Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Wife of Job

Suffering is a universal truth. No human lives without also suffering. It is a relative state of being, of course, measured by how far awry things have gone from previous circumstances. Suffering, some would argue, is necessary in order for us to know the highs of pure joy. One extreme cannot exist without the other.

Nonetheless, we try to escape it, avoid it, ignore it. Yet, like running up gravel on a hillside, we inevitable fall back into a pit of despair. What do you do when you're in the depths?

Are you the Wife of Job? Do you place blame? Do you loudly and bitterly complain? Do you put energy into dragging others down that gravel hillside? Do you try to convince those suffering alongside you to give in? If so, do any of these tactics ever relieve your suffering?

The Company of Job, Inc., in its production of Job: A Postmodern Opera of Biblical Proportions, captures the futility and tragedy of Job's wife's response to the situation in which they find themselves. Listen as Pamela Bowman sings My Man's Got the Blues:

Even in suffering, especially in the midst of suffering, we must choose to live fearlessly. God never promised to shield us from hard times. But He steadfastly accompanies us through them. We don't need to drag others down into the mire with us, if we acknowledge that we already have a rock to lean on when we need rest. To live fearlessly means to trust that we will survive our suffering, and not just survive, but come out on the other side of it burnished to our better selves.

Today's Assignment: Go ahead, sing the blues. But don't get stuck there like a broken record. Finish up, because there's burnishing to be done. Face the lows so you can feel highs. Today, and every day until your suffering has passed, continue to smile, extend encouragement to at least one other person, in your Book of Lists write 3-5 things for which you are grateful.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Claim Your Fame

We southerners, particularly the ladies among us, spend a lot of time asking, "What will people say?"

"What will the neighbors think?"

Well I'm here to tell you, whatever it is, they've probably already said it and already thought it, because whatever it is you're microanalyzing to death and vacillating over has likely already been done, worn, said, seen, and so forth. The best thing a girl can do for herself is acknowledge it. Get it out in the open.


Do you think for one second Cindy Crawford loved that mole on her upper lip when she was 13? I don't know for sure, but I bet she hated when other kids pointed it out or giggled about it behind her back. I bet she tried to cover it up with her hand or her hair whenever she could. Now it's her claim to fame.

What do all of these famous people have in common: Rachel Ray, Howard Stern, Rush Limbaugh, Donald Trump, Ellen DeGeneres, Rachel Maddow, Suze Orman, Nancy Pelosi, and Dr Phil?

Despite being multi-faceted individuals, they have all turned one dimension of their personalities into a powerful brand. We feel like we know them. We know what they're for and what they're against. And they're not afraid of critics. When someone told Rush Limbaugh he's pushy, overbearing and arrogant he didn't take it as an insult. He took it and internalized it. When someone told Ellen DeGeneres she has a weird, off-beat sense of humor, she didn't quit cracking jokes. She turned up the volume.

I park like an old lady, easing my car into the spot, stepping on the brake, easing off the brake, stepping on the brake, letting up, mashing down, until all of my passengers have whip-lash and I'm parked deep enough that my rear bumper doesn't get knocked off. Not only do my children and husband razz me about my lack of skill, by-standers at Wal-mart stare at me when I exit my car. So I say, "I know, I park like an old lady. I failed that section of the driving test."

When I claim it, because it is rightfully mine - whatever the neighbors are saying or thinking about me - I claim my fame. Claiming my fame transfers the power to me.

Today's Assignment: In your Book of Lists, make a list of all the things the neighbors think and say about you; even the stuff that really bothers you when they say it (especially that stuff). Decide right now that you will own it. After all, it is yours. Right now, pick one thing off of that list, the one thing that you want to overcome your insecurities about, call up a friend and claim your fame. Brag to her about it.

Tomorrow, brag to another friend about it. Once you're comfortable with that, brag about it to a stranger.

Before you know it, fame will feel good.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Gift of Gab: 3 Tips

From Gone With the Wind:
Scarlett: Fiddle-dee-dee. War, war, war; this war talk's spoiling all the fun at every party this spring. I get so bored I could scream. Besides... there isn't going to be any war.
Brent Tarleton: Not going to be any war?
Stuart Tarleton: Why, honey, of course there's gonna be a war.
Scarlett: If either of you boys says "war" just once again, I'll go in the house and slam the door.

Just like Scarlett, from the moment we exited the womb, we southern girls were taught the gift of gab; the skill of conversing. BUT, we were also taught what polite ladies shall not, under any circumstances, discuss with others - politics, money, religion, sex; which, in my opinion, doesn't leave us much to confer on.

Our strict training in the ways of womanhood has resulted in two common outcomes:

1) Southern girls often resort to whispering at a volume their friends and enemies alike must strain to hear.

2) Southern girls tend to chatter on without thinking about what they are saying, but avoiding all controversial subjects.

Who among us hasn't had a girlfriend who talked so much that she never heard anything we had to say? She was always preoccupied thinking of what she would say next, and sometimes blurting it right over the top of our own words, as if she didn't even need us in order for the conversation to occur. And most of it was mindless twitter, anyway.

Who among us hasn't done that herself on occasion?

Raise your hand if you've ever tried to share an exchange with a woman who spoke so confidentially it was almost a secret from you, as well as the world. Leaning in as hard as one can to detect the almost inaudible mumble of a friend causes one to grow weary of the tete-a-tete, and usually just plain weary.

Are you guilty of such quiet crimes? Am I?

The gift of gab is our southern discipline; thus, we must be disciplined about using it. We must not fear it. Our voices can make a difference in the world, without ever hinting at un-ladylike qualities.

First, we must break our bad habits. Those of us who speak in tones so low the earthworms can't even feel the vibrations need to find the courage to speak up and the discernment to know when to remain silent. Those of us who prattle on about this, that, and the other, but nothing of substance, should practice the art of breathing between sentences and phrases. Once that is accomplished, then we must learn to listen.

Second, we must decide how we will use our gift of gab to make the world a better place; the world at large or the world within arm's reach. Once we have honed and refined our gift, as our mamas and grandmamas would want, we will discover its power.

Third, remember to banter about the weather, the kids, the grocery store coupons, the car repair garage. It's good for us. Small talk makes the world go round.

The Final Word:
A study in the journal of Psychological Science found that people who spend time talking to others, having both deep conversations and sharing chitchat, report feeling happier than their silent counterparts. Therein lies the crux of the matter: If we are nattering on without pause or if we are emitting at a decibel for which the human ear is not tuned, then our partner in conversation is rendered to silence, and, therefore, not happy.

Today's Assignment: Practice and refine your gift.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Real Fear

Do we even know what real fear is? I bet this child does. I'll bet her mother does. Click on the pic and visit the Etsy dealers contributing a portion of their proceeds to aid Japan.

The Unexpected Mother


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Stop Waiting. Start Living.

Seen the movie, P.S. I Love You?

A brief synopsis:
On a country road in Ireland over ten years ago, it was love at first sight for Holly, a lost young tourist (Academy Award® winner, Hilary Swank), and Gerry, a charming local lad (Gerard Butler). Holly's formidable mother, (Kathy Bates), disapproved of the couple, concerned that her spirited daughter was too young for marriage. In the years since, the once fearless Holly has become unsure of her own identity. When Gerry dies with a brain tumor and leaves Holly a widow just shy of her thirtieth birthday, her family and best friends (Lisa Kudrow, Gina Gershon) are concerned that she will never emerge from her takeout container-strewn Manhattan apartment. After weeks holed up watching old movies, a birthday cake and tape recording message from Gerry mysteriously arrives, marking the beginning of a series of letters instructing her to perform unusual requests. With the help of her girlfriends, Holly begins a year of wild adventures and a life journey that Gerry has planned for her, helping her to discover who she is without him and reminding her - p.s. I Love You.

P.S. I Love You is based on the best-selling novel by Cecelia Ahern.

To my husband's bafflement, I cried through most of the movie. I could relate to Holly. On some days, I am Holly. One scene in particular stands out: Holly tells her husband of 10 years that she is frustrated. They live in a tiny apartment in the city, she hates her job (has actually hated ALL of her jobs), they don't have enough money, and they don't have a baby yet.

This is the really important moment in the scene: She laments to her husband that she keeps waiting for their real life to begin, but it never does. He tells her that their real life has started; that they are in the thick of it and that she has to start living it and quit waiting.

Wow. More tears and my husband saying, "What are you crying about?"

I asked myself, Am I living my life or am I waiting for a sign that it has finally started?

Do you ever look around yourself wondering when your real life will start?

Living Fearlessly requires us to quit waiting and to get on with it. If we sit and wait for life to start, it'll all be over before we know it. We will get to the grave having spent all our time jealously watching other people live the lives we we're waiting for.

The life I want, the life you yearn for, it's right here, right now. All we have to do is live it. Today. Fearlessly.

Today's Assignment: Make something happen. When you do, you'll be living your real life.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Two Kinds of Friends

Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other's gold.
--Old summer camp song from Jennie Arnold Edwards YWCO Camp

I've been humming that tune since I got back from my annual girls' weekend with sorority sisters from my college days. I firmly believe every southern girl should cultivate two kinds of friends:

1.The ones who knew her way back when.
2.The ones who know her now.

Friends from back when allow us to be that silly, giggly girl from our teens or twenties. The one who told that bad Santa Claus joke any time she had the floor. The one who sunbathed on the roof in February so she would be ready for spring break in March. The one who pretended to like champagne and who re-enacted the When Harry Met Sally cafe scene, in public places, whenever she got the whim. They're the friends with whom we shared a wardrobe and our wild side.

Way back when friends forgive us for ditching them for a date with a boy. They recall all the gory details of Pledge Formal and don't mind if we've chosen to forget them. These friends remind us of when we weren't mamas and wives and responsible working adults. We are bound to them by history and they love us.

The friends who know us now are just as important. They accept the sophisticated, polite, lady-like woman we've grown into without ever comparing us to our past. They keep us from lingering too long in yesteryear when the present isn't all we thought it would be. They support us. They civilize us.

Friends who know us now chat with us about the mundane details of daily life and never grow bored with the conversation. They love our children like we do. They loan us a bottle of wine on a Sunday night or a pair of shoes on a Saturday. They feed our dog and pick up our mail when we go on vacation. They carpool our kids, bring casseroles when we're sick, and attend every Girls' Night Out, no excuses. We can count on them.

TODAY'S ASSIGNMENT: We take our friends for granted, expecting them to be there when we have time for them. Today, be intentional about your friendships. Contact at least one old friend with whom you have fallen out of touch. Plan a get-together - a movie, dinner, a tour of homes, whatever - with a current friend. Gold and silver are too precious to let them slip away.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The One and Only You

There is only one you for all time. Fearlessly be yourself.
--Anthony Rapp

This is it, my one chance. My one shot at fulfilling my purpose. This is a no deposit, no return vessel in which I'm spending my days on earth, and it's all mine; and it's the only one I'll ever get.
When I'm afraid that just being me is not enough, I think about that.
Being me means being shy, but then blurting out the completely wrong thing to say. Being me, means ordering a glass of wine, then talking too loudly in a restaurant. Being me means snapping at one of my kids who interrupts a stressful string of thoughts, then saying I'm sorry. Being me means piling on the workload so much that I feel like I'll crumple under my obligations, then putting it all down to take my children to their after-school activities; but not without some grumbling.
Being me means having a short temper and giving long hugs. It means looking forward to Fridays when everyone is home from work and school and looking forward to Mondays when everyone isn't. It means laughing about morbid pet stories, but giving my dog the best 14 years of life a pet could live. It means a quick temper but a rare grudge. It means having no clue what difference I'm making in the world, but trusting that I'm making one.
Being me means frizzy hair days and donating blouses to the thrift store because I'm too lazy to sew buttons back on. Being me means once-a-year pedicures and layers upon layers of toenail polish the rest of the year. It means always putting on pounds in my butt first and my boobs last. Being me means looking in mirrors when I walk past them.
The definition of me is an uncommon combination of imperfections that work together remarkably well, in seamless coordination, but, despite that, will never be repeated in the history of humans. No one else, past, present or future, has the unique combination of my talents, ideas, personality or fingerprints. The question is not who will live my life if I don't. The question is who can live my life if I don't. The answer is no one.
So it is my job to do. And if its my own journey to walk in my own shoes to complete my own destiny, why not make the most of it, fearlessly?
This is your one chance, too. Seize it. Live fearlessly. The world is counting on you.
Today's Assignment: Make a list of everything that makes you the one-and-only you; all of your skills, talents, personality traits, physical characteristics, likes, dislikes, propensities and private thoughts, and so on. Keep the list handy so you can add on to it as you think of things. This is one of those never ending lists, by the way.
Tomorrow, read through your list. Marvel at the wonderfully complicated person that you are. Accept that you are put together this way for a purpose. Embrace your every quality, the good and the if-I-could-change-one-thing-about-myself. Use it all to meet every day head-on.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Practical: To Be or Not To Be

He thinks Penny Tweedy was not a reasonable woman. He thinks she should have sold Secretariat, before he ran for the Triple Crown, to pay the 6-million dollar inheritance tax on her father’s estate. He thinks she neglected the interests of her husband and four children for a risky gamble on a horse. He said . . . he said . . . he said she was not being “practical.”

Practical. That’s the word that started the ensuing argument between me and my husband. The word that made me sharply inform him that I sided with Virginia native and southern lady Penny Tweedy. I shouted at him that if she had been practical she never would have been part of a great story.

That’s the sentence that made our 13 year-old fuss, “Would y’all quit? We can’t hear the movie.” Then the 11 year-old said, “We don’t need to hear it now. Mama just told us the ending.” So I defended, “Win or lose, she’s part of a great story.” And our 9 year-old daughter asked, “Did she win or lose?” prompting the 15 year-old to announce, “Are you serious?” Which led my husband to turn to me and accuse, “You ruined the movie.”

So I shouted again, “I said win or lose; win or lose, Penny Tweedy is part of a great story. The movie would have been made either way. But if she had been practical, the story would have ended before it ever really got started.” Then I left the room.

Practical might do for some people, but it irks me.

I didn’t always dream of becoming a writer. My earliest aspiration, at the age of 5, was to be an artist and live in my parents’ garage and take care of them in their old age. Upon hearing my plans, my parents patted me on the head and smiled, belying their vision of a future filled with a 45 year-old me in paint-smattered overalls eating their food and bossing them around. It was a turning point in my life. From then on, they nudged me toward the practical.

But I never was cut out for the practical way of life. I’m drawn to wholly illogical things like three-quarter length sleeves, old houses, dogs that shed and having more than 1.3 children. Still, following my moody, brooding teenage years, during which I brought to life a plethora of moody, brooding poetry, I got my act together, grew up, went off to college and tracked on the practical path. I earned a degree in education, acquiring the requisite sellable skill my parents pushed for. My parents were happy, optimistic, relieved.

By the time I went on to get an advanced degree in psychology, however, it was obvious to all that I didn’t have the stamina for practical. There’s nothing less practical than probing the narrows of the human mind, except maybe going on to a doctorate program in such nonsense. And then getting pregnant. And then getting pregnant again. And then leaving the program with everything but the dissertation completed. And then having two more babies, one after the other, and forgetting all about a career in anything but housekeeping and nose wiping.

For my mama and daddy, watching me course through life has been like watching a slow-motion video clip of a woman, running full speed, hitting a hardwood floor covered in BBs with nothing but a sliding glass door in the way to stop her momentum. They wince. They tense. They grit their teeth. They refuse to grow old and they bought a house without a garage.

Then I skidded and slammed into the sliding glass door. When I came to, I found myself at a desk with my fingers tap-tapping across a keyboard. And so began my impractical, and unexpected, profession as a writer. The world rolled it out there to me, just as it presented Penny Tweedy with Secretariat, and I, intrigued by the irrational, took hold of it.

Like Penny Tweedy, win or lose, I’d rather be part of a great story than settle for just being practical.

How about you?

Today's Assignment: Take a risk. Go out on a limb. Live a little. Do one thing that isn't in the least bit practical.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Cure for the Double Chin

Pretty is as pretty does.
Every girl wants to avoid the dreaded double chin. It's very unattractive.

Yet, for some reason, we tend to inflict it upon ourselves. The double chin trap is an easy one for many Southern Belles to fall into, particularly those of us lacking confidence in our own beauty, accomplishments, or station in life. It bubbles up and announces itself to the world when we tilt our heads in disparaging judgment of our fellow travelers on the rocky road from here to heaven.

I have a remedy, however, for the double chin: Don't look down on other people. It's as simple as that. When a girl looks down on someone, it causes her to draw her head back and nod it forward to get a good gaze down the bridge of her nose. This action squeezes unsightly loose skin between the neck and jaw, forming a ghastly double chin.

TODAY'S ASSIGNMENT: In the mirror, pretend that you are looking down on another person and observe what it does to your striking beauty. It's not attractive is it? Today is the day to start building yourself up by focusing on YOU, being the best you can be at whatever you've chosen in life, instead of concentrating on how you're better than someone else. Remember, pretty is as pretty does and pretty does not look down on others.