With Nana and Papa

With Nana and Papa
Family Times at Flathead Lake

Saturday, March 28, 2015

A Family of Travelers

I walked the black rubber track at West Mesa High School this morning, looking up at the blue sky and hot air balloons over Albuquerque. As a red-white-and-blue checked balloon floated directly overhead, two young girls in pink jeans and sweatshirts sprinted down the side of track and boldly approached hurdles left out on the edge before darting around them and collapsing in giggles on the grass.  William's team won his 7:30am water polo game by a score of 16 to 2 and I walked before heading back to the hotel for some writing homework.

The two of us are in Albuquerque through tomorrow and Aden jetted off to Washington DC on her eighth grade trip this morning. She'll return Wednesday evening of Spring Break week with a few days to rest and restore before classes start up for the home stretch of the school year.  Meanwhile, Rob and Daniel are left ruling the roost at home, no doubt enjoying gluten-ous baked goods at every meal and spending Daniel's birthday money freely.

I scratch my head in wonder that my children have reached the stage where they travel frequently - and increasingly without parents in tow.  My good nights to the children were conveyed via text message last night, and though William was only down the hall I can see into the future when he won't need or want us on these water polo jaunts. For now I can enjoy being here to watch him play, with some time between games to get work done. Sending prayers to all my family members - including those in northern California for Jack's baptism - and traveling mercies for wonderful times and a safe return.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Recovering Ivy Leaguer

Last week the Harvard men's basketball team lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament. They played a great game against North Carolina and fell short by only two points; an amazing accomplishment for the Ivy League Champions.  A few days later I received an email from the Harvard Women's water polo team that they had crushed the #19 team in the country, Santa Clara, by a score of 14 to 4, and narrowly lost to the #11 team, UC Davis, by a score of 10 to 11.When I played water polo at Harvard it was a club sport, not a varsity sport, and we struggled to beat MIT, not California powerhouses. The men's basketball team during my tenure lost to UNC rival Duke by a humiliating score of something like 100 to 29. The point of this statistical run-down is that for the first time in my life, my pride in being an alum of Harvard College was not mixed with a sense of failure and shame. Those feelings not related to my school's athletic failings, of course, but to my own.

As a wife, mom to three kids, and part-time swim instructor I do not have a title or salary that would command respect anywhere in the country, let alone various Harvard Clubs and alumni meetings. I have lived with - and previously written about - the sense of failure that accompanied me everywhere since I left the business world fifteen years ago. Sometime over the weekend I spent writing at Regis, I realized that the sense of failure was gone. As we talked about books we loved, first lines we cherished, movie adaptations we hated and authors we aspired to be like, I realized what a gift my English education has been. I played in the rich playground of letters and love of the English language, learned Spanish and Spanish poetry, and geeked out in the ultimate geek-loving atmosphere.

Sure, that meant that other students wrote much better than I, that graduate students pulled their hair out when wrestling with my essays, that I felt inferior and small-fish-in-a-big-pond. And yes, it has taken me twenty years to get over myself. I wasn't used to failing, to feeling inferior, to looking bad, and it shut me down vis-a-vis writing. But now, suddenly, I'm free! I am free to fail and work harder, fail better the next time. I am free to cheer for Harvard without irony, to proudly claim my alumni status in March Madness along with three of my other siblings (Georgetown, Villanova, and Oregon - all sadly out now). I can see the gift, and realize that it was gift all along.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Kids' Artwork

Not a lot of writing today - just wanted to call your attention to the photos of artwork by Aden and Daniel. posted above. Aden did the Red Riding Hood / wolf / basket pattern and Daniel did the circles; I just love both! Can't wait to hang these new pieces so I can see the cheerful colors wherever I look - just wish we had more walls to cover.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Your Voice, Your Story

I spent a word-wonderful weekend at Regis University, where my "blended variable" graduate class in advanced creative nonfiction met to workshop, chat and share. My fellow students gave new definition to the word "advanced": they are inspiring writers whose impromptu exercises spilled forth with creative genius - I could not even plagiarize as fast as they compose! Yet, where previously I would have been overwhelmed by inferiority complex, I could now step back and observe our separate voices as distinct and necessary. Each person had a project, a burning issue, a bugaboo to track down, pin to the keyboard and examine. The stories leaped forward in dialogue or in sensual scene or in startling action - in rare cases all of the above. Though I noted objectively enough where I need to improve, I could also see that no one else was preoccupied with my preoccupations, or could write my story the way I can write my story.

So Hallelujah for being free to fall short, fail, and persevere in this, my forty-fifth year! I can't discuss military issues like *Johan, art and passion like Sophia, or poetry like Marianne (*names changed to protect the superlative) but I can discuss raising three children with gluten and dairy issues, my struggle to be witty and goofy, and my journey through midlife as no other person can. The larger question - does there exist an audience for my story? - cannot be answered yet. That conclusion can only be reached after a great deal of work on my part to make the events and emotions accessible through writing.

So off to my editing stool! The grocery shopping is finished, the dishes and laundry done, and emails answered. Just enough time to spruce up a story before the kids come home.  

Friday, March 13, 2015

Auto Correct

When I became ill several years ago I confronted a number of unpleasant truths about myself. My strong will, which I had imagined as an asset, had become an overlarge hammer that I used to pound big nails through common sense and realism. My overdeveloped sense of competition pushed me into unnecessary conflict with friends and family obligations and my impatience shortchanged relationships with the kids and my spouse. Now that I am fully awake to my flaws, I had hoped to avoid them in all future actions.

Not so. Like a bad scratch on an old vinyl record, these bugaboos come around time and again. For example, it was pointed out to me that my conflict with Daniel over his Brain Highways exercises originated with my impatience and frustration over where he was in his development compared to the other kids in the class. My subconscious put-downs and message of "not enough-ness" transmitted to Daniel and understandably gave him quite an attitude.

Why can't life be like email, when - if you type a common word wrong - a program auto corrects spelling for you so that your fingers can continue on their merry way? If that were true then my poor coaching / bribing/ threatening demeanor would have been instantly overridden in any of the last four days of exercises. I would instantly transmogrified into a positive, supportive and inspirational parent, placing my relationship with my child ahead of any short term goals. Instead, my son and I have to suffer for almost a week before the light bulb goes off in my still-dingy cranium, and a friend points out what I need to do to get the situation on track. At least now I see it quickly (when it's pointed out), but I still think auto correct would make all of our lives easier.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Moving Forward

We spent a marvelous two days skiing last week, just after I had decided to take a year or two off from spending money on passes and equipment and braving the ninety minute drive over a mountain! Thursday and Friday were uncrowded - the mountain to ourselves - the weather was gorgeous, and the friends we skiied with were compatible in every way. How ironic that such perfection came at the exact moment I was ready to let go. A friend of mine compared it to a game of golf that frustrated her at every turn - until the 18th green when she sank a hole in one. Hard to end on such a good note, rather than seeing a sign of hope and future possibilities.

After the wonderful but exhausting 48 hours in the mountains we struggled to make up for the lost daylight savings hour yesterday. Daniel and I wrestled with our head colds last night and the big kids walked to the bus stop hollow - eyed and stoop shouldered. Again it's hard to decipher if the coming of spring is around the corner or if our pseudo jet lag and sniffles indicate more winter. It's all a decision, isn't it? How we perceive our situation really makes it or breaks it.

I am trying to use this logic to enlighten my current struggles with Daniel and his Brain Highways exercises. We have hit a stumbling block where he can't or won't hear my coaching tips and so our efforts deteriorate repeatedly into power struggles and crying on both sides. I am not allowed to criticize - as Daniel knows and repeatedly points out - but I do, so I know that I am equally at fault, but I boil with frustration when he "cheats" or takes short cuts, as I know that he is not developing any skills with the incorrect technique. Hopefully this challenge is a last hurdle before we cruise into smooth movement forward, a turning point for our dynamic rather than a dead stop. Like a wondrous day of skiing or a perfect ninth hole, I can choose to read it either way.


Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Writing from the Well

I just finished a Creative Nonfiction class at Regis University and simultaneously began a class in Advanced Creative Nonfiction with the same instructor. The reading material stimulates and challenges me, but the writing challenges me with greater intensity. Creative nonfiction is not new as a genre, though the name is only four decades old; it deals with "true stories well told" in the words of CNF 'Godfather' Lee Gutkind. For my work this semester I have been delving into memories of my childhood and also revelations from my autoimmune craziness two years ago.

Writing helps process my memories and incorporate them into my 'whole' persona, it makes things less powerful to bring them out into the light. I have written a few essays that only my professor will see, and others that my sister and maybe my classmates will read, but really the writing is just for me right now.  A major issue for my creative nonfiction is writing about loved ones who could potentially be wounded, offended, surprised or otherwise affected by my version of the truth. I know that my truth will be different from anyone else's, and I am so open to hearing what memories family members tie to the events in my work, but my last desire is for injury. This 'murks up' the thought of publishing so that I can't see putting my work out there - even for such a limited audience as mine is sure to be!

Also - with my creative thoughts and valuable mental real estate focused on the essays due for class, I've had less space and time to write in the blog here, for which I apologize. I will try to put out little anecdotes more regularly. Less "big talk" and more real life, which is better practice for writing in any case.