Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Joy to the World

I admit I’ve become more than a bit “Bah Humbug” about Christmas.  I’ve been that way for years now, and this year seemed like it would be even worse with personal financial and other woes and the generally miserable state of the union and the world.  Not exchanging gifts with friends and family because we didn’t need more stuff yielded this year to not exchanging gifts because I’m too broke.  All three holiday parties I’d looked forward to in December ended up being rescheduled until January for various reasons.  I wasn’t the only one not feelin’ it.  As one of my friends posted on her Facebook page, with all the busyness and added burden, “I will be glad when the holidays are over.” As another put it, “We’re all running around trying to make everything so special, we’re not making it peaceful.”

But lo and behold, I’ve gotten my Christmas spirit back.  I put up a tree, and even decorated the house a bit. I watched Christmas in Washington on TV.  I listened in the car to my all-time favorite holiday CD, Etta James 12 Songs of Christmas.   

Best of all, I went to a drive-through winter lights show with my friend Elsie and my four-year-old goddaughter Annabelle.  Both Elsie and I were weary from work but we wanted to do “something holiday” together.  We went out for a casual dinner first, and Annabelle was her usual delightful self.  She generously offered to share her stuffed animal puppy Rudolph with me (her mom explained she had named quite a number of stuffed animals Rudolph recently). As has become a tradition with us each time we get together, she always reaches magically into her pocket and pulls out stickers for me, then carefully places them on my sweater, and never has any expensive gift meant more to me than the love of those little fingers patting down an odd assortment of stickers. They were treasures to her, and I received them as such.  She also gave me a Christmas card she had created for me including even more stickers, with two new photos tucked in, one of her with Santa.  She opened the paperback books I got her for Christmas with gratifying excitement (they featured various favorite characters enjoying snowy days—I’d gone in circles for nearly two hours in the children’s section of the bookstore trying to find just the right ones).  Later, as we walked back to the car (well, I walked, she skipped) with her hand in mine, she told me told me she had been dreaming about me. I told her I dream about her, too.

From the turnoff into the state park to the light show entrance was a bit of a drive, and the lights didn’t start away.  Annabelle pronounced the dark forest “spooky,” prompting her mother to ask, “Spooky good or spooky bad?”  Without waiting for a response, we switched to distraction mode—Elsie making a funny ghost noise and I riffing on something, I don’t even remember what—I said it was “RIDICULOUS.”  Both of these things tickled her no end and for the next hour of our excursion she begged her mother to make the noise and me to say “RIDICULOUS!” each time setting her off into peals of laughter. 

I reached into the bag I’d brought and pulled out an M & M cookie for each of us.  As I passed one back to Miss A. in her car seat, her mother looked at me and said in alarm, “she doesn’t like those,” and as her daughter’s little mouth turned down and she shook her head in disappointment I mentally kicked myself, knowing I’d had other flavors of cookies I could have brought instead.  Sucker!  They both started beaming and I knew I’d been had in an impromptu mother-daughter skit. 

Once the cookies and then clementines I’d also brought had been distributed and devoured, Annabelle asked if there were any more of the cookies.  I told I was sorry, but no, all I had left was water.  (I got credit from her Mom for having thought ahead to her disinclination to load A. up on too much sugar at night.)  She hopefully asked if I had any more surprises and again I said, “Just water.”  L-o-n-g pause, followed by an emphatic declaration from the back seat, “I LOVE water!” I duly passed it back and she guzzled it down like it was elixir.

We continued on our merry way at 2 miles an hour through the lights of Teddy Bear Land, oohing and aahing at lit swans on the lake, and nutcracker soldiers standing at attention.  The Subaru’s tushy warmers were on, we were giddy and giggly, and we sang along to a radio station playing 24/7 Christmas carols.  Annabelle informed me that she didn’t get to see me enough; I agreed wholeheartedly, and we decided that we should talk on the phone more often.  She pressed her mother to be sure and write my number down for her so she could call me herself.

Such pure joy in these moments when they occurred, and every time I remember them a smile breaks unbidden across my face.

The next day I had a nice talk with my Dad on the phone, catching up.  I called and swapped a few stories with my mom a bit later. Then I went to a get-together for Christmas cookies and conversation with friends in front of a lovingly decorated tree and roaring fire, and the moon came up nearly full, before sunset, as we approached the winter solstice.   

I didn’t stay too late, as I was meeting my son for dinner, always a treat.

Life is good.

♫♫♫♫
Through the years
We all will be together,
If the Fates allow
Hang a shining star upon the highest bough.
And have yourself a merry little Christmas now.
♫♫♫♫ 

Monday, December 6, 2010

Oh, Baby

I went to a baby shower last weekend for the daughter of two close friends.  It was a tea party, so much fun, especially the part where we all oohed and aahed as the expectant mommy opened gifts, from hand knitted blankets to adorable little onesies to colorful changing pads to jungle print crib linens. 

I couldn’t help but think, though, that there were some very important gifts Lesley Jane didn’t get.  New parents, listen up and add these to your gift registry:

New York Times bestselling book, The New Parent’s Guide to One-Handed Living: How to Do Everything While Perching Baby on One Arm.  Hah hah, just kidding, you won’t have time to read a book for a looong time.  If you try, you’ll find yourself reading the same paragraph over and over again as your attention is pulled away, you make your way back to where you left off in the book, and then your attention is pulled away again. 

Random House’s new iPhone app, The New Parent’s Diet Plan:  How Eating with One Hand Can Help You Lose Weight, Gain Muscle. (Just a tip: switch off every week or so or you’ll bulk up only on one side.)

Hudson Trail Outfitter’s kit, How to Survive on One Shower a Week and Other Camping Hygiene Shortcuts.  This little shindig we’re all at celebrating your impending baby’s arrival? It’s the last time “shower” will be part of your vocabulary for a while. (And as for “bath”—for you, that is—well, hah hah hah!)  Part of this handy gift kit is a bottle of no-water soap like you get when you’re a hospital patient.  When you finally put your little darling down for the night, quickly pour this over body and hair, rub in a little, and stumble off to bed yourself. Running comb through hair is strictly optional. (Comb Not Included.)

Noise-reducing headphones.  These are to accompany the sleep-guru-du-jour’s book you’ll be following on getting your child to fall asleep by herself.  Also good for drowning out the conflicting advice well-meaning relatives and more seasoned moms and dads will be giving you.

One-ton roll of bubble wrap.  Say goodbye to all your hip, geometric, sharp-edged furniture, the glass coffee table, the striking fireplace hearth.  It’s all rounded surfaces and soft corners from here on. 

High-speed Internet connection.  If by some chance you’re living in the dark ages and still have dial-up, change now!  It won’t allow you to simultaneously surf the web in a panic and speed-dial your pediatrician the first year every time Junior gets a cold.

Five-year gift certificate for carpet cleaning company.  Or you can just do what we did, when the apple juice stains reaching straight through the padding to the sub-flooring get too bad, put the house up for sale.

Caffeine of the Month Club gift membership.  This thoughtful gift makes sure the new parents have plenty of their favorite stimulant on hand, whether it’s triple shot espressos, Red Bull, or Red Zinger.  You’ll need it. 

Costco-sized case of Band-Aids.  These are for you, not your child.  They’re for injuries you’ll sustain installing child-proof cabinet hardware all over the house, and later for injuries you’ll sustain when you try to open a cabinet like a normal person forgetting the child-proofing is on and snapping your finger like a twig.

Press-on nails.  You will not be giving yourself a manicure for about 5 years, and if you’re foolhardy enough to try, you’ll be sporting sloppy streaks of color over your knuckles.  And trust me, you won’t have the time or the money to go out and get a professional manicure!

Anti-nausea medication.  Again, this is not for the baby, this is for you.  If you’re one of those people whose gag reflux is sensitive to the smell of vomit, you’ll want to keep this with you—or better still, in your system--at all times.

Tide Stain Stick.  Buy in bulk for cleaning up milk, baby food, and bodily excretions on that new suit you got for when you meet with the board of directors at work.

Babysitting gift certificates.  This is for real the best present for any new parents. 

A new heart.  You’re going to need a bigger one to hold all the love you take in and give out to this life-changing little miracle.  






Photo courtesy of Leslie Jane Moran (no, not the pregnant Lesley Jane, another one!)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Thankful

I’d be remiss if I didn’t take the opportunity of the holiday to say what and whom I’m thankful for.  Both the serious and the silly. I urge you to come up with your own list (and share some of it in the comments section of this blog)!  Here goes, with only the first few in any particular order…

For my son, who has become such a fine young man, as he starts to make his way in the world of adulthood, and who doesn’t roll his eyes at me as often as he used to.

For the rest of my family, especially for good and improving health.

For my friends Judy and Dana, whose warmth, humor, sage advice, and good food nourish me beyond description.

For my friend Elsie, who has done me the most extraordinary honor of naming me godmother to her smart, funny, lively daughter Annabelle.

For my friend Beth, whose move away I still mourn, and for our long phone conversations punctuated with booming laughter and lots of memories of good times together.  (Notably road trips on which we get to gabbing and laughing so much we have been known to veer hundreds of miles off course.)

For all of my other friends who are the woven-together blanket that keeps me warm and the carefully compounded medicine that keeps me sane.

For the new closeness to my young adult niece that has come this year, an unexpected blessing.

For my son’s father, and his wife and their spirited and adorable daughter, and his sister, who are my extended family, too. 

For my neighbors whose beautifully groomed gardens frame my haphazardly maintained rock patio, and who are so kind with things like shoveling my walk after the snow.

For the squirrels that scamper around my neighborhood and especially the one outside my front door I say hello to each time I walk outside. (I’d like to think it’s the same one each time.)

For Mother Nature’s generosity for one of the loveliest and balmiest autumns in memory.

For Facebook’s facilitating my reconnection with some special people from my past, although Facebook itself is really getting on my nerves. (Good morning, what new crazy-driving feature will be there today when I open it?!)

For Twitter, which I like a lot more than I thought I would.

For the return of scripted TV to the networks and cable.

For safety. 

For the fact that I have a job, when so many others do not.

For the beauty of art, and those who create it—visual arts, dance, music, theater, writing—because it lifts us up. And for those who fund it!

For blueberries, to which I’ve become addicted, and whose “superfood” presence in my diet allow me to pretend I eat healthily.  And for the fact the juicy wet blueberry that just fell on my chest as I ate while typing this fell on the purple part of my shirt, not the white part.

For books, and for the gift of sight that allows me to read them.

For flu shots.

For La-Z-Boy, for inventing the recliner. 

For the comma, an underappreciated and sometimes maligned little curlicue. You are always there for me; there’s no one else like you; I can’t live without you.

For no significant new surprises this year in the effects of aging on the human body.  Well, maybe except for that one rogue hair on my chin…And the arthritis in my fingers. 

For WAMU and NPR and Pacifica Radio/WPFW, on one end of the spectrum, and Bravo TV on the other.

For flannel pajamas and fuzzy slippers. 

For people like Tina Fey and Ellen Degeneres, who make me laugh.

For the wombs of warm pools and for water yoga.

For my spiritual journey.

For my SunBox, which helps me get the sunlight I need in the winter when the season is not so generous with it.

For my son’s landlord, who still hasn’t installed the washer and dryer at his place, making my son come home for a few hours each weekend to do laundry.

For all the tail-wagging, wet-nosed-kissing doggies who allow me to stop them as they’re out for their walks, so I can get some doggie love.  Oh, and for their patient owners, too, who are sympathetic to the fact I am currently between doggies myself. 

For heroes, who give us hope. 

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Library Lover

A book I was reading late one night mentions a woman in a library. Suddenly, I’m transported decades back to the small, historic New England town library where I spent much of my childhood. I grew up there, in the town, yes, but perhaps even more so in that library where I spent so many hours browsing and reading, and whose bounty I brought home to transport me to worlds far away.

At the back of the upper floor were the main adult stacks. Every letter of the alphabet beckoned with a thrill. On the first aisle to the right, I pulled down every book by Pearl Buck, Agatha Christie, Ian Fleming and Erle Stanley Gardner. On the first aisle to the left I found Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and on the second aisle the riches of the travel books, which also exposed me to adventurous women, from Emily Hahn to Cornelia Otis Skinner. Back to the left was the Dag Hammarskj√∂ld book on the UN.  Far to the right rear was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I shared with my father a love of Robert Ludlum books back when Bourne was a character in a book, not a film series with Matt Damon. I traveled back to the Hawaii of centuries ago and crossed a Mideast desert in a caravan with James Michener. All of these and many volumes more shaped my future adult sensibilities.

Will the places the Internet can take young people ever replace the vast worlds inside that small public library?

At the middle of the stacks on the back wall was that much loved (by me, at least), mammoth precursor to the PC, the mighty card catalog. Drawer after drawer of index cards on thousands of books, the card catalog was the key that unlocked the great treasures of the library. 

At the circulation desk an assortment of women with eyeglasses, hair in buns, cardigans over their shoulders, played keepers of the gate. Despite their stern demeanor if you were a library patron imprudent enough to raise your voice in that sacred space, they also were my heroes.

My mind jumps back further still to the lower floor of the library. To the left, the young children’s room, where the magic of The Secret Garden, Mary Poppins, Caddie Woodlawn and all the Oz books captivated me, and the We Were There books were my earliest entrees into history. The picture book section enchanted me even after I was older, with Babar the Elephant, The Lonely Doll, The Five Chinese Brothers (not at all politically correct now) and another whose title escapes me but I remember in a fond blur, involving a truck full of turnips.

In time, I moved out to the older children’s and teen’s room, where the furniture got taller and the books expanded my world even further, and I discovered the wilderness with White Fang and my keenness for mysteries with Nancy Drew.

I used to want to become a librarian, but realized that what I would have loved—helping people find a book they or their children would love or needed—has become a more hands-off exercise involving database searches, less so a friendly face at the information desk who would pore over the shelves with you, touching volumes reverently before pulling one or two off triumphantly to hand to you. I suppose today’s library is more democratic, as there really is no more gatekeeper, but I miss those days nonetheless.

I am saddened by the fact that my son is not a library lover like his mother. Yes, I took him to the library from the time he was an infant: we took out stacks of books and attended story times, and I read to him and he read to me for years. And it isn’t that he doesn’t love to read. But for research, instead of going to the library he goes to the Internet, and his college library—rarely frequented-- is a place for quiet study rather than the glory of books. For pleasure reading, he goes to the bookstore or orders online. Perhaps when he has children of his own he will rediscover and remember his youthful enchantment with the library as a place where you can not only find what you’re looking for, but stumble upon surprise after surprise.

The town I live in now has a huge new library, a massive atrium soaring up to the second floor. I miss the cozier feeling of a smaller library, though I’m sure the employees are happy to have the larger, updated space. It’s the closest library to me, but I often go instead to one further away where I can still park near the door and lug a heavy bag of books to return or to take home and devour, where the ceilings are lower and the furniture older, but the feeling of magic is somehow still more present.

I yearn to go back to my childhood library but fear I would be disappointed. I just went to the library’s website, though, and found this mission statement: “To enrich the community by connecting people to the world of ideas, information and imagination in order to support their work, education, personal growth and enjoyment.” Perhaps I would still be right at home there after all.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Alive in the Artisphere

Once again my blog is saved from gloom and doom.  This post was going to be about what a rotten time of it so many of us seem to be having these days, how tough life has become, the grave troubles of the world…So I picked myself up from my navel gazing and went out to remind myself of the beauty that flourishes alongside the blues.

I went to an art opening.  Arlington, Virginia is home to the new Artisphere, a series of lively multi-function arts spaces in the old Newseum building in Rosslyn.  After treating ourselves to dim sum beforehand at China Garden, my friend and I rolled across the street to the weekend-long open house.  The building was bustling with performances and visual arts.  I wasn’t blown away by the latter but the former made my trek to the other side of the river well worth it. 

As I browsed one exhibit, I noticed people gravitating to a lobby area.  Lemming-like, I joined them, to see across the atrium a group of a half dozen dancers performing on a staircase.  I was mesmerized by the beauty of the tightly spaced, measured movements, the elegance of every perfect leg extension, the gauzy skirts over the women’s leotards and the muscles on the male danseurs.  I almost wept with the loveliness of it.  Bowen McCauley Dance Troupe is stunning.  Encore! Encore!

Not long after wrenching myself from my viewing perch after the dancers departed, I roamed into the ballroom to await a performance from Joe Falero and DC Latin Jazz All Stars.  Lo and behold, as more people came in and joined me sitting on a bench built into a wall opposite the stage, several of the dancers who’d just performed ended up sitting next to me, so I was able to tell them how much I appreciated their performance.

From the quiet grace of the modern dancers we now spun into the excitement of music that digs inside the audience and stirs the spirit.  As the band hit the ground running, a couple moved onto the dance floor who we pegged for pros, instructors.  It was bliss watching them move, the woman a dead ringer for Judith Jamison, a white leotard sharp against her chocolate skin and a bright Caribbean-looking skirt that swung sexily as she did, the man a ham and a half but a skilled one, clearly enjoying himself mightily; their pleasure at each step and swing was infectious. As the musicians hit the high notes with salsa, mambo, bolero, cha-cha, with each number more and more people ventured out to move to the music, until for one salsa there were on the floor parents with babies in their arms, a man in a wheelchair rolling happily around, a woman with a gimme cap and fanny pack setting the floor on fire, a couple obviously freshly graduated from dance lessons, and they all looked awesome.  For all of them, and all of us swaying in our seats uncontrollably, it was pure art elevating the spirit.

It didn’t matter what anyone was wearing.  Dance shoes shared space with loafers, work boots, sandals.  Long flowy skirts that moved with lithe bodies shared space with blue jeans on plump bottoms and khakis on scrawny legs.  Two little girls, emboldened by their Mom dancing happily alone on the floor among all the couples, pranced out onto the floor, grabbed her and danced together.   It doesn’t matter if you’re short, tall, fat, thin, lumpy, sleek, everyone is beautiful when the music infuses you and pulls you up on your feet, and you move under its thrall. Each beat better than the last, bongo, congas, sax, and more, Latin flavor fabulousness--Joe Falero & DC Latin Jazz All Stars, thank you!

I came to heal, and heal I did, heal we all did.  On a gorgeous autumn day in an industrial space just over the Key Bridge from Georgetown, in a little urban jungle,  we filled our hearts and souls with music, and dance, and life was—life is--good.  

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Randoms

While the onset of autumn signals a season of introspection for me, I haven’t sunk all the way into the deep reflection on life’s big issues quite yet, but hover, like the weather, so that tonight’s introspection falls on lighter fare.

Things I am Officially Over:
Cupcakes from boutique cupcake shops.  So not worth the price.  I can do better with a box of Betty Crocker mix and a tub of frosting. The only thing that makes these worth silly waits in line and money you could buy a good espresso drink with instead (yes, I do see the irony) is if you think of it as buying art.  With a very short lifespan.

Tapas.  Leave me feeling vaguely dissatisfied and definitely hungry.

PEPCO.  Hiss.  Boo.  Stop letting my power get knocked out every time a raindrop threatens to fall from the sky!

Tea parties.  The whole phrase has been ruined for me by the right.  Though I do still love clotted cream and jam on scones and those cute little cucumber sandwiches.

Things I am Officially Into:
Peruvian food.  Especially La Canela and Carbon, a fine dining spot and a casual place, respectively, located a block apart on Gibbs Street in Rockville Town Square, Rockville, Maryland, and cleverly owned by the same company.  Best steak ever (note to the Green Police--yes, I still eat red meat once in a while, get over it)—a pleasing heart attack on a plate when served with egg on top. 

Chicha Morada.  See Peruvian food, above.  My new favorite drink is one of Peru’s favorite drinks, made of purple corn juice and pineapple, spiced with cinnamon and cloves.  I enthused to my son about it, thinking that with his international inclinations he’d want to give it a try, and ran down the ingredients for him.  “So basically, sugar?” he cracked, in that wonderful wry way of his.  No you can’t spoil it for me, Sammy!  I looked it up and it apparently has one of the highest levels of antioxidants in the vegetable kingdom.  But I mostly drink it because it’s refreshing and delicious.

Alegria shoes.  Less than two years after I decided I had to give up Birkenstocks and wear more elegant—while still comfortable--footwear, since I was single (don’t ask for the logic that came between those two clauses), I have started wearing the most incredibly comfortable shoes that have a big funny- looking toe bed and a clunky rocker sole.  They come in a pleasing array of whimsical colors.  Of course I had to get the purple tortoise patent.

Sidewalk recycling.  I saw my first Big Belly Solar Compactors in Philadelphia earlier this year.  Meanwhile, in the DC area you still can’t find a plain old recycling bin at public event or in front of your local strip mall, so we dump tons of plastic and glass bottles, etc. into the landfill.

A new favorite—if perhaps less than PC--expression:  “a random” (used as a noun, not a verb).  I have not Googled to find the origin because I’m afraid I’ll find out it’s widespread slang, thus revealing my dinosaurhood);  I prefer to think it’s an original quirky catchphrase.  A colleague and I were out and about and a weird guy kept coming up to a vendor near where we were sitting.    I asked if she’d seen him before.  “Yeah,” she said, “a random.”  Later that day an oddball with a creepy edge walked by.  I looked at her. “Yeah,” she said, “another random.” 

Things I am Reserving Judgment On:
Twitter.  So far the main benefit I’ve found is information sharing.  And by information I mean things like links to interesting articles that have appeared in the media, or controversial comments from thought leaders.  Not what you had for breakfast.

Freecycle.  Love the idea.  Don’t love getting all the emails about junk people are willing to put out to the curb for me if I want to come get it, bringing clutter to my Inbox that I just spent months getting rid of.  Though I did get someone to come get an old mini CD player system off of my curb and take it away for me.  And my son just furnished his first place with a decent sofa and other living room furniture thus garnered. For now I sideline the digested email notices into a folder in my Inbox and check them occasionally when I am on hold on the phone (see below entry for Verizon).

FIOS.  Got it after I got fed up with my Comcast TV going out in storms even when the power was back on, and after much soul searching about changing from the devil I knew to…another devil I knew.  At least with Comcast I could get a live person on the phone in fairly short order.  As for Verizon, well, that’s when I read my Freecycle emails, while I search in vain for a live person to talk to while wildly pushing phone keys and angrily yelling at the phone like a crazy person—“Agent!”  “Agent!”

Glee.  The wildly popular Fox TV show used to be on the Things I’m Into list, as I’ve been a hard-core Gleek since the show started and just finished happily watching reruns of it all summer.  But this new season—are they bending over backwards trying to make all the characters unlikeable, and the likeably unlikeable Sue Sylvester just thoroughly unpleasant?  And the slutty numbers they performed this past episode two dedicated to the (imagine heavy air quotes) “music” of Britney Spears?  Gratuitous.  Please, Ryan Murphy, don’t get jaded so quickly and ruin Glee!

Now I’ve Heard Everything:
An old friend from North Carolina told me about a billboard in Charlotte that advertises a grocery store meat department and THE BILLBOARD EMITS THE SMELL OF GRILLING MEAT—adjusted remotely, turned up during rush hour traffic to tantalize people into wheeling off the highway for some good eats.  This also comes under the category of ideas stolen out of my head, as I have for years been saying the next big thing in computers would be the ability to transmit smell, so your screensaver could not only give you an eyeful of a Caribbean beach but the smell of suntan lotion and tropical flowers to complete the mood.

Now I’ve Seen Everything: 
As a taxi deposited a friend and me outside a very posh hotel in Philadelphia, a woman walked by with a Westie Terrier IN A STROLLER.  I snapped my head back for a second look, delighted, laughed aloud and told my friend, “I can die now, I’ve seen everything!” 

What are you Into, Over or All Agog About these days?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Reason for Hope

I reviewed Jane Goodall’s wonderful book Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey years ago in my monthly book column in Washington Woman magazine, but only recently watched the tie-in 1999 public TV special.  Just as with the book, I was moved deeply by this extraordinary woman’s intellect and heart and how she applies both to serve the world.

The world’s leading primatologist is best known for her work with chimpanzees in the Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania. Her six-month stint in Africa beginning at age 26 turned into about four decades; she started there with no degree as secretary to Louis Leakey but soon earned a doctoral degree from Cambridge University.  She had and has an unparalleled, deep relationship with the natural world and from the twin branches of science and spirituality advocates for the environment.

Part of the absorbing film looks back at Jane’s childhood, which she commented on from her childhood home.  She grew up in a family of strong women, in a house in England that has been their home for three generations. I was struck by how many aspects of her childhood set her path in adulthood, or perhaps more accurately by what an early age she began demonstrating the traits that shaped the personality and achievements of her adulthood. 

Her teacher about animals having feelings, she said, was her dog.  (This little girl would later shake the scientific community with her radical belief that study subject chimps should be named, not numbered.)  Her favorite friend was Jubilee, a monkey stuffed animal her father gave her when she was one year old to commemorate the birth of a chimp in the London Zoo.  She loved Dr. Doolittle.  She was an avid reader of Tarzan books, though she was jealous of Jane, who she thought was a wimp.

Walking around her childhood yard, in her 60s, she introduces viewers to Birch, the tree she climbed when she was upset, the tree she climbed to do homework, to view the world.  She tells of putting her hands on trees and how she would “get a sense of sap rising and the life of the tree,” and sometimes would say hello to them.

Goodall was deeply impacted by pictures of the Holocaust coming out when she was a child and she became fascinated, she says, with the nature of evil.  She used to think that chimps were less violent than humans, though later when warfare broke out for years among the chimps she followed she was painfully disabused of that notion.

The documentary, like the book, reveals the very spiritual side of a noted scientist, and her exploration of the big questions of life.   Her message: Each of us can make a difference.  She believes that we are moving away from times of cruelty to a more compassionate time, but we must push and push to reach that destiny.  

Goodall speaks of the blur between the lives of humans and non-humans.  We watch her watch the chimps performing special swaying and swinging displays when they come across gorgeous waterfalls, which she interprets as awe.  She rejects some scientists’ ideas that one day we’ll know all there is to know, for she doesn’t want to lose awe and mystery.  Bless her for that never-ending sense of wonder she holds side by side with her scientific training.

The time alone in Gombe she calls the most “perfect” of her life, and she continues to experience there a fierce sense of belonging. Much of the documentary she talks from that same jungle. Of course the Africa on all sides of that original spot where she sat for hours watching chimps is filled with civil wars and genocides, and she does not gloss over that. 

In 1986, Goodall was, she says, “galvanized” at a conference where she and other scientists learned how the chimpanzee habitat was being destroyed by the clear-cutting timber industry, chimps were being eaten as bush meat and chimps were being used in scientific experimentation. Since then, she hasn’t stayed more than three weeks in one place, traveling the world lecturing on a grueling schedule.  In what she calls her “crusade,” Goodall works to change the minds of the African people to become stewards of animal life, when once they regarded animals as enemies, and to introduce socioeconomic development so families don’t have to cut down all their trees for fuel.  In part, her role now is spreading the good word: “I hear what others are doing and offer inspiration.”

Goodall’s work soon expanded to giving hope to the next generation. A great part of her mission is assuring young people that there will still be some chimpanzees swinging in the jungles of Africa and birds singing for their grandchildren.  As one young woman after hearing her speak puts it, “I get so tired of hearing the horror stories of the world, and she was actually giving us hope.”

In 1991, Goodall started an organization for children and youth called Roots and Shoots, which by 2010 is active in 100 countries, teaching kids that they can help animals, the environment and the world.  The film shows the absolute joy and pride of a group of high school kids who’ve reclaimed a stream in one California town, a scene that plays out over and over around the globe thanks to this one amazing woman’s vision.
Powerfully and poignantly, Goodall collects what she calls “symbols of hope.”  A leaf from a sapling that survived the atomic bomb in Nagasaki, where the green came back much more quickly than expected.  A little piece of the Berlin Wall. A chunk of limestone from Robben Island prison in South Africa, where Nelson Mandela labored for 17 of the 22 years he was incarcerated.  And her mascot is a stuffed animal called Mr. H., given her by a friend who lost his sight in his 20s, who’s overcome great odds and has a great spirit.  At the time of the documentary she said Mr. H. had been touched by maybe 150,000 people.  By 2010 that number has risen to 2.5 million people in 60 countries, but of course what that number really represents is the number of people whose lives have been “touched” by Goodall herself.

Now 76, she hasn’t given up her punishing schedule--she travels about 300 days of the year, dresses simply, barely sleeps and eats and is not rooted in material possessions--and she loves her life. “When I speak it’s like taking some of this great spirit of God and sharing it, tossing it out, and the energy comes back from the people when I know that they’ve heard the message and understood it and most important been moved by it.”

Goodall returns to her beloved chimps at Gombe for several weeks a year, and to the “quiet and agelessness” of the forest.  She is as excited by the birth of rare twin chimps while she’s there filming this documentary as if they were her own grandchildren, and she happily ponders names for them (they become Golden and Glitter, or affectionately, Goldi and Glitta). The rest of the year, says Goodall, she carries the peace of the forest as her inner peace.  

At the film’s end she emphasizes our responsibility as stewards of the planet, and says, “I just hope we have time.”   As activists and “ordinary people” around the world work to make ensure that is the case and show that one by one we can make a difference, Jane Goodall, herself, is reason for hope.  

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Emails Gone Astray

Email.   One of the love-hate relationships of the modern age.  We’re lost when our email systems are down, but those same systems can make us insane.  It’s an addiction, but gets a free pass from intervention and therapy because it’s so damned useful.

It’s also so damned dangerous.  It’s pretty hard to dial a wrong phone number and say something bad (though I have been accidentally speed-dialed a time or two by a relative who thought they were calling their bank) and harder still to think you are talking to your friend face to face and instead be talking to your supervisor .  But once we leave it to the press of a Send or OK button or the Enter key, well, anything can happen. 

I once sent an email expressing concern/criticism to a colleague and that person escalated our conflict by not replying to me one-on-one but rather copying the entire staff, including our boss.  Our boss then escalated it beyond the pale by the email equivalent of yelling at me, and did so copying the entire staff.  The boss then blamed me for copying the group—which I hastened to clarify was not the case.  It took an uncomfortable situation and made it an unforgiveable one.  The icing on the cake was the next day when yet another co-worker bumbled and sent an email to my disingenuous colleague bitchily saying I had a lot of “chutzpah” criticizing her , but, you guessed it, sent the email to me instead. 

This was a mess, but not as much of a mess as an incident that had taken place years earlier with a former colleague from another job whose email gaffe—in the political and diplomatic arenas—landed him in the daily newspaper.  Ouch. 

Recently, an employee at a vendor I use accidentally forwarded to me rather than to one of their supervisors a scathing complaint from another customer.  Oops!  I’ve often been on receiving end of stray client emails meant for other Karens (including ones working at my competitors).  And one time I was copied on a snarky email between two people at a business I that had been my client for years but whose marketing contact had recently left so these two people were now trying to make their mark by cutting me from the budget.  Oops! I have sent internal memos (thank goodness nothing sensitive) to a former source for an article I wrote by accident because the first three letters of her email address were the same as my boss’.  Oops!  And curses on that “auto-fill” function!

But I am sure these kinds of gaffes happen thousands, if not millions, of times a day in offices and homes across the globe, the likelihood increasing with an individual’s volume of email traffic.  Daughters are complaining to their sisters about their mothers and the remarks are ending up in poor Mom’s email; snide coworker comments are ending up being sent to clients; a guy’s bravado about a date conquest is ending up in his date’s email instead of his buddy’s; an executive gets an email that was meant for her competitor-- the possibilities are endless. 

And what is the etiquette when one is on the receiving end of a misdirected email?  If the person sending it and/or the person who was supposed to receive it will be in trouble if they don’t know the communication has gone astray (if, for example, an appointment is being rescheduled), then simply hit reply and say “I believe this was sent to me in error.”  As for more politically charged situations, well, it all depends. Are we taking the high road or not?  Are we trying to have the last word or not?  My policy is usually “silence is golden” and I have, I confess, been known to take pleasure imagining that a person who sent a mean-spirited email realizes their error on their own and worries… Miss Manners may disagree with me, of course.

I wondered if these email gaffes were also playing out with younger people, with text messaging and instant messaging.  Or are young people already so transparent with the details of their personal lives on social networking that it’s a moot point?  I was assured by a young friend that they were just as vulnerable.  She was at the moment nervous that texts she was sending a new boyfriend would accidentally get sent to her freshly-broken-up-with old boyfriend instead, with their names starting with the same first letter.

What’s your best—or worst—email error (or sabotage) story?  Go to the Post Comment section below and tell all!  Change names to protect the innocent (or more importantly, yourself) if you like, but spill!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Innie or Outie?

I have two sides, two aspects to my personality that are held uncomfortably together sometimes while other times one pushes into dominance.

I am an introvert AND an extrovert. I can be quite convivial, vivacious even, at social events of a not-too- overwhelming size.  Other times I could draw a box around myself perhaps six feet out on all sides and be happy to walk in the world with my privacy intact.  Yet other times I remove myself from the game entirely and shut down in my free time, staying in and trying to recharge in solitude. 

I tend to gravitate to others who also have this mixed state, who will sometimes become almost hermitic when life becomes overwhelming. Though I understand it, it can also hurt if I am in a reaching- out mode and they in a turning-in mode. We each take our chances. 

My oh-so Western desire for privacy and space has been particularly challenged over the years in my forays in to the Asian world.  When I was straight out of college off to Taipei, Taiwan for a year, I was fortunately able to kick the social me into hyper gear.  A good thing, too, for space and privacy are entirely alien concepts in Asian culture.  I took my time there to be some magical adventure and was wide open to it all, the crowds, the cacophony, the pollution, the crazy traffic, the pulsing beat of the city and the astonishing warmth of people.  Nearly two decades later I had a very different experience of living in Tianjin, which was one of the most densely populated and most polluted cities in the world.  It Then I found the stares and the complete inability to set foot out the door without being gawked at and even followed, whether lacking in malice or not, completely intolerable.  Eventually I became nearly agoraphobic.

My ex-husband, who is Chinese, was never able to understand the side of me that sometimes craved privacy and space.  I was expected to be open to last-minute company and invasive requests 24/7 and woe to me if I wasn’t, for then I was accused of being “selfish,” the harshest judgment he could bring to bear. 

Now, I walk precariously on the tightrope between my interior world and my exterior world.  I have worked from home for 13 years now, four of them alone since my son left for college.  Most of my work is by email and phone, which sometimes suits me fine and gives me some small measure of control in a very chaotic work environment.  Other times I feel painfully isolated.  Aware of a tendency to sink into depression if I don’t get out some (though equally possible if I don’t get enough solitude) at one point last summer I became a social butterfly, going to singles events every weekend, and loving it.  This summer I feel too easily over-stimulated, and choose my outings more carefully, usually preferring time with close friends that allows for quiet conversation to mob scene happy hours that roll into my email inbox every week.  I’m going for quality, not quantity, and planting my roots deep rather than shallow.  I don’t enjoy big festivals much don’t like the crowds, but still sometimes have to force myself out. 

So here I sit most happily at poolside in my neighborhood on a hot Sunday afternoon, after floating around in the water for an hour, now reading and writing.  I’ve seen one of my son’s best friends, which I always like because it connects me to a time gone by (I actually think I see more of him than my own son these days, as he still lives in the neighborhood).  Next to me a woman I lived on a cul de sac with—our dogs were friends—has plopped down to read in companionable silence, and another neighbor stops by to catch up.  There’s a not-unpleasant background buzz of kids playing and splashing about, and parents who move from joining in the play to flattening onto a chaise for some sun.  The sky is blue, blue, blue with just a puff of white cloud here and there.  The gorgeous, mature trees around the outer edges create some shade and breeze, but don’t block the sun from the center.  The European lifeguards enjoy their last few weeks here before returning to their home countries for the school year.

I am surrounded by people but alone, perfectly at peace, enjoying the summer too soon to come to a  close, holding my introvert cum extrovert self, for one afternoon, in balance.  

Monday, July 26, 2010

Night Moves

Small plaque on my desk:  “’Not a morning person’ doesn’t begin to describe me.”


I have always been inclined to sleep late in the morning and stay awake late in the evening.  As a child that meant that I was dragged out of bed for school and went through the first part of the day in a fog, then read beneath my covers with a flashlight long after my parents had called lights out.  As a college student, I scheduled my classes around the hour of the day, ideally nothing earlier than an 11 o’clock; then I could be found at 3 or 4 a.m. in the study lounge working on a reading assignment or paper.  Once I entered the workplace, of course in some cases I had to force myself to adapt to my employers’ schedules.  The result was either that I napped after I got home before resuming my evening, and/or that my mental health suffered from lack of sleep.   One of the most challenging periods was when I worked as a temp at NBC, for a while at the Today show’s Washington, D.C. studio, where I had to be at work at 4:30 a.m. in time to welcome dignitaries to the studio.   This unfortunately coincided with a period I was dating a guy who didn’t get off work till 10 or so, so we’d head out to disco at 11 after I had my aptly named disco nap.  Talk about burning the candle at both ends!

Having to get up early never made my body clock shift to falling asleep earlier.  The only exception was when I had an infant, and I was so profoundly exhausted all the time that I could barely wait for him to nod off at night before I followed suit.  The sleep deprivation then was, I am sure, a major cause of my postpartum depression.  Now, when I’m forced to get up very early for a flight or something, I actually feel nauseous and jittery, just plain bad. 

Our schedules are artificial now, rooted in a time when we woke with the sun to work the fields.   Even telework and flextime still revolve in an orbit around the “norm” of 9-5.

I firmly believe in following my own biorhythms, and doing so puts me at my best both for work and for life in general.   Working from home now for 13 years, the last few with no child to get up and get off to school, I’ve been better able to do that, and have been extremely productive that entire time.  Yes, I might still be working when other people were having their dinner and settling in front of the TV for the night.  I’m also able to do business after hours with professionals and small business owners who can’t come to the phone or check their emails during their own peak customer hours.  And I’m still at my desk during the middle of the day with plenty of hours matching up with those who put in 9-5. 

Friends and acquaintances either make fun of my schedule or they secretly or not-so-secretly judge me for it. They call me at 9 or 10 a.m. even though I’ve asked them not to, but why can’t they remember this if I can remember that they, for example, don’t want to be called after 9 on a weekday, or don’t want to be called while putting a child or grandchild to bed.    But 9 or 10 a.m. is normal business hours, they exclaim!  Well, how would they like it if I called them when I’m wide awake at 1 a.m.?  And yes, if you are a friend who calls me at 7 a.m. I might entirely obliterate that call from my memory and question any commitment I made during that call. 

Who is to judge that being a morning person is better somehow than a night owl, that the quality of the early morning hours is somehow inherently better than the quality of the middle of the night? I love the sun, I just love it more in the afternoon and as it sets than as it rises.

Other countries are more civilized, institutionalizing napping, the siesta.  I seem to remember five or ten years back a flurry of scientific, media and corporate interest in napping being a desirable addition to worker productivity, but alas, that has long since been buried.  A human being’s sleep, after all, is not the concern of an institution, a company whose only goal even before the economy tanked was to do more with fewer people and in less time.  I’ve always been a maverick, bridling at the idea that the hours you put in were more important than the results you achieve.

Creative people are often at far ends of the spectrum, rising early to work before their kids wake up, for example, or like myself having second winds long after dark and creative bursts of energy into the hours where if we all lived together we would meet our morning person counterparts in the hallway, we falling into our beds as they bounced out of theirs. 

Though I had in the past year or so largely switched to using my cell phone except for business, I am now questioning that.  I have come to rely far too much on caller I.D. to protect my privacy, and hate being wakened before my alarm goes off by some doctor’s office confirming an appointment 2 days from now or something equally annoying.  I try to remember to stick to my own rule of not picking up my cell unless it shows a name, meaning someone in my address book, but I forget far too often and always regret it.  So I give more and more people my work number, where I can screen away distractions coming at the wrong time.  (And don’t have an extension in my bedroom!)  I just don’t like being accessible 24/7, is what it comes down to.  Especially on the early side of that 24.  

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Education Shortfall

Somehow in the idle conversation that comes when you’re lounging on the sand between chapters of a good beach read, my friend Tina and I, both with newly minted college graduates, got to talking about important life skills courses they should be teaching teenagers in our school systems. 

Financial literacy, of course—using (or not) credit cards, debit cards. Balancing a checkbook or online bank statement.  Knowing that even when the online banking shows you have money in your account, there might not really be because of a charge that hasn’t been debited yet (both our kids had racked up charges on that one, the only difference being that Tina had called the bank on her son’s behalf, and I exercised a rare instance of tough love rather than racing to Sammy’s aide, and made him deal with it himself—and there’s that voice in my head going “Bad Mommy”).

Real estate, for sure.  They need to know how to rent an apartment, how to carefully read a lease, liability issues.  Renter’s insurance.  How to lose a security deposit…

Health insurance (and when they figure it out in today’s changing environment they can tell us how it works, I hope).

Cars—the true cost of owning one, how to maintain one, how to buy one, how to take good care of your parents’ till you get your own…

Cooking.

Utilities.

Laundry.  I had the advantage here because when I bought my current townhouse and built a bathroom in the basement and gave my son his own pad, I also gave him a laundry-room-adjacent bedroom.   Between my bad knees and my general loathing of doing laundry till absolutely necessary, he quickly picked up the skills to do his own.  It was his first true householder-arts self-sufficiency, actually.  It took me some years to realize that as he became more and more of a clothes horse through his teenage years, he was running “loads” of laundry sometimes consisting of just one or two items, so he could wear his favorite clothes over and over.  (So why had I bought him a closet full of clothing?)  Tina, on the other hand, got a call from her son shortly after he started college asking for instructions on using the machines at school. 

How to sew a button.

Later that night at the beach, when Sammy called from home, he said he was hot and asked how did he turn the A/C up, it just wasn’t responding.  I told Tina we had to add another class, this one in how to work the thermostat.  I made fun of him from afar, then ate my words later upon my return, when I found my house at about 96 degrees—turned out an electrical storm had in fact blown a fuse on the thermostat and that’s why he couldn’t make it work.

Basic home maintenance and repair would be good skills to add to this curriculum, too.  Since in this day and age kids’ “apprenticeships” are more likely to be in environmental studies or international security than in carpentry or plumbing, these critical skills have gone by the wayside.

How to iron a shirt. Sammy's a pro at this but sure didn't get it from me. I watched my mom do it when I was a kid, from a basket of clothes or linens that needed it.   Looking back I pity her; that damn basket was always full!  Very briefly I had a brief foray into domesticity while I stayed home when Sammy was a baby.  (When we were living in Texas. I add this because I don’t think this would ever have happened if I was living in DC then.)  My then-husband asked me to iron his shirts to save us some money.  This was a staggering concept to me, because my mother had enthusiastically at some point joined the no-iron synthetic fabric revolution and brought me along with her.  Why on earth would you buy shirts that needed ironing?  That’s what permanent press was for! Still, I tried to be a good sport.  That lasted about a minute and a half before the annoyance and resentment on my part led me to tell him they had places for this, called dry cleaners. 

Also, guests at the few occasions where we eat at my dining room table had better not care if their tablecloth is crisply laid or not.  (My mother’s a culprit in this regard—while she doesn’t believe in ironing clothes anymore, table linens are another thing, and she can’t get over how my housekeeping standards have fallen, from her generation’s or her mother’s.)

I was so happy and relieved when the natural wrinkled look came into fashion! I’m sure it’s gone in and out of fashion several times since, but I love it and have stuck to it ever since.  I can’t believe my friend Beth and her love of wearing only linen clothing.  She travels with an iron—I couldn’t be more aghast if she travelled with a machete!

Sammy has to put up with a mother who long ago junked her ironing board as taking up space in the basement better put to use by cobwebs.  It’s amazing I even kept an iron, but at least he can use the top of the washer and dryer as an ironing surface when he wants to spiff up.  I should have a sign up in my house, “Life’s Too Short to Iron.”

This life skills curriculum we need to develop should, of course, be gender-neutral.  The guys need to sew their own buttons; the gals need to check their oil.  (Tina puts me to shame in this department, by the way—apparently despite taking Home Ec she also got a good dose of auto maintenance and home repair along the way.)

A common thread of some of these skills, especially on the financial side, is understanding what you’re getting into so you are then responsible for the consequences of your actions.  (Big lesson that’s still a challenge when you’re an adult, truth be told, particularly when big business still makes the rules.) And yes, it’s true that many practical householder/life skills should also be taught at home, not just in school. 

Meanwhile, Sammy, like millions of kids in his generation, gets many of these skills on-the-job.   That last week or so of college, while I was weepily contemplating the enormity of his impending graduation, he and his 10 housemates were more practically engaged, repairing broken fixtures and patching and painting walls in their off-campus rental—so they could get their security deposit back.  Necessity is, indeed, the mother of invention—not always Mom and Dad.  

Monday, July 5, 2010

Anatomy of a Sleepless Night

Close book, set the alarm, turn off the reading lights.  Get comfortable, prepare to drift off.

Realize it’s been more than a while and I have not drifted off yet.  Swear I’m not going to check the clock but I do.  It’s been 45 minutes.

Get up and pee. Careful not to turn any lights on so as not to send wakeful cues to my brain, per books and articles I’ve been reading on insomnia and need for good “sleep hygiene.”

Lie back down. Sure I’ll go to sleep now. 

Trying to remember the name of fabric store my mom used to take me to why I was in elementary school.  Wonder if my heavy emphasis on old memories these days isn’t healthy, if I need to make some new ones.  Think about how to do that.

Mind jumps to how much season premiere of “Rescue Me” sucked on TV last night.

Intermittently worry about the implications of not getting enough sleep tonight.

Consider turning the alarm off now and skipping water yoga in the morning, but it’s the last class till late summer. Stay strong, keep hands off the alarm.

Alternatively consider telling friend I’m too tired to go to outdoor concert and dinner the next day but afraid of becoming an unreliable friend.  So scratch that.

Suddenly realize I must try and get an old friend from high school onto Facebook. He’s on Classmates and I can always email him through that, but that’s so static...

Ponder how Classmates ever stays alive in the marketplace.

First click on the light thinking I’ll read for a while, then instead get up and work in my home office for about 40 minutes.  After sending off a number of broadcast emails realize 3 a.m. may not be my finest hour for carefully crafted prose sensitive to client needs, or mindful of not offending boss.  Prepare to deal with possible fallout the next day.

Stop in bathroom to pee again before rolling back into bed.

Think of future blog topics, then worry if I don’t write them down I’ll forget them. (Of course I will. I just remembered something I started to make a note to myself about four hours ago, and between the time I thought of it and moments later when I pulled pen and paper out, forgot.) But don’t want to turn on light so make a few notes in the dark, hopeful they’ll be legible in the morning.

Run through mental to-do list for next couple of work days.

Think about where I’d like to have dinner with a friend over the weekend.

Wonder if I feel like braving the crowds later in the week at the new location for fireworks. Hate new location, miss being able to watch them from across the lake in my own neighborhood.  Worry about my increasing hermit tendencies and I do so love fireworks and have missed for several years now.  

Wonder how many actual hermits there are in the world.  Mind wanders to caves in the forest of unspecified Asian country where I imagine long-bearded men and old crones who only come out to make sage pronouncements. 

Idly wonder how I will ever get a book proposal done if I spend my free time and creative energy blogging instead, but feel I am forced to blog by today’s marketplace and agent expectations.

Think about how to make my blog posts shorter, but if I do it’ll take longer to do my notification emails than the blog itself. Decide to get up and check on how FeedBlitz or other service can help me get rid of need to manually do the notifications.   Pull foot back in bed before it hits the floor, sure that going back on computer at 4 a.m. will not aid sleep efforts.

Remember and write down in dark reminder about a thank you note I need to write and gift certificate I have to buy to enclose.  Wonder what recipient’s favorite restaurant is.

Consider getting up to pee again but realize I really don’t need to, I’m just bored.

Alarm goes off.  Summon all my willpower and do not hit snooze alarm.  Resolve to try and go to bed early tonight.  Hah, like that’ll happen.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Callings

"I have spent my days stringing and unstringing my instrument while the song I came to sing remains unsung."
                                                              Rabindranath Tagore


I just finished a book that blew me away both for its insights and for the author’s crazy-beautiful way with the English language.  The title of Gregg Levoy’s book alone was enough to make it jump off the bookshelf into my book bag:  Callings:  Finding and Following an Authentic Life.

Levoy uses the term “callings” to refer not only to the more obvious concepts of our right work or the job we are meant to do, but also to anything that we are guided to, whether it be to become a more compassionate person, to let go of an old grievance, to live a life of service, to mend a relationship with a family member, to change our life in some way that puts it in alignment with our true selves. 

Finding our way to that authentic life is not typically a trip down a linear path but most often a windy road.  First of all,  says the author, “If we only want to feast on the big ideas and the grand schemes and are unwilling to give our time and energies to seemingly small and limited tasks, to the thousands of baby steps needed to carry off our high concepts, then we will make little headway.”  Second, this transformation takes its own sweet time, and while we can help by being open, we can’t force it.  “We do much damage by not being patient with our own evolution, which by design and necessity luxuriates in an abundance of time and plot twists…We try to make things happen, hoping that in doing so we don’t inadvertently open the darkroom door while fate is developing our pictures,” says Levoy.  Speaking of our eagerness to get to the destination, the solution, the end point of our quest, while rushing to get through the searching and preparation and uncertainty, he says, “We love the answers and suffer the questions.  We worship the flower and ignore the soil.”

On the other hand, he cautions that taking small risks can go too far, though, that “At some point, we have to leap.”  As he quotes British statesman David Lloyd George, “You cannot cross a chasm in two small jumps.”

“If responsibility is the ability to respond, when we do not respond to our calls, we put them in the position of having to come after us…” The author gently reminds us that life will, not so gently, remind us if we ignore our inner voice, or the voice of Spirit, or whatever you want to call it. Our bodies will act out, for example, as “The calls we will not name or follow coalesce into entities that will attempt to tunnel their way into consciousness using any rough tool at hand to remind us of their imperatives, and they will do so through the impeccable logic of pain.”  

But we humans have all kinds of ways to avoid change and to avoid pain, so we’ll keep trying those, too, as long as we can. “Procrastination and resistance can be part of the path, part of what helps plunge us into a predicament that can serve to awaken us.  In other words, there may be a certain rightness to our chariots swinging so low.”  

One of the things I love about Callings is that, like me, Levoy has a fine appreciation for gray areas, for the dance of yin and yang, for the necessity of living with paradox.   The pursuit of or answering of callings is fraught with steps forward and steps back, with desires to move forward quickly with the need to move more slowly, with simultaneous faith and uncertainty.  If the time is not right for the big change, he ventures, “Sometimes hanging in there or exercising creativity within the status quo, is the better part of valor…Motion is not necessarily progress any more than noise is necessarily music.”

Along the way to following our authentic lives, we will be visited by synchronicities that we would be wise to examine, and almost inevitably by adversity as well. “Be willing to approach obstacles as if they might be allies, and make your leaps of faith accordingly,” Levoy urges.  “They are setbacks that set us up for ultimately life-enhancing lessons: course corrections, insights, a better grip on our strengths and weaknesses, even valuable delays.”  Mistakes and pratfalls are not to be mourned in our journey but to be learned from, and crises and uncertainty bring their own gifts.  “We must therefore be willing to get shaken up, to submit ourselves to the dark blossoming of chaos, in order to reap the blessings of growth.”  I love the quote Levoy shares on this subject, from Charles C. West:  “We turn to God for help when our foundations are shaking, only to learn that it is God who is shaking them.” 

Dreams are one way life directs us, though not everyone welcomes their messages.  “For people cemented to the rational and scientific, the linear and observable, the ego and the five senses, opening to dreams can be like suddenly realizing that your bathroom mirror is actually two-way.”  But he holds fast to his claim that dreams are very real, and warns that the peril of not believing so is real, too: “If we don’t obey our dreams, we’ll dream them until we do, or the unconscious mind will ‘dream up’ other channels for their messages to come through, such as symptoms, neuroses, and compulsions.”  I think this is true of our waking dreams as well, actually, having experienced and observed in others close to me the terrors our body and mind can exact upon us if we are not living our lives in alignment with our higher selves.  

Wake-up calls will occur in many guises, from catastrophic events in the world to our own smaller orbits.  “We’re drop-kicked into consciousness, even if only temporarily, and we either use the experience to reorient us and recognize the call in the calamity, or we attempt to drive ourselves deeper into the status quo, the old equilibrium, and thereby miss the point entirely,” says Levoy. ”Thank goodness for such a mechanism, although gratitude is not generally our first response.”

Since we will be moved if we are to be free, why not open ourselves to the inexorable movement to the inevitable change?   Otherwise, as Levoy puts it so compellingly, “Eventually, our feelings of inauthenticity and restlessness, our envy of others’ successes, our panic at the passage of time and our own reflections in the mirror, all become like tombstones—they remind us of where someone is buried—and we will measure our fear of death by the distance between our desires and our actions, between the life we want and the life we have.”

At the core of it all, isn’t it best to act and think from the words he quotes from actress Naomi Newman:  “[S]ince there’s fear and suffering in life whether or not we take on adventures, whether or not we follow our callings, we might as well suffer in the service of our dreams.” 

For me the most beautiful conclusion is Levoy’s, that “I am no closer to feeling secure in the world for having lots of answers. Making peace with the questions seems a better bet.”