22 September 2015

Bridges, Boxers, and the Blues

Dateline: Sunday morning, home alone

“Two steps ahead of the county line...

...Everywhere I go, I get slandered, libeled,

I hear words I never heard in the Bi-ble.”

I straightened up and sang along, instinctively, belting it out the full lyrics, dancing in my seat.

“I barely learned the tune, so soon, so soon.

I remember Frank Lloyd Wright

All of the nights we’d harmonize til dawn...”

The mood shifted to languid, easy, and rolled across the fluid tones of the bossa nova flute melody.

I knew the words to every line of this one, too. Every single word.

I don’t think I’ve listened to Paul & Art for years. Maybe I’ve had a song or two pop up in a Pandora or Google Play station, as I do love my pseudo-retro-folk, but I can’t remember the last time I put on my “Simon and Garfunkel's Greatest Hits” CD. (Yes, I’m still mostly on CDs, people. Working on that digital thing.)

I see my teenaged knees, bare and pulled up to my chest. I held the album cover, its dulled corners showing love, front down. The back had lyrics written in a teeny tiny font. I’m aware of the simple “indoor-outdoor” carpet my parents put in my new room over the now finished garage. The pull and force of “The Boxer’s” quiet power must have spoken to me in my youthful angst.

“...til he cried out in his ang-er and his PAIN...”

There may have been a contrast to the sunny yellow paint I’d picked out for my trim. It wasn’t pink, decidedly. I was too old for even the sophisticated ballet pink of the childhood room I’d shared with my 7-years-younger sister. The stenciled tulips, poppy red and kelly green, though, belied the dark, tortuous self I wanted to be. Yeah. Not me - despite the occasional - ahem - deep poem I’ve since unearthed.

I poured over those lyrics. I listened to the album over and over, until I knew them all. The LP spun on my parent’s castoff stereo, complete with wood paneled receiver and massive speakers. When they had upgraded, I claimed the system faster than my pubescent tears could even flow.

The air. I can feel the air. I can sense the fluttering eyelet valances. The early fall afternoon light - not unlike the tinged filter we’ve been getting here the last few glorious days - settles over me.

The orchestra rises beneath the acoustic guitar, and “heeeeeeeeere Iiiiiiiiiii aaaaaaaaaaammmm...” Every. Single. Word.

I must’ve been 12, maybe 13. That makes it 30 years, give or take a muddled memory. Mind and memory are a wondrous thing. Every word. A sense of belonging I still carry with me from singing The Boxer in harmony with a middle and high school friend. I haven’t seen her since maybe graduation. Word has it that she’s now a Buddhist nun. The music brings me back to her and the closeness that we all crave, especially in those tender years.

Truth is, that closeness can still be elusive. We connect, and we reconnect. Sometimes, there are missed connections. Today, when I pressed play on the “Bridge Over Troubled Water” album, I reconnected with myself. I felt tied to family, and I touched old friends and sweet memories. I started to write today because I fell back in love with the idea of lyrics written on an album cover. I realized that my children might not get that, but as I typed, fully aware that what I really needed to do was pick up a pen and write longhand (but that’s another piece), the memories flowed, and the webs somehow wove themselves back together and into a lovely, sweetly tender image.

The balance has been particularly difficult to find lately. I’m teetering more than usual. That gentle pain that bubbled up through the vision and the music is somehow helping to rebalance me. We need those touches. I need those touches. The little pricks open up things dear to me and tie me down to what I know and believe. The feeling of The Boxer and my friend remind me of those I’ve chosen. Bridge Over Troubled Water, on the other hand, brings my parents’ relationship and our family of five back up. Played at their wedding, and now, decades after they understood they couldn’t be married any longer, it holds in it the hope and support that even separation can bring.

Support and strength come from places we often don’t expect, and sometimes don’t want to accept. Today, a worn LP and its cover, long-lost, brought the emotions I needed to recognize to the surface. They’re here, and I acknowledge them. I’m letting them flow out over that water, as corny as that metaphor might sound. I’m trusting my senses and my self, built and molded over nearly 42 years.

22 August 2015

Lighter than...



I feel lighter today. There’s a weight that’s lifted off my shoulders and my neck. I can turn my head more freely, to look around me and see my world. I can stand taller. I feel cleaner. I feel clearer.

The deadlines I write of still loom. In my business, they always do. The boxes still sit from our move, some unpacked, some not, some opened, but still full, sticking their proverbial noses out at me. We have a guest coming for three weeks, and nothing’s ready.

But I feel lighter.

On the surface, it’s my hair. I went to Jae today, and when she asked, “Just a trim?” per usual, I told her I was feeling a little antsy. “Do whatever you want,” I said. After...jeez...20 years? of cutting my hair, I trust her. She knows me.

She talked me out of my itch to put in a colored streak. Just a little one, tucked under, at the nape of my neck, where you really couldn’t see it. “But is it me pushing 42 and trying too hard to be young?” I asked her. She paused. A long time. Got it.

So I read a silly magazine, and we caught up. She worked her magic, quickly, efficiently. With each snip, I felt cleaner and lighter.

Cut, all Jae Woo at Franz Sebastian Salon, Bethesda. Color, all mine.

It’s a little shorter and a little edgier than my recent long cut. I’m a sucker for long hair. I love being able to put it up, and I love feeling it fall down my back. It’s glamorous, and I have a naturally covetable hair color. Truth be told, though? While it had been a bit too long since my last cut, I was particularly lazy on hair maintenance this time around. I’m a once-a-week washer, at best (thank the lord for dry shampoo). I can blow dry my hair well, but I don’t. Even if I could find my dryer in the boxes, I’m lazy, and only blow it out once in a while. So my hair loses...something.

“You look good!” No.2 said when he saw me afterwards. “But it’s too crazy and poofy.” They like what they like - and what they’re used to.

So do we. We like what we like. We like what we’re used to. We like our habits. But today, I took a total of an hour, including the drive and parking, as Jae’s the fastest stylist in town, and let someone alter a little thing (because let’s face it, she knows me, and the cut just isn’t that radical) lift me up and out.

I took care of myself today, and honored myself by maintaining my physical appearance. I let go of whatever had been hanging on in my lazy hair: that overwhelmed feeling that doesn’t let me feel like I can wash it, that reluctance to “bother” with something so trivial when I have so many other things to do, that focus on everything else.

Wash. Wash. Wash.

Snip. Snip. Snip.

Poof. Poof. Poof.

One hour. Lighter.

21 August 2015

Being on the Edge

Lately, I’ve been scared. I’ve been scared of the edges of a lot of things: new beginnings, old weights, things I can do, things I think I can’t do. I’ve even been scared of using things I know help me through the Scared, like writing and running and reaching out.

I have a couple of safe spaces with people - women, mostly - I trust implicitly. Even there, though, I’m hesitant. I’ll ‘fess up, look for sympathy, hear their support and advice. Then I blow past it, turning to unhealthy habits and hiding under physical and emotional covers, piling on the layers of protection.

And then, as it does (and has been trying to do recently - remember this?), the Universe started shouting at me again. While I haven’t even been able to bring myself to hide from my worries in books - my escape as long as I can remember - the reading I have been doing, on the Interwebs, poked at me again this morning.

Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings is one of my favorite places on the Interwebs. She has an incredible knack for finding the most apt observations - written and otherwise created - from recent and distant artists and writers. As a writer, that her pieces often speak to creativity and how our brains may or may not process and work speaks to me. Over my second cup of coffee, first at my DayJob desk, and procrastinating from starting a challenging day of “racking and stacking,” of “blocking and tackling” to get through the deadlines between me and next Wednesday, I read this.

I read it after this.

The sweet Scary Mommy piece left me wistful over my own 5 and a half year old. I’ve been lucky enough to spend the last few days with only him. His big sister is away at my mommy’s, so it’s just us. Yesterday, after an indulgent couple of hours at a mall chain restaurant and toy store, he crashed out, thrilled beyond belief that he could wear his new skeleton PJs, which he’s been wanting for ages. That they may not glow in the dark like he wanted might not be relevant. And I might be buying a new pair that does. But that’s for another indulgent day.

As I found him an hour after he went to bed in ours, completely relaxed and vulnerable, I marveled at his state of mind. I wished for his openness. I wished for that, as Libby Galin wrote in “20 Reasons 5 and a Half Rules," ”The willingness to wear a t-shirt with a jar of peanut butter wielding a butter knife fighting a jar of jelly brandishing a spoon, with no sense of irony at all.” (But number 6? The one about the joy of butt and farts? Got that one. Never lost it.)

I fell asleep early, but not as early as I’d have liked, worrying about the deadlines looming, and having wandered from cabinet to fridge to cabinet in my kitchen, looking for something just the right sweet-fat ratio to dull my worries. On edge, I walked away with an unsatisfying glass of cold water and went to bed.

So when I watched Bianca Giaever’s film this morning, smiling and nodding at the 6 year old view of a story that needed to be told, I got a little blindsided. I’d ignored the title, you see. “The Scared is scared” slipped by me, then crept back up after the bear and the mouse had to leave the pool after a not long enough visit because it closed.

“The Scared is scared of what you like.”

We adults wrap ourselves in layer after layer of worry and fear of the fear. I’m in that place right now. I know what works to help myself out of it, and yet I’m allowing myself to be in that space, oddly happy at the shield I’ve built, despite the frustration and shadow hovering. I know they’re there. I can feel them, and I can see the deep grey cloud at the edges of my world. I know what I like. I know my Scared is scared of it, and I know that’s why I won’t pick up a pen like I didn’t last night and write. If I did that, you see, I’d have to allow the frustration and shadow to creep past the edge. I’d have to allow them not in, but out of hiding, and acknowledge them.

5 and a half year olds and 6 year olds know how to do fear and edges. They may not have the words, but they know that they can cry and even scream to voice those emotions. They may not have the words to name those emotions, but they can acknowledge them. Especially if a grownup is there to listen, they can be in that space. It’s our job - my job, as a mother - to help them be there. As an adult, though, I have to be that for myself. I have to know that it’s not only ok to name and acknowledge the emotions, fear especially, but that it’s healthy to notice and observe where I am. I have to give the Scared a name and let it be there a bit.

That edge is a scary place. If I can name that place, then, and only then, will I, the grownup, be able to lift a pen or lace up my sneakers and let what I like chase the Scared away.

13 August 2015

On Partnership

It was the end of June 2006. I was newly minted in an increased professional role, and my boss handed me my first project to run. “I know you’re leaving to get married 3 days before it’s due to the Government, but I’ll finish it out. Oh, and the operational lead, just so you know, it’s H.”

It wasn’t the first time H and I had worked together, but it was the closest we’d ever collaborated. At the time, he was much more experienced in that work than I was, and he’s tough. Very tough.

“How can you work with your husband?”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten this question over the years. Part of it may be that H and I work in an industry where - at least the perception is - there are a lot of traditional households. Colleagues and friends of ours come from and continue in military families; one half of the couple, often the wife, stays home, manages the household, and runs the non-office life. While some families operate with a lovely balance, others describe their weekends as full of “honey-do” lists and say they’ve “gotta check with the boss.”

Working in the same industry, let alone the same company or office, would feel like an imposition or an invasion to folks who use their careers as an escape from family life.

That’s very different than the life and relationship H and I have. I am blessed to have a partner in life. Because of the way we’ve built our reality, with both of us working outside the home, we have to be in lock step. We have to support each other and balance our collective priorities.

That 2006 project saw us pull more all-nighters than was natural (as if they are, but in this business, they happen). There were tears (mine). There were frustrations (his). In the end, a week out from our planned time off for wedding prep, we set a deadline: We would leave the office no later than 9 o’clock a.m. the morning we were scheduled to take off.

We walked out of the doors at 8:45 a.m., with 15 minutes to spare. 3 hours later, I was doing the final wine tasting with my parents.

We didn’t win that work, but we worked well together, better together than apart. We always have. We travel well together, we plan well together, and we throw a mean party together. Take a look at our wedding. It was an 8 hour party that started with a religious service.

2006 (and 2007-2015) was a good year.

I’m not a relationship expert. Nor do I play one on TV. I do, however, cherish and value the primary relationship I’m in as a partnership. We’ve been together over 15 years. Those years have afforded us a rhythm and a cadence to navigating life. We depend on it. When it’s out of whack - as happens - we find a way to reconnect. Even if that re-connection is a conversation about work. Even if that re-connection is 20 minutes of chatter on our patio well after we should have gone to sleep. Even if that re-connection means we put on the TV for the Beans and let it distract them from us.

Life and family is an eternal project. Parts of it require strict management, and parts of it work best when we let them roll. We check in with each other, and we speak up if we need to adjust. We pick up for the other because there’s a heavier weight on one side, or just because.

This morning, I rolled out of bed and into the fresh morning air first. H and No.2 were still dozing in our bed. H is usually on first for morning Bean management (I take the afternoon “shift”) while I dash out the door to the office, waving goodbye to two small beings on our front stoop.

It was quiet and cool in our kitchen as I picked up breakfast and lunchbox duties that are usually H’s domain. I buzzed the coffee grinder and put the percolator on the burner. As it came to a bubble, I unloaded the dishwasher and put on a pan of bacon. No reason. Just ‘cause. Soon I welcomed a sleepy, mohawked 5 year old. I kissed him and ruffled his hair, old school. By the time H wandered down, the sandwiches were made and No.2 said the bacon smelled “so crispy.” H was mildly amused and pleasantly surprised that I’d taken over. I’m usually on a warpath to get out the door.

“I like it when you’re home,” he said, and pulled me in for a kiss.

29 July 2015

She's Got Legs, and She Used Them

It was a typical Wednesday morning. Running late, I ducked into the neighborhood Starbucks, and emerged with my regular quad grande skinny mocha and a spinach feta wrap.

Uh huh. Quad. I have a little caffeine issue.

But back to our story. I got back into the Honda I drove that day, set up my breakfast “table” so as not to drip spinach juice on my dress, and checked my mirrors, pulling out of the spot in the busy lot. I backed up, watching the Honda behind me, checked next to me, and stopped. A man waited to pass.

He motioned for me to pause. Thinking I had a car issue, I rolled down the window. I recognized him from inside the ‘bux (big sunglasses and a man-bun are remarkable in suburban Maryland), but I was still a teensy bit cautious.

“I just wanted to tell you that you have wonderful legs.”


Apparently it wasn’t a break light out.

Recovery. Smile. “Thank you,” I said. It took many fibers of my being not to dismiss it with a deflective statement. I thanked him deliberately and purposefully. “You made my morning. Thank you.”

“No, thank you,” he said.

“You’re welcome,” I retorted, as I pulled away and buzzed up my window again. Somehow, that simple nicety felt like a retort instead of a mannerful response.

I drove out of the shopping center parking lot a smidge thoughtful and mildly conflicted.

“Good thing I put on a dress this morning, or I wouldn’t have gotten that compliment.”

“Was I just cat-called?”

“If I was just cat-called, am I OK with it?”

“But I like my legs, their shape, and their strength. How could someone complimenting me on them be bad?”

“I have on small wedge heels today, and I still got a compliment on my legs. Didn’t even need the 5” heels to get it.”

“Did I want a compliment?”

“Interesting that I got the legs compliment on the day I wore a dress slightly shorter than I’d usually wear to the office. I wonder if I’d have gotten the compliment in a longer skirt.”

“Is it OK that I’m happy I got a compliment?”

Let me set the record straight. My hipster-in-the-burbs complimenter had zero creep factor. His words were respectful and straightforward. My gut is that he was doing nothing more than trying to share a little happiness at 8 in the morning.

So why was my brain going a mile a minute, dissecting the encounter?

Part of my mental state is certainly feminist rhetoric. Then again, I’m not one to spurn physical attributes or their application for concern over objectification. As I’ve written before, I’m happy and confident in my physical presence.

There is a difference between understanding the power of your own physical impression and being objectified. Pages and pages have been written about how much first (and ongoing) impressions matter, and how we need to be aware of the message we send with our appearance. When someone turns that appearance against us, particularly openly and purposely, however, is where we we push up against objectification and discrimination.

Whether my simple, practical choice led to an almost cat-call, I'm not sure.

From a strictly office fashion perspective, the dress I chose to throw on this morning was just that: a dress I threw on. We’re still unpacking, it’s a quiet day in the office, and it’ll be 102 degrees today. A straight, sleeveless shift dress that doesn’t cling to any part of my body is a purely practical move. I thought briefly about my hem length, but dismissed the temporary concern because of the dress’ demure cut and picked a lower heeled shoe.

Whether my dress choice opened me up to, shall we say, closer observation, I’ll never know. Any speculation about man-bun-man’s choice to say something to me is just that: speculation. I choose to accept the compliment as such. While it set my brain a-hummin’ with some pretty juicy considerations, I’ll take the smile it put on my face and the reminder of my physical strength as a source of power, and use it kick today’s virtual ass.