The Oracle

If you’ve ever visited Pipestone National Monument in Minnesota, you’ve seen him:  The Oracle.  A rock formation that, for all the world, looks like the profile of a wise tribal elder.  I have a postcard I’ve saved for years showing a photo of The Oracle, part of a collection of items and tokens representing places I’ve visited where humans have discovered some special “power” – predictions for the future, healing miracles, spiritual knowledge which arrives via interaction with the place.  I have always felt the pull of these magical sites, and I am not above finding some belief or power in these places myself.

In my late 20s, I visited an astrologer who drew my natal chart for me.  In my 30s, I visited a well-known psychic, who told me, among other things, that no one understands exactly how much I love the odd and unusual.  In my 40s, I had a very powerful experience during a massage with a spiritual healer.  For the most part, I engaged in these interactions out of curiosity and a sense of play.  However, part of me would have been quite happy to receive a little advance glimpse of things to come — if only one of them had been able to chart at least a small part of the future for me!

Most of my life, I’ve tried to predict the future in small ways — if I do this, what will happen?  if I put myself out there, will I get the result I want?  if I try, will I succeed?  As a result I have often opted for the safe path, the path I can predict.  Since predicting the future can only be done with success for the very near future (say, the next ten minutes) my vision has been pretty short. And my choices have been painfully short-sighted.  I have failed to try many things out of fear about the outcome.

I copied a quote years ago from a book called Ecodynamics, which was way above my head, but which contained this scary thought (scary to me, anyway):  “We may have ten possible images of tomorrow and for each one of these there may be ten images of the next day, giving a hundred possible images  of the day after that, and so on, which means that the uncertainty of the future increases rapidly as we move our imagination into it.”

Coming across this quote again recently, I realized that I’m not so frightened by it now.  The truth is, I am in love with today, which makes the future a much less scary proposition.  Do I still dream and fantasize?  Sure!  But I am learning that entering fully into each day means that I expend less energy worrying about what might happen tomorrow.  What will happen will happen — I may fail, I may succeed.  Either will lead to the next experience.  No need to consult an Oracle, or bless myself with the holy mud I carried away from El Santuario de Chimayo.

This new approach is proving to be both challenging and exhilarating when applied to my relationships.  So often, I have tried to take relationships to specific places — sometimes having whole conversations with others inside my own head as if I know before an interaction how it will go.  Imagining that I can create an “if this, then that” equation in my dealings with other people.  Letting go of definitions, of predictions, and of specific outcomes can be scary because it makes you aware of what has always been true:  you have no control over what other people feel or how they respond.  Thinking you can control others is just another form of magical thinking.

The country group, Lady Antebellum has a new song (which I heard on Pandora this afternoon) called “Ready to Love Again”, and the chorus speaks to this lack of attachment to a particular outcome.  It says:  “Yeah, I’m ready to feel now, no longer afraid of the fall down. It must be time to move on now, without the fear of how it might end…”  The future holds lots of endings, and equally as many beginnings.  My current plan is to follow today where it leads, and fall in love with tomorrow when it comes.

What I’ve Learned from Men

With the approach of father’s day, I have been thinking about the men in my life: my father, brothers, and dear friends — almost all of whom are fathers (and amazing ones at that).  They are also gifted, funny, gentle, kind and generous.  I have learned so many things from them:  about life, love and how to not take myself too seriously.  I thought that, in celebration of father’s day, I would share some of the wisdom I’ve gleaned from them.

  • I’ve learned that having guts can get you places that talent alone cannot (like the coveted first baseman spot or a semi-regular turn with the karaoke microphone).
  • You’ve taught me to stop trying to get you to talk about your feelings.  Like finding a husband or getting your first period, it will happen when least expected, and will presumably be worth the wait.
  • I’ve been to the school for male humor called “coffee with the guys” most mornings for over a decade, and I now understand that the humor of a really bad word or an especially bawdy comment resides in its shock value.  Less frequent equals more funny.
  • Men have shown me that holding on to hurt feelings is useless.  Say something (if you need to) then move on.  There is so much freedom in facing today without needing to nurse yesterday’s wounds.  Also, when men say they’ve moved on, they really have.  I’m still working on this part of the equation.
  • The wonderful men in my life have taught me that you do not need to use the word “love” to express the feeling.  They show it in hugs, punches, late night texts, carrying the ugly couch that came with the house to the basement for you.  These physical acts, large and small, are powerful statements of feeling.
  • If one of my male friends bothers to get on a soapbox, lecturing about attitude or “choosing in life”, it is important to listen.  These soapbox lectures have helped me change my life for the better in so many ways.

My dad and brothers were the first men to love me, and they have done so unconditionally (followed closely by my brothers-in-law).  The many male friends who have stood by my side in the past and the present — and you know who you are, guys — have shown me that I am lovable, not because of what I have to offer but because of who I am.

Once, someone told me that I had too much “masculine energy” and suggested that was a failing in me.  While I didn’t necessarily agree with the assessment, I also would never have taken it as anything but a positive trait.  Every day, masculine energy brings light, laughter and love to my life.  And I am so much the better woman for it.

On being a “goalie”

Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.

After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns,

We ourselves flash and yearn,

and moreover my mother told me as a boy

(repeatingly) ‘Ever to confess you’re bored

means you have no

Inner Resources.’  I conclude now I have no

inner resources because I am heavy bored…

–“Dream Song 14”, John Berryman

Life, friends, used to feel a lot like this poem.  In fact, that was one of the reasons the poem resonated with me – I knew, in my heart even if I refused to admit it aloud, that my boredom and inactivity resulted from my own lack of inner resources.  There wasn’t a lot of “flashing and yearning” going on in my life.  There WAS a lot of ho-humming and “Victory Garden” watching. Yawn.

And then, slowly, things began to change.  We’re talking slow as in “at a glacial pace” (thanks, Meryl Streep).  One significant part of that change has been the discovery that I operate best, achieve more, when I set goals.  Now, to those of you who have been devotees of Stephen Covey or who knew your life’s ambitions at age 10, this is a no brainer.  For me, it was a revelation.  (Remember what I’ve said in the past about being a late bloomer?  Turns out, I am not that quick on the up-take, either!)

My college English Department faculty lampooned the seniors each year, and in performing her version of me, Sr. Pat Nolan slouched into the skit, hands in pockets, and said, “I don’t know.  Maybe I’ll be a writer…Maybe I’ll become an editor…whatever….something’s bound to turn up.”  Not a flattering portrait, albeit accurate.  For much of my life, I just seemed constitutionally incapable of committing to a course of action and then taking the steps necessary to see it through.

Now, I know I have accomplished a number of things over the years: graduate school while working full-time; a demanding and time-consuming job; making a difference in the lives of students. I am proud of these achievements.  But many of my proudest accomplishments, while the result of hard work, began as things I just sort of fell into (grad school is a perfect example, and I’ll tell that story another time if you want to know!)  The discovery that goals help me to focus my time and see things through has been a key factor in my current state of happiness.  A second eye-opener:  goals can be small!  Yes, its true — audacious goals are great, but so are the smaller lets-finally-clean-the-craft-room-type goals.  I no longer underestimate the satisfaction of meeting a goal within the time-frame allotted for it.

On Sunday morning, I was up bright and early and on my way to Palo, Iowa for the annual Pigman Triathlon.  Competing in a triathlon has never been a goal of mine, however, it was for three important people in my life and all three were competing on Sunday.  The day dawned bright, beautiful, and without the normal summer humidity.  And while cheering on my friends, I also had the opportunity to see 800 others fulfilling their triathlon goals — 800 people of every age, shape, size, and fitness level.  It was inspiring and motivational.  I did not leave with the goal to compete in a triathlon.  But I did leave with the sense that it is time to set a goal to stretch myself.  So this week, I’m enjoying my newly clean craft room, gathering my inner resources for an exciting life ahead: its definitely time for a little flash and yearn!

Extreme Makeover: Honesty Edition

The other night at my friend Sara’s house, we were discussing swim suits and the fact that, while I now own one, I am not necessarily keen on the idea of wearing it in public places.  Sara’s daughter Abby, a precocious first-grader, piped in to ask, “Jen, why do you hate your body?”

The question stopped me short — and I experienced the (rare for me) sensation of speechlessness.  I looked to Sara for help, and Sara just shrugged as if to say, “Well, she’s a perceptive kid, whadda ya want me to do about it?”

What resulted was a conversation between Abby, Sara and I about choices.  The ones we carelessly make and live to regret, the ones we make that have incremental impacts we don’t think about until it would take a herculean effort to reverse them.  A bit heavy, you might think, for a kid Abby’s age, but she tracked on all of it.

And it brought home to me one of the things I have been learning, another “late bloomer aha”:  the truth is a powerful thing.  I’ve written before about my attempts to be more honest and how that has impacted me and my life.  But what I’ve been thinking about since my chat with Abby is how, when we make the effort to be truthful, it can make a huge impact on others as well.

When we cover up, sugar coat, or stay silent it diminishes the other people we are in relationship with.  It is as if we, like the Jack Nicholson character in “A Few Good Men”, are saying to them: “The truth?  You can’t handle the truth!”  Sounds pretty condescending when put that way, but isn’t that what we are doing when we decide it is in someone else’ best interest to fudge a little? or a lot?  And when it comes to the children in my life, like Abby, I want to think carefully about the messages I send and example I set for them.  So I told her the painful truth:  I don’t hate my body. I love my body, but I am embarrassed by what poor care I have taken of it.  Abby could handle it.

The other night, I was talking with Sue Stork, and repeating a story.  She was surprised by something I recounted saying to another friend, and said, “Good for you for being honest.  But really, this whole journey you’ve been on has been about being honest — especially with yourself, but also with others.  This part of your life could be titled: Extreme Makeover: Honesty Edition”.  Those who lived with me throughout my childhood would agree that I am an unlikely ambassador for truthfulness (they know I can tell some whoppers).  However, like a zealous convert, I urge everyone to make the committment to be more honest in daily life.  It is an important way to communicate your love, honor and respect for the people in your life.