Z is for Zebco

Pam and Grandpa, fishing from rubber rafts

Evidently fishing season opened this week. Fisher people of all stripes line my regular running trail and the funky smell of dead trout permeates the early morning air. That smell—muddy, scaly, wet—it takes me right back to childhood.

Fishing loomed large in my family. Everyone fished. For fun. For sport. On my dad’s side of the family, salmon fishing. Expeditions to Westport. Cases of canned smoked salmon and tales of my father seasick, green and puking. On my mother’s side of the family, trout fishing adventures. Long family vacations up endless gravel roads, hundred of miles into the Canadian wilderness to remote lakes filled with legendary trout.

I never got to go along on the Westport adventures, and truth be told, never wanted to. They sounded miserable. But the trout fishing expeditions? Everyone went along on these trips. We’d pile into our truck, the canopied back filled with our tent and sleeping bags, fishing rods, reels, creels, our green metal Coleman cooler, the green Coleman camp stove, jugs of kerosene. Dad drove while mom, Brucie, and I squeezed together on the bench seat. I generally straddled the gear shift while mom held my brother on her lap.

Brucie and Fish

Brucie with fish much later (not grandpa’s boat)

We didn’t have to go too far to meet up with my mother’s parents where my little brother and I defected for Grandma and Grandpa’s camper. We clambered immediately to the top bunk over the truck cab and rode the hundreds of miles up there, peering excitedly out the window, watching impatiently as the ribbons of graveled roads unfurled endlessly before us.

Behind the camper, Grandpa towed his boat—a silver and red aluminum craft, not fancy at all. Not large. I’m guessing 15 feet. It had one engine, maybe 10 horsepower and a set of oars. Bulky orange life vests, tackle boxes, recycled plastic containers filled with dirt and worms from Grandma’s worm farm, and gorgeous bamboo and cork fishing poles filled the boat.

I so wanted one of those fishing poles with the shiny and complicated reel. Instead, I had a child-sized fishing pole with an attached reel—a Zebco. A simple, plastic, one-piece uncomplicated piece of equipment. The Zebco reel was enclosed around the fishing line and had a button I pressed to release the line as I cast.

At the end of my line, a red and white bobber, a couple of lead weights, and a hook with a worm. At the end of Grandpa’s line? Shiny silver spoons, fancy lures, orange and pink and iridescent. Oh, how I wanted those lures on my line. I did not want my Zebco with its pedestrian bait and hook. I remember opening Grandpa’s tackle box and ogling his lures—so many options, each little tray and compartment filled with candy-like choices, fake gummy worms, fuzzy bumblebee bodies that hid barbed hooks.

My tackle box, yellow, held very little—a small glassine bag of hooks, some fishing line leads, those little brass clippy things that attached the lead to the rest of the fishing line. The spools of monofilament that squeaked when I pulled the line out. bobbers, lead weights. I remember pinching these little lead balls open with my teeth, putting them on the line, and then pinching them closed again—with my teeth (this cannot have been a good idea).

I caught a lot of trout on that little Zebco. I wound Grandma’s fat, coffee ground-fed worms onto those hooks, cast my line out, and watched that bobber with single-minded intensity. I sat in that boat, orange life vest tied tightly under my chin, bulky and smelling of last year’s fish, stained with the blood and slime that washed the bottom of the boat. I rarely ate the trout we caught, though I loved to fish. Loved the ritual, the waiting, the quiet on the water.

When we had caught our daily limit, I helped Dad and Grandpa clean the fish—I had my own knife and knew how to cut down the belly, how to use my thumb to scrape the innards out. I can still feel the trout’s spine under my fingers, the serration against my thumbnail.

anna fish1

Anna with a fish she caught with Grandpa Rick

anna fish 2

Anna and her fish

As I got older, I lost my desire to put the bait on the hook, to slice open the fish, to scrape out the guts. Squeamishness replaced my attraction to the ritual, and I don’t think I ever took my children fishing (though my dad, their grandpa did).  This realization as I ran my laps around the lake this morning made me sad. Fishing filled my early years—that Zebco rod and reel saw me through fishing derbies, represented independence (my brother and I used to camp by a stream near our house, fish and cook the trout we caught for dinner over an open campfire), and connected me to family in ways nothing else really did.

I smiled as I ran this morning to see all of the children with their parents, and grandparents lined up around the lake, building memories, casting their lines, grinning widely as they held their catches. If I ever have grandchildren, we will go fishing. They will have a Zebco.

 

Y is for Yes!

Last November, Bellingham hosted its very first TEDx event, Here by Choice. Many terrific speakers made this an unforgettable day and though I didn’t plan ahead well enough to attend in person, I did watch most of it via live stream on the Intertubes. I was inspired, moved, educated, motivated.

One talk still resonates with me these many months later: Galen Emanuele’s Improv to be a Better Human Being which you can watch here.  I didn’t come away from watching Galen thinking I would make a great sidekick to Wayne Brady, Drew Carey, or Ryan Stiles. I came away with a newfound respect for the power of the word Yes.

Galen begins his talk by asking the audience a few simple questions: would you want to increase joy in your life if you could? Do you have someone in your life, who, when you tell them you are going on vacation, they say “aw man, you suck!” Is there someone else who shoots down every passionate idea you come up with?

Negativity, Galen tells us, sucks the energy right out of great ideas. Saying no halts progress and destroys an idea. According to Galen, the principles of improv offer a better approach. Improv depends on the principle of “yes, and” and operate on a handful of basic tenets:

  • Say yes
  • Make others look good
  • Be positive and optimistic

When I finished watching Galen’s presentation (back in November and just now, for a refresher), I determined that I would begin the New Year with a commitment to saying yes. I decided I would not let no be my default answer, the first response that crossed my mind and my lips.

Saying yes can be scary. The first thing I consciously said yes to was to The Haiku Room—Yes, I would accept the invitation offered and agree to write a haiku a day for the entirety of 2014. I’d never written a line of poetry in my life. I did not see myself as any kind of poet. What if I failed? What if the real poets laughed at me? I said yes anyway, in spite of my fears. Now, I cannot imagine these past four months without my haiku family, real and virtual. What a gift saying yes to haiku has been.

The next thing I consciously said yes to was an invitation from my friend Cami to run in a 10K race the first weekend of January. I hadn’t been running in four months as I was trying to recover from some heel injuries, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to jumpstart my way back into running with a 6 mile race. And Cami runs marathons—I’d never be able to keep up. She cajoled and then I remembered my commitment to say yes. I had a great race—I loved running with Cami, and that run launched me to another level of running. We finished that run in about an hour and 7 minutes.

My friend April is training for a half marathon next week and asked if I wanted to do her long training runs with her. I’d never run more than seven miles, but I said yes to a 9 mile run, and then I said yes to an 11 mile run. I just ran a 10K this weekend in 54 minutes because I said yes to running this year.

Not everything that I’ve said yes to has turned out to be amazing and awesome, but nothing has been awful either. I’ve had experiences I wouldn’t have otherwise had. I’ve stepped way, way, way outside of my comfort zone and discovered that, huh, nothing bad happened. I survived no worse for the wear and maybe even a little wiser.

I’ve made friends. I’ve written more than 50 blogs (because I said yes to two blog challenges) and more than a hundred haikus. I’ve discovered that I can run around Lake Padden twice and even three times and that really, it’s not a bad run from Squalicum Harbor to Fairhaven Park and back again. I’ve learned that I can be honest, tell my truth, stand my ground and that the world will not crumble. In fact, just the opposite happens—I find renewed strength and support.

So, give Yes a try—commit to saying yes, to being positive, to building others up. I highly recommend it. Take 12 minutes and watch Galen Emanuele’s TEDx Talk—say yes. You’ll be glad you did: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VhkcmN-CCYw

X is for April Haiku Review

I cannot believe that April is almost over and I’ve spent another month writing haikus (and daily blogs). Again, so many of these haikus defy explanation—I will try to give some insight into as many as I can. Some, though, just pop into my head fully formed. Others I get pieces of and have to then work out the remaining syllables. Occasionally, I will sit down with a topic in mind—generally these poems turn out to be the ones that sound the most forced, the least authentic.

So, as promised, here’s a haiku that begins with the letter X (which is the letter for today’s blog):

X—a crooked cross,
Sideways marks the spot, and, drawn,
Erases me gone

X can stand for so many things—ex, as in former. A place to stand. A place to dig. A spot. A signature. X’d out, as in erased.

My heart’s flame burns white-
hot blue tongues arise, dancing,
Seek your oxygen

Poetry sparked and
Ignited passionate fire–
Stark truth doused that flame

This one came directly out of Jake Ballard’s mouth on Scandal one night a couple of weeks ago, after Olivia tricked him into sleeping with her so she could get her hands on his phone. I just wrote it so that it lined up 5-7-5:

Tell me you felt it
Too. Tell me I’m not crazy.
Tell me you were there

The Little Woman and I were born under the same sign—we’re both Geminis, so when I read my horoscope in the morning, I’m reading hers as well:

Every day I
Read my horoscope and yours–
Astral projection

This year I seem to have a huge amount of pent up energy that I keep trying to expend through running and writing and now, school. So I wrote these:

I’ll sleep when I die–
Til I’m exhausted, weary.
Sounds good in theory

Wet sneakers pound through
puddles, toes shriveling, cold.
Insidious rain.

I woke up on Easter morning and this came to me, fully formed. It is one of my favorites:

Whatever tomb has
You trapped–Push away that stone,
Step into the light

I woke up another morning just wanting to write a haiku in Latin. I’ve never even studied Latin, but there it was, this desire I think to break out of the limits of the language I know, the desire for more meaning, maybe. I had to resort to Google, and it’s not exactly the right amount of syllables, but good enough:

Verba volant
Cor ad cor loquitur
Clavis aurea

(spoken words fly away
heart speaks to heart
golden key)

I struggle often with what to write, what parts of my story, my life belong to me and what parts of my story belong to others. I’ve written blogs that have upset people in my life—these haiku deal with finding that line, that balance between speaking my truth and revealing someone else’s:

Truths stuck on my tongue
Peeled off, now forced to drain through
The nib of my pen

I beg forgiveness
again for speaking my truth—
Is my story mine?

The scales tip toward
truth, and compassion falters–
Elusive balance

How does the writer
tell her story, pen her truth?
Dull the sharp edges?

Truth wants to vibrate
up and out in minor chords.
A sharp dissonance

Warrior woman
Draws her word sword, aware it’s
Double-edged, dang’rous

More on writing—this first one seems pretty self-explanatory. Here’s a whole series of haiku on writing into silence. Sometimes all I want from my writing is a reaction, feedback, someone on the other end to acknowledge my words. I don’t need cheers and accolades always (though occasionally that sort of feedback is awesome), but it’s difficult to write into silence, day in and day out. I don’t care for it much. My frustration seems pretty clear here:

Some days the words must
be pried piecemeal from dry earth
dusted off, washed clean

Looking for Divine
but finding only silence–
The great unlearning.

I have to escape
great silences, vast chasms
echoing within.

I can’t keep birthing
Words into silence. These are
Boisterous children

I’m pushing my words
Into silence and meeting
Resistance. Friction.

Your silence echoes
Through my canyons of desire–
Freshly gouged and deep

My words like wafers–
communion offered, received,
Ingested. Some Truth.

My sentences, like
Wine. Drink from the blood rivers.
exanguination

These paragraphs, my
soul. Transubstantiation.
Sacrifice. Rebirth.

These poems take a little liberty with the haiku form:

(Sorry–)
I just meant to tug
that one thread, not to make the
whole thing unravel

(Can we–)
Mend this ragged edge
Knitting word bones together–
Follow this thread home?

Please do not invite 
me in and then abandon
me at the threshold

What lives behind the 
sets we construct, the masks we
wear? Step off the stage.

Mudslide

Nature knows no bounds—
Follows her own path toward
wreckage, renewal

Oso Strong. Forty-
three gongs of the bell between
Amazing Grace and Taps
.

This last one also came to me one morning, after I woke up from a vivid dream and starting writing about how someone so far in my past could occupy any space in my head while I was sleeping. It didn’t seem fair. This is the haiku I ended up writing, not quite where I started, but it turned out to be a favorite:

See this hotel in
My heart? Revolving door for
Itinerant guests

 

W is for Work Ethic (or how I learned to work)

If there’s one thing my little brother and I learned from our parents, it was a healthy work ethic. We started working early. I don’t mean that we went out and got paper routes when we were five or anything like that, but we started early being responsible for chores around the house.

We lived in the country growing up, so there was no shortage of things to be done around the old homestead: lawns to be mowed, fences to be built and maintained, horse stalls to be mucked out, animals to be fed, barns to be tidied.

And indoors, of course, Mother expected us to clean up, not only after ourselves but after meals as well, and on Saturdays I vacuumed and dusted. Mom taught me how to iron when I was about six. I practiced on pillow cases and sheets and Dad’s undershirts. I learned how to use the sewing machine and how to wield a needle and thread. I became adept at hemming my own jeans.

When I was 11 or 12, Dad and I fenced in our acreage—we pulled barbed wire around 70 some acres together. We split and stacked so much fire wood. And then things changed. We left the country life and became townspeople, and the nature of our work changed.

During the summer of 1976, when the nation was celebrating America’s bicentennial, our family moved across Washington State, from the foothills of the Cascade mountains in Sultan to the rolling wheat fields of Columbia County. We could not have moved any further south and east and still remained in the state. No longer content to work for his father at The Bellevue American, the Eastside’s pre-eminent weekly newspaper, my father decided to purchase and run his own weekly newspaper: The Dayton Chronicle.

There were (and still are) only two very small towns in Columbia County: Dayton and Starbuck. The entire county had fewer than 5,000 inhabitants when we arrived (I’m pretty sure there are fewer now). Most of these folks subscribed to The Dayton Chronicle, relied up on this tiny weekly rag for their news: who was in the hospital that week, who got married, who died. What the price of wheat was, when the almanac predicted the next round of rain.

Getting this news written, printed, and delivered fell to us, our family of four (and a couple of other employees and at least one intern from Washington Statue University which was, more or less, just up the road). Dad attended city council meetings, school board meetings, high school football games. Mom answered the phones, wrote obituaries, and learned how to operate the typesetting machine. Once Dad pounded out the stories on his ancient manual Royal typewriter, Mom typeset them. She printed them out in long strips, columns, ran them through the waxing machine and pasted them up for printing.

I developed rolls of film and learned how to create the halftone prints that went into the paper, but the real work that fell to my brother and me happened in the basement of the Dayton Chronicle building. There, in the dank dark bowels of the hundred-year old building, we stuffed advertising flyers into those newspapers, and if it were a particularly newsy week, we also stuffed the second section of the paper into the first section. All 2500 copies.

We arrived immediately after school and set to work, Brucie standing on a stool because he was only in 4th grade and small for his age. As mom ran the addressing machine, which was much like a treadle sewing machine, we stuffed newspapers. Open the flap of the first section, shove in the second section, open that and shove in the advertising section. It was good to have a big paper, a fat paper. That meant Dad had sold lots of ads. Ads paid the bills.

There was a rhythm to the afternoon:  the addressing machine squeaked each time Mom depressed the pedal and inserted the folded newspaper so that the address would be printed across the white space on top of the front page. Squeak, squeak, stamp. Squeak, squeak, stamp. Squeak, squeak, stamp.

addressing machine

The addressing machine

Our hands grew black with the newsprint as the afternoon wore on. I ran up and down the steps, bringing down the bundles of newspapers from the back of the delivery van (which doubled as the family vehicle—an army green Ford). I’d pull the bundles down the steps by the oily utilitarian twine that wrapped around them. The smell of ink and twine and musty basement permeated our clothes and hair and skin.

Eventually, the piles of papers diminished from our side of the addressing machine, and grew on mom’s side. I tried to keep the stacks neat as I toted them, addressed now, back up the stairs, back to the van for delivery to the post office.

We didn’t just stuff newspapers. We also ran a printing shop in the back of the newsroom, and at least once a week we worked addressing and stamping mailers to go out to the town folk. I remember stacks and stacks of white envelopes and huge rolls of stamps. Brucie and I had to daub the stamps on a damp sponge and then affix them in the upper right corner of the envelopes and then insert whatever mailer was to go out. Brucie had trouble, being only 8, keeping the stamp in the corner and many envelopes sported postage stamps dead center.

We got paid for our efforts—or at least I did. I can’t speak to my brother. I still have the paycheck stubs that my dad typed out every two weeks. I made $2.38/hour. I think I grossed maybe $20/month. Each payday, I’d walk down the block and deposit my paycheck in the bank.

paystubs

I can still conjure that basement, still feel the rough twine, the oil on my hands, the way it smelled. The ink, the black smudges it left on the papers. When I think about how I learned how to work, I think about that basement—the shining silvery stacks of pig iron (for the printing press upstairs), the old wooden cabinets full of ancient type, the boxes and boxes of yellowing pictures with curled edges. But mostly, I remember my family, working together. Complaining, surely I complained, after all, I was 13, 14, 15. But, learning to work, nonetheless.

V is for Vexing

We are almost to the end of the alphabet, Dear Reader, and I’m Very unsure what to write about for the letter V. In my post accepting this challenge, I sketched out some ideas for each letter (excepting J and K). My thoughts at the time for V included Vaginas and Virginity. I’m not keen on either one at the moment. Not keen on writing about either, that is.

Instead, I think I will write about things that are Vexing me. The first thing? I keep getting emails from LinkedIn telling me that people want to add me to their networks even though I have 1) deleted my LinkedIn account long ago, and 2) tried (anyway) to log in with the email address to which they keep sending me notifications and get back the message that they have no record of that email address. So then . . . how? How am I getting emails from LinkedIn? If they don’t recognize my email? I don’t understand . . .

Nothing else is Vexing me . . . at least nothing that I can write about. Okay, well, one thing is and I probably shouldn’t write about this, but I must. I’m suffering from a bad case of  “runner’s butt.” There, I’ve said it. The butt is out of the bag. What happens when you run five miles a day for three months in a row? Things get, uhm, problematic. Apparently.

Here’s the deal. When I started going to the gym a few years ago, I went in a cotton t-shirt and cotton shorts. Old School. I soon realized these fabrics were not going to work long term, but I did not want to invest in expensive athletic wear, so I suffered through and did well enough working out for an hour in my cotton clothes. Sure they got heavy and didn’t wick away anything, but I could go home in short order and put it all in the laundry.

But then I got a free lightweight, wick-away workout t-shirt from work and wore that one night to the gym. What a difference. I was hooked. I got some wick-away workout pants and some wick-away socks. I got a new pair of workout shoes. Talk about the right tools for the job. What had taken me so long?

The only part of my wardrobe I didn’t change was my underwear. I mean, yes, I changed my underwear. Of course I did. But I didn’t switch to quick dry or wick-away undies. I didn’t need to. Nothing bad was happening down there. I worked out. I came home. I showered. I laundered. Issue-free.

Same thing when I started running. I loaded up on the quick dry, wick-away shirts, shorts, socks, tights, jackets. Still, I clung to my Jockey cotton underpants. And why not? I didn’t have any issues, still, with down there. I ramped up my runs: 3 miles, 5 miles, 7 miles. Nine miles. Still good. My Jockeys served their purpose—I did not chafe. I did not suffer.

Then I ran 11 miles. Oh. My. What a difference two miles can make. I grabbed the baby powder and applied liberally. I added some Neosporin. But things only got worse. I mistakenly figured that since I wasn’t going to run 11 miles on a regular basis that things would return to normal, but it’s been a week now and things are most definitely not normal. I’m afraid Dear Reader, that they may never be.

So, I bought some new underpants, some that aren’t cotton, and I went for a run, a test drive if you will. My tights fell down! I ran around the lake holding my pants up. Twice. I never in my life thought I would say that my Lycra tights fell down. I mean, seriously—I didn’t even know that Lycra tights could fall off.  But they did—slid right down over those non-cotton panties. I suppose the logical step would be to go out and get a smaller pair of tights, but honestly, my tights aren’t loose, they are just slippery.

The Little Woman thinks I should run commando, but I can’t quite wrap my head around that notion. Seems I’d have issues with seams and such. And I’d feel, uhm, Vulnerable. There’s something safe about underwear, about having that extra layer between my altogethers and the world out there. Seems like it might be a tad, er, breezy.

I have a problem that I need to solve. So, I’ve been interviewing my runner friends about their underwear habits. I’ve been checking out the options. But have you seen the women’s underpants options in the athletic section of, say, Fred Meyers, for example? First of all, there’s only one option. One. Option. The Under Armour “cheeky underwear”? Who are these made for, exactly? Puhlease. These will not suffice. Why is it women get virtually no fabric and men get yards of it?  I mean look at the difference! It’s not right, I tell you.

I’m afraid I am going to have to change my ways and that it’s going to take some trial and error, some investment on my part, some purchases. Some experimentation. So, if you see me running around the lake holding up my pants, don’t laugh. Send baby powder. Stat.

 

U is for Umbilical Cord

leave-it-to-beaver2

Visiting Mother
Our past. My future. Her womb.
Cord blood. Still tethered.

The other class I’m taking this quarter is Family of Origin Systems, or FOO for short. Here’s the course description: The purpose of this course is to facilitate the development of competencies in understanding family of origin systems theories of human development and differentiation. Particular emphasis will be placed on students examining their personal and professional development in terms of their own family history, relationships, and conflicts.

In other words, in this class we will take a close look at how our families, the ones in which we grew up, completely fucked us over and caused us to be the hot messes we currently are. I’ve done a fair amount of self-work over the years and have looked closely at my parents, our relationships, how they raised my brother and me. I’ve listened in many workshops as other people describe their upbringings, how they survived everything from drug and alcohol addicted parents, sexual abuse, beatings, to benign neglect and hostile indifference. Compared to most people, I am practically Beaver Cleaver. In many respects, my parents rivaled June and Ward.

But still. The one thing this class makes crystal clear is that none of us leave childhood unscathed. Sure, maybe my parents, like so many, “did the best they could with what they knew at the time,” but they too were products of their environments. And like their parents before them, they carried on, operating within family systems that have perpetuated all the conscious and unconscious family secrets, tragedies, coping methods, and survival mechanisms.

Take for example just two facts from my childhood: We moved to a small logging town when I was four, and my parents became Born Again not long after. These events alone generated major repercussions for my brother and me.

Our parents subscribed to the “spare the rod, spoil the child” parenting style. They raised us to believe that god knew our every move—He knew when we were naughty and nice with implications far more sinister than any Santa might have dreamed up. I grew up believing I could be struck dead (or at least turned into a pillar of salt) should I displease god.

I learned early on that if Jesus returned in The Rapture and I hadn’t caught up on asking for forgiveness for my sins, I might be Left Behind to withstand horrible trials and tribulations. Should I die with my sins unforgiven (because I’d forgotten to pray in a timely fashion), I’d go straight to hell where I would burn for all of eternity. Never mind what the church had to say about being a lesbian.

So there was that. And I’m just scratching the surface of the religious implications. Then there was life in the logging town. Like I wrote in my blog about my brother, we had a fairly idyllic and unfettered (if you don’t count god always watching) childhood. Freedom to roam was one of the many upsides growing up in a small town offered.

Inferior schools presented one major downside.  I was a pretty bright kid. I scored high on tests, always tested into the advanced groups whether they were for math or reading, and I brought home stellar report cards year in and year out. But the schools we attended were full of first year teachers who were all on their way to someplace bigger and better, and I ended up attending four different high schools. By the time I realized I needed a better education, I was in college wondering why I couldn’t figure out pre-calc and why I was failing basic chemistry.

I didn’t take a foreign language (well, I took a quarter of it at the church-affiliated pseudo high school I attended most of my junior year); I stopped taking math in 10th grade. I dropped out of biology my sophomore year and didn’t take any more science until college. Thankfully, standards for college admission were fairly low in 1981.

To be fair, my parents hadn’t been to college. They didn’t know what a college bound high-school student needed in order to be fully prepped for a higher education. Many people I grew up with didn’t go to college. Many had parents who didn’t think girls even needed to pursue anything beyond an MRS degree.  So, in many respects, I count myself fortunate and very blessed. Yet, what might have transpired had we stayed in Bellevue when I was four? What sort of education might I have received there? How might things have played out differently?

Yet it’s not just about what I know. Families are full of secrets and generational patterns. We all move forward under an ancestral burden (or so they say in FOO). What implications did grandpa’s dead brother have on our holidays? What about grandma’s drinking? How did the antagonism between grandma and her sister get mirrored in my aunts’ relationships with one another and with my parents? What about my grandfather’s upbringing made him so hard on my father, his only son? And why did my grandparents adopt my mother? What was the true story there? Did we move far away to escape these legacies? So many questions.

We have to fill out a questionnaire for class tomorrow, one that describes our roles in our family of origin—for example what sort of child was I? Was I The Rulebreaker? The Delegate (strong self-sufficient and competent)? The Companionate (a friend and peer to one of my parents)? The Rejected Kid? And, why? How did my role in my family of origin affect the choices I made later in life? The partners I chose. The roles I play now. It’s fascinating to ponder.

 ***

I’m not writing all of this to lay any blame on my parents. I’m writing to point out that even when we do the best we can (or the best we think we can do), we still pass on to our kids (and I’m a parent, so I have done this too) a legacy with which they, in turn, will need to grapple in order to fully realize their own hopes and dreams.

I know that my parents discussed parenting before they married. I know that they both had dreary childhoods and problematic relationships with their own parents. Together they resolved that they would do better than their parents. And in turn, I resolved the same thing when I had my kids. And, most likely, if my kids have children of their own, they too will make a similar commitment.

I sat in my FOO class and listened to my classmates tell their stories—felt the hair on my arms rise as they recounted tales of abuse, neglect, grinding poverty, drug addiction, mental illness.  And I felt a sense of hope wash over me because in spite of all the various hardships, and perhaps because of them, here we all were, eager to learn, to move on. To help.

T is for . . . Technology and Toes (mostly toes)

T could be for so many things. I think initially, I thought T would be for Technology, but I decided I’ve written enough about tech. I thought maybe I might devote this space to a discussion about the state of women in Technology, but that’s been done here and here and here and here and here (this one is actually the first article I read on the topic and that’s when it dawned on me that I wasn’t completely crazy)–I don’t have anything to add.

Instead of adding to a conversation that seems to be already in full swing, I will Talk about my Toes. I’ve been running for three years now and today I got my very first toe blister–a huge mofo on the inside of my right big toe. It is KILLING me. I don’t know what happened. I wore the same socks that I always wear (one of four pairs that I rotate through). I wore the same shoes (one of two pairs I wear depending on the weather). I ran on the same trail I generally run (one of three or four routes I take regularly).

I tried to take pictures of my toe blister and of the ends of my toes that are turning black and funky, but it is super difficult to hold an iPhone camera-style and focus and snap a picture one-handed of the tops of your own toes. The Little Woman is not here to assist. Some things just cannot be accomplished alone. So, Dear Reader, you will be spared pictures of my injured toes. Just believe me when I say OW. If you Google “runner toe” you will find images of toes that are way, way worse off than my toes. Mine aren’t quite that bad. Yet.

I’ve heard tales of runners’ toe nails turning black and falling off, but I thought that was just for people who ran great distances and/or whose shoes were too small. I fit neither category. Well, I’ve been running more often and longer distances lately, but for the last couple of months. Shouldn’t this sort of thing happen sooner rather than later?

I’m signed up for a 10K on Saturday–I hope my toes feel better by then.

S is for Sibling

My little brother and I enjoyed relatively unfettered childhoods. As was typical of the time, we grew up as free-range children, exploring our surroundings as we saw fit—biking, go-carting, camping, fishing, building forts, and playing dangerous games on the railroad tracks, just existing with nary an adult to report to for hours at a time. Some summer days we’d leave the house after breakfast, bicycle into town with our inner tubes slung across our torsos, meet up with friends and spend the entire day floating the river, dragging the inner tubes back up the winding trails and doing it again. We always made it home in time for dinner.

I don’t remember anyone ever telling me to watch out for my brother who was four years younger than I, to make sure he didn’t drown or get chased by the Doberman Pinschers who careened after us as we raced our bikes down the winding country roads. We all stuck together then, in a tight knit pack as we roamed the small logging town that shaped us.

Our parents often left us home alone together at night as well, in the log home that our father had built. At home we’d play elaborately imaginative games, build blanket forts, take the guns out of the gun cabinet, spread the bullets around on the floor, and imagine that we were pioneers who needed to hunt for our supper. We knew better than to ever point a gun, imagined or real, at any human being. We knew to put the key to the gun cabinet back exactly as we had found it before mom and dad got home.

On one of these nights, I took it upon myself to teach my little brother how to fight. As we sparred in his bedroom, I grabbed him by the arm and flung him into his closet where he landed hard upon a sharp bit of metal toy railroad track. Obviously he was not learning how to fight fast enough for my taste. He let out a wail and held up his elbow, which sported a two-inch long gash, a deep gushing gash.  I’d never seen blood so thick and dark.

Don’t cry! I admonished as I dragged him into the bathroom. Hush. Be brave. Don’t tell mom and dad! I sat him on the closed toilet seat and gave him a comb to bite on (my dad had done the same for me once when I’d gotten the soft flesh of my palm caught in a pump-action BB gun). Bite! I ordered and dug around in the cabinets for a BandAid and some Bactine.

He screamed as I dumped the Bactine into the wound, and the blood soaked through the BandAids as fast as I could put them over the gash. Hold your arm up! I commanded. Up! Higher! I pushed the loose skin together and peeled more bandages, slapping them on as fast as I could. Finally, the bleeding stopped.

You cannot tell mom and dad, I whispered fiercely so he’d know I was serious. We—I emphasized this—will get in so much trouble if they know you got hurt. Somehow, that wound went undetected for several days. Somehow, I never got in trouble. Somehow, as these things tended to do in the days of unfettered childhood, the injury healed without complication.

 

He still sports the scar on his elbow, a long jagged coil that has faded over time. We are still close in spite of the occasional childhood brutalities I meted out. He insists he doesn’t remember his childhood. I maintain he must have blocked it out.

He’s grown up to be a lovely man, a wonderful father, and amazingly talented at whatever he tries: banking, woodworking, grilling, restoring houses. He balances a complicated schedule but always has time and his full attention for whoever finds themselves sitting across the table from him. I count myself fortunate when I am that person.

We used to work in the same city—he drove north from his home in Oregon, and I drove south from my house in northern Washington. We each spent the better part of the week away from our homes and families, but we re-forged the bond we’d had in childhood.

I’m grateful we had those few years, the opportunity to reconnect as adults, the two of us away from the usual family settings in which adult siblings generally interact, settings fraught with the emotions of holidays and travel and aging parents. Our paths still occasionally cross when just the two of us can enjoy a meal or meet up to catch a Mariners’ game. When we can enjoy the rare days that are unfettered adulthood.

R is for Racism

Last Tuesday in my Multicultural Perspectives class, we watched Ethnic Notions, (please watch this clip before continuing to read) a disturbing 1986 documentary by Marlon Riggs that chronicles the history of the depiction of African-Americans in popular culture in the 100 or so years just leading up to and following Emancipation.

A large part of what made watching this film so unsettling was that I remember many of these caricatures and have spent a lifetime trying to forget them: Little Black Sambo, Aunt Jemima, The Cream of Wheat guy, the cartoons. The mammy, the pickaninny, the coon, the Sambo, as Riggs points out. I used to sit on my grandpa’s knee while he read Little Black Sambo to me. I remember lawn jockeys, cookie jars, and other knickknacks that exaggerated and distorted African-American features in the name of entertainment.

These memories stirred deep within me as we viewed the film, as Riggs systematically demonstrated the intention behind each caricature, the impact each has had on the ways whites currently view Black Americans. With such pervasive and insidious images in our consciousness, it’s not surprising (completely unacceptable, but not surprising, really) when someone like Paul Ryan blames inner city poverty on lazy “inner city” men. And we know what he means by “inner city.”

Images like those in Ethnic Notions serve as shorthand to remind us that African-Americans can only be either simple, shuffling Uncle Toms or scary, monstrous savages. These are the images that have lodged in our minds. These are the images George Zimmerman had to have conjured up before he shot Trayvon Martin, the notions that Michael Dunn had before he opened fire on a truckload of Black teens who were playing their music too loud.

For only by dehumanizing African-Americans can we justify our treatment of them over the course of our country’s history. Only by dehumanizing an entire race can we continue to insist that they are all the things we say they are, only by dehumanizing them, can we maintain our ideas about white superiority and cling to white privilege.

Last night I watched 12 Years a Slave, and I think I must have felt the way my grandparents did when they watched Roots all those years ago—appalled by my ignorance, angered by Solomon Northup’s story, certainly. Aghast at the pervasiveness of evil, not just at how Northup came to be captured, but that there was even a system into which he could be sold. And ashamed that in spite of the intervening 100+ years, so much remains unchanged.

Q is for Quiet

This is sort of a repost of a blog I wrote last month, but I think the basic concepts bear repeating.

Carl Jung described introversion as “the turning inward of psychic energy with an orientation toward the subjective. Introverts are tuned in to the inner world with all its biases, fantasies, dreams, and individualized perceptions.” Jung himself was an introvert, though he feared becoming “lost in his inner world and so managed to find a balance between introversion and extraversion” according to at least one textbook I’ve recently read.

Yet, introversion might not be all that awful. In her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain claims that introverts are vastly undervalued. In fact it is they who often have the best and biggest ideas, are the brightest students, and make the most important discoveries. In her TED talk, The Power of Introverts, she argues that we are making life difficult for introverts to get in touch with their ideas because we are designing schools and office spaces based on what stimulates extraverts: noise, interaction, conversation. But what introverts need, what we all need, in order to get in touch with our creativity, in order to dream and imagine, is quiet. The time and space for flights of fancy and rumination, the chance to work alone, and the opportunities to create. Great people, great thinkers, Cain points out, spent lots of time alone: Rosa Parks, Ghandi, Abe Lincoln, Steve Wozniak. Every religion, she reminds us, had a figure who spent lots of time alone, wandering the desert.

Cain warns of the dangers of group think, how when people are together they begin to lose their individuality and mimic one another’s ideas and behaviors. Such interactions quash individual creativity and can lead to groups taking greater risks as they are urged on by the more extraverted group members. True collaboration occurs when introverts and extraverts come together in a well-moderated environment to share their ideas (the Bay of Pigs is a great example of group think nearly leading to disaster).

As Cain points out, there is ZERO correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas. She says that we have given in to a new group think—that all creativity comes from a gregarious place. But, she says, quite correctly, most creative people have a serious streak of introversion because creativity needs long flights of fancy. Kids in school don’t get any time to pursue individual thoughts as they are all involved in group work, even when it comes to creative writing, and if you’ve been in a modern office building lately, you’ll see that the open concept is all the rage. No one gets an office where they can close the door on the noise–now they sit together so they can share ideas. I don’t even know how anything gets accomplished. 

As we catapult ourselves through the 21st century, all plugged in and grouped together, we would do well, Cain says to try these three things:

  1. Stop the madness for group work. Give students and employees the opportunities for solitude, autonomy, and privacy.
  2. Go into the wilderness—we need to have our own revelations, to be like Buddha, and unplug in order to get inside our own heads.
  3. Share with the world what we carry in our metaphorical suitcases—particularly if we are introverts. The world would do well to see and learn from the things we carry.

 Introverts. My people.