Apologetic and Still Looking for Meaning

One of my longest-standing delay tactics when it comes to writing is to look up the definitions for words that I already know, telling myself that I’m just “warming up,” but really choosing someone else’s way of defining something rather than my own.  Maybe it’s an okay strategy, I’m not sure; sometimes I do learn interesting things.  For example, this morning I was looking up “apology,” and I found this adorable collection of “apology poems” from Mrs. Trebour’s class at Countrywood Primary School in Huntington, NY from October 2003.  The class wrote apologies to pumpkins they had carved for Halloween.  Here’s my favorite, by “Alex:”
Dear Pumpkin,
I am very sorry for taking
your brain out.
Please forgive me.
But now I can make stew 
out of you.

A New Season, a New Project and Some Updates on Familiar Things

Well and here we are!  The first post-Lent post!  I’m super excited and if you’re here, I hope you are too!  There’s a new soon-to-be announced project coming up here at From the Heart, so stay tuned for that!  For today, you’ll find updates on some familiar topics, AND a new family-related post over at: http://srajek.wordpress.com.  It’s about raising social deviants going to Wal-Mart with my boys.

So, updates!  A few weeks ago, I wrote about my attempts at being a “secret messenger for good” at work (thanks to Summer Pierre and her wonderful book, The Artist in the Office).  As you may recall, things got off to a disappointing start (the inspirational quote that I taped up on the paper towel holder in the women’s bathroom stayed up, the one in the men’s bathroom didn’t last the day).  However, I am happy to report that there have been some exciting developments.

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“Afraid Yet Filled With Joy:” The Blessings of Easter

Two amazing things happened to me on Good Friday as I was driving to meet some friends after a crazy 36 hours.  The first was that I passed Jesus on the street.  Actually, he was on the sidewalk.   He was walking east down Windsor Avenue, wearing a white robe, the crown of thorns, and carrying a cross.  A small robed woman wearing head coverings was walking next to him.  On the other side of the street going west was a jogger with no shirt on, and coming up towards Jesus on his side was a guy on a bike.  I felt concerned about the biker because there’s not a lot of room on the sidewalk, and it seemed like it could be awkward trying to bike past Jesus with the small woman and the cross.  Also, if it had been me, there was no way I could just RIDE PAST Jesus, especially not with the cross and the crown of thorns.  Maybe on a normal day, i.e not Good Friday.  But no, not even then.  It would feel too disrespectful. [note: my dad said he didn’t understand this part of the post.  It ACTUALLY happened!  Exactly this way. It’s a TRUE story!]

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Goodbye to Winter: A Love Letter

The most romantic moment of my winter this year was on New Year’s Eve, standing in the bathroom watching my husband try out his new nose hair clippers.  And this not to imply that there is no romance in my life, or that the moment itself wasn’t romantic.  It really, really was. 

We celebrated New Year’s Eve with my sister-in-law and her husband by getting dressed up and doing karaoke downstairs in the family room, which was more fun than I can say.  And one of the things I love about being with my sister-in-law is that she has the ability to made life feel like an occasion.  She makes the effort.  She wears red lipstick every day.   She uses her best dishes on a regular basis.  She pays attention.  The big difference between the two of us is that I am a “Why bother?” person, and she is a “Why would you not bother?” person.  It’s very refreshing.

New Year's Eve 2009

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The Curse of the Garden Tour

Because I have had about enough of myself being a big whiner about this upcoming family trip to Niagara Falls, I made a conscious effort to focus on the positive today.  I appreciated the sunshine, I looked around the yard, I noticed the green tulip leaves coming up in the yard, and I was delighted to see some tiny yellow crocuses popping up around the linden tree.  “Photo opp!”  I thought.  “A happy, positive thinking photo opp!  How nice!”  So I grabbed my camera, knelt down on the grass to get closer to the crocuses, and here is what I saw: 

Spring Still Life: Crocus with Trash

In case you can’t quite see it, it’s a crocus with a Sour Wild Strawberry Jolly Rancher wrapper lying next to it.  And this is exactly what I hate about gardening: it lures you into believing that it offers a lovely, cyclical way of being in your life–the renewal of spring, the return of lifeblood to the earth, the time when your senses awaken, blah, blah, blah–but then it exposes itself for what it really is: the fruitless quest for perfection.  You might catch sight of something beautiful, but the residue of your past indiscretions, failures, and general sloppiness will still be clinging to it. 

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Project ‘Spread Cheer @ Work:’ A Disappointing Start

One of the books that has been, to steal a phrase from Jennifer’s comment on yesterday’s post, an oxygen mask for me lately is The Artist in the Office: How to Creatively Survive and Thrive Seven Days a Week (or AITO for those in the know) by Summer Pierre.  AITO started out as a handmade ‘zine, motivated, as I understand it, partly by boredom and frustration, and partly by the desire to speak to everyone who feels like they are living two lives: their “wage slave” life and their creative life: “Day after day, this is how it goes: You get up, go to work–and save your ‘real’ self for the cracks and corners of your off time.  Your 9-5 work might pay the bills, but if it’s not giving you an outlet for your pent-up creativity, it’s time to make a change” (from the back cover).  The ‘zine was a hit, and is now a real live book, available on Amazon and other real live book selling places.   

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The (Real) Secret to Being Happy

Sometimes complete strangers say things that can change your whole life.  That is not what this post is about, though.  This post is about something that happened to me several years ago on a flight from Newark to Chicago, where I was sitting next to an older Asian man who, out of nowhere, turned to me and asked, “Do you want to know the secret to being happy?”  As I happened to be wondering exactly that thing at exactly that moment, I said yes, I would indeed like to know the secret to being happy.  I can still see him, silhouetted by that white above-the-clouds light that comes through the windows on planes.  I turned my body towards him, he raised his index finger and said, “There are three things.”  And that, my friends, is all she wrote.  I don’t remember what he told me.  I FORGOT whatever it was he said. 

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Things Mostly (Not) Green

My friend Tom once shared a story of a woman he knew who kept a journal about gardening.  One entry that always stuck with him was a short observation on a day when the slow transition from winter to spring seemed to sharpen into visibility.  She wrote: “Things mostly green.”

While we can definitely feel the return of life to the ground here in east central Illinois, things are mostly not green.  The air has been more forgiving, the sunlight gloriously welcome, and yes, there are a few tiny shoots poking through in the yard, but this is the time right before the green, the time between.

not quite winter, not quite spring

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Why Balance is an Unhelpful Ideal (Unless You Are a Gymnast or a Tightrope Walker)

Whenever I see a flyer for a workshop or talk on “Work/Life Balance,” I get a very bad feeling in my chest and my head starts to hurt.  Unless there will be someone at the workshop with a clipboard and a sign-up sheet for volunteers to come over and dust my floorboards, cook dinner for my family, buy the batteries at Walgreens that I keep forgetting, or clean out the box of stuff from when I moved my office last December, I can’t think of a single good reason to attend.  
My bottom line belief on work/life balance is this–it’s a hoax, and a dangerous one at that.  But you don’t have to take my word for it.  Here’s David Whyte in his most recent book, The Three Marriages: Reexamining Work, Self and Relationship: “People find it hard to balance work with family, family with self, because it might not be a question of balance.  Some other dynamic is in play, something to do with a very human attempt at happiness that does not quantify different parts of life and then set them against one another.  We are collectively exhausted because of our inability to hold competing parts of ourselves together in a more integrated way.” 

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A Case for Running Backwards

There was a lady in our old neighborhood who used to walk up and down the sidewalks backwards.  Sometimes she carried what appeared to be two gallon jugs of drinking water, one in each hand.  She was very thin, made all her own clothes, and had a very complex relationship with her health.  She was extremely concerned about air quality, for example, and yet was married to a man who smoked so much that not only his teeth but both of his hands were yellow from nicotine.  I hated seeing her, not because she was so odd, but because I recognized her as a fellow neurotic.  Even on days when I was feeling completely normal, catching a glimpse of her lurching down the sidewalk was like a magnet for all of my wacko health fears.  They would just come shrieking to the surface like little monstery kids who jump up and down and yell “BLAAHHH!” right in your face.

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