Thursday, July 30, 2009

Let's play pretend!

Be careful what you pretend to be because you are what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut, Mother Night

I have some very distinct memories of pretending as a kid. I remember being a princess, being the Wicked Witch of the West (possibly the most fun), being a pilot, being a damsel in distress (hanging off the cliff that was my bunkbed), and being a cashier at McDonald's (I'm not kidding). It's safe to play pretend when you're a child; you know that if you don't like what you're doing you can always become something else. There's no worry about changing careers, going back to school, finding the money to go back to school, worrying about success and failure. When you're a child, these things don't exist - they are merely the figments of adult imaginations.

Which makes me wonder: do we have this thing all wrong?

Maybe the starting of being the thing we really want to be is in the pretending. The confident stance, the image of that success, the feel of that accomplishment, even if not achieved already, can only push us towards that endeavor. If things don't work out exactly as we'd hoped, we can change our minds and do something else or start again. Life isn't a fixed state. So how can we be?

People debate what "time" really is - an illusion, a mental construct, a tangible measurement? Is it relative or constant? I really don't know. You could listen to a dozen different physicists and still have no real answer. But if time is an illusion (and it could be), then the person you might be lies within you already. I think.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A few nuts.

Families are like fudge - mostly sweet with a few nuts. - Author Unknown

I went most of my life without meeting my great-aunt Gracie. A potential relationship between the two of us was victim to circumstance. My dad's side of the family was from Queens, my mom's side from rural Minnesota, and I grew up in a few places in the Midwest, with the very rare trip to Dad's hometown. This didn't lend to closeness with my paternal relatives.

Sadly, it wasn't until I was an adult that I met Gracie, my grandfather's sister. The story goes that she wasn't exactly a US citizen. You see, when she was a kid, the family moved from Nova Scotia to New York City. My grandpa and his brother became naturalized when they served in World War II, but she never did. According to her telling, Gracie wasn't naturalized because of an incident that involved her naturalization papers being on the table and something about spilled grease. Whatever the exact series of events, Gracie never became a citizen. We kind of joked about her being an illegal alien because she had lived most of her long, long life here in the United States. Could you imagine INS coming for this little old woman with a New York accent, carting her off in handcuffs?

Gracie was quite the character. The first time I did finally meet her, she came directly up to me, gave me a big kiss on the mouth (something we Midwesterners aren't all that comfortable with - insert joke here), and promptly said, "You know this side of the family is crazy." No kidding.

This tiny woman smoked like a fiend most of her life, wore too much makeup, drowned in old fur coats, always wore her hair in a loose bun, and burst into song at the drop of a hat. She was absolutely lovely. I only met her a few times before she died. This saddens me because she was delightful, and sweet, and I will miss all the stories that she would gladly relate, now lost to the ether.

It is my sincere hope that everyone has a Gracie in their families, someone who is unique, funny, and maybe a little nuts, an external reminder of our internal craziness. I knew so little of my great-aunt, but I am so glad I did have the chance to connect, no matter how brief, with this wonderful character.

Monday, July 27, 2009

On forced idleness...

I never remember feeling tired by work, though idleness exhausts me completely. - Arthur Conan Doyle

After experiencing a pinched nerve that seemed to completely knock me out for the count, I awoke this morning feeling better, rested, in the least pain in a week, and found myself surrounded by the reward of idleness: a small mess and a large pile of work to be done.

It's funny how you can almost miss working (maybe even the things you dislike doing) when you've been forced to abstain from these activities for a while. And when there's more to do when you come back to all of that, it's a strange sort of comfort; you're happy that you are capable of doing these things again.

Now that I can start on my tasks, I don't want to stop; not so much because I just want to get all of it over with, but because I can and because I want to feel that sense of accomplishment that comes from finishing even the simplest of chores. And with each set of tasks done, my energy is growing, something that can't be said from sitting lazily on the couch.

I'm glad to be back, and won't be taking for granted the experience of health and being pain-free any time soon.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Open mouth and insert ... well, you know.

My fellow astronauts... - Dan Quayle, former Vice President of the United States, beginning a speech at an Apollo 11 anniversary.

Sometimes I find myself in some exciting or unnerving situation where my brain has utterly failed me. My mind races at a hundred miles an hour, running through word after word, phrase after phrase, and for some reason, the appropriate thing to say won't come out of my mouth.

It's hard to stay in the moment when you are thinking about so many different things, from outcomes of actions to what you had for breakfast that morning. But I find that grounding myself, slowing down, and being present - especially during these situations - can prevent something like the above quote from happening. A big breath in, a good and full exhale, and I'm back in business.

At the same time, it's quite the reminder of how human I am when I manage to mess up what I meant to say, or when I should've just kept my mouth shut. And when the most visible or admired people in the world do exactly the things that I dread doing myself, it's comforting to know that we all are capable of these mistakes, big or small. It also makes it easier to laugh at myself from time to time.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Walter Cronkite (1916 - 2009)

A few days ago, the world lost one of the most well-known and respected broadcast journalists since the advent of the television. Walter Cronkite, though a newsman of the generation before me, was one of the many people that came to mind when thinking of such occurrences as the death of JFK and the Iran Hostage Crisis. His reporting was significant because people trusted that he told them all he could about the events of the day.

What's most remarkable about the life of this man is that he was there, on the sidelines, of so much history of the last seventy years, that it's hard to believe that one man can experience all he did.

He was an impressive man with an incredible legacy.

Let his words speak for him today:

I can't imagine a person becoming a success who doesn't give this game of life everything he's got.

In seeking truth you have to get both sides of a story.

Our job is only to hold up the mirror - to tell and show the public what has happened.

There is no such thing as a little freedom. Either you are all free, or you are not free.

This opens the door on another chapter of history.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Where did the time go?

Oh! Do not attack me with your watch. A watch is always too fast or too slow. I cannot be dictated by a watch. - Jane Austen, Mansfield Park

Since becoming an adult, I've noticed time moves a lot faster than I want it too. Everything is racing, moving at the speed of light. Even technology insists on improving so quickly that by the time I've gotten a new device, some advancement has led to an upgrade - it's already been replaced.

The summer is half over, and I feel like I've missed so much of it. I can't keep up.

And at the same time, I'm glad of the times when it's perfectly okay to be leisurely, to take a stroll and enjoy myself and my own personal speed.

How I wish to have the time perception of a child. When I was a child, everything went too slow, and now that I'm grown, it's far too fast. It seems that the speed you can appreciate never happens when you want it to happen.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

This is your final boarding call...

To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted. - Bill Bryson

I love, love, love to travel. It's not just the sights, but the surrounding yourself in the adventure of new places, people, experiences. Throughout history, the idea of leaving one's home on some grand journey has romanticized traveling - and with good reason.

Consider this: staying at home, yes, all things are familiar. You know where to go for groceries, the best route to work, the greatest places to spend a leisurely afternoon, and sometimes you know where the remote is.

But when in an unfamiliar locale, you have the luxury of the necessary asking of directions, the best places (and sometimes cheapest places) to eat or see something amazing. You are forced into the position of meeting people for its own sake. The sights. The smells. Everything is new, even when ancient. Nothing can replace that experience. Not even a daily dose of the Travel Channel.

Some of the greatest pieces of art and literature are the result of the artist journeying to the strange and unfamiliar and sometimes daunting.

Even the act of travel itself seems an inspiration to me - the boarding of the plane or train, the packing of the bags into the car, the sounds of an interstate in the distance: all these drive me to do more, to go more, to see more, to be more.

Once you start this love affair with adventure, you'll never want it to end. Perhaps there should be a "warning" on all travel plan documents.

Caution: this trip may inspire you to go to strange places, to experience history, to taste unfamiliar and exotic food, to touch some of the oldest roads on the planet, to hunt down fun and mystery. This trip will turn you into a travel-phile. And there is no turning back.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Little voices and sticky hands

Even when freshly washed and relieved of all obvious confections, children tend to be sticky. - Fran Lebowitz

My seventeen-month-old niece can easily become the highlight of my day. Without fail, I manage a call in to my sister, or she to me, every single day. Living a few hundred miles apart, we are kept close by the daily calls. And always, in the background, is the tinkling (albeit loud tinkling) voice of my little niece.

Her grandmother gave her the perfect little upholstered rocking chair - perfect height, perfect size, and perfectly cute. Lily uses it as a step-stool onto the other furniture. She'll drag it to wherever she needs it and without thinking, steps right up onto the couch or the taller, adult-sized recliner.

Phone calls can be interesting in that we are sometimes lucky to even hear each other. Lily puts in her two cents, and makes sudden demands, like "Piggies! Piggies!" - a session of "This little piggy" ensues, despite being on the phone.

My poor sister. As a part-time nanny, and full-time mom, most of her day is filled with conversations with people who haven't quite mastered grammar, or phonics, or (in a lot of cases) words. She's come to know what every little inaudible sound means - a whole new language. It's possible that the phone calls to friends and family are what keep her sane (and using adult language). Any parent of little ones can tell you how refreshing an adult conversation is, especially those that don't include breaks for diaper changing and insistent questioning.

And yet, the moment she's away from that little girl, Lily is all she can think about. Little mentions come up in every discussion. Searches for little toys or clothing or books, are made on independent trips to the mall.

The moment they are back in the same room together, she's immediately hugging her, fixing boo-boos with gentle kisses, wiping her hands, offering tickles and love.

Despite any complaints on motherhood, I think she's stuck with that kid. And I don't think she'd have it any other way.

Monday, July 13, 2009

A little perspective goes a long way.

There are two ways of meeting difficulties; you alter the difficulties, or you alter yourself to meet them. - Phyllis Bottome

Have you ever had a problem with your computer? These maddening machines have become all-important factors in our lives. We email. We IM. We do research via internet. We check on the weather and sports scores. We make our plans and write our wills with our computers. We acquire our music. Heck, we even watch TV on our computers now.

Sometimes (maybe even often times), we take a breath, try to prevent the animals inside ourselves from ripping the machine off the desk and out the window, and reboot. And when even this isn't working right or not the way we want, we have to depend on the troubleshooting advice of manuals or the Geek Squad at Best Buy. But when this doesn't work, what then?

I am the first to admit that that I've made the mistake of depending on old habits to remedy my problems, and often, these methods don't work. When this happens to you, do you give up? Do you give in to the frustration and anxiety?

Knowing yourself means knowing when your way of doing things is no longer working and to ask for help, even if it's just for a new direction, a new way of looking at things. Perspective can be the best defense again the worst of situations. It can be the first step in changing ourselves for the better and overcoming the obstacles in our way to our goals.

It might even mean it's time for a new computer.

Friday, July 10, 2009

It goes on.

In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on. - Robert Frost

Thirteen years ago this morning, my father died. I had just turned seventeen; my sister was fifteen. And he was only fifty.

I think anyone who has experienced the loss of a parent at an early age can agree: even if you were normal before, whether you had a happy childhood or not, whether this parent was a daily influence or someone there only occasionally, you no longer are or will ever be normal.

Childhood grief aside, it's strange to be on that side of the event. No one really knows what to say. And you don't know how to respond. Even now, when I attend funerals, I feel that awkwardness because there really isn't anything that can be said or done that will remedy the situation. Things just are what they are now.

I can feel for anyone who has lost someone special in their life. I've been there. In those moments, when everything seems to be moving so fast, and you're quietly trying to keep up, and the grief drags you down like a boulder strapped to your feet, you are in a space by yourself. Even when that grief is shared with another person. Even if that grief is shared with thousands or millions.

And then, something funny happens. Time happens.

That boulder loses its weight over time. You catch up with the rest of the world. And yes, you miss the one you've lost. But there is an appreciation for the moment you have right now, and the moment you once had, and the moment that will be. Everything is in a different light when the shades of that seemingly insurmountable grief begins to wane.

In honor of the time that has passed, I'd like to mark the things that Dad missed, but didn't really.

  • I graduated high school.
  • Princess Diana died.
  • I went to college - got my AA (I may eventually finish that BA - I'm sure Dad's a little upset about that.)
  • Shannon graduated high school.
  • The world human population passed the six billion mark.
  • Shannon moved to MN.
  • 9/11 happened.
  • My grandma, Dad's mom died.
  • Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings hit the theaters.
  • Shannon married Josh. (Grandpa walked her down the aisle.)
  • Grandpa died.
  • The tsunami in the Indian Ocean.
  • Pope John Paul II died and was succeeded by Benedict XVI.
  • Hurricane Katrina.
  • I started a business.
  • Shannon had a baby (that came out looking just like her grandpa).
  • Life kept moving on.
That grief will never be a distant memory. It will always live right here, in my heart. It will only grow a little more comfortable, maybe even a little comforting. It means that I loved him very much. And I have faith that we will meet again.

Dad, we miss you.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

No napping here.

There is no point at which you can say, "Well, I'm successful now. I might as well take a nap." - Carrie Fisher

Yesterday, I commented on Roger Federer, and asked what it is that drives apart the champions of the world and the rest of humanity.

The determination that I saw yesterday, and that I continue to see in the rest of the "successful" bunch, goes hand in hand with constant action, constant improvement, constant reinvention.

I think I've always wondered, is there a point at which people truly retire? Do people just stop once they've reached what they designate as "success"?

The answer is an emphatic "no".

Those who become legends, much like Michael Jackson, whose memorial touched me today, never stop searching, never stop working, never stop dreaming for bigger or better. They know that even if things are great at the moment, they can always get better, forgetting the possibility of failure as they do so.

What if we all forget about the destination, instead looking only at the journey, and decide that was what we really wanted after all?

Monday, July 6, 2009

When talent, genius, and education are not enough.

Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than successful men of talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipresent. - Calvin Coolidge

After witnessing the Wimbledon win of Roger Federer yesterday, I found myself questioning what it is that separates the champions from the rest. Looking beyond the world-wide accolades of people who win major tournaments, what is it that makes people the champions of their own lives? How can I become someone who strives to be the best, even if it is only the best "me"?

No amount of planning and preparation, no amount of learning and intelligence has the ability to replace what essentially is that determination that pushes people over that threshold separating failure from success.

Aspiring to greatness is something that never ends, once making the decision to follow that path.

There have been countless numbers of people who have desired the rewards of the "winners", but few as determined, as resolved, who never falter in this will. These champions never leave their determination behind, through set-backs and voices of what "cannot be".

How willing are you to be like that?

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy Fourth of July!

3D Animated Flags by

I thought it best to let the immortal words of those who have come before me (and I humbly bow to them and their great wisdom) to say the things I would say. Enjoy!

Gentlemen may cry, peace, peace-but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death! - Patrick Henry

My God! How little do my countrymen know what precious blessings they are in possession of, and which no other people on earth enjoy! - Thomas Jefferson

Then join hand in hand, brave Americans all! By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall. - John Dickinson

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. - Abraham Lincoln, the Gettysburg Address, 1863

America is much more than a geographical fact. It is a political and moral fact - the first community in which men set out in principle to institutionalize freedom, responsible government, and human equality. - Adlai Stevenson

For what avail the plough or sail, or land or life, if freedom fail? - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Friday, July 3, 2009

Nothing to fear but...

Things will happen in your life that you can't stop. But that's no reason to shut out the world. - Walter Sparrow (as Crazy Pete) in the film Now and Then (1995)

I know what it's like to fear the things that might happen. It prevents people from doing the things they love, from having the life they really want to live. Fear can be paralytic and irrational. It can tie us down and keep us from truly living.

But just because the worst might happen, doesn't mean that it will. You hear stories of people who live in the harshest of political climates who defy what "might be" because life does go on.

If the bad happens, let it happen. Not everything can be prevented. So hold your head high, and take life with every stride because by trying to shut out all the bad, you will end up missing out on all the good.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

"Ah, what then?"

What if you slept? And what if, in your sleep, you dreamed?
And what if, in your dream, you went to heaven
and there plucked an strange and beautiful flower?
And what if, when you awoke, you had the flower in your hand?
Ah, what then?
Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Every hint of genius started off as a thought, a silent window into the vast expanse of what could be.

I greatly dislike when people decide that what they really want for their lives has to live only in their dreams, or worse, is relegated to the idea of "someday", where it remains for all eternity. Someday, this intangible time, where unicorns rule the Earth, and war is but a memory.

Wherever these incredible ideas come from, whenever your dream life exists is up to you. You are the definer of these things.

What if you were the arbiter of your own destiny? Ah, what then?