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Evolving from Rats

Gentle Penguin,

The past two days have been both amazing and insane.  I feel like I’ve climbed a mountain and been beaten with a stick. Either way, I only wanted time to write to you, my dear friends about a discovery I’ve made.  And now I have the time.

As I lay still waiting for the nausea and pain of a tension headache to pass, I reflect on the fact that many of the ‘crises’ put before me on a daily basis are merely exercises in futility.  Why?  I wonder…and I believe it’s the only way we have left to prove we’re so very, very important.  I’m just as guilty of this as anyone else, to be sure!  I want to feel important, special, unique, sometimes even better-than…instead of like the hunted rat that I fear I behave like.  So how ironic that this moment is usually the moment I’m slapped upside the head with a reminder that I’m part of something bigger—like humanity, a family, a community, a neighborhood, a revolution.

As much as I fear Russia’s President Putin is on the wrong path with his actions, I do believe he had it right when he said “It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. … We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.”

Of course, that’s assuming we remember that “equal” does not mean “same.”

Equal means that we are each valuable as a being.  Same means I am exactly like you.  No offense, but part of my quest to be important means I don’t want to be the same as you, or anyone else.  I don’t want to be copied either.  I want to be me, and I want you to be you.  I want to learn from you, and you to be amused by me…or perhaps make you reflect too.

Gentle Penguin, I know you know about me, but I want you to understand what I think makes me different—three secrets that are also key to my value.  You already know the first, and possibly second secrets.

First, I’m a hopeless romantic.  I really do believe there is wonder, beauty and hope in everything around us, even in the darkest moments.  Sure, I complain about them, get angry, whine and cry like a child sometimes.  But invariably I start looking for something…anything…to give me a clue that it’s passing.  Sometimes it’s a random song on the radio.  Sometimes it’s a monarch butterfly flitting by on a cold autumn morning.  Sometimes it’s just a beam of sunlight cutting through the dark suffocating clouds.  Of course, many people think I’m like a Pollyanna; but let me assure you this propensity toward romance often pisses me off because it seems so silly.  Why can’t I just wallow in the depths of despair like some poet or philosopher?  Instead, I’m afraid my fairy godmother cursed me at my christening with an undying measure of hope.  That seems much less silly…and more romantic.

     Romance — A transcendence from the mundane to a perspective of delight, beauty and hope

Second, I really do believe in at least six impossible things before breakfast.  Maybe it’s because I have wildly vivid dreams.  Maybe it’s because I’ve read too many adventure stories, fairy tales and quests.  Maybe it’s because through my hunted rat years I’ve accomplished more, gone farther, done bigger things than I ever thought I could.  I’ve had my fair share of rough periods—just like you have, Gentle Penguin.  Each of us have suffered great pains and losses, disappointments and frustrations.  And I’m sorry to tell you, but it’s important to know that we probably have more to come.  But just as Alice slayed the Jabberwocky, and I have overcome my challenges, and you have overcome yours…it is in these very moments that the most amazing pieces of who we are are born.  They never come from the easy moments.  Your moments are not mine, and mine are not yours, and none of ours are Alice’s.  And so we are not the same.  But you still matter to me, to your community, to humanity.

Third, I’ve started a new quest, I’ve found my revolution.  How can we choose evolution from being the hunted rat?  While I run around busily, stressed and tense, I find I do get things done (some of them impossible things).  I check off “To Do’s” like nobody’s business–that is my business, quite frankly.  But at the end of the day, the week, the month, the year, I often find little to none of it is really important.  Or maybe that’s not quite true either.  While I might be helping someone else move mountains, I’m earning the money I need to give my daughter the best education I can–which is what’s most important to me.  While I help someone else create an event that changes someone’s perspective, I’m also putting money aside for a trip that helps me change my perspective.  While I’m driving my daughter to soccer practices and soccer conditioning and soccer dinners and soccer games, I’m helping someone important to me build their confidence to fight a Jabberwocky in the future.

So how do I remember that when I’m coiling and tightening and building another headache?

Well, my headache helped provide the answer.  In the midst of my pain, I stretched out my arm and felt the warmth and life creeping back into it.  I saw the beauty of the line as it broke the path of the sunshine streaming in my window.  And I remembered the feeling of pure energy that lived that part of my body when I was in the arms of a Viennese Waltz.  While I tried to find a way to divert my attention so I could relax and let the medicine work, I heard my daughter in the other room singing while she did her homework.  I didn’t know the song, but her notes were clear and strong and blended with the wind chimes ringing outside the kitchen window.  She wasn’t always on key, but it was beautiful nonetheless and brought both tears of joy and a thrill akin to listening to a full, professional philharmonic playing a beautiful symphony.

Rats miss both the philharmonic and the child’s song, the ballroom waltz and the stretch of an arm.  I know we’ve been told before, but hearing and believing are as different as equal and same:

     We must believe that humanity is in the moment.

Not the future, nor the past, but right here, right now.  I know this may seem impossible as e-mails ding, phones buzz, bosses holler, children cry, dreams beckon, doors close, and the world keeps on spinning.  But I believe it is the answer.

Does this mean we stop being responsible? No. There is no humanity in running away from our family, our jobs, our community, our commitments, our life.  I admit, I don’t know how to execute this newfound answer, but I believe there is a way to do both.  Perhaps we need to uncover the lies society tells us and we have told ourselves about what being important really means. Perhaps we should seek courage to act out of our own wisdom instead of the collective rules of our culture.  Perhaps we must continue sharing ideas with others, testing theories and championing change.  I don’t know…but that is exactly why I know I am now on a quest.

What about you, Gentle Penguin?  What answers, theories and ideas do you have?  Will you share them with me?

By now you probably know that I love to study people and occasionally have a thought or two on what I observe. But today’s topic is one I’ve been struggling with my entire cognizant existence.  It weighs heavy on my mind, and I will admit upfront that I have no answers…only lots and lots of questions and concerns.

So Gentle Penguin, I ask that you hear me out today.

Last week, I watched a young girl perform a choreographed karate battle with her twin brother.  As the commentator explained what was going on, the crowd watched closely as the two equally able children tussled.  I knew what was coming and started to feel physically angry.  Sure enough, the girl won, the commentator made some comment about “as she should,” and the crowd applauded their approval.

As someone who from the very moment I understood anything about gender knew the cards would be more difficult on my side of the chromosomes, who was refused roles I would have excelled at in high school and college because of my gender, who has long wanted to be free to be my best—how could I be so angry that the girl won the choreographed battle?

It worried me.

Two days later, a friend of mine complimented me on the fact that both my daughters are so focused on their school and extra curricular activities and not distracted by dating or boys as so many of their peers are.  I asked my youngest about it and she said, “well, you’ve told us and told us and told us that boys just get in the way of our goals.” I felt like someone had punched me in the gut.  How could I, the most romantic, ever-searching believer in relationships and love have given my daughters the impression that you should achieve your goals alone?

But my angst reached its peak during a friendly archery challenge with a complete stranger earlier this week.  I had barely arrived at the range when he came up and asked if he could see my longbow.  Sure.  Then he asked if he could shoot it.  Of course, be my guest.  We were at the 30-yard target.  He lined up the arrow, pulled back and shot… straight into the grass.  I handed him another arrow.  He smiled and asked “how do you aim this?” I told him the basics–both eyes open, focus on the tip of the arrow as your point, aim slightly higher to adjust for distance.  He shot again… into the grass.  I handed him another arrow, which also ended in the grass.

Embarrassed, he handed my bow back and asked me to shoot.  I was momentarily torn— part of me wanted to also hit the grass so he’d feel better.  But I didn’t.  I aimed and hit the center mark.  I knew what was next.  He handed me his compound bow and challenged me to try that.  I loaded an arrow, pulled back, aimed and hit the center mark, just left of my longbow arrow.  “I hate goddamm men with boobs,” he said yanking the bow as I offered it back to him.  “No wonder my boy is a wimp.  Y’all have left him no chance as a man.”

I should have kept my mouth shut.  But I didn’t.  “Sir, I’m not a man.  I’m a woman.”

He spat as he said “then act like one.”

“And how’s that,” I said a little loudly, feeling my face flushing and acutely aware that I could feel my heart beating in my chest.

“Let a man be the man,” he yelled stepping closer to me.

“You mean, let you win.” I said it, not asked and didn’t take a step back.

He didn’t answer but he narrowed his eyes.  I counted to nine…”You want to win? Then be better than me.”

He watched me shoot for about five minutes before leaving, and I was thankful that archery is one activity that really does pull my focus off everything else.  But when I returned to my car an hour later, I couldn’t even drive for still shaking with anger.

I never wanted anyone to “let” me win.  I wanted to compete on even terms to see how I measured up.  If I lost—as I did frequently in many of the challenges I accepted–I lost against someone (male or female) who was better and then I knew what I needed to do to be better.  There was no choreography or medals for eleventh place.  And I didn’t compromise my abilities to make someone else feel better about themselves.  Except where romantic relationships were concerned.

Which is probably how we get to my advice to my daughters that boys get in the way of goals…

How do I explain to them, that the right boy will be more like the people they meet on their soccer teams or in their choirs?  He will challenge you to be better while still supporting your efforts.

But doesn’t that feel like those fairy tales I’ve read so long?  I know I’m looking for a king—I don’t want to be the strongest, smartest, toughest person in the relationship.  But I don’t want to have to lie about my ability either.  I don’t want to live in a world that requires me to reduce to the lowest possible level so that we might all be equal.

These are the thoughts that swirl in my head as I hear stories about Muslim radicals wanting women to stay hidden (are men so weak they can’t control themselves?), or listen to mothers complain that men are looking at their daughters luridly at the malls (what about the skin-tight, barely covering clothes with words written on chests and butts designed to attract attention to those areas says “don’t look at me”), or read another e-mail about how the government needs more diverse suppliers and contractors (what happened to choose the best?).

Gentle Penguin, I tend to be an idealist.  I know there are other and smarter answers to these conundrums.  But who has them?  And when are we going to allow people to be their best selves at whatever it is they do best, regardless of gender, race, religion, color, creed, age, sexual preference, marital status, pet ownership, political affiliation, etc.  Those are the people I want to connect with.

Lunch–not luncheon

Lately, I’ve fallen completely off my normal disciplined focus, distracted by seemingly important, but really mundane quests for knowledge.  For example:

  • If it’s yellow, is it still a ladybug?
  • What’s the difference between lunch and luncheon?
  • If Chinese is the most spoken language in the world by population, what do most people eat for breakfast?
  • Why is it called cocoa if it comes from a cacao plant?
  • Is winter (in Ohio) really more gray than other seasons?

I have to admit, I’m delighted and wish I had entire afternoons during which I wish I could learn a hundred other mundane things.

Ladybugs are actually not bugs, nor are they all ladies.  They’re beetles, and they come in pink, red, orange and yellow.  In England, they’re called ladybirds.  In other places that speak English, they’re called lady cows.  Most entomologists call them lady beetles because they already knew they weren’t bugs.  My grandmother used to call them “potato bugs,” and after spending several rainy hours reading about these bugs, I think I know why.  Most ladybugs are considered helpful in the garden because they eat the eggs and young of other bugs that eat the plants.  However, a subfamily of the group (Epilachninae) are known to eat plants like grains and potatoes.  Since we never grew grains, I imagine she must have had a family of the Epilachninae in her garden once.

The difference between lunch and luncheon is far less stimulating.  Lunch is simply a casual meal eaten in the middle of the day.  Luncheon, on the other hand, is a formal midday meal taken as part of a business meeting or entertaining.  Turns out, I eat lunch approximately 90 percent of the year.  It makes me think that the next luncheon I attend, I should be more formal.  Usually, I am though–already dressed in a business suit armed with business cards and a lipstick smile.  The few luncheons I have attended taught me something else extraordinarily interesting.  Assigned table seating is a God-send!

Like most of my endeavors, I usually attend luncheons alone.  The past few have been in celebration of or education about international diplomacy…and in a different city than my own.  So I know no-one and the networking half-hour prior to mealtime is frightening.  I would have left the first one except just as my fear was nudging me to the door, a very kind gentleman with a clipboard asked my name and escorted me to my assigned table.  Then, checking his clipboard, he introduced me to my tablemates.  There was a student, a retired former-ambassador to the Ukraine and Norway, his wife, the treasurer of the hosting group, and a shy member of the city’s Somalian delegation.  Whew!  I immediately wanted a clipboard for myself someday…but now I realize it was actually the table assignment that saved me.

I don’t yet know what most people eat for breakfast, but I do know that it varies greatly around the world.  I guess I’d hoped it would settle the question about what I should eat for breakfast once and for all.  However, I find lots of reasons to like and dislike lots of these options.  A croissant or left-over dinner tart or toast is so classy with my tea, but leaves me hungry early.  Eggs and bacon leaves me too full and my entire meal regimen is undone for the day.  Cereal—well, I just can’t bring myself to eat it knowing it’s pure propaganda from Misters William Kellogg and later Charles Post and filled with all sorts of chemicals to make it practically glow.  Rice has been an interesting option.  Porridge, not so much.  And I haven’t even yet explored the African, Indian or Russian traditions.  I’ll have to continue my research, Gentle Penguin, and get back with you on this one…

But it was in my quest to understand where the heck oats came from that I came across a reference to the definition of “oats” in Samuel Johnson’s dictionary (circa 1775).  In it he defined oats as: “A Grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.”  As you might imagine, the Scots were not amused.  (Perhaps this one of the underlying pains that gave cause for wanting to separate?)  Anyway, which writer in their right mind wouldn’t be TOTALLY taken in by the idea of a dictionary written with personality?  I kind of want to write my own dictionary now!

So, in reading more, I learned that in this same dictionary, Mr. Johnson accidentally left off the definition of the word “coco” and instead placed the definition of the word “cocoa.”  Coco, by the way is a palm tree that produces bowling-ball sized “nuts” that have holes in them often resembling a smiling face.  The word “coco” is Spanish for “grinning face” and has no relation to an animated cuckoo bird who likes puffs made from a different cereal conglomerate.  Meanwhile, “cocoa” is the English bastardization of the Spanish word “cacao,” which is a tree that produces small nut-like seeds that when fermented, dried, smashed and crushed produce cacao paste from which chocolate is made (with heaps of sugar, of course).  Before the addition of sugar, Mesoamericans considered anything made from cacao to be the most manly of all foods or beverages and were forbidden to eat or drink them unless you were willing to serve in battle.

With sugar added, the drink and food are now the purvey of doting grandmothers, women looking for love, and little children who will later make you want to drink.

But sugar isn’t the important differentiator–it’s butter.  When the butter is removed from the crushed nibs, it becomes a dried powder cake—called cocoa.  This bastardization of the plant is relatively new, dating back to 1828 and a Dutch chemist.  Hence the difference between hot cocoa and hot chocolate is that one is made from the powder and one is made from the paste–or solid bar made from the paste.

Something I will also have to look into (or rather, I already have begun, but once begun is not quite done) is this recurrence of chemists in our food history…breakfasts, chocolate, wine…

But first, I must discover whether Ohio is really more gray in the winter than any other season.  I don’t want to believe it’s true, but all indications point otherwise.  So, like I did once in grade school, I will spend the next five (or six) months charting the weather.  Today, by the way, has been both sunny and gray.  I’m not sure how I will mark that.  But, I figure, I’ll figure it out…after I try to do some work.

There is no Fairy Godmother

Change is the only constant, but rarely is it so visible as this time of year.  The crickets still chirp in the morning, but not when I awake and make my tea.  Rather, they serenade me now after my breakfast dishes are put away, my daughter dropped off at school, the dogs walked and my work begun.  And every time I glance up to see where the dogs are in the yard, I see a leaf falling from my Grandfather Maple which is slowly turning yellow.

It’s apropo today as one of my years slips quietly away and a new one takes its place.

I celebrate in a usual way—intellectual stimulation seems to be the most available gift I can give myself.  So rather than digging into the unending pile of work on my desk, I watch the Roosevelts documentary one more time before PBS expires the online viewing.  Can you imagine living with the vivacity and drive of Theodore!  Since I saw the documentary the first time, I’m still in awe of him.  Standing in front of thousands of angry German immigrants as if he supported their cause rather than being the one whom they single-mindedly opposed.  Shaking a fellow politician in public and shouting at him that the Constitution is for the people not the other way around (I mean, wow!  When did we decide alternatively…because we certainly have adopted that view).  Being shot and still delivering his campaign speech because he believed his message was so important it couldn’t wait.

If I had a fairy godmother, I’d ask for TR’s conviction and courage for my birthday.

I’d also ask for a pen pal–a real life, pen-on-paper-lick-an-envelope-and-slap-a-stamp-on-it pen pal.  I had one, but like many things this year, technology intervened and now I receive only sporadic texts that don’t make sense or requests to join Facebook.  I don’t want to interact with my friends on facebook!  I want to have dinner, drinks, coffee, and conversation!  I don’t want to lol, I want to laugh out loud!  And when they’re feeling low, I want to know so I can do everything in my power to remind them of how joyful life is, that people care about them and that hope is just around the corner.  Because it always is.

Did you watch the Roosevelts?  More than anything, I was struck by the importance of letters and diaries in all seven parts of the series.  Perhaps it’s that they had something to tell rather than my boring diary entry which typically reads like, “Dear Diary, Today I stared at my computer for eight hours, played the role of taxi driver and errand girl for my daughters and can’t remember what I ate at any meal except breakfast because I wasn’t paying attention.”  There are no bear hunts or diplomatic negotiations with troubled nations or tender romantic stirrings for a beloved…or anything that I might find important or meaningful.  Although, sometimes I add a note about how my dogs are so snuggly and cute.

Right now–for example–they’re both laying at my feet, ears flopped back and someone’s foot raised and wobbling.  Maybe they’re confused as the crickets still chirp their serenade that we’ve come to associate with sleeping.  Or maybe they’re tired from racing around, sniffing and pooping so much at the dog park earlier this morning.  (I mean, how much can a dog really poop in one hour!)  Or maybe they’re just waiting for something exciting to happen–like I am.

Why don’t we live like the Roosevelts any more?  I understand they had money, but what about their convictions, their connection to something larger than themselves, their desire to bring out the best in people?  Why don’t we live like that?  I have my suspicions…

But one of Eleanor’s many thought-provoking quotes stops me now.  “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”

Gentle Penguin, I curse the darkness my fair share.  In fact, I sometimes curse a lot.  They’re both habits I’m trying to break.   So what light can I leave you with now?

How about your own light…https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DwKBxabn4QY

Social Experiment

It started many months ago as a hypothetical question posed over coffee, as many hypothetical questions are ought.  “If you knew someone was struggling–really having a tough go at it–what would you do?”

There was a quiet pause as everyone’s eyes shifted to a different location—the wall, our coffee, the corner of the table, our shoes.  Then the babble began.

“Take them to a funny movie.”  “Kings Island, baby!”  “Have them over for dinner.”  “Take them dancing.”  “Girls’ night out.”  “Send them a balloon bouquet.”  …

Unfortunately, the data our questioner shared with us shows that most of us—almost 90 percent of us—will ignore them.  We didn’t believe it.  So our questioner asked us to try a little experiment.  “The next time you feel down, confide in a few people and see what happens.”

I guess I’m lucky that it took so long for me to feel “down,” but “down” is exactly how I felt for about a week here recently.  I’m not talking suicidal.  I’m talking about depression—probably even only low-level depression at that.

Getting out of bed was a major feat that felt like it sucked out every bit of energy I had.  I skipped taking showers if I didn’t have client meetings, and I only put makeup on once that week.  I took—on average—two naps per day and couldn’t even manage to walk my dogs around the block.  I cried—on average—90 minutes out of every day.  I checked facebook –on average—every 20 minutes instead of the once-every-three-days plan I had been checking; and I posted drunk messages, promptly deleting them the next day when there was only one or no responses.  I bought and ate an entire box of double-stuffed oreos and then promptly threw them up.  I counted every dumb thing I’d ever done, ever said, ever thought.

And then I remembered the challenge.  “Tell someone.”

I mentioned it in casual conversation with a confidant.  I wrote a brief post on facebook and left it up there for four days.  I told my daughter.  I told my dogs.  I told a few friends that I see regularly…I summed it up in an e-mail to my long-time pen pal:

Help! I’ve been feeling the sucking, draining onset of depression pulling at me. I’ve lost every bit of energy I own, and I can’t stop crying or feeling sorry for myself! Why?  There’s nothing really wrong with me—I know that.  But, I don’t even have the energy to go shower right now. I’m so lonely. I feel truly and completely alone, uncared for, unloved and worthless for anything but work—which makes me feel even more tired.  I don’t see any joy in living.  All I see is work and responsibilities and more work.  Don’t worry—I’m not suicidal.  But I feel like there’s no hope!

Did you ever read a short story called The Electric Ant in which a man is in a car accident only to find out he’s a robot, so he pulls his “tape” to find out how much of his life has been programmed? I read it years ago in philosophy class and somehow it’s stuck with me. The question being…was the accident programmed? Was his finding out he was programmed programmed? Anyway, I bring it up because I feel like I’ve discovered I’m a robot—programmed only to work and do what other people want—raise kids, make money, clean house, take care of parents and family. No fun, no emotions, no affection, no attention, no warmth, no rest, no reward—just work, work, work. Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve laughed? Or felt worthwhile…

My e-mail pen pal never responded to my e-mail, but several days later sent me a book recommendation about a technology book he’s reading.

My confidant told me to focus on work.  One person—a person I only met once for about an hour, who lives across the country—commented on my facebook post.  One of my regular friends offered to buy me a glass of wine and talk about it, but never responded to my text about meeting up.  Most of the rest of my friends still haven’t responded.  My dogs snuggled up with me for a nap the afternoon I told them, then promptly left me to go chase a squirrel in the yard.  I admit, I did blow off one friend who didn’t know I was feeling low, but who invited me to go out…mostly because I didn’t have the energy to shower and get out of my pjs.

I must admit, Gentle Penguin, the experiment made my depression worse.

By the way—I’m feeling better now.  To start with, I’m delighted to tell you that when I told my daughter I was feeling really alone and low, she dropped everything, pulled me over to the couch, put her arms around me, told me she loved me, then asked me why I felt that way.  She didn’t argue with me about it, or try to be logical.  She just listened.  She reminded me of many people who love me.  And suggested that I talk to a professional or go see my doctor.  Then she told me it would be okay and hugged me again.  The next day, she asked me if I had made an appointment, and told me she was glad when I said I had.  “You’ll feel better soon, mom.” She hugged me again…and kept a close eye on me for the next few days.

Soon, I was feeling better.  I’m fortunately to have such a wonderful girl.  And that my depression is (and has always been) mild and manageable.

Now, the POINT of this isn’t to berate my friends or make anyone feel badly.  The point is that the experiment was my first-hand awareness that discomfort leads to avoidance.  And that is frightening.

Why is this frightening?  Because research now shows that when women hear someone they work with has been diagnosed with breast cancer, they’re LESS likely to get screened themselves.  College students were willing to PAY MONEY to not have blood that was already drawn tested for herpes.  And according to various statistics, when an overweight person loses weight, they also lose—on average—two friends for every 14 pounds.  When people break up after a relationship, they lose—on average—eight friends.  When a person gets divorced, they lose—on average—twelve friends.  When a person’s parents die, they lose—on average—four friends.  When a person’s spouse or child dies, they lose—on average—almost 80 percent of their friends.

This is really simple to fix.

Don’t avoid discomfort.  “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” said President F.D. Roosevelt.  Have your mammograms and take the health tests you dread if you’re at risk.  Find people you trust to talk to for support.  And when you know someone is struggling, listen, respond when they ask for help, remind them you care.

I care.  And I’m here if you need my help.

Refraction

There’s a lightning bug outside my bedroom window. At first, I thought it was my headache, or even my imagination as I lay awake worrying about things I can’t control but somehow seem determined to try.

I honestly didn’t know they could come up this high. They always struck me as more down-to-earth, flitting about among the grass blades or in my lavender or amidst the tree trunks of the forest first floor.

But there, against a black sky and a waxing moon; there, on the other side of my writing desk, separated from me by only the gilded curtains of Vlore fame gifted to me recently; there, distracting my thoughts from money and time and questions of purpose—there it was.

Wink. . . . Wink. . . . It had my full attention.

After several moments of complete darkness, however, I abandon my worries and the false attempt at rest. I get up. I try to be quiet as I look for my pen and paper, but my clenched jaw only makes my headache worse. And every noise seems magnified.

I sit still for a long time watching for the lightning bug.

It seems perfectly natural to be sitting at my writing desk in the dark, and for a moment I wonder if I would sleep better laying my head down on the smooth, cool mahogany wood surface.

Wink. . . .

I can’t help but notice that while the momentary flash is beautiful and awe inspiring, it doesn’t offer much light and passes rather quickly.

My desk lamp got moved in my most recent decluttering frenzy, and I’ve been forced to test the lighting options of my cell phone. Much brighter and consistent than the lightning bug, the phone flashlight dulls the darkness of my room. However, the narrow focus of its beam makes it impossible to read or write.

So I’ve borrowed the bathroom mirror and discovered that if I position my cell phone just right, I can create an oval of light that illuminates my desk top perfectly with little refraction elsewhere. Whatever stray light remains glints off the gilded curtains and my clock so that I feel as if I’m surrounded by magic.

Then I do the only thing that ever seems to make sense—I write a letter.

Tonight, the letter is to someone new, someone I recently met who reminded me of something important, someone who will never receive the letter. I learned long ago that it’s the writing of the letter that the Universe cares about, not the sending. And I’m thankful for that because I’m not a brave person; I could never send the letter I wrote because it contained pieces of my mind, heart and soul.

I write the letter anyway because I’ve learned that putting my mind, heart and soul into a letter is like spending savings. You sacrifice and work hard to accumulate your savings—not for the accumulation, but for the opportunity to trade it for something rare and precious when it comes along. And when the opportunity is right, you end up richer for the expenditure.

So too with this letter.

It was a thank you letter to someone who showed me such admiration and attention that I remembered something important about myself—something I’d forgotten.

It’s been awhile since I’ve been admired, not for my abilities, but for my charm. It’s been awhile, quite frankly, since I’ve been able to be a woman—high heels, lipstick, dresses and smiles. Most of the time these days, I find myself in pants and flats and a controlled self expression ever pervasive as I navigate rules and regulations at work and home.  But charm and femininity are worthy of admiration.  I think about it and realize I have been admired for both occasionally throughout the past few years.  It was the next point that was so rare and valuable.

I was admired for skills so subtle and natural but powerful that without much effort I could have moved mountains.  And I was reminded that I was once considered an exceptional chief of staff, who often is more powerful when I join someone else’s dream instead of trying to push my own agenda.

Could it be that my loneliness has also been a misunderstood construct of a society that says the only way to success is alone?

Oh Gentle Penguin, you may think I’m daft, but everywhere I turn the cheers and chants are for entrepreneurs, people who pour themselves into something of their own making in hopes it makes a difference or at least a profit. Could that be a siren call?

Could it be that those who support another’s dream instead of just their own are also heroes and demigods because they believe and work hard to make those dreams come true?

I’m not talking about giving them a plaque or a closer parking spot or even a raise. What about giving them admiration and attention for the knowledge and heart they contribute?

I can tell you for certain, a little admiration and attention can go a long, long way.

I’m also not talking about giving up your own dream, but rather finding a way it fits with someone else’s dream—a way that brings both dreams closer, perhaps, to reality…like a mirror reflecting a focused beam across a writing desk instead of dimming the darkness slightly or momentarily.

The letter is finished…carefully sealed, addressed, and placed in my desk drawer. Maybe it will yet find it’s way to the recipient. We’ll see…

In the dark

I love driving, and once again I can’t believe how beautiful the landscape is just hours from my home.

My forested green fields and waving corn stalks give way to rolling hills dressed in purple heather and beige grass, dotted with so many different types of trees all highlighted with sunshine. Soon, though, the hills push higher toward a sky that’s becoming more crowded with dark gray clouds filled with thunder. It heightens the experience and sharpens my focus while my car and I trace the curves, the climbs, and the deep inclines.

On the other side of those mountains are the enchanted forests—you know, where the grass barely grows tall enough to touch the top of the toadstools, but the tree trunks flash their bare, lanky trunks beneath flirty skirts of foliage. I could swear I saw the sprites playing hide and seek as I drove by…or maybe those were the elves working feverishly to protect their beloved wooded home from the pollution of our passing cars.

My beloved Ohio wines are replaced by wineries from other states, but the exits often claim names of cities and streets that match the grapes Ohio made famous—especially Catawba.

And though the sun is still elbowing for space in the sky, I’m acutely aware that if it were a clear night, I would once again be able to see the Milky Way. I haven’t seen it in almost two years. It’s just not visible in Ohio…anywhere.

It’s quite eye-opening to know that when the sun goes down, there actually is no darkness around. Why is that? Are we a state of people afraid of the dark?

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