New Years where I don’t check work email. At all.

So right now, at the end of a tumultuous semester, I’m sitting in front of my Christmas tree feeling copacetic even before I take a single sip of the brandy I’ve poured myself. This whole method isn’t just for tense moments at work. It’s also for moments like this. I choose to be here.

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But I don’t need a magical t-shirt

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I was at a fun concert the other night & one of the musicians was hawking t-shirts and said, “they’ll make you look 15 years younger and 15 pounds thinner.” I thought and then said outloud, “But I don’t care about either of those things.” In that moment it was 100% true.

What an interesting journey I’m on. The Health at Every Size book has certainly helped.

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Before the play I watched her sit, posed, on a rock,
one knee bent up, near her chin. She was covered just so
modestly with what can only be called a frock,
one bright red shoe dangling from a pedicured toe.
Let me say more about her fabulous dress
which I got to observe going down the hill after
the play. Sheer and sleeveless, white, a mess
of summer flowers painted on the skirt.
Everything looked expensive and just exactly right.
I haven’t mentioned yet how old she was.
Seventy-something I’m guessing, which is why
it wasn’t a surprise to see her favoring her knees
as we made our way to the parking lot and why
I can’t get the way I saw her first out of my mind.

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These are my red shoes. Not hers. Still.

 

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I saw her before and after seeing The Unexpected Man at the Touchstone @ American Players Theatre (which is wonderful and which you should go see and which I will write about more if I can think of anything to say other than “perfect”) so of course I couldn’t possibly say anything to this woman about any of this.

Thinking About Camille Paglia in the Pool

I think she’d have a serious suit.
I think she’d wear a swim cap, no matter
how short her hair was currently.
I think she’d have a lane preference
and I think she’d express it to anyone
already there. I think she’d get her way.

Would she be a swamper? A splasher? A drifter? No,
I think she’d move through the water cleanly,
like an angry little otter. An opinionated knife.
She might critique my stroke. She might admire my
persistence. She might have a theory about how I float.

What would it be like to care so much
about everything? My husband’s like that.
I am not.

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She’s got a new book coming out, apparently–will probably buy it. Still think about Sexual Personae now and then. This article brought her to mind.

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The answer is, the question is

So when it all comes down,
what it all comes down to, what
the answer is, the question is
how I did, how did I
spend them,
those bits of time,
my moments, my allotment of them,
what did I do with them
where did I leave them
did I wring them dry
did I use them well
then clean and oil them,
put them away to use again–
impossible–not something
I would be likely to do
and not something
anyone can do with a moment

I gorged on some
and let the shiny wrappers pile right up
and this one–this one
I’m holding like an injured dove
but there are more, so many,
so many, they scuttled away
like roaches or I stomped them
like roaches
and anyway they’re gone

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I wrote this poem whilst on retreat at Holy Wisdom Monastery in Middleton, Wisco (a truly special place)

Where is the Wisconsin Idea?

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The Wisconsin Idea is pretty simple. It means that whatever wonderful stuff goes on in a UW classroom, or lab, or program—that wonderful stuff should be shared. It has to leave campus. Almost everyone who talks about the Wisconsin Idea quotes an early UW president, Charles Van Hise, who said “I shall never be content until the beneficent influence of the University reaches every home in the state.” (I misquote that in my head as the “beneficent arm” and I kind of picture a weird cartoon in my head of a giant arm reaching in through someone’s kitchen window.  Now that I think about it, not really what I’m going for here. Nevermind about the arm.)

The Wisconsin Idea is the basis for the UW Extension, and all kinds of community service, all over the state. It’s a huge part of what makes the UW and Wisconsin wonderful.

Sometimes people talk about “sifting and winnowing” as the Wisconsin Idea, but technically, that’s from a plaque from the Board of Regents, or at least some of them, in 1894, and I think it’s the UW System mission statement (or maybe just UW Madison?), and it’s a part of state law. (Changing that is what a certain so-and-so called a “drafting error,” but which is actually a totally different category of error.)

So that’s what it is.  I was wondering how cool it would be if we could talk to each other not so much about WHAT it is, but WHERE it is.

I asked for help from these youngsters, who found the Wisconsin Idea in Arena.

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What I’m hoping is that more people will find the Wisconsin Idea, and make videos, and challenge other people to find it. People can use the hashtag #wefoundtheWisconsinIdea and tag me @MarnieDresser and post on Where is the Wisconsin Idea?.

The format I’m imagining for the videos is pretty short & simple:

We found the Wisconsin Idea in _____________.

(Explain how something from the UW helped some way, any way, OUTSIDE the UW.)

We challenge _______ and __________ and __________ to find the Wisconsin Idea!

(Merriment and confetti entirely appropriate.  Youngsters and community members and current students and former students most definitely appropriate.)

**I’m especially hoping 4-Hers will do videos because 1) 4H is awesome, 2)4H can be VERY creative, and  3)4H just simply IS the Wisconsin Idea.

Who’s the audience for this?  The people who make the videos–it’s a way for them to articulate for themselves what the Wisconsin Idea really does for them, right where they are.  Also for faculty and staff–there are a lot of negative messages out there about the work we do, and these should all be positive.

Beyond that, if there are people who don’t know what the idea is, or don’t understand why it’s important, well–these videos should make that clearer.

Will this spread like I want it to?  Will my one little raindrop be joined by others and turn into a rainshower? A downpour? A gullywasher?

Will other voices join my voice, or will it just be this one little voice? (Can’t help thinking of Barry Manilow.  Love that song, actually.  But I won’t post a video because the work he’s had done just makes me miss his 1970s nose.)

Maybe it’ll only ever be this one little video.  Even so–the Wisconsin Idea is out there. I know it is.  Want to help me show where?

 

 

Dear Jodie Foster: I got it (and it wouldn’t matter if I didn’t)

Update:  An article today  in The New York Times confirms–Jodie Foster’s REALLY FAMOUS 2013 Golden Globes speech was a scripted speech.  I was right that it felt intentionally structured.  I was right.  Did I mention I was right? Original post below:

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It’s been a long time since I watched an award show, but my husband was getting our son to bed last night, so I got to turn on the Golden Globes, which has long been my favorite awards show because it never seems to take itself too seriously, and just enough big stars always show up to make it fun.

I missed the beginning, so I missed some good Fey-Poehler moments, but thank-you universe, I got to see George Clooney canoodling Amy Poehler during the best actress in a comedy category moment.

And I got to watch all of Jodie Foster’s speech. Live.

And it made me cry. In a good way. Because it’s 2013, I said something on Facebook almost immediately, and then read a comment and HOLY CRAP–that speech was an instant controversy in a way something can be instant controversy only now, with all our immediate access and RESPOND RESPOND RESPOND modes.  I’m glad I wasn’t looking at f.b. or Twitter when she was speaking, because the people complaining might have colored the speech for me.

It’s a pretty Rorschachy cultural moment, apparently. People who watched the same speech I did thought it was incoherent, fragmented, confusing, and inappropriate. On Twitter and Facebook, people have said she was drunk. On drugs. Unhinged. Or sad. Perhaps in need of professional help.

So far, the only article I’ve read that gets it right (from my perspective) is this one from Salon, “Jodie Foster Comes Out, Gritting Her Teeth,” and even there–I thought she was having more fun than that.

In an attempt to figure out why people are responding so differently, I’ve watched the speech several times and analyzed the transcript. Here’s what I think–it was the tone and the pace and the lack of transitions that made people holler “incoherent!” If you watch the speech again, knowing what’s coming, or look at the transcript, it doesn’t seem so wacky. Or even very disorganized or fragmented.

Some caveats for my analysis: I love Jodie Foster. She could pretty much do or say whatever and I would be fine.

Caveat #2: the speech did feel zoomy to me, sort of flight-of-fancy-paced, but HELLO. I like that kind of zooming, that kind of doesn’t-feel-structured-but-it-is feeling.

What did we expect her to do? I suppose we would have expected a brief “thank you, this town has been very good to me, etc.” speech. Something like her Oscar speech, when she won for The Accused in 1988, a 141-word snippet in which she also thanks her mother. She said, “There are very few things: there’s love and work and family. And this movie is so special to us because it was all three of those things. And I’d like to thank all of my families, the tribes that I come from.”

In contrast, last night’s speech was more than 1,100 words. Nearly ten times as long. Lots of time to do lots more.

And I do know from incoherence. I’ve been teaching first and second-year college students for 25 years now. There’s incoherence (no main point, supporting points that don’t match main point, supporting points that don’t connect to each other), and then there’s subtlety.  I also teach creative writing, including creative nonfiction. There are ways to express ourselves that meander, that don’t add up to incoherence. I think Jodie Foster is more akin to Mary Paumier Jone’s “Meander” than a first-year disorganized essay, or a “bizarre” or “incoherent rant,” as many people are labeling the speech.

What she did, as I outline it, is the following:

  • Start with an insider joke (“Well, for all of you ‘SNL’ fans, I’m 50! I’m 50!”)
  • Thank the person who introduced her (“I want to thank you for everything: for your bat-crazed, rapid-fire brain, the sweet intro. I love you and Susan and I am so grateful that you continually talk me off the ledge when I go on and foam at the mouth and say, ‘I’m done with acting, I’m done with acting, I’m really done, I’m done, I’m done.’” MORE ON THIS LATER. IT IS KEY.)
  • Comment on winning a Lifetime Achievement Award (““Trust me, 47 years in the film business is a long time….”)
  • Announce that she is going to pull a rabbit out of a hat (“So while I’m here being all confessional, I guess I have a sudden urge to say something that I’ve never really been able to air in public.”)
  • Thwart our expectations (“I’m single!”)
  • Explain why she’s thwarting our expectations (After a weird moment without audio–I thought it was my TV, but the ABC transcript says “audio went out,” she picks up with “…be a big coming-out speech tonight because I already did my coming out about a thousand years ago back in the Stone Age….”)
  • Comment on culture in a joking way (“But now I’m told, apparently, that every celebrity is expected to honor the details of their private life with a press conference, a fragrance and a prime-time reality show. You know, you guys might be surprised, but I am not Honey Boo Boo Child. No, I’m sorry, that’s just not me….)
  • Comment on culture in a serious way (““But seriously, if you had been a public figure from the time that you were a toddler, if you’d had to fight for a life that felt real and honest and normal against all odds, then maybe you too might value privacy above all else. Privacy.”  That BUT SERIOUSLY does count as a transition, btw.)
  • Impart some wisdom (“There are a few secrets to keeping your psyche intact over such a long career. The first, love people and stay beside them.”)
  • Thank people who have helped her (“That table over there, 222, way out in Idaho, Paris, Stockholm, that one, next to the bathroom with all the unfamous faces, the very same faces for all these years.”)
  • Conclude (“I will continue to tell stories, to move people by being moved, the greatest job in the world. It’s just that from now on, I may be holding a different talking stick. And maybe it won’t be as sparkly, maybe it won’t open on 3,000 screens, maybe it will be so quiet and delicate that only dogs can hear it whistle. But it will be my writing on the wall. Jodie Foster was here, I still am, and I want to be seen, to be understood deeply and to be not so very lonely. Thank you, all of you, for the company. Here’s to the next 50 years.”)

What’s so fragmented about that? Just because she didn’t say, “Next, I would like to comment on culture in a joking way.”  Really? We needed that? “And finally I would like to conclude.”

I always tell students that transitions are for readers. They’re kind. They’re considerate. Jodie Foster wasn’t being so terribly kind and considerate, I suppose–maybe that’s why people actually seem offended by the PERCEIVED lack of coherence. We thought she was nice! We thought she loved us and wanted us along!

One reason I think this seemed incoherent is not because she was incoherent; I think it’s because she is so freaking smart. Who the hell tries to comment on culture and impart wisdom at the Golden Globes? Jode.

I don’t know that we’ll ever know if this was ad-libbed or totally planned or partly ad-libbed and partly planned or how sober she was. We just heard her thoughts on privacy, after all.  But it stands up pretty well to analysis.

And it’s hilarious in some ways, even though people were mostly NOT laughing at the right places (not at the Golden Globes and judging from Twitter, not in a lot of homes).  If we go with the notion that the biggest component of humor is surprise, we can see she was going for it again and again–starting with “I’m 50!” and tossing out the almost Schecky Green style of “my fellow actors out there, we’ve giggled through love scenes, we’ve punched and cried and spit and vomited and blown snot all over one another — and those are just the costars I liked.” (Someone should have done a rim-shot. Maybe if she’d slowed down and said, “bah dum bum” we’d have gotten it, but no, she was ZOOMING.)

Then she moved on  “I’m single” and then with “I’m not Honey Boo Boo,” which, if she’d allowed us to linger, could have taken us to layers upon layers of serious hilarity. Jodie Foster, beautiful, in a shiny dress that matched her great blue eyes, fit, strong, brilliant, no she is not Honey Boo Boo. But wow. If she did have a reality show….But we didn’t get time to picture it and giggle to ourselves because she went zooming on to “I’d have to spank Daniel Craig’s bottom just to stay on the air” (which he did laugh at–another reason to love him).

Then there’s all the deep irony of 1)coming out by thanking your longtime lover when HEY!  You just told us you weren’t coming out!  WAIT A MINUTE!  and 2)sending a message to your mother who apparently has dementia and is close to death, which is a pretty goddam intimate thing to do when you were just lecturing us on PRIVACY, 3)and also, there were your sons, which paparazzi are pretty crappy at grabbing snaps of, beautiful boys, right there at your table when you were just lecturing us on PRIVACY….

[And this actually wasn’t the first time she “came out” in public. I’m looking for the link, but she thanked Cydney publicly at least once before and called her her wife–and if her being a lesbian were a secret at all, it was a pretty open secret. I know some people have been angry at her for years for not “coming out” in a big way, but obviously, she wanted to do it her way.]

Caveat #3: I love Robert Downey Jr’s performance in Home for the Holidays, and Foster’s commentary on the DVD of that movie makes it sound like he ad-libbed almost constantly, and that she loved it.

So maybe I wasn’t as startled at the pace and lack of transitions in the speech because Robert Downey Jr. introduced her. He set the tone, and he set the pace. He was ironic almost all the way through, and silly, and almost no one laughed, it seemed, when he praised her for her philanthropy and the Jodie Foster Aquatic Pavilion, which he followed up quickly with a picture of her face photo-shopped onto Bo Derek’s famous “10” shot, with the caption, “Let’s Get Wet!”

He didn’t pause to let any of his jokes sink in. He just plowed on through.

And when she thanked him, she specifically mentioned his “bat-crazed, rapid-fire brain,” and “the sweet intro.”  You know what? The intro wasn’t sweet. It was, I trust, sweetly intended, since they’re friends, but it was mostly for her I think, an individualized, Robert Downey Jr.-ized chunk of what she would find funny.

She just picked up that baton and ran with it, and if we couldn’t keep up, well–we don’t get to hang out with them, do we? We’re not in their league.

Mel Gibson did look a little lost. I’d rather not be in his category of lost-ness.

But it says something, doesn’t it, that the two actors she chose to have at her table are not known for their clear-headedness and decorum? I take from this that she is loyal as the day is long and she has a fondness for the crazy. Both traits I happen to share.

I did feel dizzy at the end of her speech, no doubt, and the “I may never be on stage again” was a very weird moment, but we got a lot of Jodie Foster last night, more than I ever thought we’d get. Just looking at who was at her table–that was a lot, by itself.

She’s been in the public so publicly, so long, I’m not going to say “we got the real Jodie Foster!” There are layers upon layers upon layers there.

But in a room where she feels at home, where she can take whatever tone she wants and zoom however fast she wants, she ended with good news, “I will continue to tell stories, to move people by being moved,” and what I took to be the storyteller’s basic credo: “Jodie Foster was here, I still am, and I want to be seen, to be understood deeply and to be not so very lonely.”

She finished with “Thank you, all of you, for the company. Here’s to the next 50 years.”

That’s why it matters, right, why it was bothering me for people to react to the speech so differently than I did? Because I was, very distantly, keeping her company. I’m 47. Beginning with her picture on the Coppertone bottle (and I could write a whole blog about Coppertone, the very name working as a transporter, and if I ever smell it–wow, I’m gone), she has been a part of my life.

She was never not there.

I wish her well and I loved, loved, loved that speech.

Zoom zoom!

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UPDATE: Here’s a story from 2007 when Jodie Foster thanked Cydney Bernard. She isn’t quoted as having said “wife,” so I’m either remembering a different story, or remembering this one wrong, but this is from five years ago.