Room for Joy

As I wrote in my last post, I’m making room for my present life by letting go of much of the past. It’s a slow process, because handling each of items I’ve surrounded myself with, from clothes to books to mementos, means I’m also dealing with the emotions attached to them.

My focus is driven by a few ideas that have stuck with me.

What We Leave Behind

As you get older, more people you know and more people they know, die. Estates have to be processed, possessions sorted and distributed. For years, I’ve heard about the nightmare that the process becomes – from bickering siblings to overwhelming hoarding and undue burdens passed to the next generation.

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We don’t have one of these, but we have an impressive number of flashlights.

My husband and I are the products of working class families. There are no heirlooms or antiques that have been trundled along from generation to generation. So everything we’d leave behind would be something with which our daughter would have to deal. I like my kid and I’d prefer her resentment of me to end sometime before the grave and not be something that would linger for years after – unlike that voice in her head that sounds remarkably like me.

Sometimes that divvying up of a loved one’s possessions helps to process grief, but more often than not, it ends up in a storage garage someplace to be dealt with by a reality TV show or a relative who didn’t much care for you when you were alive and has even less feeling for your stuff.

There are things that I do want to leave her. A journal I started writing soon after she was born – all about her development milestones and lessons that I might have missed passing along to her in daily life. Pictures – digitized, sorted, clearly labelled and easily transported (via USB stick or DVD). My wedding ring – the band that I had to stop wearing after I got pregnant – a symbol of the love her parents shared, but of so little monetary value as to put all this wedding hyperbole into perspective.

These are, coincidentally, the same things I’d grab in case of a fire. Maybe. If the family and cats are out already.

Burning Bridges, Shredding Ties, Letting Go

I’ve been slowly sorting through photographs. Scanning, labeling and saving them takes a lot of time. There are services that do this. They’re often pricey and my guess is that you’d give them all your pictures, since it is so convenient. I’ve decided to take the harder route, because it’s my thing. I figure that if I have to look at and decide if I’m going to spend 5 minutes scanning them, I am likely to eliminate more.

canstockphoto22009649Easiest to eliminate are scenery photos. There are always better quality pictures on the internet. A pedestrian camera, combined with my weak photography skills meant that many are fuzzy. Now when I travel, I tend to buy postcards. Those are usually professional photos if I need to remind myself where I’ve been.

Old flames. I have some couple pictures from the past, hesitating to let them go for the sake of my memory. There’s one with the very first person I was engaged to. We were young and so damned perky. But I freaked over too many hints from him, involving hordes of children and white picket fences. I wasn’t ready. But our romance was sweet and we both have our own families now. Those photos make me smile, so I’ll scan them in.

canstockphoto8098470There are pictures from a serious relationship where the dude was a drunk and abusive and I hadn’t quite cottoned on to the fact that I might have daddy issues. Most of the pictures are of us at bars, parties and beer fests. Might have been a hint. I don’t get a good feeling from those pictures. He wasn’t as attractive as I remembered and each picture has a story. Oh, that was the night he punched a wall and broke his hand. Look here, on a beach in the Mediterranean, where he refused to speak to me for half the trip because of a jealous rage. Why would I give five more minutes of my life, scanning in my shit history? Shredded.

In some ways, it feels like I’m sanitizing my past, but I’ve already learned the lessons. I don’t need a reminder that I made bad choices. It just feels like bad juju to hold onto that stuff, even in digital form. I’m not good at forgiving myself for mistakes, so it feels ritualistic – all that shredding and destroying of things that remind me.

Joy, or a Facsimile Thereof

The book that helped kick off this decluttering bender was Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. She’s a little extreme for me. Since I’m someone who prefers deadpan delivery over hyperbole, the word “joy” seems over the top. Still, if I translated into my language “muted pleasure” or “benign contentment”, it’s a concept that works. We should derive pleasure out of the things we possess. Not surface satisfaction, but a real acknowledgement that we want this particular thing in our lives and if it’s not exactly pleasure, then it must serve a current, useful purpose.

canstockphoto9987395The environment in my study is now a little uncomfortable. Everywhere there are books I like, things I’m currently working on and items that bring me aesthetic pleasure. The psychological weight of stuff – the bad memories, the shoulds, these things no longer deliver a mental flick every time I turn around. There is space physically and mentally, that I did not have before. I am loathe to refill it and am determined to keep reminding myself I have everything I need. Maybe the joy is en route and I just need to sit in this awkward room and listen for its arrival. Now that I’ve got the space.

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Room for Imagination

canstockphoto7052527I’ve been spending the last week doing a typical new year task – clearing my house of things. Most people who know me will tell you I’m an organized person and when I say my house is a mess, it’s not as visible to others. I’m one of those people.

Most of my cleaning and organizational habits evolved from my childhood, where cleanliness meant control and control meant less anxiety. It was, I thought, in my nature to be a creative slob, but between an OCD parent and years in the Army, my nature was suppressed, mutated and is now clearly unrecognizable from the kid who lost everything. Gone is the child who cleaned by shoving things under the bed, until the pile crept across the floor, like a slow-spreading moss.

Something was lost, even as I learned to keep track of everything. I spend a lot of time keeping things under control. De-cluttering is treatment of the symptoms, but not a cure. The cure is bringing less into one’s home in the first place. The cure is asking yourself what things represent to you and learning that they are not you. The cure is asking yourself, what problem am I trying to solve?

There’s a level of shame and fear associated with my possessions. Many things I bought so that I would never run out, a consistent fear birthed by growing up in poverty. Other canstockphoto41129839things are bought as a magic pill – looking to an outside source to fix a problem when I don’t trust myself to solve it. There are some things that bring me undiluted pleasure – books, pretty stationery, and good pens. But even then, too much of a good thing waters down one’s appreciation.

I’ve read books by a few of the gurus of organization and minimalism – Peter Walsh, Leo Babauta, and Julie Morgenstern. Now, I’m listening to the latest popular organizing book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo. I downloaded it from my local library, so thankfully, not another acquisition.

canstockphoto10368894Yesterday it took several hours to go through all my clothes and to put back the ones I liked and wore. I folded the KonMari way, modifying methods to fit the space I have. I have to admit, my wardrobe looks good. The real test will be maintenance. I have a couple of bags of clothes to take to a nonprofit thrift store that benefits people with differing abilities.

Seeing what I am getting rid of will remain a stark reminder in my head moving forward. Aspirational shopping. Shopping to feel better about one’s self. Shopping because someone made a comment about what colors look good on you or hearing some offhanded, disdainful comment about casual dress. Decisions based on trying to solve a problem that might not have been a problem at all.

What I have left are the things I’ve always worn, always felt comfortable in, always appreciated – jeans, sweaters, t-shirts, blouses, and of course, fuzzy socks. I am easily seduced by color, with same items in different colors, but my wardrobe reflects my life now – not a life imagined, not a life envied, not a life to impress.

Consumerism poisons the well. Things get marketed to us to fix our flaws, including products that tell us we have too much stuff. There is an irony in the number of books and websites and products that promote minimalism. It’s as twisted as the green movement – convincing us to throw away items for more environmentally friendly wares.

I’m embarrassed to say that I’m still learning to resist the game. When we suffocate and drain this planet of its resources, I won’t be able to stand on principle, but I would be able to stand on the mountain of stuff I’ve purchased and discarded over a lifetime.

Still, recriminations are not useful. What has been useful to me is to think about the psychological impact of having this stuff around me. Thinking about where I got my ideas about possession and ownership, imagining what it would be like to not have things – what would I feel?

So much of what I own is about intent and failure to follow through. I intended to really get into Japanese ink painting. I took a class, bought the supplies, got a couple of books. Now those things sit, sulkily staring back at me everyday, reminding me of yet one more thing I will likely not master, or even practice.

The weight is there and it takes up space not just in my office closet, but in my mind. Every time I see it, I think I should…maybe when…why didn’t I… such a dilettante. It reminds me of a flaw to fix, a problem to solve, and the shame of not completing yet another task. Except it’s not the only thing. Boxes of photos unsorted. Books unread. Materials for projects never completed. So much head space filled with regret, disappointment, disgust – with all the physical reminders to prod me every day.

canstockphoto19779919I write this, as I struggle with the next phase. My books. My many, many, many books. I love books. I love reading them, touching them, being surrounded by them. I love the library and bookstores and online perusing. The presence of books makes me feel wealthy, smart, and full of potential. Their purposes, to impart information, to comfort, to entertain have been outweighed by my pathology of never-ending hunger.

I intend to read all of my books. Someday. And the weight of that intent has filled my space. There is little room for much else. For new ideas. For imagination. For the creativity borne out of time and space not filled with entertainment, impulses easily met, stuff yelling at me to stop ignoring it.

As I sort through them, I see myself bared open – all my wishes and dreams and struggles. Fitness books and cookbooks. Self-help books and books on meditation and depression. Reference books for any subject that caught my interest over the years. So many writing books, many in pristine condition.

Sending them off to the library, secondhand bookstores and Books for Africa will take the edge off. But I know this process is less about the stuff, and more about making room for my life now, making room for that creative slob.

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2016: A Few of My Favorite Things, Part 2

I was trying a little exercise in gratitude with these posts, in an attempt to pull 2016 out of the crapper. Then I came down with a head cold. Welcome to crabby gratitude. Part 1 is here.

The Teacher Becomes a Student

Last month, I started tutoring high school English learners. I’ve not done it before and I’m still figuring out how to be useful. But it lit a spark. Over the years, I’ve studied French, Spanish, German canstockphoto7037830and served as a Russian linguist in the Army. I was stationed in Germany for a couple of years. I learned a little Tagalog from an elderly man who worked in the hotel laundry with me while in college. I picked up some Arabic from an Egyptian friend with whom I used to ride the bus downtown to work. My husband has attempted over the years, to teach me the Swedish his father taught him.

I have bookshelves filled with dictionaries, etymology textbooks and word histories. In short, I love language – any language. My latest challenge is learning some Somali. The Twin Cities has the highest Somali population in North America, so I have opportunities to practice. Proficiency is rarely my goal, but I love the reaction when someone hears their language – even the most botched effort can make them smile.

I get on my high horse about foreign languages, because interest in learning them speaks less of aptitude or proficiency and more to curiosity. In a time when nationalism is rearing its ugly head, curiosity is the antidote. Curiosity about others, their cultures and their languages, leads to empathy and connection – and to an environment where isolationism and bigotry cannot flourish.

Devotion, Passion’s Quieter Friend

canstockphoto7136037This year, I’ve attended more live music performances than I have in the last decade, thanks to my daughter. She’s playing in four orchestras, including one that plays rock music by ear. She’s begun to write her own music, laying down piano, glockenspiel, ukulele, viola and violin tracks, using our living room as a makeshift studio.

You hear about people having a passion for something from when they’re very young. I never knew what that looked like or thought about how I’d parent should one show up in my living room. I was never like that, bouncing from hobby to the next great idea with reckless abandon. Which is why I am almost 50 with no career, but an abundance of interests.

It seems weird to have a child who never has to be told to practice, but does have to be told to put her mute on at 7am. Her blissful faraway look, cheek pressed against instrument, bow drifting back and forth – it does something to my heart to watch her.

It has made me think as well. Is it true that I have no passions, no driving need to excel at any one thing, no commitment? When I look back, I’ve always done four things in my life: read books, played music, wrote incessantly, and tried to learn foreign languages.

canstockphoto10265804Reading is a series of endless gateways through which one can walk. One thing always leads to the next. There is no end to the knowledge or the hidden gardens one can stumble upon. Reading was also a lifeline for me. Introverted, growing up in a dysfunctional home, it was my escape and a promise that there was a better life out there. I’ve never regarded it as a passion, but as a necessity.

I’ve always written, but have never been a writer by profession. From silly poems and plays in grade school, to writing for and editing my school paper. I went on to jobs where I found places to write mundane departmental newsletters, manuals and websites. It doesn’t feel like a passion. It feels like second nature. Perhaps I simply take it for granted.

canstockphoto25554786For 40+ years, I’ve played the flute. I taught lessons to help with college expenses and get my instrument out whenever nostalgia hits me. I am good at reading music and have the discipline of practice, but I do not love playing as much as I love listening. It is simply the history of self I carry along.

Passion is often described as a devotion. I like that quieter definition, because it makes it easier to name what one is passionate about.  As I look at my history, what emerges is a devotion to learning and to expression. It’s something to think about going into the new year – what are you devoted to and what are you doing to honor those devotions?

Last, but Not Least, Favorite Things

It turns out that my favorite things of the last year were not things at all, but people.

I’ve spent most of the year somewhat depressed – functional, but muted. Part of it was the psychological impact of the negative political discourse. The other part was that I was feeling pretty damned useless as a human being. I dropped out of sight. I took a lot of long walks by myself. I cussed a lot more. I kept grasping around me for something to take hold of and to believe in.

On a positive note, I was not recruited by a cult.

My family allows me the space to be – a small miracle, considering how much time I need to be alone. And when we’re together, we enjoy being there. My friends are much like the tides, drifting closer and farther away, depending where we are each at in our lives. We’ve gotten good at letting each other off the hook. Guilt-free friendships are a gift. Thank you AB, EB, JL, KS, MS, and SW. Thanks for being there (and not there) for me.

Lastly, to the bloggers, readers and commenters here at The Green Study, thank you. I’ve enjoyed the many conversations over the last year and look forward to the year ahead. I’ve met some of my favorite people in blogland and look forward to continuing and new friendships.

Best wishes to you all in 2017!MichelleSig copy

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2016: A Few of My Favorite Things, Part 1

It’s been a tough year all around – from the natural disasters to the human disasters, I’d be delighted to set the 2016 figgy pudding on fire.

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Yeah, thanks for nothing, humans.

With the election, the takeover of our country by corporations and zany billionaires is fait accompli. But our representatives are hard at work. Even now, some of our congressional circle jerkers are fighting to have cow milk named the only true “milk”. I can’t even say we the people without choking up a bit. Self-evident truths are no longer evident. We are being gaslighted.

There’s no denying that this year was shit, but I still managed to find some light. I’m going to share some of my favorite things this year over a few posts. That is not to say that they were released, created or designed this year. I go at my own pace. Sometimes that pace is decades behind.

I’m going to share my favorite things from 2016 and I’d love for you to share yours. You can do it in the comment section or, if you choose to write your own favorite things post, send me the link on my contact page and I’ll add it to the bottom of this post.

Dead Celebrity Bonding

Living in the Twin Cities, the year was about Prince’s death and Garrison Keillor staying semi-alive with political essays in The Washington Post, but not on A Prairie Home Companion. I didn’t really connect with either artist/celebrity, although I can air guitar and yowl through Purple Rain with disturbing alacrity.

canstockphoto27307354My “discovery” was Isaac Asimov. I read his autobiography, I, Asimov: A Memoir over the last month. While I’m neither as smart or astute as Mr. Asimov, I suspect that it was his self-awareness and social skills that I related to most. He’s a very straightforward sort of fellow. I’m not a heavy science fiction reader, but some of my favorite essays and nonfiction works are by writers in that genre.

Good Intentions for News Retention

I’m trying to raise my reading game – reading less online and allowing myself to absorb information in a slow, meandering way. After reading The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr, I began to think about what information I was actually retaining from my internet safaris. It was very little, disconnected from context, and a complete waste of time.

canstockphoto13401142One of the other problems this year was the constant drumbeat of how awful the media has become. While there may be some truth in it, the news suffers from the very thing that our products do – consumers want everything the cheapest way possible. And we get what we pay for. I used to rampage through 10 or 20 online publications, reading full articles until the site yelled at me that I’d used up all my chances to be a cheapskate that month.

My answer to all of this was not inexpensive. We’re cancelling Amazon Prime for 2017, so that’s how we fit it into our budget. I’ve paid to subscribe online to my local paper, which also included a free subscription to The Washington Post online. Offline, I picked two publications that I now pay for in hard copy: World Literature Today and The Atlantic. I’m still trying to break my news gallivanting online habit, but reading more in-depth reporting makes online click-baiting seem much less palatable. In terms of brain and cost-effectiveness, I hope it enriches my knowledge of the world and contributes to reporters doing their jobs well and getting paid for it.

Exercise for the Uninspired

It’s been a tough year to stay motivated about getting regular exercise. I’ve had to make huge adjustments because of my knees and experiencing IT Band Syndrome (Runner’s Knee). Too much running and jumping for this old broad. That being said, I’ve discovered a few things that have inspired me or at least kept me moving.

Kinesiology Tape – There are a zillion arguments among exercise and therapy experts about whether or not this stuff works. I used it to get me through some particularly painful rehab walking. If it’s a placebo, I don’t care – it still felt good and looked pretty. Using online instruction guides, I taped my knees. It felt like enough support without having to wear bulky velcro braces that impeded circulation.

canstockphoto6461923Neila Rey’s 100 No Equipment Workouts destroys any excuses regarding the need for special equipment in order to exercise. The book is based on a website DAREBEE, a nonprofit fitness resource. What I love most about the book is that the exercise routines are clearly laid out, easily modified, and can be referenced online for proper execution.

I’m turning 50 in 2017 and that, in correlation with the many injuries I’ve experienced in the last 10 years, means that I’ve got to have a come-to-Jesus talk with my body about exercise. Yoga has to be a regular thing and not something I do when I’m feeling lazy. I also came across this book by Karl Knopf called Core Strength for 50+: A Customized Program for Safely Toning Ab, Back and Oblique Muscles that is useful.

Without regular exercise, I turn into a bit of a nut job. It helps to balance out all my wonky brain chemicals. When I was in my 20s, it was more for appearance and numbers. In my 30s, I felt like I had something to prove. In my 40s it rapidly became about function. In my 50s it will definitely be about function. I spend a lot of time around elderly people and still being able to move on your own steam is a big deal. Strength, balance and flexibility training can make all the difference.

Reviewing this post, I have reminded myself that I am not a fun person. Exercise, reading, crabby politics? Woo-hoo. Maybe I’ll do some organization and housekeeping tips next. How to have healthy feet. What the next super-grain will be. Hang onto to your seats. Prepare to be underwhelmed.

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Premature Glee at the Holidays Almost Being Over

This morning I was wrapping the last few Christmas gifts and humming carols. It’s the happiest I’ve felt in about three weeks. Last night was my in-law Christmas event. Tonight we have a small eve dinner with my mother-in-law and then, on Christmas day, my husband, daughter and I spend the whole day padding about in our jammies.

And then, the day after, everything gets cleaned up and put away. Holiday boxes get canstockphoto8088029lugged up to the garage rafters. Nobody will attempt to foist their tarted-up joy on me. I don’t have to throw elbows to avoid hugs. I don’t have to smile for pictures. I can wander off and no one will notice and ask me if I’m okay.

This year, if authenticity is to be lauded, I’ve been a very good girl. To the point that I may not be invited to any holiday events ever again. And that makes me so very, very happy. An introvert’s bliss.

2017 is going to be a good year for creative spirits. Our politics will be shit and we’ll all possibly die during a Putin-Trump dick measuring contest, but we’ll be inspired. Art flourishes under duress.

I have no resolutions except to find my own way, to not be sidetracked by shoulds, to find kindred spirits with whom to survive the attempted destruction of values that I hold dear. To stand up when needed. To intervene when required. To dig in when asked. To hope for that which seems improbable.

On that note, I’d like to say thank you to those who have subscribed to The Green Study, to commenters and to anyone in general who have tripped over this blog on your way to somewhere better.

Happy Almost End-of-the-Holidays!

 

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The Quiet Desperation of the Middle Ages

canstockphoto6752521It’s hard to write or talk out loud these days. I’ve disappeared on friends, but talk to strangers just to know that I still can. I dread the question how are you? because I fear that a flood will pour out. At first, I thought maybe I’d simply had too much solitude. Re-entering the world after periods of quiet is like walking after roller skating. Gliding replaced by a toddler’s gait.

Then the election came, a demoralizing event that made me rally the get ‘er done troops in my head. I started volunteering again, hoping the humility of service would soothe me. And I committed to finishing the rewrites on a novel. I created challenges when I was already playing in the weeds. Sometimes I’m my own worst Tony Robbins.

My body decided that if common sense and rational thinking wouldn’t slow me down, it would jump into the fray. My knees revolted against weight lifting and running, only allowing me a limp that smelled like Tiger Balm. My eye condition came back with a vengeance, leaving me afraid to close my eyes at night. Every single one of my joints began to ache. I started to wail in my head about aging and Minnesota winters.

I walked the red carpet to a massive pity party.canstockphoto2438668

But I live in Minnesota, so I automatically think: it’s not so bad, could be worse. Nothing like experiencing passive-aggressive depression.

I’ve arrived at a junction in my life where all roads look like they’ve been traveled before. Dried up goals tumble across deserted expanses. The discarded skins of youthful hopefulness lay curled near the skulls of dreams past. I’ve lived through a zillion depressions and unaccountable bursts of energy and pulled myself out of swamps and over precipices.

Persistence is often lauded as one of the qualities that lead to success. Except if that persistence is something akin to beating one’s head against a wall. Even if you eventually get through that wall, you’re going to end up pretty bloodied and exhausted.

On an earlier post, I’d written a pithy comment about being “grateful for the struggle”. An honest friend, in the midst of her own struggle, said Really? I think it sucks. I felt a little embarrassed. I know it sucks and I am exhausted by it. Expressing gratitude in the middle of despair is like living in a shitty little house and hoping that a new coat of paint will hide all the drywall patches and lack of structural integrity. But I’m afraid that if I let go of trite positivity, my house will fall down around me.

canstockphoto9420051Insecurity and fear have been my bedfellows of late. One of my volunteer gigs is to help in an office that supports volunteers. My superhero persona is “File Girl” (because all women superheroes suddenly become girls, doncha know). File Girl spends hours filing paperwork with alacrity and remembering that in the decades of office careers, she used to be a contender. I feel the weight of aging and irrelevance and a desperate need to remember that I’m competent.

Physical changes trigger a fear unlike any other. I’ve had the fortune of good health most of my life. My body has been a true workhorse for me. I’m used to strength and endurance, all of which are fading by degree. I’m having trouble adjusting to the new reality, my workouts an uneven jumble of doing what doesn’t cause pain. I’m desperately trying a new regimen of supplements and stretching and kinesio taping to keep moving.

Last week I self-consciously sat next to a teenage boy in a classroom of body sprays and attitude. He’s an English learner who I’ve been assigned to tutor, but he turns his body away and ignores me. I glance about the room. Five kids are furtively texting. Two are sleeping. The rest are in a variety of sprawls across desks with attached chairs. Desks that try to corral and contain.

Being in a high school 32 years after I escaped my own is a bit of a trip. The more things change, the more they stay the same. It reminds me of how painful it is to figure out who you are, trying on and discarding personas and friends and ideas. Becoming middle-aged carries the same issues of discovery – the uncontrolled physical changes, trying to figure out where you fit in and irritated that you spend so much time on stuff that won’t even matter (gym class and Christmas card lists, in case you are wondering).

canstockphoto16610014As a teenager, I spent a lot of time daydreaming and imagining possibilities. I’ve spent nearly five decades eliminating many of those possibilities and discovering that I will not, indeed, become an omniscient librarian with ninja skills and a penchant for rugged, but fleeting lovers.  I’m a bit of a suburban lump right now, grateful for my little house, my stable family and a room full of books. What I’ve lost in passion, I’ve gained in binge-watching entire seasons of shows that are cancelled on a cliffhanger. I’m worried that is how my life will end.

The canons of epiphany suggest that I should go wild or eat, pray, love myself out of complacency. There’s not a lot of guidance for those of us who stay in place, cling to our families and believe that change can come in increments. The problem with incremental change is that it is so minor as to be unnoticeable. Nobody is going to be inducted into Oprah’s book club for adding more beans and greens to their diet or meditating five extra minutes in the morning. Nobody will be playing me in the movies. Unless I get axe murdered or come down with an incurable disease.

canstockphoto22044551At the bottom of my despair, this thought creeps over me: This is how it ends. Laundry and dishes and filing. A bit fat and unaccomplished. People saying pithy things at the funeral. People I loathe shedding tears and making scenes. Prayers being said for my atheist soul. My possessions scavenged, my life in an urn.

And that makes me laugh a little bit. Because if that’s how it all ends (and inevitably it does), there’s a few things I can drop off my to-do list. Like being relevant or having something to prove. The elusive teenage cool of saying screw it, but with wrinkles, a credit history and a barely discernible will to live.

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Holiday Leftovers: Humble Pie and Yard Signs

I had a great post to write, all about the goody-goodness of love and the sugary-sweetness of compassion. But I had a bad day yesterday. Humility has been my theme this week – all about the reminders that I can be an asshole on occasion. Not even that, but someone who abandons her principles because she’s too damned tired to do the right thing.

It started with a bell ringer. I stopped donating to the Salvation Army years ago, when controversies arose around its hiring practices, as well as some of the money going towards anti-LGBTQ legislation. Fortunately, there are plenty of efficient secular organizations that do good.

canstockphoto2643653But there he was, outside of Walgreen’s, ringing his bell and saying “Merry Christmas!” The wind was the kind of cold that chills you from the inside out. I’ve never cared what holiday greeting people use. Obviously, if you’re Merry Christmas-ing me, you’re likely a Christian and I’m not, but I said Merry Christmas and dropped a couple bucks in. I really just wanted to give the money to him. It’s a shitty job.

I thought about that a lot. The thing with bell ringers outside of stores is that there is a shame factor. Yes, I just spent $12 on hair dye and chocolate, but I can’t spare a dollar for people who don’t have money for hair dye and chocolate? That’s how they get me. I have to avert my eyes from a real human being, clutch my little bag of luxuries and get to the car, where I shame-eat all my chocolate. On a good day, I look the person in the eye, say “have a good day” and keep on walking, recounting to myself all the inclusive organizations I do give to.

May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.

Nelson Mandela

On the whole, I consider myself an old-school feminist. It’s easy to get sidetracked by how other people define the term and sometimes I mumble when I say it. The harder side of feminism is learning to undo the lifelong toxic thoughts I have about other women. I find myself thinking, and sometimes saying, horrible things – things that intellectually I know are wrong.

Yesterday, while talking to a friend, I made a disparaging comment about another woman’s appearance. The friend called me on it. Shame swept over me. I don’t generally notice or talk about people’s outward appearances, mostly because I don’t want to be judged that way and again, intellectually, I know that our culture is sick and bloated with these kind of judgments. But I was cranky and not really in the mood to talk and I say awful things in those circumstances.

So, to write a post here today, about love and goodness and principles of compassion would be, to put it mildly, hypocritical. The short tale I would have told would have been this:

canstockphoto12873243I took one of my daily walks through a neighborhood just off my usual route. In one of the yards there was a sign: “We Choose Love”. I’d been wrestling in my mind about another Trump appointment and was feeling a lot of hatred. That sign made me stop in my tracks. My eyes welled up. So simple. So perfect. The reminder that I had to make a better choice and that love was an option.

There was another house displaying the sign, where a woman was raking up the last of autumn leaves. I said “Excuse me, but where did you get your sign?”

She laughed. “I ordered a bunch of them for our neighborhood and put them on the curb with a FREE, TAKE ONE sign.” And she gave me one.

I carried that sign, feeling a little foolish, the rest of the way home.

We don’t put signs in our yard, much like we try not to wear clothes with logos or put bumper stickers on the car. It’s just our thing – no advertising. So I asked my husband hesitantly, if he’d have an objection to me putting the sign in our yard. And I asked my daughter, whose school bus of feral middle schoolers drops off in front of our house. No objections.

I put the sign up and it felt awkward. Were we trying to look pious and self-righteous? Were we making a political statement? What was the point? The only other sign on the street was a Trump/Pence sign and I wondered if I was being passive aggressive. I started to think about semantics, why the we and why not just choose love. That sounds like a command, and not at all loving. Leave out the word choose and the empowerment is gone.

Then I reminded myself what it had done for me – a simple reminder that we have a choice about where we want to put our energies. It may do nothing for anyone else, but every time I leave and re-enter my home, I am reminded. Especially on those days when I let myself down.

canstockphoto6853838Since putting up the sign, we’ve started to notice them at other places – at schools and churches and in the occasional yard, like a quiet network connecting and nudging us towards our better selves.

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