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Journaling: Linear Notes to Tame a Circular Mind

March 28, 2011 6 comments

I got stuck in the mire again.   The other day I wrote my first entry in my journal in well over a year, and remembered in a rush just how satisfying this form of venting is.  So I thought, “this will be an easy blog topic!”  I figure many, if not most, writers have journaled at some point in their lives, and I’ve kept a fairly continuous diary going since 6th grade.  But I forgot that it’s inherently personal, which makes it hard to talk about.  And, of course,  my research took me on a distracting side trip down memory lane.  Finally, I got mired in a bog of metacognition–thinking about thinking.  So three weeks after my last post, I’m only just now pulling this one together.

I’ve been self aware for as long as I can remember.  Keeping a written log where I talk to myself was a natural extension of the mental process I do every day.  And I find it to be extremely therapeutic; I recommend it to anyone who’s struggling with issues in their life or who just wants to feel better about things in general.  I’m thinking of how during my most difficult times, I scribbled out my fears and frustrations, and sometimes stained the finished product with tears.  I always felt better after such episodes.  And, amazingly, looking back I can see that the most unhappy journal entries usually end with a logical conclusion or plan.  I believe that keeping my journal kept me sane–kept me being me–throughout all the phases of my life. 

My very first journal was the kind of small book typically given to a girl as her first diary.  Before filling all the pages in there, I moved up to a much better size book, about 8″ x 5,” covered in cordoroy, and completely filled it during my high school years.  (I cannot claim to have been always a deep thinker; I have the book to prove just how silly I actually was.)  My best journal ever was an empty ledger my mom brought me home from work, which I wrote in through my college years and my 20’s.  I think bigger paper encouraged me to think bigger thoughts.  Regardless, I know I loved writing in that big book, and found plenty of time to do so, even while going to college and grad school, getting married, working at my first full-time job in my chosen profession, and taking care of a baby while working part time.  I filled that book too–all 300 large pages of it, including both sides of the end paper and part of the back cover.

The latest few years have been a more peaceful time in my life, as I’ve grown somewhat in wisdom and confidence, at least in my role as mother, which was for many years my primary source of anxiety.  For 10 years after my first child was born, I journaled regularly, and sometimes daily during particularly rough patches.  Those entries were often interrupted in the middle of my stream of thought.  I’d return only to forget what my point was.  Now, however, my life seems to have settled into a fairly easy routine with little drama or indecision to work through.  I guess I’ve felt less need to vent this way, choosing to instead work out any anxiety through other means, such as exercise, music, or conversations with my husband.  Over this period of time, my journal became at turns a house hunting journal, a weight loss journal, and a party planning journal.  Finally, it fell almost completely by the wayside. 

Since embarking on blogging last year, I’ve had difficulty getting a momentum going.  To jumpstart my progress, I took time out a few weeks ago to clarify my writing goals.  Why was I wanting to do this?  I noted how I usually have all these thoughts knocking around inside my head while I go about my daily routine, how I’d like to round them up and put them in order.  But I have no tangible record of most of them.  At best I will have a sentence or two written down somewhere, sometimes a paragraph, but they are all disjointed, and there’s no narrative flow.  I suspect that resuming my journaling habit will be helpful in this regard.  Talking to myself and making my thoughts real on paper is a way of putting everything in order.  It can act as a mental filter, too, between what I think and what I choose to share.  There’s no issue of writer’s block when you’re journaling for yourself.  When I sat down with my composition notebook last week, I easily filled six pages.

One challenge in my writing has always been non-linear thinking.  When I was in college, my notes were littered with arrows and thought bubbles and marginal anecdotes–highlighting the relationships between various ideas.  When writing a paper, my usual method was to gather all my relevant quotes and observations I obtained from my research, put them all into a document, including my argument and ideas, and then spend hours cutting and pasting,  often moving entire paragraphs around, rewording awkward sentence structure, until everything finally fit neatly together.  It was a lot like completing a puzzle.  And, eureka!, the conclusion usually came as an epiphany.  I find I write the same way now.  I will start out having an idea that I know is relevant and worth sharing, but I’m not sure exactly how or why until I’ve reached the end of the process.

My mental filing cabinet probably looks a little like my physical filing system.  As a small example, I have saved in  the bottom middle drawer of my dresser an idea scrawled in blue crayon in the margins of the instruction manual to my old Hoover Windtunnel, an appliance I no longer own.  I wrote this during a sudden brainstorm I had with no pen or paper handy.  Later, I stuck this manual with its possibly valuable idea in the drawer, where it’s been now for several years–and I’m not about to move it any time soon.   In fact, I have lost many an item by attempting to file it someplace seemingly safe and logical.  Nope, that bottom drawer is its home for now.  Thinking about this now, it makes sense to me.  The thoughts I had then and the emotions I associate with them have been moved to a bottom drawer in my subconscious–not to be thrown away, but also not a priority at this time.

Now take this bottom drawer illustration and multiply it by at least a thousand, and you can perhaps understand my difficulty.  Everything has layers of meaning.  I imagine the inner workings of my brain look pretty convoluted.  I have all these tangled lines of thought that start clear and then trail maddenlingly off into limbo.  I believe now that journaling will help bring these ideas eventually to logical conclusions. 

And the best thoughts–the ones of which I’m most proud–I’ll share with you here.

Categories: Uncategorized

Clara’s Big Project

March 6, 2011 3 comments

Today I keep thinking of Clara’s toothy grin beneath the pioneer girl bonnet she wore to school Thursday.  She was literally bubbling with excitement at the prospect of presenting her biography report on Harriet Tubman. 

The third-grade class assignment came home a month ago.  Clara was excited from the get-go and wanted to get over to the library right away to get started selecting her biography.  Though I was very busy that afternoon, I didn’t want to squash that precious enthusiasm, so I dropped her off with big sister, Meredith, to find a biography while I ran her other sister, Adrienne, to violin lessons.  Clara picked her book out all on her own.  The initial enthusiasm was fleeting, of course.  Said book soon became a fixture on her nightstand. 

Three weeks later, despite my frequent reminders, she had only read one chapter.  Knowing the project was now due in a week, I sat down in the La-Z-Boy with Clara one evening and set about reading the rest of the book to her.  Almost as soon as I started to read, however, we both came to the realization that the person she’d chosen–the first woman to run for president, Victoria Woodhull–was not going to work as a subject for this project.  Victoria was a spunky woman who overcame poverty and other adversities to eventually become the first woman presidential candidate.  She was involved in the women’s suffrage movement.  She had many admirable qualities.  However, she worked as a spiritual medium and clairvoyant.  She and her second husband, also a spiritual medium, both divorced their spouses to be together.  Interestingly, one of her clients was railroad baron Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, whose financial assistance helped in her rise to prominence.  But this just wasn’t going to fly at Clara’s Christian school.  Oh no.

Well, we’d come a long way since that first excitement on getting this assignment.  However, this was no time for dithering.  We had to press on.  I ran upstairs to search her sisters’ bookshelves, knowing that with two sisters, one seven years older, we must have some biographies on hand.  Viola!  a Harriet Tubman paperback was tucked between the end of one bookshelf and a hardcover book.  Would it be enough pages?  Yes!  It was 53 pages, a good three pages over the minimum requirement.  Clara was relieved; I was relieved.  With three kids, I’ve learned to savor these little victories whenever they come my way.  I sent her to bed with her new book to read, and she came downstairs an hour or so later to announce she’d finished it.

Over the weekend, she completed her Biography Banner, a poster template she had to fill in with two drawings and information about the book she read.  Each time I suggested she work on it, she responded with wailing and gnashing of teeth.  And each time I insisted she get something accomplished.  So at last the banner was finished Tuesday night.   Which brings us to Wednesday, the last day before the big project was due.  Wednesdays after school are always a grind with Adrienne’s violin lesson from 4:00 – 4:30, Clara’s dance class from 6:15 – 7:00, and dinner usually sandwiched in-between.  Plus, Chili, our Cockapoo, had a groomers appointment and I had to pick her up sometime after 3:30. 

After climbing into the van after school on Wednesday, Clara informed me that the biography project was,  “a really big deal.”  The custodian’s son was going to be watching!  And taking pictures of each child in their costume!  I assured her that she would be able to get it done.  Next she tried to get excused from dance class, saying, “I’m not going to have enough time to make my note cards.”  I was having none of that.  “You had a month to work on this; if you were that worried, you should have started earlier.”  When she got home, she had a bath and I sat her down with the note cards to make for her speech, the only part of the project left to complete.  “Can I come with you to pick up Chili?”  “Nope, sorry, you have to work on these cards now, there’s dance class tonight.”  “It’s not fair!”   As I left to drop Adrienne at violin lessons and pick up Chili from the groomers,  I tried to ignore the nagging doubt in the back of my mind.  Maybe she can’t write the cards herself; maybe this is too hard. 

I’ve always encouraged my kids to do their own work.  “It’s the process not the product” is one of my core parenting beliefs.   Here’s my rationale for this opinion.  In the early grades, kids are trying out new skills–  reading, comprehending, explaining what they’ve learned.  The goal is not to produce slick projects or products.  The child whose parents complete the work will know she didn’t really do it herself.  And the bar will have been set dauntingly high.  Next time she has a similar assignment, she will likely think,  “I can’t do it, it’s too hard.”  In contrast, the child who completes a project herself is going to experience the satisfaction of accomplishment.  Better yet, the lightbulb may turn on and she’ll enjoy having learned something.  While she may or may not get an A, she’ll usually get the grade she deserves.  Regardless of any grade she receives, she’ll feel the pride of accomplishing something and will be more likely to approach her next project with an “I can do it” attitude.

An hour later, after her sister’s violin lesson and picking up Chili, I checked Clara’s progress.  She’d written one and a half cards.  I resisted the urge to read the cards.  I pointed out again the five questions her teacher, Mrs. Boman, wanted answered during the presentation.  Then I got started making dinner.  There was no time for me to sit and hold her hand; we were on a tight schedule.  A little while later, I sent Clara up to get dressed for dance class.  More wailing…*sigh*  I had to redirect her several times as she kept reverting to playing on her Nintendo DS.  She also kept insisting that she would never get it all done, while I kept reassuring her that yes, she would get it done after dance.

At dance class she told her teacher about her biography report.  I could feel her excitement growing.  When we got home I cleaned up some more after dinner and set her down again with note cards and her Harriet Tubman book.  I found the costume–a pioneer girl dress, apron, and bonnet I bought a few years ago for another event–and ironed it.  I kept checking on Clara’s project.  Turns out she had written five cards!  She was worried about the two-minute time limit, but not that she wouldn’t have enough information, rather that she had so much more to say still!  She appreciated Harriet Tubman’s story; I could tell she felt empathy for her plight as a slave. 

As Clara continued to write her cards, I noted her transformation from an ornery, combatant child to a real student.  She remarked that she was now really excited to give her report tomorrow.  At one point I put the bonnet on her head, and wish I had snapped a picture then; she looked so happy.  When I finally read her cards, I was genuinely impressed.  She had written a clear, concise story in the first person, including the five points that her teacher wanted, as well as a couple of stories that Clara wanted to share.  I told her that she had done a great job.  She read them out loud, noticed her own mistake on one of the cards, and corrected it.  She read them out loud a second time.  Amazingly, her report came out to be exactly two minutes long! 

Sometimes I get exhausted when I think too much about all the projects my kids and I have been involved in and how many more we still have to complete.  But it’s these moments I treasure along the way that keep me going.

The Great-Granddad Game

February 21, 2011 4 comments

Perhaps you’ve heard of the Game.  My kids introduced me to it a few years ago.  The rules are pretty simple:  there is this game and as long as you don’t remember you are playing it, you win.  As soon as you become aware of it, you have just lost.  Announcing you’ve lost the Game triggers groans of  “awww, now I lost the Game!”   Well, perhaps due to the generation gap that comes with being parent to a teenager, I have found I have little interest in the Game.  I don’t care if I’ve lost, don’t find it all that amusing or compelling.  I just don’t get it; oh well. 

Parallel to this silliness has been my own Game I have played for years to terrorize my family.   I think it is the result of some sadistic genes I inherited from my dad, combined with 12 years of Catholic schooling.  We call it the Great-Granddad Game.

In an earlier post (see Musical Threads  https://cayancy.wordpress.com/2010/04/11/musical-threads/), I described my life-long love of music; how I used to really get into Music class in grade school, and lay awake at night singing my most favorite obnoxious songs.  Well Great-Granddad was one of those songs.  It has a sing-song quality that many folk songs have, as well as quaint and fun lyrics that a 1970’s child with a love of novelty would embrace.  (Think On Top of Spaghetti.)   Having kids years later, my childhood songs came flooding back, including Great-Granddad.  Remembering only a handful of the verses, I began to sing it again to amuse myself, to bring smiles to my kids faces, and to generally break up the tedium of the day. 

Somewhere along the line, however, this song wore a groove into my brain.  Now it pops into my head at random times, almost daily.   We’ll be cleaning up after dinner, talking about homework that needs to be finished, etc., and I’ll start softly singing: 

Great-Granddad when the land was young,

Barred his door with a wagon tongue,

He picked his teeth with a hunting knife,

And he wore the same suit all his life. 

This is usually received with groans.  The next stanza starts out promising:

Great Granddad was a busy man,

Cooked his grub in a frying pan… 

But then it trails off, because I don’t remember the next two lines (which drives me nuts, by the way).  However, this next stanza I know:

Twenty-one kids and not one bad;

They never got fresh with their great-granddad. 

If they had, he’d have been right quick,

To tan their hides with a hickory stick. 

If everyone hasn’t left the room by this point and I feel so inclined, I’ll finish up with the very last stanza, which I remember clearly: 

They grew strong in heart and hand,

Firm foundation of our land. 

Twenty-one kids and a great-grandson,

 And he has a tough time with that one. 

Usually I don’t sing all the above.  Sometimes I sing only the first line.  But, regardless, we’ve all lost the Great-Granddad Game. 

I found the song online, with somewhat different lyrics from the ones I remember.  Here’s a link to them in case you’re interested:  http://www.traditionalmusic.co.uk/song-midis/Great-Grandad.htm
The tune is there too if you want to sing along 🙂
Categories: Uncategorized

Invisible Me

June 19, 2010 7 comments

Let’s flashback to me, a scrawny second grader, slipping and sliding on icy sidewalks, running home from school on a winter afternoon.   The group of neighborhood kids I was supposed to walk home with had ditched me, so I was alone.  Two older boys started on my tail outside my school and then chased me down Mack Avenue until I got to my street.  I’ve always figured they targeted me because I looked freakish.  Sometimes  called “frizz head,”  I had coarse, short hair that in defiance of brushing, V-O5 hot oil treatments, and Dippety-Do stuck stubbornly straight up in the air.   I also remember the time some different boys ambushed me as I walked out the school’s front door.  I had lost the kick ball game for them that day at gym.  So they hid in the bushes until they saw me coming, then jumped out, grabbed my poncho, and pushed and pulled me until some adult put a stop to it.

Anyone who remembers being a kid or having a kid in school knows bullying happens.  Sometimes it results in tragedy, as in the recent case where a Florida middle school girl took her own life after being relentlessly taunted by bullies.  Having felt by turns excluded by peers and victimized by bullies throughout much of my childhood, I can’t help but feel a pang of empathy whenever I see a child on the fringes.

From third through eighth grade I attended the nearby Catholic school.  Here I was introduced to a more subtle–but in many ways more sinister–version of bullying.   The girls in my class had a game I will call   “Suzette’s Germs.”  In this game, a girl would wipe her hand on your arm, back, or shoulder as she passed you in the hallway, and casually say, “Suzette’s germs.  I’m immune.”  Then you would have to pass the germs of poor Suzette, the class outcast, to someone else as soon as possible, or suffer the dread consequence of keeping them.  I don’t remember  for certain if I participated in this mean game (though, sadly, I’m afraid I might have); I do know that I was always grateful Suzette was there, below even me in status, and I am not proud of that.  Because of this atmosphere, school all too soon became a place where I was mostly glad to go unnoticed.

After four years of keeping a low profile and developing a severe case of shyness, I entered seventh grade with:   1. new braces, 2. new glasses, and 3. a brand new perm that quickly got labeled a “fro.”  Unfortunately and perhaps inevitably, I became a favorite target for the class bullies.  My weird appearance and lack of any kind of comeback must have really entertained this group of boys because they mocked me almost daily for five months.  I remember many incidents from this time, in painful detail.  No child wants to be singled out at this age for any reason.  I felt helpless to do anything about it, with no one to talk to, and not a single friend to come to my defense.  Then one spring day I realized with relief that the teasing was over–maybe because my braces were off and my perm had grown out.  Or maybe they had simply grown tired of it.

For the next five years, with a couple best friends I stuck close by for survival, I was content to be invisible, though in my diary I cried over my inability to be myself.  While I was an honor student rather than a rebel, I can’t say I ever had anything resembling school spirit; I endured pep rallies.  While I went out many weekends with groups of friends, I usually felt like I wasn’t really a part of any of it, like nobody really knew me.  There was a persistent and frustrating dichotomy between who I felt I was on the inside and the flat person I was compelled to portray on the outside.

Let’s skip ahead to age 18 when I was a relatively confident but still reserved college student walking alone through my neighborhood park.  I noticed a small group of adolescent boys standing with bikes on the sidewalk, directly in my path.  I had to fight off a full blown panic attack while I forced myself to walk past them.  This panic moment made me realize I still had the ghosts of junior high bullies lurking in my subconscious.  The absurdity of being afraid of a handful of kids struck home and I ever afterwards viewed this seemingly minor episode as a personal milestone.

In adulthood, I have found that the lingering bit of shyness I have is not much of an issue.  When I was working as a university librarian and archivist, I conducted classes with ease.  I spoke at a state-wide conference introducing speakers and facilitating discussion for a workshop.  I successfully wrote and pitched a grant proposal to a state commission in Lansing.   And now in my role as a mom I have a clear identity and commonality with others.  Most everyone either has had a mom or is one.  Especially after 15 years of this, I feel pretty much like I know who I am in the role, and how I’m supposed to behave.  I have had the occasional difficulty with subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) bullying among moms.  As in the time I confided to someone I thought was a friend about a difficulty I was having connecting with a mom from my daughter’s preschool.  The friend responded, “Maybe she’s not sure about you; you know, that you’re ok.”  This comment, I guess, was innocent enough.  She didn’t know my painful history.  However, the words hurt.  I said nothing and filed the conversation away for later perusal.

As my kids are getting older and needing me less, I find myself thinking for the first time in years about who I am, and wondering what I’m going to do next.  I’m lucky that I haven’t had to go back to work yet, so I’ve had time (perhaps too much time) to think about it.  Writing a blog about me has been a difficult struggle.  I no sooner step out of the comfort zone of my working and mom roles, and I find critical voices and mocking faces waiting there to taunt me.   I catch myself worrying that someone will think I’m not “ok,” whatever that means.

I do not mean to imply that I’ve suffered any more than the average person.  Pain, whether emotional or physical, is relative, and everyone has his or her own unique struggles throughout their lives.   I also believe everything happens for a reason, and I really like who I’ve become.  So I have no regrets about anything.  In my anxiety over the risk of being misunderstood, I’ve considered not publishing this entry in my blog, and instead just sending it to a couple of people with whom I’m most comfortable sharing.  It feels comfortably familiar to not really be known.  But I’ve decided instead to be a little more open and real.  Perhaps someone who’s had feelings and experiences similar to mine will find encouragement in my words.   And if I get this story out of the way, I may in the future be able to connect with others on a more meaningful level.  Just maybe, my next blog entries will be easier to write.   I sincerely hope this post is a step in the right direction.

Categories: Uncategorized

A Perfect Chocolate Cake From Scratch

May 5, 2010 1 comment

As a new mom in the mid to late ’90s, I had idealistic notions of what life should be like staying home with small children.  In 1999 when my second child was born, I quit my part-time archivist job to pursue this vision.   Having eschewed high school home economics for art –why would I ever need or want to know how to cook or sew?–I had a learning curve when it came to domesticity.  Eventually, I realized that meal preparation starts at the grocery store.  I found some good recipes, and learned which staples to keep on hand.  Also I made friends with other stay-at-home moms.  While making these connections, I imagined how I would do my part to contribute to some of the intangibles and traditions which keep society going. 

I fell in with a group of ladies from my church who all participated in MOPS, Mothers of Preschoolers.  We would meet once or twice a month on Friday mornings at our church’s MOPS meetings, and we would also get together at each others’ homes, usually in the morning, for occasions such as birthdays, and everyone would bring a dish to pass.  It was on one such morning that I served the perfect chocolate cake from scratch.  I’ve tried at least three times since to duplicate it, but have never again been able to get it right.

Don’t ask what possessed me to attempt it–probably ignorance– but on the designated morning of my friend, Kelly’s, birthday party, I decided that I was going to make a chocolate cake from scratch.  A friend in my dinner club had served one and told me the secret was Ghirardelli unsweetened cocoa, so I had that on hand, as well as cake flour.  After a quick perusal of the pantry, I found I actually had everything I needed, in addition to a couple of hours to spare before the get-together.   I proceeded to make a gigantic mess in my kitchen.  I didn’t own a flour sifter, and wasn’t even sure what “sifting” meant, but I shook cake flour through my wire mesh strainer, a tedious and messy process.  I baked two layers.  I made chocolate frosting from scratch, assembled the layers, and frosted the cake perfectly.  Then I packed it in my never-before-used Tupperware cake carrier with the removable handle strap.  Toddler in tow, I headed to Katherine’s house for the party.

What followed was the perfect summer luncheon party.  Katherine was a huge Martha Stewart fan.  She shared 101 Uses for Q-Tips (popularly known as “Katherine’s Q-Tip talk”) at one of our MOPS meetings (for example, “Q-Tips can help you clean the inside of your children’s legos”).  I was delighted to see that her older daughters would be babysitting our kids in the backyard, so we could enjoy a kid-free lunch in the dining room.  I unpacked my cake with pride and placed in on her sideboard.  I don’t remember the exact menu, but there was likely a quiche, salad and fruit.  The conversation was enjoyable.  The dining room looked out into the front yard, and we all noted with amusement that Kelly’s husband was trolling the sidewalk in front of the house, apparently missing her.  It was a gorgeous day.  Time for dessert,  Katherine grilled me on the amount of each ingredient I used as I sliced and served my cake.  She rattled her recipe off from memory, apparently having made chocolate cake from scratch many times before.  I was pleased as I sliced my cake into perfect triangle-shaped pieces; they seemed worthy of inclusion in Better Homes and Gardens.

This is what I remember most of all–the perfect cake slices:  how the cake had come out not too dry and the frosting not too runny, how they didn’t fall apart when I put them on plates, how we were all friends then.  I get a picture in my mind, something like a Norman Rockwell painting of young ladies sitting around a dining room table, minus the ever-present crying preschoolers, enjoying the cake I served.  My messy kitchen was out of sight, out of mind.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was to be one of the high points of my new career as  “housewife.”  Every time since then, when I have attempted to make this cake, something has gone wrong.  Usually, it’s just dry and disappointing, not worth the extra effort it takes to make it from scratch.  Sometimes the layers aren’t placed correctly and the cake falls apart.  Or the frosting is too thin and it all runs down the sides and coats the plate instead of the cake. 

Ten years after my perfect chocolate cake, I find myself taking increasingly more cooking and baking shortcuts, finding healthy options that don’t require assembly from scratch.  While I kind of miss the idealism I used to have–the feeling that I could somehow make life picture perfect for my family–I realize that mindset has been replaced with wisdom. 

Ten years later, I have fallen out of contact with this group of friends.  My family moved to a different side of town, the other ladies and I graduated from MOPS, and our lives took different paths.  Tragically, the guest of honor passed away a couple of years after this birthday, losing her long battle with cancer.  Thinking back, I can recall many good times I had with these friends during those three odd years, but I think this birthday cake memory is one of the strongest.  I find myself puzzling over it.  Underneath is a mass of complicated feelings, but on the surface sits the perfect cake:  conveniently simple, a happy memory.  How many times in life do we digest complicated situations into visions that are simple, universal, and easily remembered?  While this has always been my Elusive Chocolate Cake story, upon further reflection I’ve discovered that it’s really about those times we celebrate together and how we treasure them.  People come and go throughout our lives, and, hopefully, we take the beautiful and good with us as we go, collecting meaning from those memories.  Several times while writing this post I’ve cried–not tears of regret or sorrow, but of nostalgia, and love for those whose lives intercepted with mine, however briefly.

Categories: Uncategorized

Musical Threads

April 11, 2010 2 comments

Do you have a song that makes you reflexively smile or feel like dancing?  I hope you do!  Or how about a song that brings you to tears?  It’s indisputable that music unites kindred spirits across the miles, as well as through time.

I can trace my history backward in many ways.  Food memories are especially strong ones, but that’s another post.  Music has been an important part of every phase of my life.  I have music memories going all the way back to the age of two, when some neighbor friends handed me a Fisher Price music box over the chain link gate to my backyard, interrupting my crying.  As a preschooler, I vividly recall listening to record albums, marching across my red and white linoleum tiled basement floor to Fuzzy Wuzzy Was a Bear and Teddy Bears Picnic, and jumping on the old couch singing to Trini Lopez’s  Blowing in the Wind and Lemon Tree.  A few years later, I was laying awake at night singing the songs I learned in school (I can still sing all the lyrics to Marching to Pretoria, Rattling Bog and Great Granddad, among others), as well as You Light Up My Life, and songs from  Annie.  I took organ lessons in junior high, and–hooray!–was the recipient of a huge set of sheet music which included show tunes from all my favorite musicals:  Fiddler on the Roof, My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music  and more.  I spent many happy hours playing and singing these songs on the organ, and I still like them alot.  They bring back so many good memories and associations. 

Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 played every week on the radio in the upstairs bedroom I shared with my sisters when I was in 8th grade.  I remember us dancing to Men at Work’s Down Under, Duran Duran’s Hungry Like the Wolf, and Don Henley’s Dirty Laundry, literally tossing laundry around the room.  One of my foremost goals during my teen years was to compile all my favorite music onto cassette tapes.  So I would listen to the radio on my boom box with my finger poised above the record key, trying to catch some of my favorite songs by the Thompson Twins or the Police.  I would ask my friend Stacey for more music mix tapes of alternative songs–“New Music” as it was known then– by the Smiths, The Cure and Depeche Mode.  Now when I hear some of these songs, like the Cure’s In Between Days, I’m 17 again, an age when I was feeling my world expanding and life’s limitations falling away, while discovering who I was and trying to express that somehow through my clothes, hairstyle, and music.

At age 23, I was newly married and at home for a few glorious months while I searched for a job.  I took to listening to the local classical radio station, finding that classical music, introduced by the soft-toned, sincere voices of the WQRS disc jockeys, to be a comforting background to my adult life.  I have one really special memory of decorating my first Christmas Tree while listening to WQRS.  And I added new age to the mix:  Enya, Narada, and the Twin Peaks soundtrack.  Those songs and anything by Sarah McLachlan bring me back instantly to our 891 square-foot house in Dearborn that was perfect because it was our own.  But in the car by myself, I continued to prefer the alternative 1980s stuff.   Same thing after I quit working in my 30s to be home with my kids full-time.  While I enjoyed Raffi and Baby Songs with the kids–and I was really getting into Raffi for a while–I would slip my increasingly scratched and coffee stained New Order and Psychedelic Furs cds into the minivan cd player whenever I could steal away for a drive by myself.   I still have this dichotomy, though my kids have become increasingly familiar with my 80s music (now it’s called “Classic Alternative”).  Sometimes I wonder what it says about me.   Perhaps I’m trying to pick up where I left off when the responsibilities of adulthood consumed my life.

When I hear Yaz’s Only You I am transported back to an evening circa 1980 when I was a preteen randomly flipping through radio stations on the stereo in the family room, and I found this beautiful song, which was totally different from everything else I had ever heard.  It was early evening, and I can still see what the stereo front looked like with its green under light, as I sat there mesmerized.  The announcer identified the song and then I didn’t hear it again for 20 years.  I’ve got this one now in my ipod.  Often when I hear it, I tear up, but I can’t really tell you why.  I guess it’s just nostalgia.  In the last three years since I got my iPod its become a hobby of mine to find all the music that meant something to me and download it to my iTunes.  It feels kind of like the old days come full circle.  What I find so delightful is the quirky individuality these songs illustrate.  Like poetry, to me they communicate feelings that are true. 

Well, seems I picked another difficult topic.  How to express the inexpressible?  I think art attempts to get across that which we struggle to put into words.  This has been my dilemma in writing this blog entry– to try to describe that sublime feeling I get when listening to my favorite music.  Perhaps artists and poets and musicians through the ages have been motivated by that very desire.  In their isolation, they hope to touch someone’s heart and make them understand.   Art is communication; through their music, the artist has reached out to me and I feel as though there’s a connection.  Whether it’s real or not, no matter; my life has been enhanced.

Categories: Uncategorized

You Can Yell at Me

February 27, 2010 4 comments

I’m sure I’ve been yelled at many times.  Almost always, whatever problem precipitated the yelling is soon resolved and the event forgotten. I grew up in a family that expressed emotional freely; my sisters and I felt things intensely, and my dad had to yell just to get a word in edgewise.  But I guess we had a safe place to express our emotions, because we vented and moved on.  And I could not ask for a closer, more loving friendship than the one I have now with my sisters who I used to argue with so frequently.  However, when someone surprises me out of the blue with anger and it never gets resolved, I remember the event forever, and ruminate over it time and again, trying to extract some kind of meaning.     

My favorite example of this happened about three years ago.  That year I was sending my oldest child, Meredith, to a school inconveniently located about 30 minutes away from home.  One evening she had a band recital at the school, and I was on my way to drop off her younger siblings at my sister-in-law’s house about 20 minutes away from home in the opposite direction.  It was rush hour, downpouring rain, and I was running late and anticipating the hour long drive back to school.  So I was feeling a little stressed as I headed down Hix Road, a two lane road.  The guy driving  just ahead of me was obviously in no hurry, and I could not get around him.   “Let’s go, Loser!  Move!”  I was shouting from the privacy of my car.  At a stop sign, I was shocked to see this driver jump out of his truck and storm up to my minivan motioning for me to roll down the window.  I rolled it down slightly before I noticed how angry he looked.  “The speed limit’s 25 miles per hour here you stupid b****!”  he said, then I watched him run back to his car.  I rolled the window back up. 

 Later that evening after the kids were in bed, I laughed at myself for so passively receiving this verbal abuse.  It was just another day in the life of being mild mannered and slow to respond.  Keith chastised me for rolling down the window, but I would do it again.  I would want to know what the guy was going to say.  Yelling is communicating, albeit rude.  His yelling was wrong, yes… but so was my tailgating.

My second example left me with more to think about.  This time, a  friend got combative with me at a children’s play group.  She kept saying things to pick a fight, and I kept steering the conversation away from argument, as there was another friend in the room with us.  This conflict really rattled me at the time because the friend was a person I respected and we had always gotten along.  Later that day, still troubled by it, I called her.  Boy, did I get an earful then!  And it turned out to be about something that took me completely by surprise.  We ended the conversation with me still needing to process some of what she said.  Unfortunately, our next exchange was by email, and she had resumed her formal persona, making no reference to any of what we had said over the phone.    I subsequently decided to let the subject drop–and perhaps inevitably– let the friendship go. 

Now I have to say that I’ve always been glad that this friend yelled at me that day.  In doing so, she put down her mask for a moment,  and showed me a rare glimpse of her true feelings.  I will always remember it, and the things she said; it gave me alot to think about, and changed my perspective on what was going on at that time.  Perhaps if we could have worked out what it was that she was so mad about, we could’ve become close friends.  I did hope for this at the time, and left the door open by responding to her email with an invitation to meet for coffee and discuss it further, but that never happened.  As it stands, I wouldn’t change a thing, and much prefer having been yelled at to never knowing that she felt this way. 

My last example is my most upsetting one.  This time the person was someone I knew of from my kids’ school, but had never had the chance to meet.  Anyhow, one August day, at an orientation, we were put together, and I extended my hand to introduce myself– only to have her turn her back on me and flounce off.  My daughter standing next to me witnessed this display, and started to get anxious, so I told her I would try and work it out.  My heart was in my throat as I crossed the gymnasium and approached her to ask what was wrong.  Well, I then received one of the worst chewings out I’ve ever experienced!  She let go a string of judgements and accusations, all the while staring me directly in the eye with this snide little smile on her face that I will never forget.  I kept trying to save the situation, not believing my ears.  The gist of it was to the effect of, “can’t we just get along?”  Immediately after leaving the event, I called Keith in tears, and he followed up with the school; they assured us this person was out of line and her accusations were false.  And that was the end of it. 

Now, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I am–yes– glad that this incident happened.  First of all, it revealed something about the person that I had been unaware of :  that she was someone to stay away from.  Harboring those intense feelings, she could’ve done numerous unpleasant things to us during the course of the year, and I would never have had a clue why it was happening.   In addition, I was able to teach my daughter a powerful lesson:   that sometimes even adults don’t behave right, but we do the right thing–keep our calm–and behave properly regardless.  If this woman ever were to apologize to me, perhaps we could become friends, whereas it would have certainly been impossible while she her harbored those ideas, without allowing them to be confronted and shown untrue.  Unfortunately, the kind of person that would behave this ugly toward someone who’s literally extended their hand in friendship will probably not have the self-reflection and strength of character to be able to apologize to someone they’ve wronged.  But that is her problem, not mine.

In the above examples, stranger, friend, acquaintance have all expressed their anger at me.  They are essentially gone from my life now.  What I have are the lessons learned which I believe make me a better person.  As for the people currently in my life with whom I’ve ever had some sort of conflict, they are special to me; we’re closer because we’ve been real with each other, and shown that we can disagree, conflict, clash, etc. and move on.  Anger is an emotion, though not my favorite one; I’ll take being yelled at over the silent treatment any day.

I did not choose the easiest topic to start my blog with.  My husband, Keith, started blogging the same day I did last week, and he’s already 3 or 4 posts ahead of me, while I have stared at my draft, and wrote three pages of notes in a spiral on this topic over the course of the last week.  I was sure people were going to say, “Why would you want to be yelled at?  That’s so rude.”  But I started it, and felt it was important to say.  So, now you know that you can yell at me!  But, if you’re my friend, you probably won’t because you know we can talk about it rationally.  And if you’re upset, don’t worry about expressing that; we’ll work it out.  Remember that what is being said reflects on the person saying it more than it does on the listener.

Categories: Uncategorized