Flashback Friday – Party Time!

Today we have the much-criticized “hipster” culture. Back then, preceding the “hippie” culture, were the Beatniks. February 1961 my parents and their friends decided to mock Beatnik culture – a creative way to have fun in Iowa in the middle of the most depressing month! My dad is at the left, with the bongos. My mother is looking cool center stage in black beret with cigarette.

Saturday Night in Palo, Iowa

So, I am standing in a small bar in small town Iowa, watching the small crowd rock out to a local guy singing the karaoke version of Snoop Dog’s “Gin and Juice”. Standing next to me is a woman I’ll call Beth (because that’s her name) who is pretty much the exact opposite of me in most ways:

Beth                                                  Me_________________________________

Young                                               Not

Tall                                                    Not

Beautiful                                           Not

Married                                             Not

New Parent                                      Not

Pretty sure we are at opposite ends of other spectrums (spectra?) as well, but these examples will suffice to point out our differences. Despite these differences, though, we are in complete agreement on two things: the men in our group (one of whom is her husband) are among the best guys around and neither of us could ever do what the women on the “dance floor” are doing. And what, exactly, are they doing you ask?

Dancing. Dirty, uninhibited, take no prisoners, body-punishing drunken dancing. While screaming out the words to every song at the top of their lungs. Hugging and high-fiving each other. Challenging each other to shout a duet of “Love Shack” or “Baby Got Back” as soon as they can get their hands on the karaoke mic.

And while Beth and I are in agreement we could never behave that way, it isn’t because we are judging the other women harshly. Rather, we are judging ourselves and finding that we lack the ability to set aside self-judgement long enough to cut loose and just enjoy ourselves. Without regard to what the tall and short women standing by the bar watching us are thinking.

The atmosphere in the bar isn’t conducive to deep conversation, so Beth and I stand side-by-side, mostly silent. And I realize that it is fine with me that I will likely never be one of the dancing queens. But I do find myself wondering what I would choose to do if I could just silence my inner critic for a few brief hours. If I could just realize that the bystanders, like Beth and I, are probably actually thinking about themselves. Here are a few:

  • Wear sloppy clothes in public. My friends Molly, Colette, Wendy: all of them can head out wearing sweats or scrubs, unshowered, no make-up and they just look “natural”. I look hideous.
  • Rollerblade. This one has the element of personal injury folded in with the fear of looking stupid in public.
  • Ask questions in public forums. Of course, this would reveal that I am not all-knowing, and I’m not sure the rest of the world can handle that truth…
  • Take an art class. Really? Even as I write this I realize how supremely silly it is – the whole point of taking the class is that you don’t already know how to do it!

Well, those are probably enough examples to illustrate my point here. Like many other women – even women as unlike me as Beth – I have spent a lifetime being socialized to keep my behavior within certain parameters, and I have internalized those boundaries. Above all, don’t look stupid/slovenly/slutty: the adjectives vary but they are all cut from the same cloth. This is one reason so many women aren’t able to cut loose and fully enjoy themselves (without massive quantities of alcohol to loosen their inhibitions). We watch our own behavior and apply such tough judgements to ourselves.

I’ve heard people say that women are each other’s harshest critics. That hasn’t been my experience. In fact, quite the opposite. I have found that women tend to be fairly generous with one another. The problem is one of projection: if I look at the women in the bar and project myself into their midst, I judge myself very cruelly. With self-censoriousness as the starting point, it colors how I view others, too. When I sneer at a stranger (0r her behavior) I am really “hating on” myself.

I wonder how our lives would shift if we could extend the same generosity of spirit towards ourselves that we do toward others who are trying new things, cutting loose in public, arriving for morning coffee unkempt? I’m pretty sure one of the first outcomes is that we would feel less judged by others, simply by being less judgmental towards ourselves. Definitely something worth trying!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Someone sent me a photo of a scale, with a person’s feet standing on it. The readout, instead of showing the weight of the person, had a piece of paper over it which said, “This does not define me”. For the record, I couldn’t agree more. What does define me is the level of commitment and hard work I have put into becoming a healthier, more self-aware woman. This only represents one facet of that journey, one part of the complex person I am (that we ALL are!).

Flashback Friday

I have been thinking about all the babies planning to be born this spring, beginning with my great-niece Ada who joined us last week. So, I’m sharing a photo of myself as a happy baby, on the occasion of my baptism in 1961. Have a great Friday, everyone!

The Guest House

A week ago Sunday evening, I drove a college van to the small town of Vinton, Iowa. We were a subdued group on the drive out, befitting the nature of our trip: to attend a visitation for the father of two of our students. At our arrival, there was a line out the door of the church. When we were finally allowed inside by the local fire department, I was stunned to see several hundred people waiting to make their way , single file, past the open casket and through the line of close family accepting condolences. It took our little group two and a half hours to process through. Along the way, we learned a great deal about the man whose death had brought us there. His was a story of love, engagement with the community, commitment to the people and activities of his life. While maintaining strong relationships outside the home, he also  supported and encouraged a truly loving family and helped raise some pretty wonderful human beings. Through the course of that day, literally thousands had come to pay tribute to his life.

On Tuesday of that same week, my sister underwent major surgery. When we spoke late on Monday, she was attempting to get one more workout under her belt before having weeks off her regular routine. What surprised me, throughout the process of determining the nature and extent of the surgical response to her cancer, was that every conversation included her words of gratitude for the blessings bestowed: that the cancer had been caught early; that she had competent and up-to-date doctors and surgeons in her small town; that she had trust in God and the unfailing gentle-kindness and support of her husband. After the surgery – more of the same, in a slightly more tired voice.

Adeline Bell Finnegan was born on Thursday, January 12 at 7:06 pm. She weighed in at 8 lbs 12 oz. and was 21″ long. My great-niece was welcomed into this world with much rejoicing – on the part of her parents (Ben and Elsa); by her aunt and uncle (Tim and Nikki) who arrived for her trip home from the hospital; by her Grandma Chris whose (almost) only verbalized complaint about her cancer recurrence was that she wouldn’t be there in person to welcome Ada. And by the rest of our “clan”, as my sister Annie posted on Facebook.

Sunday through Thursday – five days. But in those five short days, so much to learn, to process, and to celebrate. Three of the major human life events: death, illness, birth in such a short span of time. Those five days touched me profoundly, in ways I don’t have the grace to articulate. Luckily, the great poet Rumi said it for me, centuries ago. He tells us to welcome every experience which comes our way, even “if they’re a crowd of sorrows…treat them honorably”  because each experience brings a gift as well. And so I am practicing being the proprietor of the guest house of my heart – throwing open the doors to all who seek admission, with gratitude and welcome even for the difficult guests.

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.


Flashback Friday – Snow!

This is one of my favorite photos from childhood – Chris, Jeff and I outside in the snow. We played outside constantly, and there was always plenty of snow in winter. It seems like a fitting post today for several reasons:

  1. 5.5 inches of new snow on the ground here, the first measurable snow of the season;
  2.  Chris in our hearts this week (her surgery went very well, and she is resting at home – thanks for all your prayers on her behalf);
  3.  I had lunch with Jeff on Wednesday (rare one-on-one time with my brother).

Good week, good memories.

The Pause

Keeping busy and making optimism a way of life can restore your faith in yourself. -Lucille Ball

 On Tuesday morning, I rolled out of bed with only one eye open. I tripped on several items strewn on the floor of my bedroom because I just hadn’t gotten motivated to pick them up over the weekend. I dressed for my TRX class at the gym and stumbled out to my car. As I backed out of the driveway, I noticed something unusual: my windshield, which faced east, was filled with the bright orange and pink tones that precede full sunrise, tinting the morning sky. In my rear window, dark night reigned – complete with a huge, brilliant white full moon. Straightening out my wheels and heading up the street, morning rode on my right hand, night on my left. I felt as if I were driving the dividing line between the two.

In some belief systems, this time of day, the “in-between”  or “liminal” time is when sacred or magical things can happen. It is when the “veil between the worlds” is thinnest, and folklore abounds with stories of humans who accidentally wandered into fairyland at dawn (or dusk, also an in-between time). In psychological terms, “liminality (from the Latin word līmen, meaning ‘a threshold’) is a psychological, neurological, or metaphysically subjective state, conscious or unconscious, of being on the ‘threshold’ of or between two different existential planes” (thanks, Wikipedia).

This is how I have felt, these first weeks of 2012: as if I am on the threshold of something. I don’t know what it is, but all this forward momentum of the past few years has slowed way down. And, as often happens when on the threshold of something new, I am in a state of pause. Something will happen, of this I am sure. Perhaps it will be an internal change, perhaps a new external path will open up. But for just now, I need to breathe in The Pause.

The Pause can’t last forever, though. Stasis isn’t, ultimately, my goal. Which is why I chose the word “Move” as my one-word for 2012 after viewing this video last week. As I have been thinking about this word, I have realized that many advisors tell us not to move without a plan, to make your moves count. We plan our lives, we set goals, we live into the future. For me, that type of life-planning is paralyzing. If I am in that mode, I can’t choose which foot to put forward first, in fear of making the wrong choice. In that mode, I would look at morning on my right, and night on my left, and feel I had to choose one or the other. And that would be an impossible choice, so I would stay rooted to the spot I was already on.

Instead, I am looking at “Move” as an imperative to make joyful choices – to try new things, go new places, take new steps in my life. Not as part of a formal life plan, because that hasn’t worked for me. Instead, my informal plan is to Move. Just move. The next step may be a mis-step, but if the imperative is to move, then I can take another step. I want to welcome change within my life and in my heart – whether I move to the right or the left, I move into beauty. What a choice that is! Choose this or choose that – either way, BEAUTIFUL!

So, for a moment, I am pausing on the threshold. But liminal times don’t last forever – dawn always banishes night, night always overcomes day. That’s how it is supposed to work in the world, and in our lives as well. Pause, breathe, move!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Why is getting below 200 such an elusive goal? It isn’t as if I haven’t been working at it. It isn’t like I’ve strayed from a committed path. I have been working hard at this. Daily.

Perhaps a better question is, “Why is this such an important goal for me?” I mean, I already look and feel the best I ever have. I am healthy, and my physical stamina continues to improve such that I can take on harder challenges. Isn’t that enough? Why does this number have so much power?

The answer is a fairly simple one, while at the same time being deeply emotional. One-derland is such a play on words, as if getting there will mean I’ve arrived in a magical world. But I know the truth: it will be the same world on the day I get to One-derland that it is today. However, my weight will, for the first time in literally decades, be back in the ballpark of normal. Not where the standard charts say I should be for my height and age, but in the same century as normal. I was thrilled when I left the 300’s behind. But it has been a long, long journey to leave the 200’s behind. I just want to finally get there. I know the journey won’t be over, but most journeys have places where you stay for a short while just to celebrate having gotten there. My first step into One-derland will be such a place.

Flashback Friday – Nice Ride, Brother!

It was 1970-something. Back row: Dave, Debbie Ross, Stephanie Beller, Marla St. Clair; Front Row: Jeff Hanson, Susannah Ross, me.

The car belonged to my friend and youth-group leader, Dave Finnegan. From the first night we met, at a Tuesday night Inter-Church Youth (ICY) meeting, I thought he was awesome. Gentle of spirit, kind, and incredibly smart. Not a bad volleyball player. Or too shabby with that guitar.

In the ensuing 35 or so years since we met, Dave has been an important influence on my life AND a member of my family – he and my sister Chris were married a couple of years after this photo. They raised two amazing sons, my nephews Ben and Tim, together. And they have weathered more than their share of serious illness – Dave faced several bouts of cancer, culminating in a Stage IV diagnosis and a grueling experimental treatment program at M.D. Anderson in Houston (he has been cancer free since then, approximately twenty years). My sister, Chris, will have surgery on Tuesday for her second round with breast cancer.

What I want to say about Dave in this Flashback is that I couldn’t have chosen anyone better for my sister’s life companion. You know how it is with in-laws: they marry into a family like ours (big, loud, opinionated) and can spend years figuring out how not to be chewed up and spit out. Dave maintains his calm, faithful and principled presence – occasionally making us groan at his terrible puns. In the coming weeks, he will be the gentle rock upon which my sister will lean – and by virtue of his presence where we can’t be, we will all lean on him to an extent (poor guy). After more than three decades, I can  say with complete trust that he’s up to the task. I thank God, and my brother Dave, for that!