Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Good, The Bad and the Oh, So Frustrating in Each of Us

There is so much good in the worst of us
And so much bad in the best of us
That it hardly behooves any of us
To talk about the rest of us.

Edward Wallis Hoch

The holidays always provide an opportunity for us to remember all people can be good and bad, kind and irritable, helpful and obstructive, accommodating and frustrating. Yes, even the sweetest among us have a dark side and, woe to you who triggers the dark side of a perpetually sweet one. I hear they are scary.

Treat yourself to seeing the movie, The Descendants, with George Clooney, directed by Alexander Payne. But first, don’t get your hopes up about lusting after George. I know you will think this impossible, but they do attempt to make him look dorky. In those pants and with the running scene, they nearly succeed. Even so, it’s a stretch to believe any wife would cheat on George! Nevertheless, the movie is worth your time to be reminded of the truth of the Edward Wallis Hoch’s poem above.

Every person in the film reveals both sides of his/her character. Yes, George too. It forces the viewer to grapple with moral and ethical dilemmas that we would like to deem easy, clear cut choices. Does being an absentee father make it okay for your daughters to talk to you with disrespect? Does being a friend mean you don’t tell the spouse about infidelity? Without spoiling the film, let’s just say—there are no easy answers when you’re willing to admit we are all flawed human beings.

The reminder I walked out of the theatre with is this: I want to be loved in spite of all my shortcomings so I must constantly remember to put aside the bad, irritable, obstructive and frustrating behaviors of others. Easier to remember than to pull off during the holidays! Renew your strength and just do it!  

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Off to Bad LauguageVille

Mimi AKA Brenda is being carried off to Bad LanguageVille

Where do you stand on raucous, naughty, semi-bad or down-right gross language? I’m forced to ponder this issue anew because of grandchildren.

When we discovered only half of our Christmas tree made the move from Raleigh and Lexington, grandson Tristan and I set out to buy a new one on a rainy cold Sunday afternoon. What was I thinking? Michael’s, the arts and craft store, was packed and a little boy’s wonderland of distraction.

After we had accomplished our goal and a dear-to-my-heart employee helped us get the tree into the car, I turned to Tristan in the back seat and said, “We did it! Tristan and Mimi bought the new Christmas tree and we got a big ass tree!”

Appalled, he shouted, “Off to Bad Languageville. Population: YOU!”

I like bad language. It expresses my feelings sometimes when nothing else will. I get annoyed with my carrot-up-the-butt friend (who shall remain nameless to protect the guilty) when he chastises every use of a colorful word.

When my children were pre-teens, I explained to them, “Language is neither moral nor immoral. But it is appropriate and inappropriate to particular situations.” Of course, they had to push the limits of my explanation most significantly by dropping the f-bomb to their great aunt, a retired missionary. So much for that parenting technique.

I’m currently reading Stephen King’s book titled, On Writing. He likes bad language more than I do. Does that make him less a writer? Less a person? Less a parent? I ponder these things.

We’ve even reached the point that we have words that are used at Mimi and Pappa’s house but not at school or church. Tristan told me he knew so much about the Noah’s Ark story he even knew the “freakin’ pigeons” built their house on the top of the ark. I reminded him that freakin’ is not a church word. He said, “It’s not a bad word, Mimi.” He’s right, but I still reminded him that it is not a school or church word. Are you drawing arbitrary lines between school, church, profession, writing and personal words?

What do you think? Do you also reside in Bad LanguageVille?  

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Yes, Art Linkletter, Kids STILL Say the Darndest Things - Part Two

Husband John AKA Pappa-razzi says every weekend when we have Tristan overnight, “Are you writing these down?” He means all the cute, amazing comments Tristan comes up with on an hourly basis.

When we drop him back at his house, I ask his Mommy, “Where in the world does this kid get these comments?”

She replied, “Welcome to my world. I ask myself every day, ‘where did he get that?’”

A sampling:

He awakened in our bed Easter morning and I asked, “Do you want to get up now and go wish Pappa a Happy Easter.” He answers, “No, let’s just lie here and enjoy this Easter moment.” I didn’t even know 5 year olds had “Easter moments.”

We had a conversation about tears because he saw me putting eye drops in and asked what they were. I explained and went on to joke about them being tears of joy because he was spending the night. I asked if he had ever cried tears of joy just because something was so wonderful, joyful or emotional. He didn’t have to blink an eye before responding, “Yes, in the movie Mee-Shee because the music was so beautiful!” He was speaking of Jim Henson’s movie, Mee-Shee: The Water Giant. I have no idea how long ago he saw that movie but it was recent. Music moves his soul and he can tell you about it.

One of my recent favorites was the story he told me about asking the cafeteria lady, “Do these muffins have mosquitoes in them, because I’m allergic to mosquitoes.” He said it took the lunch ladies a couple of minutes to know it was a joke!

Tristan knows his Uncle Mark—never mind that Uncle Mark died three years before Tristan was born. For example, we were at Applebee’s one evening when Tristan ordered French Fries and an order of bacon. I ordered potato skins which, of course, had bacon on them. I said, “Tristan, look we’re having the same thing, potatoes and bacon. What else do we both like?”

Without missing a beat, he replies, “We both love Uncle Mark.” Yes, he melts my heart on a daily basis.

Another Uncle Mark episode began with a discussion about ghosts, Tristan current and seemingly only fear.

“Mimi, do you believe in ghosts?”

“It depends on what you mean by ghosts. If you mean the state of the human body when someone has died and gone on to heaven, then, yes, I believe in ghosts. And I’ll tell you a secret I have told very very few people. Shortly after Uncle Mark’s death, he was sitting in that very rocker and said to me, ‘Mom, I’m okay. Don’t worry.’”

Tristan took this in and shortly afterwards went to the bathroom. He came back all excited and said, “Mimi, Uncle Mark was in the bathroom and told me he was okay in heaven.”

What do you say in response to that?

And then he shows up the next weekend saying in a New Jersey accent, “What am I? Chopped li-vah?”

Yes, Art, kids still say the darndest things.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Did St. Teresa of Avila write this prayer for me?

Photo by Pappa-razzi AKA John Lynner Peterson

Some anonymous writer had captured my prayer and with apologies to St. Teresa of Avila, I share it with you today. Perhaps you will find it one you need to pray this year too.

Thou knowest better than I myself
that I am growing older and will someday be old.
Keep me from the fatal habit of thinking
I must say something on every subject and on every occasion.

Release me from craving to
straighten out everybody’s affairs.

Make me thoughtful but not moody;
helpful but not bossy.

With my vast store of wisdom,
it seems a pity not to use it all;
but Thou knowest, Lord,
that I want a few friends at the end.
Keep my mind free from the recital of endless details;
give me wings to get to the point.

Seal my lips on my aches and pains;
they are increasing, and love of rehearsing them
is becoming sweeter as the years go by.

I dare not ask for improved memory,
but for a growing humility and a lessening cock-sureness
when my memory seems to clash with the memories of others.
Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally I may be mistaken.

Keep me reasonably sweet, for a sour old person
is one of the crowning works of the devil.
Give me the ability to see good things in unexpected places
and talents in unexpected people;
and give, O Lord, the grace to tell them so.


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Hugo, the movie and Finding Your Purpose

"If a man love the labor of any trade, apart from any question
of success or fame, the gods have called him."
Robert Louis Stephenson

John and I took grandson, Tristan, age six, to see the new movie Hugo last Saturday. Take every adult and child you know to see this movie. It is director Martin Scorsese’s tribute to film making but the beauty of it is in the cinematography (be sure to spurge for 3D) and the over-arching message.

Hugo is a young boy whose parents die and he is left in the care of a drunken uncle who tends the clock in the train terminal of Paris, France. I won’t be a spoiler by telling you more but the theme that speaks to us all is subtly expressed when Hugo says as he looks out on Paris from the clock tower, “If the whole world is a machine like a clock then there are no extra parts. So, I am not an extra part. I have a purpose and I must find it.”

Ahhhh, if we could each find our purpose what an achievement it would be. What is your purpose? Are you doing that now? Are you happy with what you are doing now? I have found in my work that if you are living your purpose it has a ripple effect on all your life—especially that prickly reality of time management.

I call my time management course The Last Time Management Course You Will Ever Need because the instruments force you to set priorities and define your purpose. After doing that, your management of time will fall comfortably in to place.

Do yourself a New Year favor, sign up here to take my course.

And go see Hugo!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Holiday Stress Buster

There are only two words to know in reducing your stress around the holidays.

Lower Expectations!

This message was blatantly stolen from therapist extraordinaire, Dr. Nancy Fine of Newtown, PA.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and Happy New Year.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Queen Enabler

This is what enabling results in!

I played the role of Queen Enabler in my family. 
The first lesson I learned in Al-Anon is to stop the co-dependent merry-go-round. I’m ready to get off. I hereby resign as Queen Enabler. I would be hard pressed to decide whether my Queen Enabler activities reached their peak with my Mom, my sister Margaret or my sons. Cleaning up their messes, literally and figuratively, and propping up their lives with money seemed second nature to me. I accepted that role in their lives never questioning whether it benefited them or me. I didn’t want to be one of those people who climbed out of poverty and then kicked the ladder to the ground so no one else could use it. I never questioned that my methods of enabling were far different from showing someone else the ladder and waiting with patience while they made or didn’t make the decision to use it.
Some of the high notes in my aria as Queen Enabler included: giving sister, Margaret, the down payment for her home, then watching her abuse the home, borrow from the equity and sell it short of what she owed on it; buying Mom a car on which she let the insurance lapse and then allowed my sister Vivian to drive and wreck it; and finally, aiding and abetting Mark as he wander around finding himself, tending bar, smoking pot and refusing to go to college. I stopped the vicious spiral by telling him I would no longer contribute to his life until he decided to quit smoking pot and take that brilliant mind off to college. Each of these constituted the circumstance which finally got my attention with that one person. Getting off the co-dependence merry-go-round happens one person at a time. If I complain about how slowly the process is my Al Anon friends remind me, “Progress, not perfection, is our goal.”
Of the Enabler stories I’ve heard since being in Al Anon, the prize and pinnacle is the woman who found a pair of women’s panties in her bedroom that were not hers. She confronted her husband and he insisted they were hers when she knew they were not. She washed the panties and wore them rather than forcing the issue of his infidelity and alcoholism!
I’m finally letting the fact sink deeply into my soul, enabling others benefits no one.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Sexual Abuse

Brenda at age 5

According to Wikipedia, the Genogram, based on family systems theory, “is a pictorial display of a person's family relationships and medical history. It goes beyond a traditional family tree by allowing the user to visualize hereditary patterns and psychological factors that punctuate relationships. It can be used to identify repetitive patterns of behavior and to recognize hereditary tendencies.” (Genograms were first developed and popularized in clinical settings by Monica McGoldrick and Randy Gerson, with the publication of Genograms: Assessment and Intervention, 1985, now in its Third Edition, 2008.)
I replied to Jim, “I’m game. Oh, buddy, do I have a family system for you!”
The assignment directed us to ask a question (as a therapist would) which needed resolution in my life. I told Jim, “We’ll have to make up one because I’m in such a good emotional space about my life, I don’t have any problems that need answers at this time. The question I’m thinking of is genuine, I just don’t have a pressing need to answer it. It light of what I have lived through it seems a trivial thing to ask.”
The question: “Why, if I have little or no anxiety about public speaking, acting, dancing or teaching, do I sometimes have all-consuming anxiety when I sing publicly?  I’ve had as much or more training in vocal performance as any other skill.”
The methodology of the Genogram involves creating a family tree. For ease of illustration, let’s say the family tree has circles around all addicts, squares around all abusers, triangles around those who were abused, trapezoids around mentors and so forth. My family tree is a geometry teacher’s dream. We filled it all out and ended that session.
Jim returned days later. During the casual visit, we were sitting at the breakfast bar at my house on Summershade Court. He gently asked, “Tell me more about the aunt who taught you a song and prepared you to sing in public for the first time when you were five years old.”
An electric shock radiated from the top of my head to the tips of my toes. I could barely form the words, “Oh my God, she also sexually molested me on a regular basis that same year.”
I have known this fact all my life. The path to the long, narrow, cold bathroom at Grandma’s house led between the pot-bellied coal stove and the cabinet where the black desk phone rested, number Harrison 48595. The click of the sliding bolt lock. My aunt telling me to lie down on the towel.
“I was five. I didn’t know I had a right to say ‘no.’ I didn’t suppress the molestation. I felt guilty about the incident all my life. And yet I pooh-poohed the significance of the actions and certainly did not name it abuse or connect it with singing. I excused her because she was just a teenager at the time. I thought it didn’t count as sexual abuse because she was female.”
Jim listened intently as I continued to think about the abuse. “I remember when I was studying voice with Dr. Noemi Lugo in the Nineties at the University of Kentucky. Something she said makes sense to me now.”
“Brrrrrrrrrrrrenda,” she would say rolling her R’s with delight, “you have this beautiful sound that you refuse to let out. For some reason it seems contained, locked up tight.”
“Now I understand when, where and who locked the door.”

Monday, November 14, 2011

Sexual Abuse of Children

Brene Brown has been my heroine for some time now. I have written about her work in this space on several occasions. Concerning the sexual abuse scandal at Penn State, she speaks my mind. No other words necessary.


Perhaps this scandal will give me the courage to post about my own sexual abuse at age five. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Expecting Adam by Martha Beck

This post was inspired by the book, Expecting Adam by Martha Beck.  As a member of From Left to Write book club, I received a copy of this book. This is not a review, it is a post inspired ll opinions are my own. You can read other members' posts inspired by Expecting Adam on book club day, November 9, 2011 at From Left to Write.

“This is the part of us that makes our brief, improbable little lives worth living; the ability to reach through our own isolation and find strength, and comfort, and warmth for and in each other. This is what human beings do. This is what we live for, the way horses live to run.” from Expecting Adam.

I applaud Martha Beck’s discovery that relationships are the true essence of life. I also want Martha to know that not all of us start with the loving family that Adam got.
           As sure as my love for unsweetened iced tea, one glass of white wine with dinner and Lindt chocolate peanut butter balls, relationships are essential to my very being. For connection, I started with what I received biologically. Decades later, I continue to define relationships as the richness of life and I am forced to admit, I started with interesting raw material.
We’d take the big round table in the corner if I gathered my family at a local restaurant. Older brother Bill, in bib overalls, no longer reeks of alcohol but his wrinkled skin, droopy eyelids, and dark circled orbs broadcasts that his body has not recovered even though his spirit is a perpetual “pink cloud.” (Alcoholics Anonymous jargon for the euphoria from getting sober.)  As he laughs too loudly and tells stories of drunken days and lost weekends, I see glimpses of the little boy and the teenager who greeted each day with “Hello world!” and wore a Japanese happy coat (generally translated to English as hapi or happi coat not happy) through much of high school. Bill could fix anything that needed fixing especially if it was a hydraulic engine. During the worst of his drinking years, he worked for two companies that maintained big garbage trucks in the Chicago area. He would wear out the patience of one company with his priority on alcohol and the other company would hire him by the next afternoon. His extraordinary skill encountered something he could not control when one of the giant tires on a truck exploded at his chest. His injuries are not visible at this dinner but they continued to scar his health the remainder of his life.
Bill’s logical explanation about The Incident that caused him to be a registered sex offender by the state of Florida hangs in the air like a leftover party banner. Perhaps his pink cloud drifted away on that day he raged at his mentally challenged stepdaughter and grabbed her breast.
Pretense only brings Bill to this dinner because his early life of drinking and smoking took its toll and Bill died of lung cancer at age sixty-five in 2010.
Sister Margaret arrives after Bill. She, too, looks on the outside like the choices she made on the inside. Her anger worn thick like her mascara, her bitterness as brittle as the tenth coat of hot pink polish painted on her nails. I dig deep to find the bright little girl who skipped second grade or quick sense of humor of her young adulthood. Margaret’s laughter at a joke or situation that struck her as funny spread like news of the best shoe sale in town.
Margaret blurts out as soon as she is seated, “Can you believe I have to have another surgery? This time it’s for carpel tunnel syndrome.” She delivers this news with excitement rather than the resignation or frustration usually accompanied with surgery. 
Bill reassures her, “Margaret, you may have had cirrhosis of the liver when you were five but you don’t have it now and you’re not that sickly little girl anymore. You should have dropped the hypochondria decades ago.”
I accepted Margaret’s hypochondria and surgery-of-the-moment ages ago, I wonder how someone as bright as Margaret cannot remember when to use she/her and he/him and they/them?  When confronted or teased about her grammar, she tells you rule by rule the correct usage, yet refuses to use such rules in daily speech. This stubbornness completes the picture of refusing to get her undergraduate degree. For decades, she worked at a university where she could have finished for free. She dared to call colleagues “educated idiots” when they didn’t see things her way.
Sister Ashley hobbles behind Margaret, the years of looking like Linda Carter of Wonder Woman fame locked away in her memory. A run-in with a forklift on the factory floor interrupted her work life, sapped her will and drained her desires for years afterward. This waning of her will started early but the accident squeezed its last breath. Her creativity, sensitivity, beauty and wit might as well be specimens in the jars of a science lab for all the use they were to her. Perhaps her children have taken the jars off the shelf, handled them with curiosity and put them back, thinking “Surely these belong to some one else. They couldn’t possibly belong to the hollowed-out, used-up, emotional cripple that is our mother.” Ashley sparkled on stage when she sang and acted. Her wit, even as a child, shined through in letters she wrote to me when I was in college. If Emerson is correct in saying, “What is needed in life is someone who will make us do what we are able,” Ashley didn’t have that someone in her life. I thought it would be me then discovered it wasn’t.
            Our final sib Vivian, may be the most fortunate in having less potential to work with. She wonders aloud, “Am I retarded?” We assure her she’s not, but quilt-like comfort can’t be found in some simple diagnosis. The family shakes its corporate head and says, “She’s just Vivian.” In subsequent generations, Vivian would have been diagnosed with multiple learning disorders. As a child, her waif-look, quaint vocabulary and general neediness manifested as Cosby-kid cute. At forty, it evokes wells of sadness and pity. Circumstances will require legal intervention to protect one of her children from Vivian’s lack of parenting skill. Her other child will spend time in prison, may still be there. Vivian doesn’t hobble physically like Ashley but the weight of her mother-guilt rests so heavily on her psyche it cannot be alleviated by crutch or cane. Pretense also brings Viv to this dinner, she too succumbed to an early death at age forty-seven in 2006.
            At this imaginary dinner, I, of course, made the reservation, order some appetizers and resolve for the umpteenth time not to pick up the whole check. I wear my excess of education like my expensive, well-tailored Doncaster clothes. The skinny little girl whose crinoline always hung out below her skirt no longer exists. The smile, grooming and practiced charm weave a curtain of denial which covers the pain, vulnerability and poor self-esteem of the Family Enabler Extraordinaire. I keep nurturing the thought that I can redeem every embarrassing characteristic of my family with my own perfect behavior. It’s exhausting not to mention arrogant.
Then there’s the general perception hanging in the air like humidity in August that Brenda experiences no pain because, “She has money and a good man. My God, what more could she want?”
Oh, my, I sound bitter and angry. I must work on that.
As I pick my fingers raw (under the table, of course), my soul longs to be seen as a whole person by these people--fragile and strong and oh, so, imperfect. That’s what I want. Perhaps it is an unreasonable request of these people who are immersed in their own struggles and rendered myopic by their own pain. I bore the weight of guilt about rearing these siblings before I ever became a mother. My plan that a college education would pull each one of them along with me failed before I framed the diploma. This guilt rests like concrete blocks on both my shoulders.
            Oh, I forgot, Mother is here.
Ashley surely chose Mother’s too bright Wal-Mart dress; Margaret must have fixed her low-maintenance hairstyle and Vivi hovers over her expecting her to actually be a mother. Tall, big-boned, a bit overweight, Mother looks older than her years. Her high forehead and rectangular face hit at attractive but don’t quite make it there.
From her earliest encounters with motherhood, Violet Lee struggled. She laughs at herself and tells stories about her attempts at parenting like the day Bill swung a fish hook into my eyelid. She called a taxi to rush me to the hospital and left Bill, age six, alone on the sidewalk.
Surprise! Surprise! Dad arrives late. Perhaps we should honor him for showing up since he has built a life around the role of absent father. He doesn’t have his pet pig in tow this evening and appears sober. At eighty-six, he looks one hundred and five and the self-proclaimed “shit-eatin'” grin that made all women between twelve and sixty weak-kneed now seems as rusted out as the moonshine still in his back yard. Dad pulled off this larger-than-life character with stunts. For example, he had a photograph of himself framed and surrounded by individual pictures of all six of his wives. He had nine marriages to these six women.  Friends flocked to his place on the Ohio River where an extra refrigerator devoid of shelves had its belly-filled with a keg that hooked up to an exterior spigot. Dad invented this decades before appliance companies got the idea to have water and ice accessible on the outside of the fridge door.
            If my family is the poster child for wasted genius, Dad is the Jerry Lewis circus barker trying to convince the world that it’s cool to underachieve. I cringe because I’m so afraid he will grab his chair, straddle it backwards and order a “smart alec.” I don’t know what that drink is but I know he can’t pull off the devil-may-care party animal anymore. At this pretend dinner, we will laugh, have fun and never acknowledge or deal with realities like alcoholism, divorce, education, intimate relationships or caring for Mom or Dad when they’re old. The strain put on the fabric of reality causes even the table, chairs and menus to tense the fibers of their being.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Which Wolf Is Motivating You?

Photo by John Lynner Peterson AKA Pappa-razzi

One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, "My son, the battle is between two wolves inside every one of us.

One is Evil: It is anger, envy, jealousy, conceit, sorrow, hatred, greed, arrogance, self-pity, resentment, inferiority, lies, pride, lust, superiority, and ego.

The other is Good: It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith."

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: "Which wolf wins?

The old Cherokee simply replied, "The one you feed."

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Conductor

The third vocational option for Tristan is conductor. Pappa and I took him to the children’s concert of the Lexington Philharmonic. We sat in a box that partially overlooked the stage and the pit. He asked, “Are those black curtains going to open up and people will come out in costumes?”

“No, Tristan, this is a concert not a play or musical,”  Mimi replies.

“Ok, then I’m not going to like it. I will be bored.”

“Let’s listen to the few pieces that will be played before the drum ensemble which is what we thought you would like. Then if after the drums you want to go home, we will go home.”

“It’s a deal, Mimi.”

We were only one piece into the drum program when he proclaimed, “I like this!” And we stayed to the end.

Tristan sings in the children’s choir of our church. Dress rehearsal for their first Sunday morning to sing came right after our philharmonic experience. All during the rehearsal, Tristan conducted his teacher.

His teacher waited to get him alone after rehearsal, bent down to his level and with the gentleness of a warm puppy pointed out to him that there can be only one conductor and that she was the one. She pointed out that he forgot to sing when he was conducting and distracted other children. He looked into her eyes with the sweetest, most innocent face and declared, “Sometimes I just go overboard.”

Conductor, NASCAR driver or museum curator? Stay tuned.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Museum Curator

Photo by John Lynner Peterson AKA Pappa-razzi

In addition to NASCAR driver, Tristan creates an awesome museum and plays the role of museum director himself. One day when we arrived at his house, he adopted the museum director’s all-knowing voice and gave us a tour of the museum. The museum director also carries himself in a proper way with hands behind his back and an officious gait to assure you know who’s in charge. The museum houses the traditional dinosaurs and historical exhibits using all Tristan’s soldiers and props. The tour displays the length and width and breadth of his knowledge and takes hours and several rooms of the house to create.

Since still in the mood for museum directing when we had to leave his house, Tristan pretended the entire city comprised his museum as we drove to our destination. From the back seat, we hear his imitation of a grown-up voice describing every building, fire plug and tree. We play along and ask questions of “the director.” He hesitates but a moment with an officious, “Wellll, that fire plug is painted yellow and green instead of red because school children wanted to paint it that way.” He never lacked an answer regardless of the question. All the world is Tristan’s museum.

Pappa and I were most impressed with one of the exhibits back at the house. A memorial he built to dead soldiers. Remember this six year old museum director’s Daddy is a Marine who lost friends in Iraq and Afghanistan. A cardboard box rested on the floor with a child’s plastic chair on it and atop that is a rider-less motorcycle. The museum director, in his compassionate but professional voice, informed us that the box contained the belongings and memories of the soldier who was killed in war. 

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The NASCAR Manager

Tristan ponders his vocational choices
Creative play forms the basis for all vocational dreams. Which really makes me ponder whether grandson Tristan will be the next Dario Franchitti on the NASCAR circuit, by the Executive Director of the Smithsonian or conduct our local philharmonic. His current preferences for spending his play time gives no hint of which way he will turn.

As NASCAR driver he requires the services of the “manager” none other than yours truly, his Mimi. He prefers Mimi as “manager,” who really does the job of announcing, because I capture his imagination about how race day excitement and events might unfold., “Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to NASCAR. You are in for the most exciting day in racing and you will not be disappointed!” His preference for Mimi has nothing to do with my knowledge of NASCAR, cars in general or aerodynamic properties. It’s all about drama and the glib tongue.

Based on the engaging Cars movie and Cars 2, Tristan’s cast metal and plastic cars all possess personalities and moral characteristics. We line them up, sort them into categories and make a place for the pit crew and for President Barack Obama’s limousine and entourage. Tristan always gets to be Lightning McQueen and win every race. Losing is not one of Tristan’s self-identities at this point in his life. So we set up the race in Mimi and Pappa’s living room, family room, kitchen, breakfast room and hall way. It’s takes a lot of real estate to create NASCAR.

At some point in our early days, I must have referred to the attendees as “folks.” It stuck. The watchers of the race henceforth are called “folks.” He divides the cars into various countries usually according to style of cars---these designations zoom over Mimi’s head---but I can always expect Japanese, Chinese, British and Italian cars.

So the “manager” has to develop, at minimum, a British, Italian and Oriental accent because I voice most all characters. The bad guy/car, Francesco got in trouble yesterday. He broke one of the rules of NASCAR and the “manager” called for an investigation, penalty and fine. I must have been on a roll as Francesco’s angry mother who attended the race. I ranted and raved in my best Italian accent. So well, in fact, that Tristan broke character and inquired, “Mi---------mi, are you mad at me or are you still being Francesco’s mommy?” Guess I played my part well.

My little NASCAR fan also confuses whether the driver breaking the rules has to be accountable to the track rules or his mommy. Guess we know where is locus of authority still rests.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Courage and Heart

The Latin word for heart is cor. The same root word as courage.

When we ENcourage another human being, we give them the heart to do what they need to do.

When we DIScourage another, we take away their courage and freedom from fear.

Do you want to ENcourage or DIScourage those you meet today and tomorrow?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

When Marriage Fails inspired by Lost Edens

This post was inspired by Lost Edens a FromLefttoWrite book club selection. Lost Edens is the memoir of Jamie Patterson. This is not a book review but rather a post inspired by reading Jamie’s book.

“Why do people get married?”


“No, because we need a witness to our lives. There are a billion people on the planet, what does one life really mean? But in a marriage you’re promising to care about everything, the good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things, all of it, all the time. Every day, you are saying your life will not go unnoticed, because I will notice it. Your life will not go unwitnessed because I will be your witness.”
Masayuki Suo (from the movie Shall We Dance)

With time, therapy and additional self-understanding I have forgiven myself for mistakes. I now embrace my bad marriages as part of the journey to find myself, know myself and esteem myself. Understanding as relates to men in general did not come easily for me. I didn’t have what psychologists call a “daddy hole,” the emotional lack of relationship with your father, I had a Daddy Crater and I learned to fill that crater in unhealthy ways.

Daniel Allen Moore (a pseudonym)
"I think we all wish we could erase some dark times in our lives.
But all of life's experiences, bad and good make you who you are.
Erasing any of life's experiences would be a great mistake."
Luis Miquel

My precious Mark and Denny, ages ten and thirteen, walked me down the aisle of a packed Central Baptist Church to start the wedding of my dreams and the marriage of my nightmares. Moisture filled eyes followed us to the altar. Everyone celebrated that I had found a young, good-looking professional man because they had also watched and prayed as I lost Bart to cancer. My irrational thought that two and one half years totaled enough time to get over my grief just points out how grief cripples your judgment.
            I accept full responsibility for this huge marital mistake. However, I do wish to note for the record, that no family members and only one friend voiced misgivings about this match. Even my therapist later apologized that he had not noted the signs of --what? Mental disorder? Dysfunctionality? Woundedness? All of the above? And that’s just the part that related to Dan! My part in this colossal mistake? I underestimated the psychological healing I had yet to do. Clueless concerning damage from some childhood wounds, I didn’t yet know the therapeutic work left for me to do. 
Shortly before the wedding, my groom-to-be commented, “Your friends seem to think of you as being very sexy. I’m not comfortable with that.”
“No kidding.” I replied. “Did you think you were the only one on the planet who had noticed?”
The warning gong should have clanged at that time with concern over his unhealthy attitude about sex, relationships and more. At the time, it just ticked me off. This constituted the beginning of my daily urge to say to him, “Do you have applesauce for brains?”
On the honeymoon when he brought up issues he had not mentioned in a year and half of dating--all issues related to his need to control me, such as what I wore, where I could go and who I could be friends with, my stomach knotted in fear. My expression in all the honeymoon pictures looks like I’m gritting my teeth. I was. He assured me he just found it “necessary to rake back the glitter” when confronted with someone who shimmered like Brenda. I replied, “You’re doing the job with a god damn backhoe, not a rake.”
One of numerous difficult issues in eighteen months of marriage surrounded the issue of humor. Dan had no access to humor and my boys and I survived on ours. Intestinal gas is a sacrament to adolescent boys. Dan denied he ever experienced such a human failing. Mark would lay in wait outside the bathroom door and scream at the top of his lungs if a sound close to gas emitted from behind that door. How can you refrain from laughing at that? One therapist pointed out to Dan that the boys and I also laughed at ourselves which he seemed incapable of doing.
Mark impersonated Dan in Saturday Night Live style. Dan, handsome and very well built, bore the unfortunate characteristic of a high waist. In a culture already pushing pants to the lowest possible place on the hips, Dan’s high waist supplied a perfect set-up for caricature. Mark would pull his pants up to his armpits and imitate Dan’s overly-serious mode of speech. I tried on most occasions play the adult and refuse to laugh at these impersonations. I threatened dire consequences if they didn’t cease and desist. Laughter often won.
I offer no excuse for my part in this gigantic mistake. Devastated by Bart’s death and desperate for emotional security, I thought I found a good man. A college professor who attended church, had two sons of his own, Dan shared many of my values and desired the kind of home life I wanted for my boys. His issues with sexuality and obsessive, irrational thinking escalated from the honeymoon until the day our divorce finalized. I learned an important lesson about myself from this marriage: I had very low tolerance for someone who needed to control me in order to feel safe himself. Circumstances necessitated that I become my own authority at an early age, he didn’t stand of chance of controlling me in my forties. I also learned that I didn’t possess enough relationship skills to bridge the psychological divide between Dan’s dysfunction and my own.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Celebration of the Life of Marilyn Moosnick

I first met Marilyn when she recruited me to raise money for the renovation of our Opera House in Lexington. I think it was full of pigeon poop at that time. What a delight to be part of that effort. The Opera House anchors the corner of Broadway and Short and gives hundreds of organizations a place to perform.

Next Marilyn took me on a tour of the empty YMCA building to talk about renovating it for the Lexington Council of the Arts now LexArts. That led to years of involvement with that organization and my service on that board for over six years. Another anchor for the arts in Lexington.

I had just married Robert “Bart” Bartella when I met Marilyn. Bart was 32 years older than I. Marilyn chuckled when she told me about when she and Franklin first married. While the age difference was only twelve years, the greater gossip fodder was that Marilyn was Christian and Franklin was Jewish. She assured me the interest in mine and Bart’s marriage would get old with time and become very boring to gossipers.

One night many decades after meeting Marilyn, we were chatting at the airport as we each waited for a family member. When Franklin came down that escalator, the rest of the world faded away. As I watched them embrace and gaze into each other’s eyes, I saw the kind of love that can bridge whatever differences individuals may bring to the relationship. This kind of love encouraged Marilyn to convert to Judaism and lend her considerable talents to all manner of Jewish organization including being national President of Hadassah.

When Southern Baptists were first becoming radicalized, I was still Baptist (although even then a member of a very progressive Baptist church). Some of the evangelist actions of the Baptists during this time were extremely offensive to Jews. Marilyn pulled me aside at a wedding we both attended and said, “Brenda, what can we do about this? How can we build a bridge that will be beneficial for all?”

Building bridges, sparking change, inspiring others, encouraging involvement---that’s just who Marilyn was.

Rest in eternal peace, dear friend. Your work here was well done.


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Ashley Judd's memoir, All That is Bitter And Sweet

Ashley Judd’s new memoir, All That is Bitter and Sweet, defines recovery and bravery. Recovery from traumatic childhoods takes bravery for each of us walking that journey, but when you must do it in the spotlight of fame, the bravery must be kick up a notch or two.

Judd’s memoir doesn’t rest on her laurels of fame. And it’s not easy reading or a gossip mag for Hollywood voyeurs. Much of the book recounts her international work with poverty, women’s issues and sexual slavery. But her work is layered with the story of her neglect and abuse at the hands of her very flawed parents. Her story reveals how the need to do this work grows out of her own experiences of childhood.

As I have struggled these last three years to write my own memoir, I have come to the conclusion that you can survive and even thrive after a scarring childhood but the tenderness of that scar will always be with you. Ashley and I and millions of others will always be questioning life. Is that normal? Should I feel this way? Is it okay to be like me? What will others think? Do I have to care what others think? Am I free now to be and do what I want to be and do?

I also resonate with Ashley’s experience of how family responds when one of the family chooses to get off the dysfunctional, crazy-making merry-to-round and walk on the solid ground of mental health. Note to others who decide to “get well”: your family will not be sending you congratulatory notes or thank you notes. And Katie-bar-the-door if you are so bold as to tell your story.

This is Ashley’s account of when she dared to tell her Truth when her family came to her in-patient treatment Family Day:

“Giving voice to my reality, such a powerful theme in feminism was the empowering part. The scary part was that I had to accept, and yet take the risk anyway, that some people who were listening might never be safe or healthy and therefore might never be able to regard my story for what it was: my story, something to which we each inherently had a God given right. I knew that particular parts of the pain I was in growing up, and the thoughts and behavior born of that pain, would be ridiculed, rejected, pathologized, and held against me, maybe until the day I died. Unfortunately, I was right. Certain things I said were isolated and thrown back at me in the years since that day. But I do not regret standing up and saying, “This is what it was life for me.” 

Tell your Story, your Truth to someone today. It will start you on a journey of healing you will never regret.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

You are Perfect---Just the Way you Are

I filled the pulpit for a friend today. While doing sermon prep, I ran across a story/parable that fits nicely with the study I have been doing on The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene’ Brown.

Why does it take us so long to realize we are perfect, just the way we are?

The Cracked Pot

A water bearer had two large pots, each hung on each end of a pole which he carried across his neck. One of these pots had a crack in it, while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water at the end of a long walk from the stream to the master’s house; the cracked pot arrived only half-full.
For a full two years this went on daily, with the bearer only delivering one and a half pots full of water to the house. Of course, the perfect pot was proud of his accomplishments---perfect to the end for which it was made. The poor cracked pot was ashamed of his own imperfection, and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do.
After two years of what it perceived to be a bitter failure, the cracked pot spoke to the water bearer one day. “I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you.” “Why?” asked the water bearer. “What are you ashamed of?”
“I have been able, for these past two years to deliver only half of my load because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way to the house.  Because of my flaws, you have to do all of this work, and you don’t get full value from you efforts, the pot said.
The water bearer felt sorry for the old cracked pot, and in his compassion he said, ‘As we return to the house, I want you to notice all of the beautiful flowers along the path.”
Indeed, as they went up the hill, the old cracked pot took notice of the sun warming the beautiful wild flowers on the side of the path, and this cheered it some.  But at the end of the trail, it still felt bad because it had leaked out half of its load again, so again the pot apologized to the bearer for its failure.
The bearer said to the pot, “Did you notice that there were flowers only on your side of the path, but not on the other pot’s side?” That’s because I have always known about your flaw, and I took advantage of it.  I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back from the stream, you’ve watered them.  For two years, I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate my table.  Without you being just the way you are, I would not have this beauty to grace my house.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

#1 Path out of Poverty: Education

As I continue to recover from a flu that mowed me down, I hope you'll agree this old blog post bears repeating.

Having learned at an early age that I was good at school, I absorbed the message like good body lotion soaks in that education was my ticket out of poverty. School, with few exceptions, became a refuge---a glorious island of organization and positive experiences in a sea of chaos. I never went through a stage in which I resisted going. I grieve and feel burdened by the fact that all children of poverty do not get this message as strongly as I did or are unable to receive the message. Decades ago I heard commentator Paul Harvey say the "highest place in heaven will be reserved for the person who clears the snow from the church steps on Sunday mornings." I disagree. The highest place in heaven goes to teachers who communicate to students that education is still the first and best ticket out of poverty. I cried when I heard President Barack Obama point out to African-American children the realistic stats on how many poor, black boys will make it out of poverty on basketball scholarships! Education unlocks far more doors than basketball.   

With these feelings about school---in spite of fourteen different elementary schools---it's not surprising I blossomed in high school. I was still shy but functioned well in class, in several extra-curricular organizations and with a small group of friends. And I carried the mantle of designated achiever in my family. One of my boyfriends later told me they called me the "shy Univac." For younger readers, the Univac was the first significant iteration of a computer. Those years constituted the beginning of my desire to find myself and it wasn't easy. Although I was shy, I was a performer. Although I was good at school, I didn't have a self definition of being smart. In many respects, I didn't know who I was or who I wanted to be. 

The religious piece of my identity rested firmly in place but when nominated to be in a beauty pageant, I was thrilled. One of the judges when he read I was going to be a Southern Baptist missionary asked, "Then why are you in a beauty pageant?" I didn't understand why the two needed to be mutually exclusive.

At that point I fully expected to be a missionary. I applied only to three Baptist colleges, was admitted to all three and chose Georgetown because it was close to our original hometown, Evansville, IN and it was where Aunt BJ had gone to undergraduate school. Marriage, birth of my son, Husband Number One's illness moved me away from missionary plans but the Georgetown College environment and culture during the Sixties proved to be a safe environment for a young woman trying to find herself. In 1965, Georgetown had never had a dance on campus. Those wild fraternity boys had off campus dances and then my sorority staged the first off-campus dance sponsored by women. Sin and degradation! Finally, my senior year, the first on-campus dance was sanctioned. I never had a curfew until I arrived at Georgetown! 

God bless the role of education on my path.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Learning from Cleo

I received a copy of Cleopatra:A Life by Stacy Shiff by virtue of my membership in the book club, From Left to Write. This is not a review. This post was inspired by the book.

Cleopatra---consummate politician, sex goddess, mother, sister, ruler, daughter, heroine. What can we learn from her?

Learn the language and culture of the people you wish to influence—in her case she wished to rule them. Cleopatra was Greek by birth but learned the language of the Egyptians when other Ptolemies refuse to do so.

Visit with the people. If we are to influence others they must know we care. Walk among those you wish to persuade.

Understand the macro and the micro political lay of the land. Cleo not only walked about the villages and knew her people, she visited Cesar and knew the larger context of the nation she was trying to rule. This is an excellent model for all of us. Whether you’re trying to influence a family, a corporation, a church or a nation, know the greater context of what informs and demands the attention of your people.

And it doesn’t hurt to look good and know the power of your own sexuality as Cleo did! 

When Life Hits a Wall

This blog and this life has been temporarily interrupted by cold/flu or dastardly allergies. Stay tuned for the resurrection, hopefully, sooner rather than later.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Why Can't LOVE be simple?

This post was inspired by the novel, Carry Yourself Back to Me by Deborah Reed. A copy of this book was given to me by virtue of my membership in www.fromlefttowrite.com.  This is not a review of the book.

Deborah Reed sets up a story for us that highlights all the ramifications of loving others, loosing those we love and learning to forgive. Like many good stories, it is a universal tale of love.

The book instigated my thinking about the complexity of loving others, a proposition that is rarely, if ever, simple. Perhaps the most pure form of love is mother for child but even that can sometime be made complicated by circumstances. What if you have to give that child up for some reason? What if you have initiated the pregnancy as part of a scheme to get the money required for the survival of the rest of your family? Why can’t even that purest of all loves be simple?
A favorite John Lynner Peterson photo says it all about  LOVE!

I have a new friend and a very old friend who are staying in loveless marriages for their own complicated reasons—in spite of loving someone else! Why can’t love be simple?

I have loved more than a few alcoholics in my family. That is truly a complicated love that many people have experienced. Why can’t love be simple?

And then there is the complicated love we experience as parents when we learn there is an expiration date on children following our wishes and demands. We learn that we love people even when they make decisions we disagree with and when we can no longer protect them from themselves. Why can’t love be simple?

I’m currently thinking the purest form of love is grandparent for grandchild. I revel each day in the simplicity of it. I don’t want the day to come when it will be more complex. I hope the most complicated disagreement we will ever have is whether Poppa will buy him a Happy Meal or not. I know that will not always be the case. Why can’t love be simple?

Have you experienced a simple love? What made it so?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Writing Memoir - Finishing Memoir

My teacher, Leatha Kendrick's book

As most of my readers know, I can see the finish line on the memoir that I have been writing for over three years now. As with many writers, seeing the finish line causes great angst. We tend to want to go back to the beginning rather than put ourselves “out there” for others to judge.

So I’m currently seeking help in finishing from a course at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning in Lexington, KY. Great course. Great teacher, Leatha Kendrick.

My intention in this class is to polish. Like a good shoe shine, car wash or make up session, we need to polish our writing off with the sparkling shine. The shine reflects back to all who peer in to it. My hope is that my memoir will reflect back to readers a moment or incident in their own lives that will open up with wisdom, understanding and/or peace after reading of my experiences.

I have benefited immeasurably by writing my memoir. I think others will benefit only if the writing has been buffed to such a sheen that they see something of themselves in the book.

I want to be open to hearing, learning and responding in this “finishing class.” It requires a degree of trust that my classmates will be able to provide the elbow grease which leads to the final shine. I must be willing to muck-up my project a bit with the grease of new thoughts.

What is your writing experience with finishing a major project?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Guest Post: Religious Literacy: Americans Don't Know Their Stuff by Amanda Parker

Today’s post is by a young woman I’ve watched grow up, in fact, as her pastor, I baptized her. I am amazed and impressed with the adult she has become. I now tell her, “I want to be Amanda Parker when I grow up.” Her response to that is, “We’ve come full circle.”
Amanda’s blog, called Faiths of the District, deals with her experiences and thoughts on religious while doing religious/political/service work in Washington, DC.

My comment and one other on this post follows.

The U.S. is one of the most religious countries in the developed world, especially compared to largely secular Western Europe, but … Americans still know relatively little about religion.”

In 2010, the Pew Forum released a major study on religious literacy in America. The results were amazing: out of 32 questions, an average of 16 questions were answered correctly. Perhaps more interesting, though not surprising, Agnostics and Atheists scored the highest. And of course they did – most people who reach that point where they throw their hands up in the air and say “I have no idea what’s out there” probably did a lot of searching before they reached that point. Or maybe that’s just a simplification of my experience.
Below is a link to Pew’s religious literacy test (doesn’t contribute to the actual survey). I scored really high on it (14 out of 15 correct!) … but I’m not bragging.


OK, how’d you do?

Part of my motivation for starting this blog was to become more religiously literate and to share my findings. If I blogged more often I would probably achieve that.

Now I want to talk about religion and what that has to do with who you are.

In a 2008 poll, it was found that the more educated you are, the less likely you are to believe in god. That may explain why the “god-less” groups (athiests, agnostics and secular humanists, to name a few) are more likely to know the facts on religion than those who actually believe. They dedicate a lot of time to doing the research and poking holes in spirituality. I do that, too… a lot. But it’s really annoying sometimes. More importantly, I think people who are more religiously literate are better able to design a form of spirituality that works for them.

A dear friend directed me to this article – so much fodder for my flames: “With more years of education, you aren’t relatively more likely to say, ‘I don’t believe in God.’ But you are relatively more likely to say, ‘I believe in a higher power.’”

A little personal insight here – I’m doing the online dating thing and people are obsessed with talking to me about religion (Aside – interesting data on religion and compatibility: http://goo.gl/PTtUV).  Literally 21 of the 807 words in my profile have to do with religion and yet that’s all anyone can talk about.
The feedback is really interesting – some people just want to know what I believe, some want talk about the decline of society due to lack of religion, some people want to discuss/debate Kant and Dostoevsky, some people want a link to this blog, and some people want to tell me that “religion is the opium of the people“. Thanks, dude, but I’ve heard that one already. I want to be truthful about my stance on religion – I’m deeply spiritual. I do believe in a higher power. I am also very intelligent. Don’t hate.

Since we’re talking about religion here and I’m a firm believer that I have none of the answers, I want to close with asking why is religion important? Why is it not? What are its functions? Why is it awful? Why is it great?

Feel free to break it down in the comments section or just think about it on your own. Also feel free to bring Kant, Dostoevsky, Marx, Jon Stewart and anyone else you really care about to bat on this. Also, feel free to be anonymous. I know you’ve got it in you.
         LoveLoudly Says:
I stumbled across your blog through the Theology tag and I enjoyed your post. I’ve seen quite a few polls like these but I feel like they never quite make the larger leap. Its not just that people are less informed on religion but I would argue that people are becoming less informed on everything. Religion is a buzz-generating field to discuss but it seems that similar trends are occurring in everything from politics to economics. While most of the “West” (for lack of a better term) has nearly infinite information access we actually seem to be learning less and less. I have a personal inclination to pin it on the extreme shift towards an ideological rhetorical style of discourse over the last decade or two but i can’t offer particularly strong statistics or studies to back that up.
As to your specific questions, I would argue that religion (whatever one’s stance, mine is probably made clear by my avatar) as a whole is important because it makes up an inextricable and major part of an individual’s worldview. Coupled with (and perhaps indistinguishable from) philosophy, ethics, science and metaphysics (to name a few), they collectively define how we look at the world. Ontology and essence is a tricky subject but it doesn’t seem too untoward to at least suggest that our worldview is the most personal and essential element of our being. While there is certainly the option to deny organized patterns of religion and theology, to deny the importance of something like a personal understanding of theology is impossible.
On a more random note, based on some of your posts, you might be interested in my friend Tom’s blog. He spent the summer touring America visiting and commenting on most of the major mega-churches in the country. http://8000milestoordination.blogspot.com/

Brenda’s comment:

Great post, ‘manda! One of my favorite answers is “there is a God-shaped hole in us that only God can fill.” Can’t remember who said it. I also think that simplicity on the near side of your thoughts about religion means nothing! Simplicity on the far side of your thoughts about religion mean everything. In other words, do the searching, do the questioning, do the study, then boil it down to the most simple premise you can believe in—there you have your God-shaped hole.

So proud of you!