With Nana and Papa

With Nana and Papa
Family Times at Flathead Lake

Friday, December 17, 2010

Twelve Days of Christmas - Rewrite

It's been done before, I know, but I could not resist borrowing the framework of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" to express our crazy pre-holiday week. When I say my family "gave" me each item in the list below, I know you will understand that to mean, "demanded," "requested," or accidentally "inspired" a response from me. Holiday wishes to everyone; may you be frequently caffeinated, often caught by hilarity, and full of good spirits (and I do mean of the alcoholic kind.) One note: this really sounds much better when sung!


On the first day of Christmas my family gave to me, a football in the Christmas tree.

On the second day of Christmas my family gave to me, two broken light strands and a football in the Christmas tree.

On the third day of Christmas my family gave to me, three class parties, two broken light strands and a football in the Christmas tree.

On the fourth day of Christmas my family gave to me, four dozen cookies, three class parties, two broken light strands and a football in the Christmas tree.

On the fifth day of Christmas my family gave to me five toilet bowl rings. Four dozen cookies, three class parties, two broken light strands and a football in the Christmas tree.

On the sixth day of Christmas my family gave to me, six coaches’ presents, five toilet bowl rings, four dozen cookies, three class parties, two broken light strands and a football in the Christmas tree.

On the seventh day of Christmas my family gave to me, seven teachers’ gift cards, six coaches’ presents, five toilet bowl rings, four dozen cookies, three class parties, two broken light strands and a football in the Christmas tree.

On the eighth day of Christmas my family gave to me, eight boxes from Amazon, seven teachers’ gift cards, six coaches’ presents, five toilet bowl rings, four dozen cookies, three class parties, two broken light strands and a football in the Christmas tree.

On the ninth day of Christmas my family gave to me, nine dinner guests, eight boxes from Amazon, seven teachers’ gift cards, six coaches’ presents, five toilet bowl rings, four dozen cookies, three class parties, two broken light strands and a football in the Christmas tree.

On the tenth day of Christmas my family gave to me, ten new Christmas card addresses, nine dinner guests, eight boxes from Amazon, seven teachers’ gift cards, six coaches’ presents, five toilet bowl rings, four dozen cookies, three class parties, two broken light strands and a football in the Christmas tree.

On the eleventh day of Christmas my family gave to me, eleven screaming carols, ten new Christmas card addresses, nine dinner guests, eight boxes from Amazon, seven teachers’ gift cards, six coaches’ presents, five toilet bowl rings, four dozen cookies, three class parties, two broken light strands and a football in the Christmas tree.

On the twelfth day of Christmas my family gave to me, twelve stacks of thank-yous, eleven screaming carols, ten new Christmas card addresses, nine dinner guests, eight boxes from Amazon, seven teachers’ gift cards, six coaches’ presents, five toilet bowl rings, four dozen cookies, three class parties, two broken light strands and a football in the Christmas tree.

Monday, December 13, 2010

What's Your Story

"We tell stories in order to live." - Joan Didion

"Tell me the story, mom, that says 'there was a little boy who lived in a city . . .'" That's the way our bedtime begins now, with my youngest son requesting the unique story of his adoption from Guatemala. We have told his story through various picture books and memorabilia since he came to us almost three years ago, but the newest version of his story is different. My latest effort was produced via simple word processing, without pictures or embellishment of any kind. What it does have, that the earlier versions did not, is emotion. Tough emotion, like his legitimate fears, worries and sorrow upon leaving a home and people that he loved for a brand new place where he did not know a soul, did not understand the language, and could not be understood. In the past I have glossed over those pieces in the interest of 'sparing' his current feelings. I was not being truthful in my storytelling, and the center of my story knew it. No wonder he recognizes and likes the current edition much better.

I've heard that we all need to figure out our individual narratives in order to make sense of our lives. I've been trying to do this with increasing difficulty as shifting jobs, motherhood, and the swift passage of time unravel my particular narrative thread and leaving me grasping for continuity and meaning. I realized as I wrote the emotions into my youngest son's story that I was leaving out the feelings (particularly the bad ones) when I told my own history. Events do not comprise the entirety of my life; just retelling the stages and steps of my history (high school, college, jobs, etc.) removes its uniqueness. I needed the emotion: did I hate college? Love the first job? Rebel against the possessive boyfriend? How did I react and how did my emotional response help to dictate the next move? What we learn, how we choose our path . . .the deeper, murkier stuff of our pasts makes them interesting.

Maya Angelou says, "there is no greater burden than carrying an untold story." Perhaps that is the reason why 175,000 blogs start every day. And we must not confine our stories to the proper, the glorious, the successful - even if we have all of these shiny elements in our narratives. The favorite stories are always of the hero who gets knocked down - perhaps repeatedly - only to get up again and again. We cannot empathize with a protagonist who does not feel fear, who is loved by everyone she meets, or who achieves success in every venture. Why would we tell our own stories this way? I have started re-telling my own story (in my head, only, fortunately for you) and emphasizing the emotions that I felt, what I responded to or rejected, and how that dictated my next steps. I find that tracing my history in this manner makes it far more meaningful and far more coherent - "ugly" stuff and all. Now I can teach all my kids how to tell their own stories, and make sure they include all the right elements.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Wall

Last week I had the privilege of watching a presentation by Dan Millis of the Sierra Club Borderlands campaign. Dan presented a film called "Wild vs. Wall" about the Border Wall and its cost to border ecology, as well as the monetary cost to taxpayers. You can find more information at www.sierraclub.org/borderlands.

One of the lines that Dan mentioned in his presentation was "there are nearly 2000 miles from Friendship to Hope." This refers to the fact that the wall is being built through Friendship Park near Tijuana and San Diego; the promise for better relations between two countries broken by its construction. Almost 2000 miles away, in Brownsville, Texas, the wall is being built in a park named Hope. Ironic, sad and expensive in terms of dollars, loss of life, and loss of faith that we can work together. I tried to write a poem that lived up to some of this thought, and here it is.


The Wall

Nearly two thousand miles from Friendship to Hope,
The Wall rises in cancer clusters of concrete and steel.
A dividing line between compassion and fear,
Constructed in borderlands from California to Texas
and in our dark interior spaces.

Where once porous membrane allowed ebb and flow
Rusty barriers bisect no man’s land that selectively holds
Back water, rattlers and big cats while
The siren call of dollars filters through, drawing people
Over or under, a delay of five minutes in their active transport.

Then five days’ dusty journey from Nogales to Tucson,
Broken feet stumble on rocks in the darkness as
Two thousand years ago refugees trudged
The same distance from Nazareth to Bethlehem.
There was no room for them, either.

What journey ends well that starts with a wall?
Can it close only in the cave of a detention cell or
A sweaty deportation bus?
White sanded bones in the desert or sterile hospital room;
There are no wise men here.