Monday, May 24, 2010

Roots and Wings

At my son Sammy’s commencement ceremony, alumnus Craig Thompson spoke to the graduating class.  In his address, he told a story of being on a plane and getting to know the people on either side of him, all three pleasantly lubricated by an in-flight drink or two.  One was multilingual and the other two were asking questions about his background, and his other seatmate asked, “What language do you think in?”  Craig then asked the graduates to consider, “what language do you think in?”

That question struck me so powerfully I hardly heard the rest of his speech, as the metaphor for him went into a whole different direction than for me.  What language do I think in? What language does each of my friends think in? My colleagues, my boss, my neighbors? What language do you think in?

I am in love with language, and studied intensively a foreign language that was extremely hard to learn. (One of my classmates once cracked wisely that Chinese was like a suitor who sometimes you loved and sometimes you hated.)  So thinking of a body of language as a metaphor for how we look at the world appeals to me.

The language I think in depends on the biochemistry of my brain on a given day, on external circumstances and, on the best days, less those things than how strongly I am able to live my beliefs.  My belief in compassion and love.  My belief that things happen for a reason, even if we don’t know what that is.  My belief that I am the only one who can make me happy is me.  My belief that the only way to be content is to practice acceptance.  (Oh boy is that one taking a lot of practice.)  My belief that the only way to get love is to give love.   My belief that the only way to survive—all of it, all of life’s messiness, fear and loss—is to have faith.

I’d like to teach my son, the new graduate, that he needs to think in this language, this language of our best selves, this language of hope.  And yes, I can share these tenets. But like all of life’s really important lessons, he’ll have to learn them on his own.  He’ll have to experience life’s highs and lows, joys and pains, for himself.  Like his mother, he will sometimes take two steps forward and one step back.  He will do things that are self-destructive, and he will hurt another, even if not deliberately.  He will make others proud and be proud of himself on his good days, and feel he is floundering, or that he is not good enough, on others. 

And all a proud, loving mother can hope is that gradually he will have his own hard-won wisdom.  And that he will find contentment, and happiness. 

I love you, son.  On your good and bad days, and on mine, too.  Welcome to adulthood.  

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Owning Our Age

As we prepare to celebrate my son’s college graduation next week, I find myself pondering the eternal irony of young people chafing at what they perceive to be the constraints of their youth, straining forward into adulthood whose travails they know not, while older people look back fondly upon the freedoms of those earlier years and yearn for their lost innocence (and firm bodies).

Last weekend asked an acquaintance I’d met several times how old she was, thinking she’d be a fascinating subject for an article I was thinking of pitching to some publications skewed to a 50+ readership.  She looked at me cagily and said, “Why are you asking?” I explained, and she said, seemingly lightly but definitely wounded, no, 50 was “a long way away.”  I started backpedaling like a bicyclist at the edge of a cliff, babbling, “Oh, I didn’t think so, but I just thought I’d give it a shot,” and “I’ll check back with you for those markets in what, 10, 15, 25 years?”  (The latter of which would have made her an impossible infant).  I fled shortly thereafter.

Honestly, I’ve lost my ability to tell people’s age. I find myself thinking some guy’s cute when I’m out and then am horrified to realize he’s my son’s age.  Ditto with some hot male actors; I think they’re my peers and they turn out to be 28 or have just hit the huge milestone of say 35 or, god forbid, 40.

Still, I never get why women are so reluctant about telling their age.  It’s the last throwback to the (19)50s or something.  I’ll tell anyone how old I am, though the sad thing is I always have to do the math in my head to get the exact age—I remember, for example, that I am in my 50s, but is it 53 or 54? What month is this?
Half the time I make myself older by a year than I actually am because I just don’t pay that much attention to it, or am being lazy with my math.

Does the iPhone have an app for that? The “how old am I today” app?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

So It is Written

In the introduction to Mary Pipher’s Letters to a Young Therapist, she notes, “I wrote these letters in the early morning.   My desk overlooks an old maple tree, my flower garden, and bird and squirrel feeding stations.” 

Reading those words, I was suddenly filled with a yearning for a special place for my own reflective and creative writing.  I do not use my home office for that writing, because my desk there is a place of stress and frustration.  It is a place of files, faxes, emails and ringing phone signaling nothing but more problems, of papers strewn from one side of my desk to the other in the reactive barrage that is my work day.  A place where there is no grace.

But my view is so beautiful, of the lake—that should be where I write of grace, yes?  Should I bring another small table over to the window, sit with my back to the chaotic office and look straight onto the water and the trees beyond?  But the energy in that room is just not good, not even with all my reorganizing and feng shui-ing.  Don’t even get me started on my evil keyboard or obstreperous technology.  No, nothing short of an exorcism will fix this place.

What if I were to move downstairs to my kitchen table, sweep off the incoming and outgoing clutter that dwells there and write looking out my kitchen window, at my own trees and squirrels and birds?  It used to be a more idyllic view before a tree came down; now I can see cars in the parking lot, but still it’s very peaceful.

My writing now takes place primarily on the go, scribbles on scraps of paper of ideas that come to me as I sit at a conference, sit at a stop light, move through the water, lie in bed at night.  And I’m not about to slow that flow that comes when it pleases.  But then putting it all together and editing it, into an essay, a column, an article, a blog post, takes place typically late at night in my recliner in the living room after, and I admit occasionally while, watching TV, before going to bed. 

I’ve never had writer’s block (unless I just jinxed it by saying that) and finding the right place is not going to release any pent up creative juice.  It’s just that I think I need to create a better space now, somehow, especially as I retrieve my book project from the back burner.  

I could swap out my home office, and move myself back to the real master bedroom that I commandeered as office when I moved here, transfixed by the idea of that lake view all day.  It has so much more space than the room where I sleep now, and I could create a spot within the bedroom for my writing, and one for my yoga.  But the more I think of it, no, I do not want a room that multitasks. A pox on multitasking! 

Instead I should turn the tiny spare bedroom into a studio, where I could write, and do yoga, and maybe the collages I’ve thought about and for which I’ve been saving scraps of material for years.  Would it be so bad to have that studio be on the shady side of the house instead of the sunny side? There’s still a big window on this wooded side.  I could take away the bed and the vanity and bureau (though they are family antiques and have to find a new spot somewhere, but where?)  What I call, as some default to a ‘50s shelter magazine, “the spare bedroom,” serves as a bedroom only one or two weeks tops per year; the other 50 weeks it’s a place to dump laundry not yet folded or plant a suitcase to pack for a trip.  Studio would definitely be a more suitable use.

I could bring in one of my tables that have never really found a fitting home, the gorgeous, carved-oak, antique library table we bought in Frederick when I was married, or the funky painted pine table from a contemporary fine artisan.  I could place it facing the window, or perpendicular, and there would be no phone in the room, no fax, just a laptop and a couple of treasured inspirational books, perhaps, special pens and journals.  Behind my chair closer to the door could be a space for yoga, maybe a fountain and a CD player and box of only soothing music, like Tibetan flute.  Very little in the room. 

Here’s the epiphany—that I am not honoring my creative self because I don’t have a sacred space for my writing.  Maybe it’s time to create one.