Tuesday, September 25, 2007

the best things happen while you dance

I want to hate reality t.v. Jimmy Kimmel said it all when he said that there are more people on reality t.v. now then there are people actually living in reality. But first of all, I don't hate it even when I expect to. And second of all, Dancing with the Stars hardly counts - what with the celebrities and all. I love this show. Each season I think - eh, I don't think they can make me care again. But then they win me over every time. I love that ballroom dancing is getting its day. I mean, you have to admit, it hasn't exactly been high on the cool factor in anyone's mind before now. And, really, with the tight pants and the way overuse of the words "hip action", I still wouldn't exactly call it cool. That's not why I watch it - or at least, that's not what wins me over.

No, it's the sheer delight. It's forgetting there is anything bad or ugly in the world at all because for those three minutes (might be more like a minute-thirty, because let's face it, they're new at this, and some of them are old) - but anyway, while they dance, they sweep me right up with them into another world. It's a Fred Astaire musical, it's all the best Disney moments rolled into one - it's the color part in the Wizard of Oz. I seriously welled a little bit more than once already this season. It really is beautiful, I think. So much to worry over and stress about in this life. So much to take too seriously - like ourselves. But then somebody gets on a dance floor in a beautiful dress, smiles like it doesn't hurt, and for the length of one whole song, tells us otherwise. Life is beautiful.

I don't pretend to be difficult to convince. But still. I dare you to watch it without smiling at least once (and not just because the pants are too tight). And if you really give in to their efforts to woo you, I swear you'll get off the couch when it's over and forget for a moment that you aren't one of them. I rolled my eyes at their audacity to have it on three night this week. But from the very first opening number, I could see how hard they were going to try and convince me they could dance my troubles away. And after night two, they've totally won. I believe them.

Just try it - just this once, Take a deep breath and say it. "I. Like. To. Move it." Don't you feel better now?

Friday, September 21, 2007

Cinnamon Trident, anyone?

I got a call from the school nurse yesterday. My 7-year-old wasn't feeling well, which I knew when he left that morning. When I went to get him he had that sad, sheepish head droop we have to wear as children when this situation arises, lest the grownups around us sense we are exagerating our symptoms and make us stay at school. I say exagerating because he really was sick - red throat, low-grade temp, "listless". But he had the head droop too which plainly said I could stick it out if you make me.

But I'm not that type of mom. My own mother kept me home part of the morning once in second grade simply because I couldn't stop crying. I had no physical ailment at all. And I don't remember now what was wrong. But she hung onto me until I had control of myself and then took me to school late. My children have her to thank for the fact that I'm more than willing to give them a break when they feel they need one. So John came home yesterday. And he stayed home today. (Although if I'd realized the miracle Tylenol Cough and Cold could produce, he'd probably be doing math problems at his desk as we speak).

His poor, sad desperation yesterday to prove to me that he was sick (all afternoon he kept reminding me how glad he was that I brought him home because his head really did hurt or he really couldn't move very well, etc.) reminded me how glad I am to be a grownup. Our entire childhood and high school years, adults try and tell us we should enjoy the carefree years because it's so much worse out here - presumably in the real world. I completely disagree. I like my freedom. I like having less to prove. And don't tell me we're not free because of our bosses or our children or our mortgage or our basic obligations to society as a whole. We are free.

We can carry our own pack of gum, any flavor we want, all the time and take a piece without asking. We can choose dessert even if we didn't clean our plate, and we rarely pass up any snack no matter what the time of day, how hungry we are not, or how fattening it is - if we want it. We go to sleep when we want. We read what we want, watch what we want, get in the car and go places when we want. We make choices every single day to mess up, speak slang, sound hateful, be lazy, or play Solitaire - just for 5 minutes! - while at work, just this once, because we can and we trust ourselves to repent, move on, and make the nobler choice the next time.

Getting that high school diploma really was one of the happiest bits of liberty ever handed to us, and it's just plain rude to tell our children otherwise. I suppose it's partly the kid in me that knows this, but: Being a grownup, rocks.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

little red dresses

So it turns out, yet again, I'm not dying. I've been waiting the last few days to hear from my surgeon because he and his team were comparing some studies of my shoulder to see if the new spots were somthing to be concerned about or just changes from the radiation I received last year. Having waited on answers like this before, and then not always heard the happiest news, I was trying to prepare myself for the not-so-good. I was wondering if maybe this time really would be the beginning of the end. It didn't feel dramatic in the moment, it felt real. The normal stressors of life don't matter so much when you're dying. They don't need solved, and you begin to wonder how long you'll even have to endure them what with the leaving earth and all that is probably so eminent. I begin to think about the purest and best things in my life and how best to suck the marrow from them in the time I have left. Now, like the day I found out my cancer had not spread, I find out I'm not dying at all. I'm quite alive. Which means - I gotta deal.

I still want to find the purest and best things and figure out how to give them the most of my time and energy. But it was easier when I was dying, because I could literally drop anything that wasn't pure and best. I certainly didn't have to think about it. Now I have to face every stressor. I have to face my own heart and attitude towards the stressors. I have to go ahead and keep analying the crap out of life like I always do - whereas when I was dying I could kind of think - well, I'll know all the answers soon, there's no sense trying to figure them out anymore.

I hope I don't sound ungrateful. I'm exactly the opposite. I'm so happy I'm not dying. And I'm so happy that I know what it's like to almost be dying. Because I know what it's like when the stressors really truly don't matter. Which will surely help me to face them - now that I'm living.

This is a picture from my little sister's wedding, which was my first big wonderful life event after finding out the first time that I was going to live a while yet. Those happy red dresses will always remind me of that time. In some ways living is harder than dying. But it sure doesn't feel that way once you realize you get to live.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

shoes and ships and sealing wax

I like things.

I used to feel badly about this, as if every material possesion I loved was one more thing between me and God. I don't feel that way now. When I touch or see or enjoy something beautiful, something tied to some great memory in my life, or something that makes me laugh, I feel anything but far from Him. See my beautiful Swedish candle holders? They hang in my window, two in this one, one in another. I love them because my friend thought of me all the way in another country, bought me these gifts, and carried them back across the ocean for me. I read once that when trying to reduce clutter, you must throw out anything that is not either useful, beautiful, or which holds sentimental value. I haven't achieved any such purging yet, but I try and think this way. These candle holders satisfy all the rules.

My grandmother recently moved out of her home and will be living with her children throughout the different seasons of each year. And during the move we all went into her home and sorted through her things. And we took what we wanted. She kept a few items for herself, but the rest of the house was up to us. As I carefully chose a gorgeous black elephant from her elephant collection and touched the bindings of each of her books, I couldn't imagine it - Outliving my love for things. I assume it will happen of course. I think surely we kind of let go slowly as we move closer to the next life.

I've found that my happiness is sort of tied to things, but not in a way that concerns me, or I think, would concern God. I noticed in college that when I was especially at peace, I then had a list of wants - always little things - a book, that CD I heard recently, a new journal and pen. It was as though the truly important things, love and friendship and faith, were secure and my soul was free to have a wish list. When the important things were rocky, I wanted nothing but for them to be fixed. I was too gloomy to wish.

So now, whenever I think to myself, "Oh wouldn't it by nice to have . . . ", I pause and smile at the sheer realization that I must be in a peaceful sort of place. And it holds true for the things I already have as well. If I can quiet myself enough to enjoy the shape of that beautiful black elephant and to watch the sun streak through the Swedish candles - it's very good. I will be able to let go of them when the time comes. But for now, enjoying them is a sign for me - that all is well with my soul.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

the Dharma initiative

I read here that we should all adopt the idea of blogging without obligation because once we feel it's obligatory we won't do it anymore. Isn't that just the way of us? I started a blog to find my voice. Which technically I can do with or without readers, but the "disciplining of my craft" I think will be better accomplished by some consistency. And then, I like readers. And I don't think you'll stick around if I don't update rather often. So I probably won't miss more than a day or two between posts. That said, I kept the last one up longer than usual because I liked it so much and because Matt called it a "delightful little piece", and that made me smile right down to my toes.

Now - today's is all punchline. One of my favorite lines in television history - and easily one of the most quotable in every day conversation - is from Dharma & Greg. She was trying to become friends with her mother-in law who was off to play tennis, and Dharma said, "Oh I love tennis! Well, not really to play . . . or to watch. I'm just really glad it's out there!" I quite agree - I like it in the background; it has nice noises. And here are some other things that fit so nicely into the Dharma category of my life:

I love dogs! Well not really to play with . . . or to touch. I'm just really glad they're out there.

I love New York City. I guess I'll never live in it, and I'm beginning to wonder if I'll ever visit. But I'm really glad it's out there.

Paris, London, George Clooney's villa in Italy, and the little country roads in England where sheep cross.. . . See above.

I love paychecks. Not really to think about . . . or to pursue. I'm just really glad they're out there.

Rock music. Not really to play . . . or to listen to. I'm just really Glad It's Out There.

Soccer, Alaska, Jeopardy, seafood, coffee, the evening news, fly fishing, and people who actually like to cook - - - G I O T.

Monday, September 10, 2007

if we all were quakers

John came home from second grade today with an informational sheet called "Author's Purpose". It taught that authors may write to entertain, to inform, or to persuade. Of course I pounced on it because I was wondering where I would find myself in this list. I don't think I found me though.
I was sitting in my living room looking at our movies recently, not because I was planning to watch one or find another one for my awesome movie-from-my-cabinet reviews, but because our doors are broken on that cabinet so you can't help but look at them - especially when I sit by my favorite window out of which I can see my front street and Dave's house (see 08/31 post). Anyway, I was looking over the titles, the comedies, the dramas, the suspenseful, the children's. That very idea of purpose struck me in that moment. I was thinking that probably every movie ever written, or book written, or painting completed - all that artsy stuff -It's because somebody thought they had something to say. It's like the whole world is a Quaker church meeting, and the art produced is one person . . . standing up. I know - some people seem to say such stupid things. But I bet they mean it. They probably have a mission statement typed out and laminated and thumb-tacked to a cork board by their computer, "Life is stupid. We might as well laugh."
The writer of Pete's Dragon had a wonderful purpose I'm sure. If nothing else, it has some very catchy songs. Which is the only reason I have that picture up today - because I've been singing one of those songs all day, the one in which the Dragon sings in his own language and eventually the boy answers, "I - love - you - tooooo." It has nothing to do with anything. Except that Jake, who's 1-1/2, he sang it back to me today. I almost kissed his cheek right off his face.
If I could bottle that feeling into a purpose and put that into my books, you can bet I'd be standing up.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

More things I love:

Friday night football is one of my favorite all time things. That is, high school football. I knew my husband when we were in high school. The number 89 still gives me a thrill because it was his - and in football, you gotta know the guy's number or you'll never know what's happening out there. A friend of mine wrote a poem about it once - (friday night football, not the number 89) - but I don't have his permission to use it, so I won't.
I also love small towns and their yearly festivals. I'm not in the mood to tell you all about how much I love them because unless you can relate, you'll just want to make fun. It's tempting I know, but there's just something about them . . .
More than anything this weekend, I loved my kids reminding me every moment how easy it is to enjoy life. The Corn Festival in my hometown takes up about one courthouse lawn - all sides, and then spills some into the adjacent school lawn and the streets on either side. Yet, after we had been there about five minutes yesterday, my oldest son said, "Man, we need a map." And during the tractor portion of the parade - that's where people drive by on tractors in case the phrasing threw you - my middle son was able to pause long enough from candy retreival to put a finger toward my face and say, "You little jokester! You said this parade was short!" Suddenly I remembered that to him, it may as well have been Thanksgiving Day by Macy's and to John, we may as well have found ourselves plunked down in Tomorrow Land looking for the Haunted Mansion (which is in the Fantasy Land portion of Disney World, you know, or maybe Adventure Land - I can't remember for sure because for that place you actually do need a map.)
Remember the days when it felt like vacation just to go to the movies for a night? Or even more miraculous to stay in a hotel - with a pool! Well I can remember it, because frankly, it's still true for me. It takes so little. Especially because just when I'm about to get all grown up and big city (I live in a town of 17,000, that big city comment is sarcasm) and mock the fact that at Dotty's Ozark Funnel Cakes stand I overheard someone suggest that the Cow Chip Bingo might be rigged, it's at that point that I think instead of how happy I've made my children for the day, and how fun it has been to see old friends, and how much Drew made me laugh when he told me to order him "A Root Beer if they have it, and if they don't have that then Sprite, and if they don't have that, then just keep going down from Root Beer."
If you don't know what cow chip Bingo is, this picture won't exactly explain it, but I will tell you that I can't imagine how you would begin to rig this game, and if someone did find a way to rig it and went to all the trouble of doing whatever it is you might have to do to rig it, well, frankly I'm just really grossed out and apalled.
There are plenty of times in life when you gotta settle for less, but this weekend for me was all Root Beer.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Another movie review from my cabinet at home

I love this movie. I love the actors. I love the empty checkbooks - children hungry every moment of the day - Hi-C splashing on the shirt reality of the thing, I love the rainy day in New York. I espcially love the concept. I totally believe in that whole "what a difference a day makes." I stayed home from work one day (back when I left home to go to work) and I watched this movie probably three times in a row. Another reason I love it is because it was completely dismissed in some article I read once as one of those movies these two actors made but probably wish they hadn't. Usually when the critics say a movie is too much fluff - I'm there.

One Fine Day is like Pride and Prejudice condensed into one 14-hour period in New York. They are put out with each other from the first moment, "If you'll excuse me, I have a day." But they are attracted to each other of COURSE. And then they need each other and then they tease each other and then they thank each other and then he forgets about the fish and she spills the spaghetti sauce (and jumps back so adorably in her little lounge outfit - I attempt to imitate this scene almost weekly), and in the end the Wizard of Oz song plays in the background.

And, seriously, it's worth it just for the bag. We love the bag, my Mom and sisters and I. Whenever I manage to have exactly what my child needs for any given moment, I call it a Michelle Pfeiffer moment. I mean, she creates superhero costumes out of the items in her purse! And when George Clooney says, "Where do you get a bag like that?" I mean - it's just brilliant movie direction. I don't actually ever have those moments. I don't really even try to. I'm lucky to have diapers in tow. But I still so love that bag.

This movie is exactly what the title implies. I can't technically relate to any given part of it - I don't work in a skyscraper in New York, I'm not a single mom, I've never met George Clooney, and I do NOT have the bag. But it still inspires me to expect serendipity, which is both the word that means "a happy accident" and the lovely little ice cream place-slash-novelty shop featured in the movie.

If none of that moves you then surely, surely, you can appreciate the part where she thinks he has forgotten her name (which is Melanie), and he turns around, walks back to her, leans in , and says "I know your name, Mel." Which I think is the most beautiful little moment describing what it feels like when someone chooses you.

Who wouldn't love this movie? If you don't love it, I think it's because of your Captain Hook complex. No such thing? Yes there is. And you have it.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Know when to fold 'em

I wonder if Jake gets up in the morning and thinks, What are my toys doing back in those baskets? Now I have to scatter them all over the floor like I like them aGAIN. It would be strange I think to wake up every day to the world back in order without having had to do it myself.

I do a lot of mundane activities several million times a day and wonder sometimes why I don't ever pick one of those ducks up and just throw it - gently and humanely - out of the row. You know, "If I have to put this Blue's Clue's puzzle together one more time . . . !" (And, yes, this picture is of geese. But it's soothing to me, and the duck one was . . . animated.)

When I just had one child but was still in that stage where that seemed like a lot (silly me), I was complaining to Mom about living in a 24-hour disaster zone, and she gave me the best advice: Pick one little part of that zone - like the living room, and pick it up ten times a day if you have to, so that there is always one place that stays controlled and peaceful. It worked brilliantly and over the years I've added other parts of the house to the plan so that almost the whole thing stays in some semblance of order at any given - I don't know - quarter - of the day. (That's right, it's not a million times a day, or ten, I get exageration from Mom too.) So now I've added a second part to the advice: Do all of those things have to be done ten times a day? Maybe one of those ducks could go.

I released one the other day. Until then, I had kept a little glass vase on the child-size wooden table in the family room. It had an artificial bouquet of red flowers and baby's breath. Jake took those flowers out and dumped them on the floor every single time he got a hold of them. And every single time I saw them on the floor, I picked them up and told myself - he's not going to win. This is just one little feminine touch I am determined to keep in this room, and it's worth all the times I have to pick it up. But the whole thing began to wear me down. The fake baby's breath was all dry and flaked off all over the carpet every time it was terrorized. The bouquet looked less like a bouquet and more like a stick drawing of a bouquet every time I stuffed the stupid thing back in there, and it finally seemed like one thing I really didn't have to do several times a day. I could free myself of it and let Jake off the hook. One day I'll replace it with a bulkier flower maybe that doesn't flake and maybe doesn't even come out of the vase . . . I'll find a way. But for now, there's a little red car on that table, and I'm perfectly fine with that. It's so much easier to pick up.

More . . . on writing of course.

I finished A Wrinkle in Time. I loved the concept about fighting darkness and how artists are people who have done this over the years - well, them and Jesus. Now I'm reading this book, Gilead, because I've heard it recommended more than once, and well - it won the Pulitzer Prize. I don't think I really know what a Pulitzer Prize is because I was surprised to find myself reading a book that had actually won it.
In Gilead, the writer says that when you write, "You feel you are with someone." I never thought of it that way. I thought I wrote to feel alone. Or at least, to thoroughly explore ideas with only myself listening, because myself is so agreeable and encouraging toward my ideas. Even this blog, which has proven to have a reader here and there, (hi, Mom!), I usually begin it with one sentence in mind. I think to myself, "I love Thursdays." And then I think, If I keep writing about Thursdays will I eventually hit on the ultimate meaning of life and perhaps solve all the world's problems and my own mood all at once?
I was alone for a couple of hours yesterday. And I just love being alone sometimes. The quiet is so restorative. But in those moments I always wonder if I only enjoy being alone then, because I don't usually have to be. And then I worry about getting old and my children moving away and my outliving my husband, as wives tend to do, and I wonder if I will hate being alone in those days. How typical of me to add the bitter to the sweet.
Anyway, even though I thought I wrote to be alone, I think I was wrong. I write here because I'm trying to matter. I write in a journal for my children because I hope they care one day. I write books because I want someone to read them. And even my journal - I'm not just writing to my future self. I think deep down I hope one of my children's children's children - you know.
I haven't read very far into Gilead yet. But it's a lovely book. Just a bunch of wonderful thoughts written lyrically and woven into a story. And I've been thinking that if I could write just one book in a lifetime that was so worth reading, I'd feel proud. "You feel you are with someone." I think maybe that is true. At least, when I write, I think I'm hoping someone would want to join me there, eventually.