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Archive for June, 2010

Too Little Too Late

Monday, June 7th, 2010

On Friday morning I got a call from my mother.  I was on my way out the door and, after confirming that my Aunt B (who’s been feeling poorly) was okay, I hurriedly asked if I could call her back once I got in the car.  She assured me that Aunt B was fine and that I could call her back.  Then, more like ten minutes later when I was finally out the door, I pressed “M” on my BlackBerry and rang her cell. 

The reason for her call was not urgent, but was tragic.  A series of events had led her to phone a friend of hers that morning who informed her that she (the friend) would, later that day, be attending the funeral of a childhood classmate of mine.  It was shocking news, given that he had no known health problems and the cause of death, while known to be natural, is otherwise a mystery.  I was saddened to learn of his passing, as well as a bit shaken at being abruptly reminded of my own mortality. 

I wouldn’t say that I felt grief.  I hadn’t seen him since I transferred to private school after seventh grade.  But I felt sadness.  Sadness at a bright young life being snuffed out unexpectedly.  Sadness for his mother, of whom I have fond memories as a warm and vibrant presence in my childhood.  And sadness for his friends and colleagues who had much affection for him.

My memory of him is colored by the injustices of childhood and adolescence.  Our names were alphabetically adjacent, and so we were frequently seated next to each other in classes, line-ups, and other organized activities.  But beyond that, our paths didn’t intersect very often.  He was very cute, very athletic, and very popular, and I was (though I’m sure I didn’t understand it this way at the time) intimidated

And what do we do to people who intimidate us?  Sometimes, when we are young and insecure, we minimize them in the privacy of our minds in order to feel better about our own inadequacies.  To the extent that these things mattered to me at the time, I allowed myself to assume that he was uninteresting, not very nice, and not very smart, none of which, it turns out, was true.  And it is this fallacious perception that has been nagging at me since Friday. 

After our lives diverged for good at the age of 13 he was a part of my past in the most neutral sense.  I bore him no ill will, but didn’t miss him either, and in fact rarely thought of him at all.  Until I talked with my mother on Friday I hadn’t heard his name spoken in at least ten or 15 years.  But in the time since that phone call I’ve thought a lot about him.  I was particularly struck by these few sentences from his obituary which forced me to confront the long-forgotten assumptions I’d made about him as a child.

[He] loved his family first. Second was his fiery passion for sports, music and history that paired with a great smile and a better laugh made him an easy person to befriend and an easier person to love. He was not a musician but he had more knowledge, appreciation, and love for the art than many who perform. He was no longer a competitive athlete, but recognized, praised and admired those that were. He never fought in the Civil War but he knew the roads the soldiers took to battle and understood both sides’ reasons for combat.

After reading that description I couldn’t help but think, “This sounds like I guy I’d really have enjoyed!”  He clearly had a curious mind and an affecting spirit.  Then I got on Facebook (we have a number of FB friends in common) and found my homepage littered with condolences, memories, and tributes to a man whom I could tell was beloved.  And it was then that I realized how wrong I’d been, probably from the very beginning.  But my epiphany accomplishes nothing now; it is too little too late. 

I believe the assumptions we make about people are always colored by ourselves; by our biases, insecurities, defenses, and pride.  So often we see what we want to see.  When looking at people whom we love and admire we see strength of character, keenness of mind, and generosity of spirit.  When looking at people who threaten or intimidate us we see any number of qualities that vindicate us or make us feel superior.  But if we were to harness true objectivity, even for a moment, we would see that each portrait contains nuances we’d previously overlooked.  We would see that there is more to the story than we may care to admit

I was far from the most popular girl in school.  As a kid I lamented (usually privately) the fact that my insecurities and neediness masked the super-coolness I was sure lived just beneath my surface.  The cool kids just didn’t see me for what I truly was.  But I see now that – at least in this case (and probably many others) – I was guilty of the same offense.

Homebodies and Rolling Stones

Friday, June 4th, 2010

For those of you who are fellow bloggers you are familiar with the site swap.  For those of you who do not blog, permit me a bit of explanation.  While I write this blog for myself – to satisfy my own curiosities and explore the things I find interesting – I would be lying if I said that the feedback, insight, and sense of community I’ve grown to love from my fellow bloggers wasn’t also a big part of my affinity for writing, and more specifically, blogging.  Over time we come to know snippets of each other.   And while sometimes names, hometowns, and other identifying details are conspicuously absent, the heart of the matter (whatever that matter may be) is always fully explored. 

Kristen at Motherese is one such fellow blogger whose words I look forward to and whose insights I value.  And so today, I’m honored to post her words here, so that you may get a glimpse of her perspective on life.  In turn, a post of mine is up on her site, so when you’re finished here, stop by her place for my post.  And stick around and pilfer through her archives.  I know you won’t be disappointed.

Homebodies and Rolling Stones
by Kristen @ Motherese

Flying home on a Sunday afternoon in January after another week away, I was actually a bit sad to see the trip come to an end.

That is unusual for me: I usually prefer to stay home than to travel.  I enjoy planning vacations and mapping out an itinerary, but, as often as not, I find myself counting down the days until I can return home once I am actually on the road.

I traveled a lot as a kid and as a young adult.  I’ve visited almost all of the states and many countries.  I’ve had my breath stolen by natural wonders and by man-made structures.  I’ve biked on glaciers in Alaska and gulped apple wine at Oktoberfest in Offenbach.

I treasure these experiences, but sometimes I feel like a collector of memories – more interested in tucking them away and looking at them in pictures, rather than in living a trip as it occurs.

Feeling somewhat nostalgic for this recent trip that was coming to an end, I happened upon two bits of literary inspiration – one lofty, the other not so much – that helped me name these phenomena.

The first came through the typically direct words of Olive Kitteridge, the title character of Elizabeth Strout’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel-in-stories, and a companion of mine on my trip to Florida.  Olive’s grown son Christopher invites her for a visit.  She declines his request to have her stay “for a couple of weeks” with the rejoinder: “Three days…After that I stink like fish.”

And I wondered if Olive’s rule of thumb for houseguests might just apply to travelers as well – and if the best vacations are those that contain – almost like the best meals? – just enough to fill you up, but still leave you wanting a bit more.

This trip to Florida was just that for me.  I was delighted by the sunshine and the warmer temperatures, by the chance to walk and play outside in January, by the time with my parents and brothers.  I felt full of all of these good sensations, then drove away from those people whom I love wishing for more of all of them.

For me, the ideal time away was a week.  For Olive, it seems to be three days.  For others, it might be more or less.  The key, I think, is knowing your travel tolerance and planning accordingly.

The second piece of worldly and wordy wisdom came from one of Big Boy’s favorite book series: Toot & Puddle.  These porcine roommates and best friends have different perspectives on travel.  Toot has been bit by the travel bug and spends most of his time on-page globetrotting – from Provence to Nepal, from Egypt to the Solomon Islands.  Puddle, meanwhile, is a homebody.  He occasionally joins Toot on his adventures, but is usually happier in the rhythms of his day-to-day life.  At the end of Toot & Puddle, the first book in the series, the pigs are reunited at home for a December celebration.

“Here’s to all your adventures around the world,” said Puddle.

“Here’s to all your adventures right here at home,” said Toot.

And perhaps that is the distinction right there: some of us find adventure through travel and some of us find adventure through staying put.  And maybe those proclivities bend and evolve as we age, as our destination changes, and as our sense of home shifts.

But maybe some of us shy away from adventure altogether, evincing a preference for home but really masking a fear of the unknown?

Could it be that my own deep connection to the idea of home makes me tend toward a static life?  Could it be that my risk-averse nature causes me to miss out on the brighter and deeper dimensions of living?

What is your travel tolerance (i.e. how long can you be away from home before you want to return)?  Are you a homebody like Puddle and me or a rolling stone like Toot?

Who Needs a Nap?

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

Back in January Arianna Huffington (of The Huffington Post) went to sleep. 

Well, more appropriately she went to sleep at a decent hour, and woke up at a decent hour.  Apparently this was a big change for her.  In fact, it was such a big change that she adopted the buddy system and invited Glamour’s Cindi Leive to help her out with this paradigm shift.  And in fact such a change would be a paradigm shift for most American women. 

In this article on her blog she explained the rationale for this sleepy experiment.  To grossly oversimplify her position, she asserts that women, in an effort to compete with male counterparts in the workplace, have sacrificed all work-life balance, the final component of which has been their sleep.  We stay up late to work from home, catch up on house work, enjoy 10 moments of quiet, or indulge in our favorite TV shows.  As it turns out, working single women and working moms of young children are the most sleep deprived, averaging six hours nightly, as compared to the recommended minimum of 7.5. 

I look at this statistic and it astounds me.  I average 7.5 to 8 hours of sleep per night.  I certainly have nights that only offer me six hours of sleep, but I know that I couldn’t sustain that sort of a schedule for more than a couple of nights at a stretch.  I’m prone to wonder if this is because I’m hopelessly spoiled, or just a brilliant time manager.  Frankly, I know that neither is true.  It’s more likely that I’m just fantastically lazy and that my sheets are extra soft and irresistible.  And that I inevitably catch a cold when I get too little sleep.  I’m not noble.  I’m just a bit of a bum.

Here in the blogosphere we often lament the elusive nature of balance.  We strive for it daily, but for many of us it remains just out of our grasp.  For all of our scheduling, planning, and other attempts at organization we feel frazzled and overwhelmed by our lives.  We admit that amidst our harried routines of to and fro exist moments of sheer joy; moments when we see through the fog of obligations and exhaustion and truly appreciate the fullness of our lives.  And what glory that is!  It is mind-boggling, I think, that so many women can be this tired and still sit down at the end of a day and feel grateful, rewarded, and happy that our lives are so full.  We start many days running on coffee and adrenaline and still feel blessed by the snuggles from our babies, spouses, and pets.  Even when our reserves are depleted, we’re forces to be reckoned with!

But I wonder how our lives might feel different to us if we entered them rested.  This thought rings particularly true to me this morning.  Last night I slept about 6.5 hours, and I already feel the day hanging over my head with weight and reluctance, rather than with energy and optimism.  (On mornings like this I am prone to wish I were a coffee drinker…)

So what is it, then, that keeps us off kilter when it comes to sleep?  Why do we struggle to prioritize this one simple (and free!) thing that so many of us would admit wholly changes our outlook, energy level, and capabilities?  Countless words have been written about the value of self-care.  We understand that we can care for our families better when we care for ourselves.  And yet we leave ourselves in the dust in an effort to keep up with the whirlwind around us. 

Today I will ponder these things.  I will ponder these things along with the challenge of how I might sneak a nap into my day without being noticed by my coworkers.