We’ve got a leaf problem.

[I came across this December 20, 2012 draft post when I decided to resume my blog after many years.  It fluttered into my lap like a leaf, more relevant today than when I wrote it.]

Have you ever realized that feeling of a calm before the storm in your life?  You wake up feeling not quite right, unsure why.

Positive Disintegration.  It’s a good thing?  A falling-to-pieces.

Sometimes life feels that way.  As if you’ve built something with legos, but in the making of it you’ve figured out how it could be better, and you need to tear it apart to make it so.  In life, in the moment, the breaking apart doesn’t feel like part of the rebuilding.  It storms.

As Hurricane Sandy gained strength this past Fall, up to the minute reports included concerns over fallen leaves, leaves that would be swept up in the floods, acting as barriers to drainage so badly needed in the storm.  I realized that many of us have our own leaves.   Leaves that fall on the inside as the seasons of our lives change from time to time.  If you haven’t raked them up, watched them carted off; if you’ve left them, the leaves that have been falling a few at a time over days and years amp up the impact of your storm.

This year past, 2012, was a year of looking at leaves; of carefully raking around tender grass and plants, and watching the ground clear at my feet.  It stormed, and there were leaf problems.  We can’t ever get every leaf, can we?  But I can see the ground now, and I’m happy to report that when it storms in 2013, as we can expect each year that it will, my leaf problem will be greatly diminished.

Word Association

JusticeSome words are so powerful.  If I had to pick one word that unexpectedly over-performed in 2012, I’d choose “injustice”.  It’s not because I had a need to use the word.  It’s because the thoughts I associate with this word changed for me in 2012.  The word itself now reminds me of what has become my favorite 2012 TED Talk:  Bryan Stevenson’s “We need to talk about an injustice.

Bryan’s words engaged me from the beginning, and brought me to a greater awareness of  the growing, damaging, and ineffective culture of incarceration, and of the disproportionate impact on individuals in impoverished and disadvantaged communities, and those with mental disabilities.  My heart breaks at the thought of an inequality of justice for some children because of what they were born into, where they live, or what they look like.  Justice, above all, should be blind to those things.  If you haven’t seen Bryan’s TED Talk, spend the 20 minutes watching it and see if it changes your word association, too.

There’s a fighter in here somewhere

Boxer

Several years ago, I took up kickboxing lessons at LA Boxing. I loved it from the first workout.  Stretched for time on the personal and work front, I eventually gave it up, but never forgot the feelings I had about it.  Kickboxing is a workout that works every part of you, and feels empowering on a deeper, more primitive level than other workouts.

I hoped to return to kickboxing one day, and “one day” came today.  The thought of getting back after so long scared me, and I had put my fear in front of me for over a month.  But today I put my courage in the front seat with me, and finally went to my first kickboxing class at my YMCA.  The class differed from the LA Boxing experience (no heavy bags in sight, no taping up and getting on the boxing gloves), but I loved it, and it got me in touch with my inner fighter.

A little while later, I found myself face to face with a slice of ham at a deli counter.  “Would you like to try it?” the woman said.  I took it politely, then devoured it like a caveman.  The primitive side of me had definitely found its way out and was roaming about.  I guess that’s the measure of a really good workout!

Lessons from My Christmas Cards

iStock_000018432315XSmall_Xmas TreeI can remember making an all-night affair of it: Boxes of Christmas cards laid out before me, carols playing, lights twinkling, metallic pens ready to write a few meaningful lines.  My words renewed relationships and ushered friends and family into the next year with warmth and good cheer.

Fast forward to early years of marriage and parenthood, and my cards carried pictures of the happy couple, babies and growing children in holiday outfits, and family portraits.  I liked writing and sending the cards, although it became harder to share meaningful pieces of myself through words.  There just wasn’t enough time, I suppose I just didn’t make the time, and got lost in the logistics and mechanics of it all.

One year I made cards – I took a wonderful class with a friend, and loved the experience.  That year, though, the mechanics involved drying my stamped cards separately without smudging them, and employing defensive postures against the cat and the toddlers who were equal parts curious about and oblivious to my efforts.  I felt some pride and accomplishment after wiping the sweat from my brow, but I’m sure the recipients would have been just as pleased with Hallmark’s work.

This year, I find myself somewhere in between the two experiences.  The card-writing was quick and simple, but not rushed or lackluster.  The pictures are not our best, and I wrote nothing flowery inside.  I think my enjoyment in the moment came from truly wanting each card to go.  Most who will receive them have already received a holiday visit or gift in the mail, or a phone call.  They would not miss the card – or miss me, forget me – if I did not send it.  My experience this year taught me some things.

1.) I feel best about writing cards to people when I’ve really kept in touch and engaged with them throughout the year.  I spent more time doing that in 2012 than in some previous years, and that’s what made this year feel good.

2.) I’m pretty sure no one cares or will even notice that I’ve used a ball point pen instead of a metallic one.  If anyone does, it will be people who haven’t heard from me since last Christmas.  Wait – I didn’t send cards then, so nevermind.

3.) You may be tempted to include your child’s school picture in your cards instead of a holiday picture.  Do yourself a favor: Don’t order a multitude of wallet-sized photos for this purpose until you’ve seen the proofs.  Further, if you did order a boatload of photos and they’re not the best pictures, the people who are really your friends and loving family either won’t care or will laugh with you.

4.) Taking the time to write “Merry Christmas and a wonderful new year!” in a card that already says, “Merry Christmas & Happy New Year” is probably a waste of my writing time, and a waste of the recipient’s reading time.

5.) When St. Jude sends you really cute return-address labels that are perfect for your holiday cards, you should probably just write them a check right then and there.  Don’t rationalize not writing it because you’ve given a dollar at every cash register and restaurant you’ve eaten in for the past year.  That may be true, but you will feel guilty when you’re using the labels, and you’ll have to interrupt yourself to donate…or maybe it’s just me.  Do what you can live with.

6.) I’m a sucker for Christmas trees and gold on holiday cards.  As a matter of fact, the year I made my own cards?  That’s right – gold trees.

7.) I like Caspari Christmas Cards.  I can spend a lot of time looking at other cards, but the ones I like best are Caspari.  Recently, though, I came across cards made by Giizhik Klawiter, a 10-year-old boy with autism, and his brother Mino.  They sell the cards to benefit autism research at University of Wisconsin.  No, I have no ties to Wisconsin.  Still, I’m drawn to the snowmen Giizhik draws and to the wonderful cause, so this may be a Christmas card turning point for me.

I wish I’d kept one of every card I’ve ever sent.  I’m pretty sure there’s some sort of psychological study to be had there.  On the flip side, if I’d kept one of every card, I would probably be a hoarder, and you’d never be able to find those cards.  Because let’s face it – I’m not one of those nice, neat scrapbook types.  Ah, if only!  Something to strive for in 2013.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a Wonderful New Year to All!

“Upload Your Photo” a/k/a “What’s Your Icon?”

My About Me picture, a photo with painting effects.

The more virtual connections we have, the more we’re faced with this ask: “Upload your photo.”  This used to be complication-free.  One professional photo worked for career-related material, and then some generally recent smiling photo did the trick for general purposes.  Great, done.

Lately, though, I’ve caught myself Photoshopping my images.  [Insert collective gasp here!]  I’m not talking about turning a mousey mug into a glamour shot, or tuning the details of a picture, maybe cropping things in or out.  I’m talking about adding art effects to my pictures. [Insert collective disappointed grumble here.]

The “Upload your photo” directive gives you an opportunity to put your “best” self out there for the virtual world.  And who is that, exactly?  Is your best quirky, iconic, happy, or dramatically goth?  There are so many choices, and the choices say something in themselves.  You can show yourself or a symbol.  You can abdicate decision-making, letting your computer select a generic abstract block or an anonymous silhouette for you.  And you can use one icon for the world, or different pictures for different sites.  It’s not a new question.  I expect that, way back when, a caveman poised before a wall wondering how he would depict himself in his story of the hunt.

Artist Xu Bing published a book this year written entirely in what attempts to be a universal language of icons.  He represents himself very simply, with a drawn pair of eyeglasses.  Can you find an icon or picture that represents you uniquely?  And is your life transparent and integrated, leaving you willing to use one picture for all you do, show your one face to everyone in the world?

Picture taken using Photobooth effects.

I began thinking through this when I realized that I could be hiding behind artistic effects.  And in some ways, that is true.  After thinking it through, I can say that I also love a good Photoshop effect.  I can’t help myself.  So I’m okay with leaving my Photoshop’d pictures out there.

My six-year old son also loves creating effects with programs, but he’s far more creative than I.  For example, he can reduce an image of himself to an ear on top of shoulders.  Or create an eerie menaced cyclops.  I can’t wait to watch his icons over the years, to see what he sees in himself and to see what he shares with the world!

Out on the Balcony

I’m happy to be writing this from my balcony today.  Come with me and sit awhile. Let’s be here together.

Look out at the sky, and see soft, white crepe clouds spread across a clear blue sky.  The tops of the trees turn red and brown as they meet the skyline, lower leaves still green drape toward a ground sprinkled with the first of our fallen autumn leaves, strewn under dappled sunlight and shadow.

Close your eyes with me, and hear the sounds of this beautiful day.  A soft breeze rustles the leaves of the trees, more soundful at the top where the leaves have begun to dry.  A nearby soccer game hails from a field close by, shouts of play and encouragement, the voices of parents and children watching and rooting fill the air.

The clear earthy smells of the season roll in on a breeze, and so does a floral smell that is not part of Fall; could it be a neighbor’s dryer venting outside?  I like the smell, it’s not chemical or heavy, but warms me.  You?  My nose is chilly, but the rest of me is warm, and it’s beautiful out here.  I think we should stay a bit longer.

Economy of Words

I feel a poem coming on, and it’s not going to be pretty.  I say that for three reasons:

1.) Empirical Evidence:  I have proof of how much I have forgotten about poetry.  A few years ago, a college professor forwarded on some of my materials from two decades earlier.  I remembered most of them, but I will say that one of them – well…I didn’t even understand the title!  I had to read through it for awhile before even believing it was mine.  But it was mine, and it was a glorious analysis of a writing convention used in poetry.  And that’s how much I’ve forgotten about poetry.

2.) Audience Preference:  Most of my friends (and therefore, most of you, my blog readers), do not like poetry.  They profess somewhere along the spectrum of a general dislike to a visceral hate.  In fact, the only person I know who admits to liking poetry is my mom.  And speaking of, “admits”…that brings me to my third point.

3.) Misunderstood Essence: Poetry gets a bum rap.  Given the enormous variance between styles and types of poetry, declaring a dislike of poetry is like saying you dislike music.  Dislike a type, but for heaven’s sake, don’t discount the whole!  I love the economy of words needed to produce so much emotion in many poems.  Surely, in our time-crunched lives we place value on an economy of words?   Isn’t that why tweets are all the rage?  Isn’t a tweet just a Haiku or two without the syllabic requirements?

So I really do feel a poem coming on, but I will make it a Haiku for all of you who have yet to come to terms with your inner poet, and who value an economy of words.

Stay in the moment

Leave past and delay future

Peace is here and now

Ta Da!  And feel free to tweet it – it’s only 66 characters.

The truth will set you free…right after it scares you.

Writing that first post felt empowering.  I tucked my shirt in for a third day in a row, and feeling quite pleased, went about my day.  I enjoyed the sight of myself in glass doors.  I wrapped the afternoon up with a visit to the grocery store, where I filled my bags with a healthier-than-usual selection of fruits and vegetables.  After checking out, I moved to a Redbox kiosk for a DVD and the unexpected stark realization that I’d shared my vulnerability with the world.  The inner dialog went something like this.

Image

Oh my God, Oh My God, Oh My GOD!…What was I thinking?!…My name is on that blog!…I sent links to my friends, I actually told people about it!…I’ll just go home and take it right off, is what I’ll do.

I closed my eyes, amazed that this blog had seemed like such a good idea.  The recollection of Brené Brown’s TED Talk, “Listening to Shame,” interrupted my thoughts.  I heard her words about the after-shock of sharing her vulnerability: “I had a slide that said, ‘Breakdown’; at what point did I think that was a good idea?”   But I’m no Brené, and I’m not inspiring four million people.  I took a breath and paused before hightailing it out of there to go erase every trace.

That would have been the end of The TuckShirt Chronicles had it occurred at any other time or in any other place.  But as I stood there with my conviction to end this mistake in one hand, I felt a bag of groceries in the other hand, packed with more peace and good sense than I had seen in some time.  And so we bravely live to tuck another day.

And it all began…


I’ve no idea when it happened, but at some point I seem to have stopped tucking my shirt in.  It may have been a particularly busy week without time for throwing on a matching belt.  Perhaps I found a few shirts too short to tuck in, or maybe I felt some freedom in throwing on a big shirt. More likely I’d eaten just enough to make it more attractive to wear the shirt out than in.  In any event, it happened.

Last week, along with a number of other brave souls who’ve put our hearts in the capable hands of Andrea Scher, I committed to 30 days of courageous actions.  To my surprise, one day I realized that tucking in my shirt would be courageous.  Yes, really.

While I’m not sure how it began, I can say with certainty that I did in fact forget what I looked like with a waist.  Yes, it does matter.  I grew up with an hourglass figure.  I envied my friends who were straight and slim, born to wear Levis and off-the-shelf shifts.    But I recognized myself as hourglass.  So at some point, as my shirts became bigger and my waist less important, I recognized myself less.

Two days ago, I looked at myself in the mirror, a black leather belt just above my hips, a white shirt tucked into light denim jeans, a pair of black patent flats with big silver buckles.  I stood looking…at myself.  At my courageous self.

The figure before me did not hint at an hourglass within, but I could see myself owning it again.  Without a big untucked shirt, it will have nowhere to hide.

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