Monday, August 29, 2016

wholehearted parenting

Lately I've been reading work by Dr. BrenĂ© Brown. If you aren't familiar with her, she is an author, speaker, and research professor who has spent the past thirteen years studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. You want to improve your life? Listen to her talk about those four topics (like in the audiobook The Power of Vulnerability) and I promise you will hear yourself growing!

I think I like Brené so much because I am a touchy-feeley-empathic person who appreciates evidence, where she a sociologist-sciencey-research person who appreciates empathy and provides evidence in a language I can understand. Because I feel so strongly about the importance of her work, I will probably write more about particular topics that resonate with me. Today I am writing specifically about parenting.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

politics, musicals, and compromise

"You can't always get what you want."

A true statement and a great Rolling Stones song that was oddly used by one of the political conventions. Which is weirdly appropriate, because it is a GIANT understatement when it comes to politics. Especially this election year.

"You can't always get what you want."

Anyone who has lived past kindergarten has figured this out the hard way.

At some point most of us learn that to move forward in life, we have to compromise. Sometimes it's not that hard, like choosing between hamburgers and hot dogs at a cookout when you'd hoped there would be steak. Sometimes it's only a matter of giving up some minor standard or even choosing "none of the above", like refusing cake at a party because it's commercial cake from a grocery store bakery and we prefer only scratch cake made with pastured butter, free-range eggs and gluten-free locally-milled einkorn flour.

But sometimes we have to choose between A and B when we don't like either option and a choice HAS to be made. Maybe A and B are actually totally appalling to us and we'd really like to choose C or D but they aren't that great either and actually don't stand a chance in hell of happening. Sound familiar?

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

moon landings, birthday cake, and hope

Today is a special day - my brother's birthday. Ray and I are more than siblings. We're friends, confidantes, partners-in-crime, each other's best audience, best critic, best support, best humorist, best ear, best shoulder. In his honor, I am posting a story from my book "Leaving The Shallows", a story I wrote about his 2nd birthday. Happy Birthday bubba - I love you to the moon. And back.
It was the summer of ‘69. July 20th to be exact.
I was 5 years old. I lived in a small, safe town in a small, safe house, with my little brother Ray and with our parents, who loved and cared for us, who loved and cared for each other.

I was unaware of the tumultuous world outside, of Kennedys and assassinations and Chappaquiddick, of presidential elections and Zodiac killers, of Vietnam and civil rights, of sit-ins and bed-ins, of oil spills and invasions, of midnight cowboys or that Dorothy was dead.
I didn’t know people with darker skin were treated different from me.
I didn’t know people hurt each other. Especially not people in families.
But I did know two things: It was my brother’s second birthday. And it was a night when the world was going to change forever.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

stories and gems and cake

I wrote something new.

That shouldn't be monumental news. I write every day. After all, I'm a professional writer.

But I don't write for myself enough. Don't write enough about the things that move me, that move you, that matter at a heart level.

I decided the only way to change that is to put myself in situations where I have no choice, commit myself to a deadline and either sink or swim.

Apparently passion and ability and the whooshing of time flying by are not great motivators for me. But embarrassment at not fulfilling a commitment? That will motivate me every time.

I had great success with the piece I wrote about my experience with postpartum depression. I read this at the Sottile Theater in May as part of Listen To Your Mother Charleston.

But I haven't written anything since. Not really.

So when I heard about a reading sponsored by Truth Is and set at a brilliant dessert place in West Ashley, I didn't even stop to think it through. I contacted fellow writer and organizer Karen Mae Black and said "count me in!"

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

weird as me: friends, stories, and David Sedaris

I wrote a story for David Sedaris.

Let me clarify.

David Sedaris is a pretty good writer of stories. If you haven't heard of him, he's sold a few books (9 books, >7 million copies), traveled a bit (lives in North Carolina, England and France and shops for culottes in Tokyo), shares his humorous tales with a few audiences (sold out houses), speaks regularly on a few radio stations (NPR and BBC ring a bell?), and has been featured in a few local magazines (local if you live in Manhattan or, you know, the world).

So David Sedaris does not need my story. But when I had the chance to meet him in person a few weeks ago, I had one ready for him, just in case. Because he collects stories like some people collect, I don't know, whatever collector type people collect. And I like to be prepared.

Now, meeting David Sedaris isn't that unusual. He is a gracious author who loves to interact with his fans and autographs books before and after his concerts. He takes time to compose and often draw very personal (and sometimes hilariously obscene) autographs in the books people bring for him to sign. He enjoys talking to his fans. He remembers really detailed things about people because, as he told me, "That's my job."

But my meeting him was a bit more personal. Because as luck would have it, Mr. Sedaris and I have a mutual friend. Our mutual friend is a most remarkable woman but someone you've never heard of and probably haven't met. If you have met her, it is unlikely that you've had a conversation with her because that's not how she rolls. She's a lovely person, and you would be lucky if she felt comfortable enough to talk to you, but usually she just wouldn't. Unless you're unusual. Both of us have a fear of meeting new people. Both of us have a thing we repeat every time we have to meet someone new: "Please let them be weird as me. Please let them be weird as me."

Which is how she and David Sedaris became friends. Weird x 2.

And that's how I got a more personal and private opportunity to interact with Mr. Sedaris. And why I was all ready with a funny story in case I had a chance to share. Because he is a collector of funny stories. And I didn't want to be the friend-of-a-friend who bombed on the meet-and-greet.

He was gracious and funny. He signed a couple of books for me. He gave us lots of his attention and time. He even kept looking at me thoughtfully and asking me if we had met before. I thought of lots of funny and inappropriate responses to that question. (After I got home, of course.) 

But as it turned out, I didn't get a chance to tell him my story. I guess I could have imposed on him and made him listen to my story about Emerald Isle as I related how I knew his family vacationed there and acted like a regular star-struck stalker. But I didn't want to be a fame whore. I also had the dignity of my friendship to maintain. And I'm sure he gets enough stalkers.

But it's still a funny - and true - story. So before I forget it, here goes. Mr. Sedaris (and my lovely rare friend KG), this is for you.


Years ago I worked in arts management and decided to attend Duke University's graduate program in Nonprofit Management.

Now, Duke University is in North Carolina. I am in South Carolina. Fortunately for me, since it was a certificate and not a degree, Duke offered the classes in week-long intensive sessions at artsy places like Wildacres Retreat.

Unfortunately for me, they were intensive group sessions requiring a lot of team work and sharing and talking to new people and relating on a deeper level than I felt comfortable. We can't have everything, can we?

The last session that I needed to finish my certificate was held at Trinity Center on Emerald Isle in North Carolina. This is a beautiful area by the sea, very rustic and simple with cabins and chapels and lots of areas for roaming.

One afternoon, after a particularly grueling group-work session, the instructors decided to give us a break. I couldn't get out of there fast enough.

I really wanted to go hide in my room and recharge my batteries from all the talking and interacting and being personable that I had been forced to participate in. But I had a roommate and said roommate decided to stay in our room and read, so that eliminated my peaceful alone time.

Most of my colleagues had struck out over the sand dunes to relax on the beach. My complexion and the beach don't get along very well, and the idea of spending my break with more people chaffed me. I grabbed the blanket off my bed, took off across the road towards the beach, but detoured just before the sand dunes to a lovely green patch of grass with a bit of shade. The perfect refuge.

I arranged my blanket just so on the lovely green grass. I took out my notebook so I could pretend to be taking notes and jotting down deep thoughts. Then I put on my darkest sunglasses so I could take a secret nap instead.

Just as I was getting settled in my little patch of heaven, I caught a horrible sight in my peripheral vision. A person. Walking straight in my direction.

Maybe he's heading towards the beach and is just lost, I thought. Maybe I am being paranoid, I mused. Maybe if I just ignore him he'll disappear, I hoped.

But no. He walked towards me with intent, his bouncy gait and toothy smile irritating me with every step that brought him closer.

"Hey! how ya doing?" he asked.

I propped up on my elbow. I kept my glasses on so we couldn't make eye contact and I smiled - just enough of a smile to be sort of friendly, but not so much of a smile that he might feel invited into a conversation.

"Hey, pretty good, thanks," I replied. We chatted, made the dreaded small talk, discussed the coursework and the people in our groups.

He continued. "That was a pretty productive session we had before break. What did you think of it?"

"I think you should leave me alone."

That's what I thought. What I said was, "Yeah, it was really intensive." Then I saw my out. "Actually" - I tapped my notebook - "it was so intensive, I wanted to make some notes about it before I forgot, you know, kind of get away from the fray and have some quiet time to think about everything we discussed..." Dot. Dot. Dot.

This was total BS. I didn't want to think any more. I wasn't intellectual. I was exhausted and I wanted to take a nap on my blanket on the grass like a toddler.

I smiled a dismissive smile. He smiled sincerely in return.

"Of course! I totally understand," he replied, his hand in the air. "I'll leave you to it, but I thought I should probably come over and let you know that you might not want to put your blanket here."

I looked around me. The camp ground was across the two-lane highway from me. I was well off the road, near the dunes that stood between me and the beach. It was pretty and shady and green. I tried to imagine what might be wrong.

"I'm sorry - is this not part of the property?" I asked, not wanting to do anything that would get me in trouble but reluctant to get off my claimed turf.

He shook his head. "Oh, no, it's part of the property. I mean, if you want to stay there it's perfectly fine."

I relaxed, glad I wasn't going to have to fight him, hoping now he would go away.

"It's just...." he continued, "the reason the grass is so green there is that you're lying on top of the septic field for the camp ground. Enjoy your break, see you this afternoon!"  He gave me a friendly nod and headed back across the road.

All I wanted to do was get away from people and their crap, and my perfect chosen spot was literally a field of human feces.

I moved.

Later that day I was able to work this into an object lesson with my group. I hesitated to share it, thinking I would seem like an idiot, but it was funny. Somehow learning to laugh at my own arrogance and bad decision, and letting other people laugh at it too, made me feel...included. The week ended much better than it started.

As I've aged, I've learned to choose an imperfect situation over one that is suspiciously fertile every single time. Because it's probably funnier. And less likely to be full of crap.

Friday, April 22, 2016

creativity, fear and the dream deferred

Is it ever too late to be what you might have been? To take your dream out of the box and put it back in motion?

Sometimes, unfortunately, it is.

If you dreamed of playing for the NBA but you are now 43 years old and overweight, then yeah, that ship has sailed. Sorry...

But what about the other things we aspire to, desires we've long held, dreams that aren't limited by age or weight or time?

In A Dream Deferred, poet Langston Hughes speculates about what happens to dreams and desires that are put aside for later.
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
When I first read this poem in high school, I assumed Mr. Hughes had covered all the options. When a dream is deferred, it is somehow destroyed, ruined, kaput. Get it, got it, good.

But now that I have lived longer, I think maybe there are other possibilities.