Wednesday, February 29, 2012

On Letting Go

I've recently had a revelation about myself: I won't let go.

I'm not talking about holding grudges or obsessing over nonsense. I'm talking about my past and the people who played major roles in helping me become who I am today.

When I discovered Facebook eons ago, I secretly dubbed the site "Pastbook" because that's what I spent the first months doing...digging up names from my past and reuniting with them. It was a non-stop joyride for me to bring back those who had mattered so much but whom I had been forced to let go. Not anymore. Of course, most of those initial reunions turned into nothing more than a new "friend" whose status I could check at my whim, and that was enough for me.

I'm wise enough to know that some people were acquaintances in my life and that it's okay to let them go. But the storymakers of my past hold more value than that. I've been fortunate to still have my dearest friends from childhood in my life today because even though I've grown so much, these girls were my foundation; to let them go would be like resting the house of my soul on a sinkhole and hoping it won't disappear.

At the time of my revelation, however, I couldn't stop thinking about one amazing friend who was missing from my adult life, and I missed him terribly. We lost touch many years ago for some of the typical reasons - inconvenient geography, different phases of life, a wife threatened by our friendship. But he wasn't just a boy I once knew who I could file alongside the others who had paved the way to my relationship with my husband. No, this boy had always been my friend, my buddy, my prom date, my confidante, and never my lover. He was truly my friend. And I was angry that we'd lost touch.

Since our falling out of touch, I have tried to contact him many times via email, Facebook, and voice mail, but he never responds. Then over a year ago, I heard through the grapevine that he had lymphoma, and my heart broke. I was warned that he'd become less social during this period and so I didn't even try to contact him but instead kept contact with those who knew of his treatment and progress. And progress he did. He is now cancer-free, so I've heard.

Then recently, I almost bumped into him. I say almost because apparently we were at the same fundraising event but at different times. Since then, I can't get him off my mind. When I think about how many crucial moments of adolescence we shared, I feel empty not knowing what is in his heart today.

I know this is one of those true friendships that must stay in the past because it takes two to make a friendship last, but I won't accept it gracefully. He was integral to who I was then, and whether he knows it or not, that has made me a better friend today. I refuse to forget him.

Do you have any friends from your youth who you would you never let go? If so, feel free to honor them here. My list includes:
Suzanne, Jennifer, Lisa, Benay, Martha, Karen, Andrea, Kathleen, Rachel, and of course...Shane

Monday, February 27, 2012

On the Rodeo

After fourteen years of living just beyond horse country, I spent my Sunday doing what every Jewish, Latin-loving, SUV-driving woman would do with her Sunday afternoon...I went to the rodeo.

I certainly had my misgivings, what with all the calf roping and spur wearing that I knew would go on, but my daughter had been asking for a dog's age (which is actually shorter than a horse's age but just as interminable when your child is whining every weekend).

I have to admit, I had a blast.

One part of me was morally opposed and standing on my high horse (yeah, I went there) while the other part was holding my breath in anticipation of a good lasso and then screaming with excitement when one cowboy finally roped the calf and tied all three legs up in under six seconds. Woo hoo!!!! (Apparently, only three of the four legs are required to be tied. Who knew? Certainly not me.)

The halftime show, if you will, was completely inhumane but nonetheless adorable. One-half dozen rams tore into the arena being chased by a bevy of miniature border collies who deftly herded the rams into a small pen. The dogs did this while carrying small passengers strapped to their backs...teeny rhesus monkeys. I kid you not. The crowd went wild as these little "cowboys" herded their charges into place. I just shook my head in judgment, mumbling this is so wrong while my daughter squealed with joy and recorded it all on video.

After the rams, the dogs, and the monkeys, it was back to business. When the cowgirls competed in the barrel races and their horses took those turns at 45-degree angles to the ground, my heart once more skipped some beats until I could catch my breath and cheer the ladies on for their final gallop into the gate. Good stuff, I tell ya.

The rodeo finished with the bull rides. No excitement to share here since I hated that part and was glad when it was over. Still, I think I enjoyed the afternoon even more than my daughter did. As we walked back to the car, I felt conflicted. But maybe that's what the rodeo is all about...the tradition, the pageantry, the danger, mixed with the domination of man (and woman) over beast. Garth Brooks sang it best when he said:

Well, it's bulls and blood
It's dust and mud
It's the roar of a Sunday crowd
It's the white in his knuckles
The gold in the buckle
He'll win the next go 'round
It's boots and chaps
It's cowboy hats
It's spurs and latigo
It's the ropes and the reins
And the joy and the pain
And they call the thing rodeo

Saturday, February 25, 2012

On Putting Your Teenager in Jail

Come on...admit it. Some of you parents of teens are thinking to yourselves, Hmm, sometimes putting my kid in jail doesn't sound like such a bad idea.

Before you get carried away with fantasies of how to teach your teenager a lesson, you should know that this "jail" I'm referring to was a fundraising ploy, part of the Cancer Relay for Life in which I just participated.

I'd never witnessed this event before, and it was phenomenal. I don't know how many different booths I saw at this 24-hour walking event (because cancer never rests, so why should we?), but each booth represented a different type of cancer and included a variety of clever ways to raise money (apart from the pre-walk pledges and the abundance of baked goods for sale).

One such trick was a cardboard prison, fashioned by a group of teenagers, with bars and all. For a minimum fee of one dollar, you could have anyone you wanted arrested and put in jail. Bail was posted at twice the jailing rate. My friend, Jennifer, liked this idea very much, especially since she had spent the morning locking horns with her 16-year-old daughter over what Jen perceived as adolescent nonsense.

My friend turned her focus across the park to her daughter's team booth. She then turned to the young man/jailer, who knew her daughter, and firmly stated, "Go arrest Britt." Jen placed one dollar on the table and the jailer obeyed.

But Britt would not cooperate. We watched from across the field as the jailer seemed to be explaining what was happening. Britt appeared to be compliant, but when she turned on her heel halfway to the prison booth, the jailer (a strapping, high-school lad) swiftly scooped Britt up and threw her over his shoulder in a fire-rescue stance. Resigned to her punishment, Britt stopped fighting and accepted her fate.

As Jen took a picture of her daughter behind bars and muttered, "Sweet justice," Britt pouted playfully. But when Jen and I proceeded to wave good-bye and tell Britt we had to continue our walking rounds (it was our shift of the 24-hour relay), Britt tried to escape, and the jailer had to block her with his hulking frame.

"She's not really upset, is she?" I asked Jen, a bit worried for the punishment she would have to tolerate when the relay was over.

Jen raised her eyebrows at me. "She'll get over it."

The good news for Britt was that her incarceration lasted no more than ten minutes. The good news for Jen was that she got the cathartic opportunity to put her daughter in jail for the crime of emotional distress. And there really wasn't any bad news since the cause earned a whopping $3.00 for the whole ordeal.

What catharsis have you experienced lately?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

On the Art of Listening

As a writer, I am forever honing the craft of writing. As a professor, I am eternally mired in papers, thereby helping me perfect the art of reading (and editing!). But what about that elusive skill...the one we start to practice first as infants when words have not yet formed...the art of listening? It's the ability we've technically practiced the most, yet it is sometimes a dastardly task to accomplish even with two perfectly functioning ears.

As fiction writers, we can practice listening by imagining the voices of our characters. What do they sound like? What kind of vocabulary do they use? How formally or colloquially do they speak? As we come to hear these characters, we get to know them better, and that familiarity hopefully transfers to the written page so the readers can hear these characters as well as we can.

The real world is a different story (pun intended). When we think we are listening to our friends, our professors, our colleagues, our family, we are often only hearing their words instead of listening to the message. Our minds are full of distractions, and often the biggest distraction is the argument we are already formulating in response to something spoken moments before. We focus on what our hearts have to say and stop listening to the other person. When we do this, we are effectively saying, "My ideas or feelings are more important than yours." (Even if we believe this, it is bad form to admit it.)

So what can we do? (I've given this a lot of thought as I've recently been frustrated by many around me who say they hear me but don't actually do it unless I accidentally burp at the dinner table.)

Like we must sometimes do with our addiction to electronic devices, we can make the effort to temporarily shut down...our minds, that is. When listening to someone, we need to turn off our own thoughts and say to ourselves, For this moment, I am listening to someone else. Quite honestly, I think the brain would appreciate a respite. I tried this the other night with my daughter, and it actually helped me relax even though her message was one of sadness. By ignoring my own frustration with her behavior and choosing to listen to her, I heard what was in her heart.

What say you? Any suggestions for how we can learn to listen better?

Monday, February 20, 2012

On Inspiration (Or, I Owe It to Stephen King)

It's been over a year since I last posted, and truth is that probably very few people will ever read this post because I've been forgotten. But that inspiration, that kick in the pants I'd been waiting for to spike my blogging fever...well, it had eluded me.

Then I read the opening paragraph to Stephen King's The Body, a 1982 novella long-ago turned major motion picture...almost a relic by literary standards. But I read it this morning, and it inspired me. Just look, if you will, at how simply yet eloquently King describes such an intimate fear.

The most important things are the hardest things to say. They are the things you get ashamed of, because words diminish them - words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they're brought out. But it's more than that, isn't it? The most important things lie too close to wherever your secret heart is buried, like landmarks to a treasure your enemies would love to steal away. And you may make revelations that cost you dearly only to have people look at you in a funny way, not understanding what you've said at all, or why you thought is was so important that you almost cried while you were saying it. That's the worst, I think. When the secret stays locked within not for want of a teller but for want of an understanding ear.

Concise. Honest. Perfect.

I started reading King when I was twelve years old and considered myself quite the enthusiast throughout high school and college. I even read some of his books in Spanish when I was trying to learn the language in my twenties. (Pet Sematary is just as creepy en espaƱol!) Eventually, however, I moved on...until last year, when I read On Writing, A Memoir of the Craft. Then I was reminded of why I had admired him in my adolescence and why he is such a successful writer.

No matter the genre, a good writer finds a way to take language and turn it into something more than just words in print. A good writer taps into the soul of words, the spirit of the message, to deliver the reader to that other world where our hearts can sing the words to the song it has felt for so long.

I know I am not that writer...not yet. But with inspirational passages like the one quoted above, I feel hope. And to quote King once more, hope springs eternal.