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Friday, December 31, 2010

Resolution time

someone gave me one of those 'Chicken Soup for the Soul' books for Christmas.... on a Christmas theme. i was a little low before i read it. now i'm seriously depressed. why did i read it at all? i know i don't like those books. i hate stories of people gushing about how a single random act of kindness changed their lives. and i have a really dysfunctional family, so stories of the perfect family christmas celebration don't do much for me either. i think i was hoping the book would cheer me up, but it had the opposite effect. maybe i'm just jealous of those writers and their family gatherings and longstanding traditions. am i too cynical to appreciate what they're trying to say?

but, much as i regret reading the thing, it has made me face my despondency. since i lost one of my dearest friends last spring, i've been in and out of depression. up and down like a roller coaster. it's not going away on its own, so i guess i'll have to do something about it. working harder hasn't helped. no surprise, but that's always been my first choice for dealing with problems. work harder. in fact, one of the first things my 'executive coach' said to me, in our first session was, "you work too hard. what are you hiding from?"

i replied, "well, life, obviously." but we all know hiding from life doesn't make it go away.

so, be it resolved that granny has some problems she needs to work through; 2011 shall be the year of excavation into the deep and dark realms of the soul. it might get ugly. there's some nasty stuff down there.

one of the deep dark issues is trust. i'm not good at it. and, frankly there are some sound reasons for that. but human beings are wired to trust. we can't have meaningful relationships without it. with anyone. by best relationship right now is with my dog. i love my dog, but he hasn't solved my loneliness.

for me, writing is therapy. writing about things helps me work through them. but there are big trust issues with letting anyone else read what i write. is it enough just to write it, or is sharing the information part of the therapy?

Resolution #1
make writing about emotional issues a priority. regularly, and in a disciplined way.

another issue is marital status. 8 years ago, on new year's day, my husband dumped me. it was never explained, and technically, we're still married. this needs to be cleared up. i need some understanding of what was going on in his mind, and why he did it. and i need a divorce.

Resolution #2
contact the ex. request an explanation. notify him that i want a divorce. begin divorce proceedings.

another issue - i don't seem able to rest, or allow myself leisure time. is this avoidance, or just habit? there are things i used to love doing, that i won't allow myself time to do now. even my music is always related to teaching or an upcoming gig. can i do it just for pleasure?

Resolution #3
remember how to rest, and to play. then do it.

....all very personal stuff, but i guess i'm a bit self absorbed right now.

on a lighter note, i have a christmas story for you.

i call it 'Ada's Christmas Apple'

Ada lived next door to me years ago. She was probably in her mid 90's when she told me this - a tiny bird of a woman with huge, strong hands, clear blue eyes and a thick shock of shining silver curls that seemed to have a life of their own, always in mild disarray.

we were standing outside in the yard chatting, as we often did. it was just a little before Christmas. i must have made some comment about gift giving. that was all the invitation Ada needed to start a rant on the blatant and thoughtless commercialism of the season. then she said, "i'll tell you a little story, about the one of the best Christmas gifts i ever had."

and she did. here's my paraphrase of Ada's story:

Ada was one of 10 children... the youngest, i believe. her father died when she was very small, leaving her mother to provide a home and basic necessities for those 10 children. she worked as a laundress, did sewing and mending, and had a small farm, where she raised some chickens and grew a huge garden.

now, Christmas was a big event for Ada's family. the small clapboard house was always fragrant with baking and pine boughs and secrets for many days before the final festive day. she didn't know how her mama did it, but there was always a special meal, and a gift for everyone, every christmas. the children would also team up to make gifts for each other from bits of wood or yarn or fabric, and everyone loved the giving as much as the receiving. on a prosperous year, there would even be raisins and sugar for baking. this particular year was not a prosperous year, but not one of those 10 children questioned whether there would be a gift from Mother in everyone's stocking on Christmas morning.

when she and her sisters woke that morning, in the big bed they all shared, their thoughts were united. with smiles and giggles, they joined the boys downstairs where everyone had hung a stocking the night before. the stockings weren't anything fancy. just the same nondescript woolen stockings Mother always knit for them all to wear through the winter. some were darned and patched, but all were clean and in good repair. and from the top of every child's stocking a bright new pair of mittens was peeking out. Ada's were the cheeriest red she could imagine. she pulled them out excitedly and put them on. the color alone was enough to keep her warm on the coldest day.

but, wait, there was something else! the toe of the stocking was still weighted down. as she reached her small hand down into the warm stocking she could see her brother, beside her, pulling something up from the toe of his stocking. her fingers closed around the smooth, firm, cool skin of an apple, just as she saw another just like it in her brother's hand. a whole fresh apple! all to herself! where had Mother got them from? none of them had seen a fresh apple in months. even the dried apples in the muslin sack in the pantry were nearly gone by now. a whole fresh red apple - and there was one for each of them! they didn't even have to share!

most of the apples were gone before breakfast even began, crunched up and practically inhaled immediately. a few of the kids saved their apples until after breakfast. one or two even saved theirs for later in the day. but not Ada. she put her apple carefully in the pocket of her apron and carried it with her all day. it was there when she put on her coat and lovely new mitts to bring in the kindling for the woodstove later that day. it was in her pocket as they ate their simple feast later in the day, and it was still in her apron pocket, bumping a gentle reminder against her leg, as she went upstairs to bed that night. she put it under her pillow and slept breathing its sweet scent.

the next morning, Ada's first thought as she opened her eyes was for her apple. she reached for it under her pillow, but it wasn't there! none of her sisters seemed to be awake. had one of them come across it in the night? had someone found and eaten her precious apple? surely no one would be so cruel? no, there it was..... just beyond her toe at the foot of the bed - a cool lump at her feet.

well, that wasn't the place to keep it. she'd have to think of something better for tonight. so, all day, as she did her chores, the apple, once again safely in her apron pocket, bumped companionably against her leg. but she worried about the best place to put it. if she just left it out somewhere in the house, someone would be sure to think she didn't want it. she couldn't put it outside. it would freeze in the sub-zero temperatures. if she put it in the barn, the chickens or another creature would find it, and they would certainly eat it. then, as she placed the kindling in the box near the stove, she spied the loose board behind the stove, on the wall between the kitchen and parlor. behind it was the place perfect for a lovely, juicy apple. not cold enough to freeze, but cool enough that the apple wouldn't spoil quickly.

so that was where Ada secreted her treasure away each night before she went up to bed with her sisters, carefully pulling the board away just enough to place her treasure gently between the studs of the wall. in the morning, as she did her chores, she would retrieve it, lovingly returning it to her apron pocket for the day, to ride along and bump a quiet reminder to her of her delicious secret. and now and then, when she had an opportunity, she went alone to the barn, where she climbed the ladder to the hayloft. she would find a comfy spot in the hay, all the better if there was a sunbeam to enjoy. she'd gently pull her shining red apple from her apron pocket - almost exactly the color of her beautiful new mittens! and she'd breathe deeply the succulent sweetness of it. she'd roll it on her cheeks, feeling the perfect, smooth coolness of it. she'd hold it in the sunbeam and admire it from all angles - top and bottom, all around its delicious firmness.

she did this for more than a week.

well, Ada was not very old then, but she was old enough to know that apples don't keep forever. so she was watching for signs that it was losing its freshness. she knew that spoiled apples are not at all good to eat, and she had every intention of eating this one. when she could see subtle indications that her apple would soon be past its best, she made yet another trip to the barn. she climbed the loft and found her favorite comfy spot in the hay, right where a bright sunbeam liked to be at that time of day. she looked her apple over very carefully, memorizing everything about it. she rolled it all over her face, loving the feel of it against her skin. she took many, many deep breaths, trying to store some of that sweet scent inside herself for the remainder of the long winter.

and she bit into that apple, with the biggest bite her small mouth could manage. she chewed slowly, savoring the juicy sweetness that filled her mouth, and the explosion of apple scent that escaped into the air. another bite, savored slowly, and another, and another, till there was only the core. and she ate that too, licking every finger carefully so no drop of flavor was lost.

for weeks after, every time she filled the kindling box, Ada smiled fondly at the loose board in the wall which had protected her treasure every night, and she missed the weight of it in her apron pocket.

but Ada never forgot the simple gift of a fresh apple on a farm in a northern alberta winter during the first decade of the 20th century. and she couldn't believe that any of the brightly wrapped gifts under any Christmas tree in 1990 could mean as much to any child as that apple had meant, and continued to mean to her.



Monday, December 6, 2010

ice fog

... tiny ice crystals suspended in the sub zero air. it looks like fog, but it's intensely cold, and the pale rising sun hasn't strength to burn it off.

i've been signed on for 'Executive Coaching'. it's a bit foggy too.... leadership training with a fancy name, really... and a fancy price tag to go with it. fortunately, the national office and my local board are paying for it, and the 'coach' contributes a sizable discount, in support of Habitat. i'm remembering some things about myself, being reminded of things about the society i live in. and i'm getting an uneasy feeling that 'corporate' leadership has some unsettling manipulative qualities about it. semantics become very important. if we are to persuade people to behave in the ways we want them to, we must never make them feel defensive. if we are to channel them in the directions we wish them to go, we cannot 'challenge' them, but must 'suggest' and .... coerce, really.

i was in a meeting earlier today with a 'facilitator' who used exactly that kind of language and behavior modification. and i thought, 'how politically correct her speech is. how cautious, how flavorless and insipid." i don't want to be like that.

but my board DOES need some leadership. we need to do some long range planning, and it's the Executive Director's job (good grief, that's me!) to initiate that and oversee it. so, ok.... i can spell moderation, but i'm still learning how to practice it. there are skills i need to learn. but i'm damned if i'll be some bland mealy mouth with secret motives.

mainstream lifestyle is not something i strive for. i cringe at the SUV's and monster houses, at the latest fashions in luxury lifestyles. i've never owned a new vehicle or had a manicure in my life. i'm not attracted to the artifice that seems to be a requirement for 'respectability'. not that new vehicles or manicures are a bad thing.... but they and their ilk have become the measures by which society judges its members. not that i don't appreciate craftsmanship and quality, but these things too are judged through the grimy lens of artifice, and seem to have value only if they carry a large dollar value, or are 'impressive'. some folk don't seem able even to recognize quality or value without an attending price sticker.

my challenge (oops, not supposed to use that word) is to be respected and listened to in a society whose values, for the most part, i reject. i'm expected to bring about change in this society, for the benefit of an organization i passionately believe is making the world a better place. how do i do that without prostituting myself, and with integrity and kindness?