The amazing story of two 40-something women on the path to matrimonial bliss

It just keeps getting better...

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Is it Possible to Lighten Up?

It's been a minefield lately.  A minefield of contentiousness, assertive opinions, hurt feelings, name-calling, and all around unsavory human behavior.  I imagine it is part economy, part election, part seasonal, and all rooted in fear.  I don't know about anyone else, but I, for one, am exhausted.  I can't remember the last day I experienced without a contentious meeting, a conversation of complaints, or the need to address misunderstandings and disagreements.  There is a lot of metaphorical chest-bumping and horn-locking; accusations flying.We seem to be operating at a high level of impatience and distrust and instead, I am craving humor, collaboration and the assumption that people are doing the best they can.

When the bulk of folks are motivated by fear, it is hard not to take some of that on. It is tough not to feel backed into a corner of carefulness, asking oneself What can I say? What did I do?  or the more accurate Who needs extra care, carefulness, and consideration to keep things from imploding?

In the end, I start to wonder, What is even possible with things being the way they are?

The idealist in me likes to think that there has to be a way to lighten up, allow for discourse and disagreement while staying focused on the big stuff. We need a little self-awareness around what sort of stuff we might be bringing to the table to contribute to the scene of fear and ugliness. It might just start with a good, hard look in the mirror: What am I doing to contribute?  Am I taking things too personally? Am I assuming the worst? Am I determined to have my way with little regard for anyone else? Do I expect everyone to behave according to my moral compass? Am I afraid of losing my place, voice or relevancy? Do I feel like I have something to prove?

The world is shifting. I would argue the world is always shifting, but there are times when we all seem to notice and feel it more than others. Clinging, clenching and being downright disagreeable are not strategies to stop the wheels from turning--but they are community buzz-kills! What if we lighten up, laugh, talk about some fun stuff, play with our kids, bake for a neighbor, sing, hand stuff over to someone else, step aside, make room, embrace differences, stay in bed, go shopping, make something...anything to lift us out of the place of fear and worry?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Full-on Fall--Seasonal Transformations

Well, it's mid-October.  Teri has just finished pulling up all the spent summer vegetable plants and filling all the garden beds with fresh compost.  Soon that compost will be buried under a blanket of leaves to age and wait for Spring.  We do garden year-round, so the winter veggies: kohlrabi, broccoli, kale, cabbage, chard, and Brussels sprouts are still growing away in one bed, but the rest of the garden is looking pretty dormant.

Leaves are falling, the rains have come, the chickens are laying less prolifically (just when we were getting pretty self-righteous over their daily output), the lawn furniture has been stacked and sequestered and our thoughts have turned to holidays, warm sweaters, and digging out the rain gear we'll depend on for the next several months.  There is a need to pull in, to pull away from the world a bit and focus in on family, close friends, conversation, and introspection.  That all feels as seasonal to me as the shedding of the bright orange and red maple leaves along our street.

Lately, I have been thinking much about seasons, aging, and cycles--the tensions that exist when the seasons change or the seasons need to change. I see the older, the what-has-been holding on with vice grip and deep roots as the younger, the what-will-be are trying energetically to push up through the dying foliage and tangled roots.  I can't remember the last time I sat in a meeting where this tension hasn't been at the core of things--the core of managing change, letting go, making room, stepping aside, and reflection on who should be talking and how much.  We are not doing a very good job of honoring the inevitable changing of the seasons.

I am solidly in the middle and maybe there is some validity in the role of the middle-aged.  I can see the struggle from multiple perspectives.  I am not so old that I don't remember what it was like to be at the beginning of my career and my urge to be relevant and useful.  I am not so young that I don't understand the indignant clenching of those who have spent a lifetime doing important and soul-feeding work.  It is hard to be patient and it is scary to let go.  There is a tendency to want young people to step in and take up the causes, but they should do it our way, they should listen, learn and remind us of younger versions of ourselves (or how we like to imagine we once were.) And what will happen to the older when the identity of our work is taken from us?  Who will we be then?

We bark at the young to honor their elders, which, as near as I can tell, means that we want them to do what we tell them to do, but the honoring does not seem to go both ways.  The very fact that the moniker "elder" has become yet another self-identifying claim to authority as opposed to a title of honor granted by others speaks to what I call Baby Boomer Entitlement. "I am an elder" is quite a different statement than "you are an elder."

I feel very fortunate to be hearing the voices of the younger--educated, passionate, surging with energy and fresh perspective--and they are ready and willing to take up the challenges.  Will they make mistakes? Of course.  Do they sometimes seem brash, impatient and bordering on obnoxious?  Yes, sometimes.  Do they lack appreciation for all the work that has gone before? No, in fact, I see a great reverence for what has happened and the possibilities that lay ahead.

I am also fortunate to be hearing the voices of those that have been at this for many decades.  I see both great and not-so-great examples of how to age with grace and dignity.  It is possible to stay involved, expand one's experiences and still make room for the new growth. It is also possible to stifle and squelch with the heavy rotting leaves of stubborn immobility. There is value in introspection and self-reflection--just as there is value in action.

The seasons change whether we are ready and happy about it or whether we resist.  It happens anyway. We do have choices about how we approach the inevitable cycles and changes--with wonder, active participation and support--or reluctance and bitterness.  I am always a little sad to see the garden die back in the deep Autumn--I miss those productive tomato plants and fruit trees that have given so much--but for a healthy garden, they must let go and give life to what is yet to be.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Grown Ups

Teri and I are very close in age (exactly 2 years difference), so we have had similar cultural and educational experiences growing up. We both went to public schools, albeit her experiences were much more urban and diverse--having been educated on the East coast and in cities.  Our families shared some core values and experiences even though on the surface they look very different--she raised in a larger, strictly Catholic, military household with urban-raised parents and me raised in a working class, West coast, religion-ambiguous household in a decidedly rural locale with parents who also grew up in a small town.  Still, we were both infused with some major cultural expectations and idioms handed down around what it means to be a grown up:
  1. Life isn't fair; but that doesn't mean we shouldn't attempt to be fair-minded.
  2. Be a good neighbor--personal feelings aside when it comes to helping, getting along, looking after and living in community with neighbors.
  3. Share what you have, help when you can.
  4. Unless it makes for an entertaining story, no one needs to know your personal business
  5. Manners first and always
  6. Feed people
  7. Take responsibility for your choices
  8. Fight your own battles, fix your own mistakes
  9. Know when to step away, step back, and detach
  10. Know when to step in and get involved
  11. Appreciate and respect differences
  12. Strong work ethic defined by: being on time, consistent, diligent, efficient, skilled, team-player, competent and respectful
  13. Support your family (and this is non-gender-specific)
  14. Be dependable, follow through
Now, of course, we have some fun differences too:  Teri was raised with a strong message to "never volunteer" when it comes to extra commitments and work tasks--I suspect this has something to do with survival in the military. I, on the other hand, saw the adults around me volunteer to take on extra tasks at work, work late, fill in, and cover for other co-workers, so I realize I've adopted a go-above-and-beyond approach to many of my projects. We each strive to learn some balance--Teri is learning the joys of volunteering and I am struggling to learn to say no and let go.

When sorting through all this baggage (and while this word has a negative connotation, I think some of our baggage is valuable and worth carrying along), it has also been worthwhile to identify and name what we think "being a grown up" means. I tend to use this phrase dogmatically, sometimes judgmentally--as in: "We need to be grown ups here" or "What sort of grown up does that?"  Like many things, it's all in the spin as to whether it is a useful or constricting definition.

I tend to retreat into an over-developed eldest's sense of responsibility, egotistically assuming that I have to be the grown up because no one else will. In our family, we have coined a term for this condition, which I have perfected, called the put-upons-- the put-upons are not to be confused with being a grown-up, but are more of a pathology; that feeling you get when you have said yes when you should have said no, when you take on extra tasks because you doubt someone else's ability, or when things have fallen in your lap because someone else really didn't do their part. The put-upons are a good sign that a person might need to take a step back and re-evaluate.

In my middle-forties, I am solidly a grown up--with all the experience, expectations and occasional rigidity that comes with maturity. One of the many things I love about Teri is that she is too.  With all of the playfulness and passion for fun, that sturdy spine of grown-up-ness is always there. The animals always get fed first, the bills always get paid, we can walk away from things we can't afford (even if we have to pout for a moment or two), she can support me without feeling the need to step in and fight my battles, she's always there for the kids, the neighbors, friends, etc., if she says she will do something, I can count on her making it happen (alright, so maybe not at my pace, but that is another blog...)

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

I Bought a Ticket to the World

I am currently the first one out of the bed in the mornings in our household.  This hasn't always been the case, as there have been various chapters and incarnations of household: small kids, school-age ones, different jobs, different schedules, teenagers, etc. Often time, it was competition for the bathroom that dictated rising schedules. By nature (I think) I am a morning person and I especially enjoy the quiet time just before the skies come awake. Lately, that quiet doesn't last too long because, alas, chickens seem to like to rise with, well, with the chickens--and they start squawking and clucking to be released from the confines of their very adorable coop when the first bits of light stretch across the sky.

So, I tend to start working--both with home stuff, "farm" chores, and world work before the sun comes up.  How did life function without computers?  If memory serves, I was able to sequester and plot my days with less interaction from the outside world, but that is not the way things are any more; this is the world we live in now.

My morning Pandora Radio station (with headphones, of course) is my Bee Gees station.  Yup.  I know I am not alone in that I have various stations for various moods, challenges and times of day.  Disco at Dawn would be a better title, I suppose, and there is something about all those dance beats and false setto that helps me ease into what is a rather chaotic and kooky time to be in this world. I think I prefer that 70's and 80's sound first thing in the a.m. because it is tidy--themes are simple, the beat is predictable and gosh darnit, I can type to it.

Last year at this time, there was a cry for revolution with the Occupy Movement world-wide.  I believe we are still in the midst of transition and transformation--and it is playing out on a local, national and global stage in myriad ways. Things feel surreal, scary, hilarious, ridiculous, disorganized, and the word I have been using more and more: polarized. I have learned things about people that I sort-of wish I could "un-know."  Teri blames this on social media...the good and bad of computers.

We joke a bit as a family about Teri's philosophy that "no good can come of Facebook" but I'm thinking that while I disagree with her generalization, there are points where I complete agree.  Used to be that I didn't have to know which of my colleagues and family members were bigots, right-wing Republicans, racists, homophobes, or whatever--unless they chose to disclose.  To be fair, they didn't have to know the extent of my politics, volunteer work, how gay I am, or even about my career--it could all remain shrouded in a veil of hmmm...we suspect, but don't have to actually know. Has it changed the way I feel or think about some people?  I have to give Teri some credit here because the answer is...probably.

Some days, I fantasize about a world where I could disconnect from social media, disconnect from the computer, slow down and un-know how close some of the problems and challenges are. I have studied history and I know that this is not the first time this nation has been so polarized, but like the sometimes skeptical Teri, I'm not sure how we will come out of it. With help from one of our daughters, I have learned how to block and organize things a bit on Facebook, so I don't have to see so much of the icky stuff, but I confess that some of the damage is already done. I have become more ruthless about deleting and I know it is reciprocal.

On one hand, I love the connection to people all over the world--those I've met on travels, through work and in other ways; I like being able to share and promote events and activities and the way social media can be used to organize, educate and mobilize. It is a tiny half-hour piece of my day and I still believe the real work and the real connections happen in real time--face-to-face. On the other hand, it can be an instrument of oppression too--perpetuating myths of mainstream, and spreading misinformation, fear and hate.  I still agree with the late Gil Scott-Heron: the Revolution will not be televised...but surely social media will play a compromising role.