jeudi, décembre 11, 2014

modern love: an extra angel on top of the tree

Another gorgeously written piece in the Modern Love series...
Modern Love: An Extra Angel on Top of the Tree
DEC. 11, 2014
By JESSICA STRAWSER


I told myself I wasn’t being rude when I bowed my head and ignored the man standing outside his pickup truck next to what I assumed was his child’s grave. After all, cemeteries are not for socializing.

This was several years ago on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, the kind of bone-chilling, dismal Ohio afternoon that makes you dread the bleak winter to come. But I hadn’t even thought far enough ahead to be dreading the long slog of winter. I was too busy dreading Christmas.

Any other year I would have been in full holiday mode by then, singing along to carols in my car, rushing out for seasonal beer and pre-spiked eggnog and nagging my husband to be first in line at the Christmas tree lot.

But not anymore, and maybe not ever again. Because the previous Christmas Eve, my best friend (college roommate, maid of honor and the closest thing I had to a sister) had been killed in the middle of the night by an abusive ex-boyfriend who attacked her in the house where she lived alone.

Only hours earlier, she and I had been baking Christmas cookies and sipping riesling in my kitchen. Her ex- was a man I had never much cared for, but had welcomed into my home more times than I could count; served food and drinks on the very plates and glasses I still had to use myself; and even, one day after playing doubles in tennis, gently assisted with a bandage and ice to heal a fresh wound.

Other than him, I was the last person to see her alive, which placed an extra weight atop my grief, almost a responsibility. “How did she seem?” people asked. “Was she in a good mood? What did you talk about?” I played the day over and over in my head, fruitlessly searching for any small thing I could have done or said that might have changed what happened.

Holidays can be laced with emotional triggers even when no trauma is involved. In my case, as the first anniversary of my friend’s Christmas Eve death approached, I could barely stand the sight of twinkling white lights, the sound of Frank Sinatra or, worst of all, the very idea of a Christmas tree. Local news reports had described the crime scene in detail: her own festive tree toppled during the assault, ornaments shattered across the floor. And just like that, all my merry Frasier fir-scented memories were replaced with that one horrifying picture.

The year I graduated from college, I bought six silly matching Hallmark ornaments for our tight-knit group of friends. They were mice peeking out of stockings, three with the word “Friends” stitched on them, and the rest stitched with “Forever.” I knew they were embarrassingly cheesy, but I didn’t care. I was feeling sentimental about leaving my roommates and heading out into what we, in our little college bubble, referred to with trepidation as “the real world.”

Back on campus after the holiday break, in the living room of one of the adjacent three-bedroom apartments we shared, I dispensed the gifts, and my best friend, who cried regularly at Oprah Winfrey’s show and sometimes even at commercials, became teary. We teased her mercilessly.

The senselessness of it would strike me later: It was that damned ornament, and not any of us, that was with her when she died.

If we had had any way of knowing how things would turn out, what would we have done? Would we have kept each other closer? Would we, for instance, have been bolder in questioning the character of one another’s boyfriends? Would we have reached out more persistently during bad breakups? Would we not have become quite so wrapped up in our own lives? And even if we had done things differently, would it have mattered?



I wasn’t the only one who had morbid thoughts about that little stocking-dwelling mouse. When the funeral came, a few days after Christmas, another of our college group drove across state lines to the gathering at my house bearing a new set of matching ornaments. They were glass angels with little halos, one for each of us.

After my houseguests returned home, I discovered someone had forgotten to take her ornament. For weeks I nagged my friends, trying to figure out who had accidentally left her angel behind. Each insisted she had hers, until finally I realized what no one else had ventured to point out: Our friend must have bought six out of habit.

I carefully wrapped the extra, alongside my own, in tissue paper and put them together in my bin of decorations, unsure when or if I’d ever have the heart to take them out again.

By the time I visited the cemetery that bleak day almost a year later, signs of Christmas were already inescapable. I didn’t know how I was going to make it through the month ahead. Christmas at my house had been all but canceled. My husband and I would exchange gifts, we supposed, but we wouldn’t decorate, or celebrate, or sing.

But we had extended families who were not going to cancel theirs, of course. Not to mention office parties, nonstop radio and television commercials, the cheerful lights adorning our neighbors’ houses and the reality of setting foot into any store at all, even just to buy groceries, where the aisles brimmed with holiday-themed treats like red and green Oreos.

I wanted to crawl under the covers and hide until it was over.

Instead, in the absence of a best friend to confide in, I ended up at her headstone, as I often did when life got to be too much. I knew, by then, the identities of those who occupied most of the neighboring plots — all relatively new arrivals. The one that made me the saddest was a grave marker in the shape of a fire truck, custom-made for a little boy who had died of cancer. His picture was carved into the side. Grass hadn’t yet covered the earth where he had been buried. It was hard to look at.

On this day, a pickup truck was parked next to the boy’s grave. A man (his father, I presumed) had his windows down and the radio tuned to an N.F.L. game. He was standing near the truck bed, tinkering, humming, just hanging out with his son, I guessed. I couldn’t imagine what that would feel like for a parent, facing your first Christmas without your young boy. Here was someone who had every reason to be dreading the holidays more than I, and yet here he was, out in the daylight.

I felt small, ashamed of my grief.

So I gave him his privacy. I put my head down and carried my bouquet of flowers and steaming latte to my friend’s grave site, one row over. I lowered myself to the ground companionably, where I sat hidden behind her headstone, my view of the man blocked.

I tried not to listen as the football game droned on and the man continued to tinker in the bed of his truck. I tried not to resent that I couldn’t talk aloud to my friend in the way I sometimes did. I tried not to cry. I simply sat with her for a while, feeling helpless. And when my coffee was gone and my bones were stiff and cold, I put up my hood, got to my feet, turned my back and trudged to my car.

As I pulled away, I don’t know what made me look in the rearview mirror. The gravel road that curved around the edge of the plots was hardly a road at all. No one else was on it. There wasn’t traffic to watch for, and any approaching car would have made a racket bumping along behind me.

But I did look. And when I saw what the man had been doing, my foot went to the brake and my hand to my mouth.

A short, plump Christmas tree had been erected on the little boy’s grave. All that time the man had been decorating it with round, colorful, glittery ornaments, and now it stood sparkling with cheer, a lone, defiant bright spot on an otherwise gloomy hillside. My friend’s final resting place had a front seat to the best kind of holiday display there was, one made from selflessness, love and hope.

I watched for a while, peering through tears into my rearview mirror, unable to move forward or back. It wasn’t shame I felt this time, but something blissfully less self-aware, more pure, closer to awe.

Later, I would wish I had turned back to talk to the man. To thank him for showing me what moving on might look like at a time when I was unable to see how on my own. And to let him know what a gift that was.

Jessica Strawser, the editor of Writer’s Digest magazine in Cincinnati, recently completed her first novel.

jeudi, décembre 04, 2014

“Never grow a wishbone, daughter, where your backbone ought to be.”

"For My Daugher" was written by Sarah McMane, a poet and English teacher in upstate New York with a two-year old daughter. Clementine Paddleford was an American food writer and journalist in the early 20th century.

FOR MY DAUGHTER

By Sarah McMane
“Never grow a wishbone, daughter, where your backbone ought to be.” – Clementine Paddleford
Never play the princess when you can
be the queen:
rule the kingdom, swing a scepter,
wear a crown of gold.
Don’t dance in glass slippers,
crystal carving up your toes --
be a barefoot Amazon instead,
for those shoes will surely shatter on your feet.
Never wear only pink
when you can strut in crimson red,
sweat in heather grey, and
shimmer in sky blue,
claim the golden sun upon your hair.
Colors are for everyone,
boys and girls, men and women --
be a verdant garden, the landscape of Versailles,
not a pale primrose blindly pushed aside.
Chase green dragons and one-eyed zombies,
fierce and fiery toothy monsters,
not merely lazy butterflies,
sweet and slow on summer days.
For you can tame the most brutish beasts
with your wily wits and charm,
and lizard scales feel just as smooth
as gossamer insect wings.
Tramp muddy through the house in
a purple tutu and cowboy boots.
Have a tea party in your overalls.
Build a fort of birch branches,
a zoo of Legos, a rocketship of
Queen Anne chairs and coverlets,
first stop on the moon.
Dream of dinosaurs and baby dolls,
bold brontosaurus and bookish Belle,
not Barbie on the runway or
Disney damsels in distress --
you are much too strong to play
the simpering waif.
Don a baseball cap, dance with Daddy,
paint your toenails, climb a cottonwood.
Learn to speak with both your mind and heart.
For the ground beneath will hold you, dear --
know that you are free.
And never grow a wishbone, daughter,
where your backbone ought to be.

mercredi, décembre 03, 2014

quotable

There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children. - Nelson Mandela

i can't breathe



I'm horrified by this outcome. Officer Pantaleo used an illegal chokehold and killed a man.  The video is clear that he cannot breathe.

A Staten Island grand jury on Wednesday ended the criminal case against a white New York police officer whose chokehold on an unarmed black man led to the man’s death, a decision that drew condemnation from elected officials and touched off a wave of protests. The fatal encounter in July was captured on videos and seen around the world. But after viewing the footage and hearing from witnesses, including the officer who used the chokehold, the jurors deliberated for less than a day before deciding that there was not enough evidence to go forward with charges against the officer, Daniel Pantaleo, 29, in the death of the man, Eric Garner, 43.

dimanche, novembre 30, 2014

mercredi, novembre 12, 2014

quotable

My friend Kara recently lost her dog Xander. She shared this poem from Rudyard Kipling and it beautifully captures the heartbreaking absence left when we lose our faithful canine companions:

"I have done mostly what most men do and pushed it out of my mind; But I can't forget, if I wanted to, Four-Feet trotting behind. 
Day after day, the whole day through—wherever my road inclined— Four-Feet said, 'I am coming with you!' and trotted along behind. 
Now I must go by some other round—which I shall never find— Somewhere that does not carry the sound of Four-Feet trotting behind."

dimanche, octobre 26, 2014

quotable

"While lucky people often chalk up their good fortune to chance, what’s actually going on is that they’re good at creating and noticing opportunities." - Richard Wiseman


4 HABITS OF LUCKY PEOPLE

IS IT POSSIBLE TO MAKE YOUR OWN LUCK? MAKE THE MOST OF THE CHANCES YOU HAVE WITH THESE HABITS OF LUCKY PEOPLE.
My Nana was one of those people who just seemed naturally lucky. In the 1960s and ‘70s, she regularly entered contests and won prizes that included cash, a television, a mink jacket and even a new car. She’d frequently hit the jackpot when she played the slot machines, and she always seemed to be in the right place at the right time when it came to growing her real estate business.
Was she charmed? Perhaps. But her lifelong winning streak was more likely the result of her habits, says Richard Wiseman, a professor of psychology at the University of Hertfordshire in England. He’s been studying luck for more than two decades and says it’s not just chance; there’s a science to it.
“Luck is generally thought to be an external force--sometimes we’re lucky and sometimes we’re not--but it’s possible to make your own luck,” says Wiseman, who wrote The Luck Factor (Hyperion; 2003). “To a very large extent, lucky and unlucky people are responsible for much of the good and bad fortune they encounter.”
Through his research, Wiseman found that lucky people share four characteristics, and--lucky for us--anyone can adopt these habits and change their fortune:

1. THEY MAXIMIZE “CHANCE” OPPORTUNITIES

While lucky people often chalk up their good fortune to chance, what’s actually going on is that they’re good at creating and noticing opportunities, says Wiseman. They do this in various ways, including networking and being open to new experiences.
“Without realizing it, lucky people behave in a way that maximizes chance opportunities in life,” says Wiseman. “They talk to lots of people, attract people to them, and keep in touch with people. These actions result in a massive ‘network of luck,’ opening up a huge potential for chance opportunities.”
In contrast, unlucky people are often more introverted, preferring to spend time on their own. Unlucky people also embrace routines, sticking with the familiar and avoiding surprises.
Lucky people, however, like to keep things interesting by varying their choices. They try a new route to work, for example, or pick a different coffee shop each morning.
“Lucky people often go to considerable lengths to introduce variety into their lives,” says Wiseman.

2. THEY LISTEN TO THEIR GUT INSTINCTS

Lucky people make decisions by following their intuition. In his research, Wiseman found that 90% trusted their intuition when it came to personal relationships, and 80% believe it played a vital role in their career choices.
But they take it a step further by boosting intuitive abilities by practicing techniques such as meditation.
“The idea isn’t to try to develop intuitive feelings during the meditation itself,” says Wiseman. “Instead, use the time for clearing your mind of thoughts and distractions. After meditation, when your mind is quiet, your intuition will feel at its best.”

3. THEY EXPECT TO BE LUCKY

Lucky people are optimistic about the future. In Wiseman’s research, he found that people who are lucky have higher expectations from life than unlucky people. They believe that unpredictable and uncontrollable events will consistently work out for them; unlucky people believe events outside their control will always work out against them.
“Lucky people are convinced that the future is going to be fantastic, and their expectations become self-fulfilling prophecies,” says Wiseman. “These expectations exert a considerable influence over people’s thoughts and behaviors. They determine whether people try to achieve their goals and how long they persist in the face of failure.”

4. THEY FIND THE GOOD IN ANYTHING

Lucky people do experience misfortune, but they cope with it differently than unlucky people. For example, Wiseman says lucky people imagine how things could have been worse and compare their experience with a far worse scenario.
Lucky people also transform the event into something good by finding a positive aspect. They don’t dwell on the bad luck, instead they take a long-term approach to life and assuming that something better is ahead.
“Together these techniques explain their uncanny ability to cope with and often even thrive when ill fortune comes their way,” he says.

lundi, octobre 13, 2014

quotable

Daring to step into oneself is the bravest, strangest, most natural, most terrifying thing a person can do, because when you cease to wrap yourself in artifice you are naked, and when you are naked you are vulnerable.

But vulnerability is the leading edge of truth. Being willing to sacrifice a false life is the only way to live a true one. - Charles Blow, in his beautiful and gut-wrenching personal essay, Up From Pain

vendredi, septembre 12, 2014

quotable

The real world can be hard. Dazzling and disturbed. Flashy and reckless. Messy and jaded.

 Life can be complicated, but words don’t have to be.

 The world may flash in color, but at night I dream in ink. - Sierra Vandervort -

quotable

Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young. ~Henry Ford

mardi, août 05, 2014

mercredi, juillet 30, 2014

lundi, juillet 28, 2014

quotable

"If I were to choose between the power of writing a poem and the ecstasy of a poem unwritten, I would choose the ecstasy. It is better poetry. But you and all my neighbors agree that I always choose badly." Khalil Gibran, Sand and Foam

dimanche, juin 22, 2014

quotable

Choice, not chance, determines your destiny. - Aristotle

quotable

“Fiction gives us empathy: it puts us inside the minds of other people, gives us the gifts of seeing the world through their eyes. Fiction is a lie that tells us true things, over and over.” — Neil Gaiman- Fahrenheit 451 Introduction

vendredi, mars 14, 2014

love, the second time around

A gorgeous piece from the New York Times' Modern Love essay series.

Modern Love: A Second Embrace, With Hearts and Eyes Open
 I looked across the restaurant table at my date, an attractive brown-eyed man with two young children and a broken marriage, as he recounted his romantic history.

“I used to think the relationship part of my life was settled and I never had to worry about it,” he told me. “Now I think, if you love someone, you have to take it one day at a time. And you have to work at it one day at a time.” There was a hopeful gleam in his eye.

I smiled and thought, “I could be in a relationship with a man like this.” In fact, I knew I could. Reader, I had married him. On this night, long after we had thrown in the towel on us, here we were again, crawling back into the ring. This time, though, it would be different. We just never imagined how different it would become, or how quickly.

Our unraveling had not been a swift, decisive catastrophe but a smaller series of no less destructive forces. We came apart the way many couples do: via the gradual realization that we were unhappy, and the inescapable conclusion that our relationship was not a refuge from our unhappiness but a cause of it. We were two nice people who had been deeply in love but who found themselves, nearly 20 years later, in love no more.

Neither of us wanted to spend the next 40 years going on as we had, seemingly safe within an institution but deprived of its most essential nutrient. If we had not had children, it would have been simple. We no doubt would have disappeared amicably but entirely from each other’s lives. But we did have children.

As my friend Linda, whose husband left her while she was pregnant, once told me: “No matter what, it’s a lifetime relationship. I’ll be at my son’s wedding and my ex will be there.”

Likewise for us, there was never any question that the good will we had once shared, combined with our love for our daughters, was stronger than any current disappointment we could harbor toward each other. We sat together at school plays and parent-teacher conferences. We shared holidays and birthdays. We even took another apartment in the same building, to make the situation easier for the children. After a while, the wounds of the breakup healed, and a new friendship was formed, a bonding unique to the front lines of parenthood.

The end of a long marriage, especially a marriage with children, will shake your world to its foundation. If you’re lucky, you’ll eventually come out of it a little braver and wiser. It wasn’t long after the split that I realized I liked the new person inside of me that this heartbreak was forging.

What I hadn’t expected was that I’d like the person he was becoming, too. Then one day he said something funny and I laughed, and then he looked at me with a directness I had never seen before and said, “In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m flirting with you.”

I’ve always been a sucker for a man with a smooth line. So I flirted back. And when he asked me to dinner, I said yes.

A short time later I strolled through a museum with my friend Lily, a woman who had recently reconciled with her husband after a yearlong separation. “How did you know?” I asked her. “How did you believe again, after everything you’d been through?”

“He said what I needed to hear,” she said, “even though I didn’t know what I needed to hear until he said it. You’ll see.”

Soon after that I went on a date with the father of my children, and over a plate of plantains, I did see.

Our reunion, low key and unmarked by flying rice though it was, prompted a variety of responses among our friends and family. There were enthusiastic cheers from the romantics, and there was skepticism and concern from others, who remembered all the miserable details of our unraveling. But falling in love again after a breakup is no simple matter of retreat. We are not the people we were when we met two decades before, and we had no desire to relive a marriage that had, to the best of both our recent memories, failed unequivocally.

Yet if we had taken the leap of faith it takes to end a long-term relationship, surely, we figured, we could muster the even greater trust it would take to open our hearts again. Besides, it was nice being with a man whose emotional baggage from his crazy ex I could really understand. And my children were happy about Mom’s new man.

What ensued that summer we began again was a blissful period of lazy days and tender nights. Then it took a severe swerve. On Aug. 10, I had updated my Facebook status to read, “Best summer ever.” On Aug. 11, I learned I had malignant melanoma.

As I lay in a hospital a few nights later, doped to the gills, bleeding from three surgical sites and hoping I was clear of cancer, he and I held hands and watched “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” on TV.

“I’m sorry about all this,” I said groggily, “because now you have to stick with me. Otherwise all our friends will think you’re Newt Gingrich.”

“I see you had this planned all along,” he said. “Well played.” But later, when I told him I knew this wasn’t the reunion he’d had in mind, he just chuckled and said, “You’re not getting rid of me that easily this time.”

As I recovered through the bleak period that followed, through a grim rediagnosis that left me with a prognosis of mere months to live and then into a clinical trial that shocked us by eradicating my disease entirely, he cooked dinners and did laundry. He arranged playdates for the children and read them stories. He picked up prescriptions and cleaned up enough blood to make Eli Roth shudder. He left me awed at a strength in him I had never seen before. I had never had to.

Our relationship already had attained a bittersweet edge by virtue of its status as a second go-round, but there’s nothing like journeying through the wringer together to take that whole skipping-through-the-daisies aspect out of your dates. Although our experience has been far from sexy, it has been peculiarly romantic.

Nobody writes songs about sitting on the edge of the tub while a man applies topical antibiotics to your oozing skin graft. There are no poetic odes to women with gaping scars, no sonnets to men who may be wearing the same shirt for the third day in a row.

But maybe there should be, because everything I thought I knew about love at 24 seems pretty absurd now. I didn’t know then that a wonderful relationship would one day become unsustainable. I couldn’t have imagined that later on, strangely enough, it would become a new kind of wonderful.

The wedding ring I so optimistically slipped onto my finger long ago, the same one I despondently removed many years later, is now permanently retired. But I wear a small moonstone on my hand, the symbol of hope. Hope for healing in all its forms.

Neither of us sees the world in guarantees anymore. We recognize them as the comforting fictions they are. We accept that you can’t always keep the promises you made when you were barely above drinking age. You can’t know how you will change, or what life will throw at you.

Having our marriage fall apart and having disease come in and try very hard to kill me did away with our cozy assumptions that the future looks just like the past, but with more laugh lines. But he and I have learned, because we have had to, the difference between the illusion of security and the liberating joy of the present, between obligation and choice.

And choice, terrifying as it can be, is so much better. We had to leave each other to discover that: to understand what it really means to decide to be with a person, one day at a time, however many days there may be. Love isn’t a fortress. It isn’t a locked room. It’s full of doors and windows and escape hatches, and they’re not scary. They’re how, to paraphrase Leonard Cohen, the light gets in.

A few weeks ago, after an exhausting round of tests and doctor appointments, we flopped together into bed, almost too tired to speak. We watched the ceiling fan spin, lulled by its hypnotic rhythm, until at last he spoke just six words: “I’m glad I didn’t lose you.”

I looked into semidarkness at the man I love, the man I once left, and said, “I’m glad I didn’t lose you, too.”

Mary Elizabeth Williams, a senior writer for Salon, is working on a book about her cancer experience.

mardi, mars 04, 2014

quotable

My candle burns at both ends; It will not last the night; But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends-- It gives a lovely light. - Edna St. Vincent Millay

on beauty

Over the years, I've spent plenty of time thinking about what to 'fix' or alter about my appearance to make me more attractive.  I've never been very into my looks, and after becoming a mother, I would sometimes be startled that I hadn't looked in the mirror in days because I was either looking at my deliciously gorgeous children or just too tired to contemplate putting on something nicer than yoga pants, much less makeup.   I've never been a fashionista and have always put more stock into my brains than my brawn or my beauty.

Still, as a young girl (indeed, until I was in my 20s), it was about trying to tame my uncooperative, naturally curly hair. In college and later, it was about the unbearable weight I literally and figuratively carried.  Seven years ago, one friend whom I'd met in a divorce support group commented on how well-adjusted I was (despite a crazy mother and a dysfunctional marriage and the subsequent divorce). But the compliment came out wrong when she said "the only thing wrong with you is that you're overweight".  And that was when I weighed 30 lbs less than I do today.

My point is that it is the human condition to be somewhat unsatisfied.  Progress is made by those who channel their dissatisfaction into new inventions, new art, and new ways of approaching the world.  But things go sideways when we focus that dissatisfaction on ourselves and our physical appearance. Women don't have exclusive rights to this obsession, but I would wager that we spend much more time focused on our complexion or our 'imperfect' eyes or thighs or teeth or fill-in-the-name-of-your-'problem-area'-body-part here.   I'm always startled to learn that the women whom society deem the most gorgeous seem to be the most insecure about their looks --even the ones who are brilliant and have other talents.  (And don't even get me started on how hard it must be to be a gay man in what I see as even more youth- and body-obsessed subcultures...)

Despite my annoyance with my weight and vanity as I watch a mole on my face continue to grow larger as I grow older, I don't see the surgeon's knife as the solution.  I will admit to being horrified when I was on a flight last week and saw a sitcom.  I didn't bother to put on the headphones and perhaps the absence of sound was what made me focus on the visuals.  The men in the all-ages cast of "Parenthood" looked mostly 'natural.'  I say that because they had laugh lines, were able to scrunch up their foreheads, curl their lips, and use their faces to communicate meaning.  The women were another story.

Bonnie Bedelia has had what to my untrained eyes looks like a facelift.  Her skin is stretched taut over her skull and she has what one person called 'duck lips'. It might have been the resolution on the plane's monitors, but she looked less human than the lovely face I was used to seeing in her previous acting.  Monica Potter (I guessed she's in her 30s, but imdb says she's in her early 40s) had an expressionless face throughout the show -- no matter what the situation. I'm guessing botox is why.  I found it distracting to see how the rest of her body language was so emphatic that it appeared she was overacting because it was out of sync with a face devoid of expressions and any sort of lines.

Today, I saw a photo of Goldie Hawn at the Oscars and was shocked by how her lovely face has been altered by plastic surgeons, presumably to look more 'youthful'.  Nasty things were said by Donald Trump and the Twitterverse about Goldie, Kim Novak, and Matthew McConaughey's mother, all women who are older and had either had plastic surgery or were wearing dresses that the pundits deemed 'too young' for their bodies. My point in citing this example isn't to tear down Goldie, Kim, Bonnie, or Monica.  It's to think about the double standards for men and women and why we are so youth- and beauty-obsessed as a culture.  While I have my theories, I don't expect that my voice will be heard by the masses above the din of mean girls, internet trolls, and snarky comments about appearance that even nicer-than-nice people like Ellen DeGeneres make.

My solace and focus is on my children (especially my daughter) and giving them positive messages about their self-worth that have nothing to do with how they look and everything to do with how they act.  For now, at least, my voice is a strong one for them and I plan to use it.   I especially love Lupita Nyong'o's beautifully penned words on the topic of how she hated -- but eventually came to love her incredible skin -- by finding beauty inside.  Her mother's voice resonates with me and gives me the right example and talking points for my children (and for my inner critic).

 "My mother again would say to me 'you can’t eat beauty, it doesn't feed you' and these words plagued and bothered me; I didn't really understand them until finally I realized that beauty was not a thing that I could acquire or consume, it was something that I just had to be. 
And what my mother meant when she said you can’t eat beauty was that you can’t rely on how you look to sustain you. What is fundamentally beautiful is compassion for yourself and for those around you. That kind of beauty enflames the heart and enchants the soul. 
 It is what got Patsey in so much trouble with her master, but it is also what has kept her story alive to this day. We remember the beauty of her spirit even after the beauty of her body has faded away. And so I hope that my presence on your screens and in the magazines may lead you, young girl, on a similar journey. That you will feel the validation of your external beauty but also get to the deeper business of being beautiful inside. 
There is no shade to that beauty." 

Here is the entire speech:
 Read Lupita Nyong’o’s Moving ESSENCE Speech By Lindsey Weber 2/28/2014 at 9:20 AM
 Lupita Nyong'o was awarded Best Breakthrough Performance for her work in 12 Years a Slave at yesterday's ESSENCE Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon. Just like at the Critics Choice Awards, her acceptance speech was sad and inspiring and beautiful — all at the same time. Here it is, in full:
I wrote down this speech that I had no time to practice so this will be the practicing session. Thank you Alfre, for such an amazing, amazing introduction and celebration of my work. And thank you very much for inviting me to be a part of such an extraordinary community. I am surrounded by people who have inspired me, women in particular whose presence on screen made me feel a little more seen and heard and understood. That it is ESSENCE that holds this event celebrating our professional gains of the year is significant, a beauty magazine that recognizes the beauty that we not just possess but also produce.
I want to take this opportunity to talk about beauty, black beauty, dark beauty. I received a letter from a girl and I’d like to share just a small part of it with you: "Dear Lupita," it reads, "I think you’re really lucky to be this black but yet this successful in Hollywood overnight. I was just about to buy Dencia’s Whitenicious cream to lighten my skin when you appeared on the world map and saved me." 
My heart bled a little when I read those words, I could never have guessed that my first job out of school would be so powerful in and of itself and that it would propel me to be such an image of hope in the same way that the women of The Color Purple were to me.
I remember a time when I too felt unbeautiful. I put on the TV and only saw pale skin, I got teased and taunted about my night-shaded skin. And my one prayer to God, the miracle worker, was that I would wake up lighter-skinned. The morning would come and I would be so excited about seeing my new skin that I would refuse to look down at myself until I was in front of a mirror because I wanted to see my fair face first. And every day I experienced the same disappointment of being just as dark as I was the day before. I tried to negotiate with God, I told him I would stop stealing sugar cubes at night if he gave me what I wanted, I would listen to my mother's every word and never lose my school sweater again if he just made me a little lighter. But I guess God was unimpressed with my bargaining chips because He never listened. 

And when I was a teenager my self-hate grew worse, as you can imagine happens with adolescence. My mother reminded me often that she thought that I was beautiful but that was no conservation, she’s my mother, of course she’s supposed to think I am beautiful. And then … Alek Wek. A celebrated model, she was dark as night, she was on all of the runways and in every magazine and everyone was talking about how beautiful she was. Even Oprah called her beautiful and that made it a fact. I couldn’t believe that people were embracing a woman who looked so much like me, as beautiful. My complexion had always been an obstacle to overcome and all of a sudden Oprah was telling me it wasn’t. It was perplexing and I wanted to reject it because I had begun to enjoy the seduction of inadequacy. But a flower couldn’t help but bloom inside of me, when I saw Alek I inadvertently saw a reflection of myself that I could not deny. Now, I had a spring in my step because I felt more seen, more appreciated by the far away gatekeepers of beauty. But around me, the preference for my skin prevailed, to the courters that I thought mattered I was still unbeautiful. And my mother again would say to me you can’t eat beauty, it doesn’t feed you and these words plagued and bothered me; I didn’t really understand them until finally I realized that beauty was not a thing that I could acquire or consume, it was something that I just had to be. 

And what my mother meant when she said you can’t eat beauty was that you can’t rely on how you look to sustain you. What is fundamentally beautiful is compassion for yourself and for those around you. That kind of beauty enflames the heart and enchants the soul. It is what got Patsey in so much trouble with her master, but it is also what has kept her story alive to this day. We remember the beauty of her spirit even after the beauty of her body has faded away. And so I hope that my presence on your screens and in the magazines may lead you, young girl, on a similar journey. That you will feel the validation of your external beauty but also get to the deeper business of being beautiful inside. 

There is no shade to that beauty.




jeudi, janvier 23, 2014

quotable

“What is grief?” I recently asked psychologist Steven Stosny, posing the obvious question I’d avoided for so long.

 “It’s an expression of love,” he told me. “When you grieve, you allow yourself to love again.”

 “How do you grieve?” I asked him.

 “You celebrate a person’s life by living your life fully.”

Asra Q. Nomani, in This is Danny Pearl's Last Story.

vendredi, décembre 06, 2013

thanking bernd koschland

Some days, I really love the internet. Today is one of those days.

A few years ago, I wrote about how the internet can be a wonderful source multiplier, and a way to connect the unconnectable after a photograph I posted provided answers for a daughter about what had become of her father.

Earlier this week, I heard a riveting story on the BBC world service while driving to work. It was the 75th anniversary of the day Bernd Koschland arrived in England. He was recounting his experience as one of 10,000 Jewish children sent to the UK during the Kindertransport for safekeeping on the eve of WWII.
Newshour: Remembering Kindertransport, a rescue mission for Jewish children before World War II

Just before the outbreak of the second world war in 1938, Britain opened its borders to approximately 10,000 Jewish children who were fleeing the Nazi regime in Austria and Germany, and later Poland and Czechoslovakia. Seventy five years ago, the first of those children arrived in what became known as Kindertransport. Newshour's Razia Iqbal spoke to Bernd Koschland, who aged 7, was put on the Kindertransport from Germany by his parents after Kristallnacht, the outbreak of mass violence against Jews and their businesses which led later to the Holocaust. He told her how he remembered that night ...
I was curious to learn more about the man, and to share the interview with friends via social media, so I set about finding him online. The BBC's web site didn't list his name or have a link to just the 10-minute interview. It took a few minutes of googling-- and getting the spelling of his full name (thanks, Twitter #Kindertransport)-- to find a video interview with Bernd and his sister Ruth. I then found his LinkedIn profile, which listed the schools he had attended. From there, it was easy to figure out which Facebook profile was the right Bernd Koschland.

I sent him the following message on Facebook, hoping to thank him for sharing his story, but never expected a response.
I heard your story on the BBC world service this morning and wanted to thank you for sharing it with the world. I'm a mother of 2 living in Connecticut and it touched me deeply to think about the choice your parents made and how you now live your life. Thank you!
This morning, I awoke to a gracious, humble, and thoughtful response.  The world needs more people like Bernd.  It also needs more people to do the right thing when we encounter injustice.

vendredi, septembre 13, 2013

quotable

"Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind." Ralph Waldo Emerson

mercredi, septembre 04, 2013

ten years clean

"Go confidently in the direction of your dreams — live the life you've imagined."
-Henry David Thoreau (July 12, 1817 – May 6, 1862; born David Henry Thoreau), American author, development critic, naturalist, transcendentalist, pacifist, tax resister and philosopher.

Ten years ago, surgeons carved my malignant right kidney out of my body. Having cancer was the Krakatoa of my life. It led to my then-husband and I getting divorced, and set me on a path of change that forced me to evaluate what else I wanted out of (and in) my life. Since then, I've lived in Paris, gotten a Master's degree, changed careers, met the love of my life, had two beautiful children with him, and started a new adventure on the East Coast.  Each change has built a life better than what I knew before and reminded me that no matter what I endure, nothing will be as terrifying -- or as amazing -- as beating cancer.

Thank you to my partner Leo, my friends, my family, and my doctors for helping me live the life I've imagined. I'm hoping the next ten are as meaningful, passionate, and joyful as these have been.

mercredi, août 14, 2013

summoning the floating head of death

Our two children awakened Leo and I five times last night. Perhaps it's time to consider a page out of the Gary Larson book of parenting...

mercredi, août 07, 2013

a first-person obituary

A gorgeous read, made all the more poignant by the fact that it is written in first person.
August 7, 2013
Obituary: Jane Catherine Lotter

One of the few advantages of dying from Grade 3, Stage IIIC endometrial cancer, recurrent and metastasized to the liver and abdomen, is that you have time to write your own obituary. (The other advantages are no longer bothering with sunscreen and no longer worrying about your cholesterol.) To wit:

I was born in Seattle on August 10, 1952, at Northgate Hospital (since torn down) at Northgate Mall. Grew up in Shoreline, attended Shorecrest High, graduated from the University of Washington in 1975 with a Bachelor of Arts in History. Aside from eight memorable months lived in New York City when I was nineteen (and where I worked happily and insouciantly on the telephone order board for B. Altman & Co.), I was a lifelong Seattle resident.

In my professional life, I was a freelance writer, editor, and proofreader. Among career honors, I received a First Place Society of Professional Journalists award for Humorous Writing for my column Jane Explains, which ran from 1999-2005 in the Jet City Maven, later called The Seattle Sun. Also won First Place in the Mainstream Novel category of the 2009 Pacific Northwest Writers Association Literary Contest for my comic novel, The Bette Davis Club (available at Amazon.com). I would demonstrate my keen sense of humor by telling a few jokes here, but the Times charges for these listings by the column inch and we must move on.

Many thanks to Sylvia Farias, MSW, at Swedish Cancer Institute for encouraging me to be part of an incredibly wise gynecological cancer support group. Thanks as well to the kind-hearted nurses and doctors at Group Health Capitol Hill oncology. And thanks to my sister Barbara who left no stone unturned in helping me get life-extending treatment in my final months.

I also want to thank Mrs. Senour, my first grade teacher, for teaching me to read. I loved witty conversation, long walks, and good books. Among my favorite authors were Iris Murdoch (particularly The Sea, The Sea) and Charles Dickens.

I was preceded in death by my generous and loving parents, Michael Gallagher Lotter and Margaret Anne Lotter (nee Robertson), and by my dear younger sister, Julie Marie Lotter. I am survived by my beloved husband, Robert ("Bob") Lee Marts, and our two adult children: daughter, Tessa Jane Marts, and son, Riley William Marts. Also my dear sisters Barbara Lotter Azzato, Kathleen Nora Lahti, and Patricia Anne Crisp (husband Adrian). And many much-loved nieces and nephews, in-laws, and friends.

I met Bob Marts at the Central Tavern in Pioneer Square on November 22, 1975, which was the luckiest night of my life. We were married on April 7, 1984. Bobby M, I love you up to the sky. Thank you for all the laughter and the love, and for standing by me at the end. Tessa and Riley, I love you so much, and I'm so proud of you. I wish you such good things. May you, every day, connect with the brilliancy of your own spirit. And may you always remember that obstacles in the path are not obstacles, they ARE the path.

I believe we are each of us connected to every person and everything on this Earth, that we are in fact one divine organism having an infinite spiritual existence. Of course, we may not always comprehend that. And really, that's a discussion for another time. So let's cut to the chase:

I was given the gift of life, and now I have to give it back. This is hard. But I was a lucky woman, who led a lucky existence, and for this I am grateful. I first got sick in January 2010. When the cancer recurred last year and was terminal, I decided to be joyful about having had a full life, rather than sad about having to die. Amazingly, this outlook worked for me. (Well, you know, most of the time.) Meditation and the study of Buddhist philosophy also helped me accept what I could not change. At any rate, I am at peace. And on that upbeat note, I take my mortal leave of this rollicking, revolving world-this sun, that moon, that walk around Green Lake, that stroll through the Pike Place Market, the memory of a child's hand in mine.

My beloved Bob, Tessa, and Riley. My beloved friends and family. How precious you all have been to me. Knowing and loving each one of you was the success story of my life. Metaphorically speaking, we will meet again, joyfully, on the other side.

Beautiful day, happy to have been here.

XOXO, Jane/Mom