Monthly Archives: July 2014

Back to Kindergarten

July 27, 2014

Compromise was something that I didn’t consider a challenge for me. I believed myself to be a champion compromiser, to be sure. A smoother-over, a feather-unruffler, a furiously efficient enabler, that’s me. I felt like I had made a career of compromise.

Here is the question for me: Is it compromise if one party feels compelled to acquiesce all the time? Or almost all the time? If I think that nothing can run smoothly unless I am willing to tamp down on my wishes and plans in order to allow another to fulfill his (or her) plans, how is that compromise?

When you are part of a young family, compromise is the name of the game. Someone has to be willing to give in. It becomes a sort of a ping pong game, with each person taking a turn getting to be the compromiser or compromisee. And the lesson for kids is invaluable. None of us gets to be the King Decision Maker all the time. It’s give and take. That’s life, get over it. Or as they say in kindergarten, you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.

Later, when the little chicks have all flown the coop, you become a couple again. Hopefully. And that give and take should be even more simple now. Hopefully. No childish obstinacy to deal with anymore. No unrealistic expectations about how fair life is supposed to be. We’re all grown-ups now. Right?

Maybe some more time in kindergarten boot-camp is called for.

Visualize compromise as a person reaching her hand out across a vast divide. She is leaning forward as far as she is able to go and stretching out her arm and fingers in an attempt to touch the fingers of the other person, who is doing the same thing in order to grasp the hand that is offered. Maybe they are even standing on one leg in order to close a little more of the distance. That is a picture of two people giving their utmost to achieve a common goal.

There may be times when one or the other of the two has an easier time with the stretching and the reaching. One partner may be willing to exert more effort; one partner may have difficulty making an equal effort. That’s how successful long-term relationships work. They are flexible, they ebb and flow, and partners understand the give and take. Some mornings you’re the happy barista. Other mornings you might be the sullen customer.

Sometimes we get stuck feeling like we always have to play the part of the happy barista, even though it would be nice to be served our coffee once in a while.

Sometimes we get trapped in a relationship that is all give on our part, even though we all need to be takers some of the time.

Sometimes we find that we have become master contortionists, twisting ourselves into pretzels to try to accommodate a partner who can’t be bothered to even offer a glance.

At some point we have to ask “Why?”

How did I get to a place that I was sure that our world would fall apart if I put myself first? It’s been such a complicated journey that retracing it would be like unraveling overcooked spaghetti. Here is where I find myself and here is where the new journey must begin.

Advertisements

The Five Epiphanies

July 23, 2014

I’m sure we’ve all had them, those messages from the Universe that clarify life’s mysteries. Simplify, simplify, simplify. Pare it down, shave off the excess, get rid of the fluff.   Reduce that sucker right down to the lowest possible denominator to figure it all out. Right? Something like that.

Some people might call it a message from their Higher Power; AKA, God. That could very well be; I guess it depends upon your mindset. I like to think that once in a while I figure some stuff out myself.

 Epiphany the First: What’s In The Box?

My first epiphany came to me in the form of a dream. I’m not a great rememberer (not a real word, apparently. Tsk) of dreams, so the fact that this one stuck with me was a big deal. Okay, here goes.

In my dream I’m climbing a very steep hill. A road going uphill. I come to a fork in the road, and one fork continues up at that steep angle and the other goes down hill. I take the uphill fork, and by now I’m tired. But I keep walking up the side of this road, my feet dragging. When I get to the top, there’s a door in the ground, like a hatch (4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42) and the door is very heavy. It takes all my strength to lift it. When I lift it and drop it to the ground I look inside. In the hole is a large metal box, like a treasure chest. Again my strength is tested as I lift the box by the handle and bring it aboveground. There’s a lock on the latch, and when I touch the lock it opens. As I’m squatting on the ground, holding the open lock in my hand, I wake up.

Wait! I woke up without seeing WTF was in that box?! That is NOT the way it’s supposed to work! But . . . that IS how it works. We don’t get to take a free look in the box. We have to figure out what’s in the box. That’s your job. That’s your special purpose. That’s life, so go find your treasure.

 

Epiphany the Second: Everything I Need to Know I Learned From Yoda.

I don’t know how many of you have ever considered how wise Yoda was. If you are unsure, go now and watch your DVD of the Star Wars trilogy. The first three. No, not One, Two, and Three. Four, Five, and Six, the real first three. And if you don’t own a copy of Star Wars, shame on you.

Yoda’s wisdom is legendary. How about this gem: “You will find only what you bring in.” Wow. Here are a few more for you, translated:

“Already know you that which you need.”

“Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.”

“Always pass on what you have learned.”

“Many of the truths that we cling to depend on our point of view.”

“You must unlearn what you have learned.”

There is one Yoda quote that is by far my favorite. I try to live by this one:

“Try not. Do… or do not. There is no try.”

 

Epiphany the Third: There Is No Try.

So with due credit to Yoda, I present the third. “Anyone can do anything they want, as long as they want it badly enough.” Don’t get cute here and try to come up with ideas that disprove the truth of this epiphany. The fact is that we are all very good at creating excuses for why we CAN”T do what we want to do. But we are surrounded by examples of people doing what seems to be the impossible. What makes them different from us? Determination. Stubborn pride. Obsession. Stick-to-it-iveness. I made another word.

So what do you want to do? Learn to fly? You can learn to fly. If you want to learn to fly badly enough, what you’ll do first is figure out how to pay for flying lessons. That could be quite an ordeal in itself. That could take years. Then you may have to overcome a fear of flying. My point is that if you give up on the dream because it’s too expensive or scary, then you weren’t determined enough. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible, because difficult is not the same thing as impossible.

 

Epiphany the Fourth: Everything You Read Teaches Something Valuable.

The hardest part of writing for me is that it takes up time that could be spent reading. I’ve always been a big reader. Ask anyone who knows me, they’ll tell you. I need to have something to read, always. If there wasn’t anything else available when I was a youngster, I read cereal boxes. Is that an addiction? I don’t think so, but it has been at times a coping mechanism, an escape, a worry reducer, a distraction, a small talk avoider, a sedative, a conversation starter… I could go on and on, but that’s getting a little tiresome. You get the point: I like to read more than many other things.

My books and I, we have an agreement. They keep me company and make me smarter. I put them on my shelf when I’ve read them, reread them from time to time, and only loan them to people who will take good care of them. I’ve gone through phases and have decent collections from a variety of authors like Stephen King, Ken Follett, Jodi Picoult, and Nora Roberts (What? I have an affinity for Irish witches and Yankee shipbuilders. Don’t judge.).

Many Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew novels were consumed in my youth. I learned the value of being curious and prepared. My dad was convinced at some point that he could figure out the formula for writing a romance novel. He picked up a few and quickly grew bored with that idea. That was how I happened to read The Flame and the Flower, which was the start of my love affair with historical fiction, romantic or otherwise. I probably don’t need to explain what I learned from those ladies of the heaving bosom and gentlemen of the splendid manhood.

The thing is, you never know when some minor factoid that you pick up in your reading is going to come in handy. Could be at a party, or a job interview, or a date. It could lead to the start of your next great friendship. Or a career change. Or maybe it’s just entertainment this time, nothing wrong with that either.

If nothing else, you’re flexing your brain muscle, kicking those synapses into gear. Use it or lose it. Plus you never can tell when you might need to know the nutritional information on your Cheerios.

 

Epiphany the Fifth:

This may be rather anticlimactic, but I haven’t had a fifth epiphany yet. I say yet, because I’m sure there’s another one floating around out there waiting for my grab. I keep learning and messing up and figuring it out, all the time. So there has to be another moment of sublime mental clarity in my future. At least one more, right?

Just like a certain painting or a piece of music can speak to you in a secret language, whispering to you about beauty and perfection and oneness, so too can an idea reach out to you. And you’ll say, “Of course, that’s so obvious!” and do a face palm. But it’s only obvious after you’ve figured it out, after you’ve lived some life, after you’ve messed up an embarrassingly large number of times. Then you’ll be a guru. Just remember what Yoda said: Always pass on what you have learned.

Functional Dysfunction

July 21, 2014

What I’m having so much trouble understanding is why, at the point in my life that I have the freedom to do whatever I want (within reason), I can’t seem to figure out what it is that I want. Maybe I liked the yoke of responsibility. Perhaps I need something, someone to blame for not getting out there, getting moving, getting something DONE. I’m a coward.

That’s what it comes down to, I’m ashamed to say. I liked having an excuse for not following my dreams. For not even looking very closely at my dreams. For not even checking to see if I still had dreams.

My Third Epiphany was (I’ve had five epiphanies so far. More about that later.) Anyway, The Third: Anyone can do anything they want, as long as they want it badly enough. So once I realized that, there no longer was a viable excuse for not going after what I wanted. I just stopped thinking about myself as a living, breathing human who had wants and needs and DREAMS. I just became The One Who Takes Care of Others.

And now that I have removed the cap of the nurturing caregiver (whatever that looks like), I don’t recognize myself. I forgot what I like to do. Except read – I like to read. If I could go away to a deserted tropical island stocked with an endless supply of books, a comfy chair, my friend Mischief (canine), and a teapot that was always full, I’d be there in a minute. Just kidding, I can’t do that. Reason One: Sick mom. Reason Two: Needy Husband. Reason Three: My Kids Might Need Me. Reason Four: See Paragraph Number One, Above.

Before you say “Empty Nest Syndrome,” be aware that my kids are 21 and 27. This nest has been empty for so long that there is nary a feather remaining. However, my husband and I managed to develop a comfortably uncomfortable dysfunctional relationship known as co-dependency. Simply put, he depends on me to always be there for him, down to the smallest measurement of time you can think of. And in return, I gave up my individuality and became an extension of him. It didn’t happen quickly; we’ve been married 32 years. It was so subtle that we didn’t notice, especially him. Not until the last couple of years when I started pulling back a little, started looking for myself again. And so here we are in the middle of a robust mid-life marriage crisis, the depths of which we have just begun to plumb. In other words, it’s going to get a helluva lot worse before it gets better.