Signs of the master's work

Flecks of light; flashes of white paper behind the ink. A pouring of sun, achieved by the absence of ink. Knowing when to stop. Those are the signs of the master's work.
(From NPR's story about the Rembrandt exhibit currently at the Getty. You can go to the story to see examples of the difference between stopping and not stopping.)

Those are always the signs. Do you know why in certain schools the kindergarten teachers give their students large pencils that have no erasers? Large pencil because that size is easier to manipulate and practice with in the proper hand position ... lack of eraser because budding writers will not write a whole row of A's if there is an eraser handy. Instead, the child will scrub a hole in his paper, in a vain attempt to make every A completely perfect.

It's the indicator of the artist everywhere - the master in any craft knows when to stop. When enough is enough. Every novice is learning which parts are the essential parts and which are optional. As C. S. Lewis's Screwtape says, "It is always the novice who exaggerates. The man who has risen in society is overrefined; the young scholar is pedantic." Children fuss over the details of things when they love them very much, and teens can be thrown into paroxysms of grief if a pimple is discovered because young humans are practicing being adult humans, and they are still in the novice stage. But what does a master adult look like?

That question is what I am going to design a research project to answer. This may become my senior project. For now it will be the prospectus I design as my project for HS400: Qualitative Inquiry. Between a series we saw on PBS called This Emotional Life, Gretchen Rubin's new book chronicling her Happiness Project, and the StrengthsFinder I found while writing a paper for another course, I know there is plenty of recent research on the topic of emotional resilience.

Grownups are the people who are supposed to know that the world has not ended when the balloon gets loose and gets lost in the clouds ... but they are also supposed to understand the grief of the child. Grownups are supposed to know which parts of life are worth lamenting and when to stop picking and fussing and wanting things to be different. It's not that happiness denies reality. Rather, happiness - maturity - being a master at being a human - includes enough reality to admit to both grief and joy. It's not one or the other. That glass? Both half full and half empty. And that is why Abraham Lincoln said that
Most folks are about as happy
as they make up their minds to be.
And Tennyson said,
The happiness of a man in this life
does not consist in the absence
but in the mastery
of his passions.
If your life is big enough, you can see far enough to know that here in your hand is joy enough for your peace. That's what I think. That's what I'll write about next. And thank goodness there's a due date! Without it, I'd scrub any number of holes in my paper.


What makes The Great Husband great

I guess every couple has a thing like this - some essential element that is present in both people, and is also part of the "we" that is neither person but is the two of them as a unit. Ours is sensitivities. Sounds namby-pamby when I put it like that, but it's true. We resonate to literature and art and music as if it plays on strings strung somewhere deep within us. He doesn't cry as much as I do (poor man), but we both feel it.

That's why we take stacks of movies with us when we go out of town on vacation. Sometimes we watch movies we've already seen (The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Trois Couleurs (all three of them, but Red is my favorite), some things we don't cry over - like The Prisoner (slightly disorienting, but not a tear-jerker), or The Avengers (ditto, plus funny), or To the Manor Born (plain funny)... and we rent other stuff we haven't seen yet, and we watch these movies. And I cry. Sometimes we cry. It's beauty that does it to us. Beauty and love. Courage. Sacrifice. The good stuff.

And sometimes, sometimes we find passages in books that do it to us too. Right now I am taking a Modern Lit course - and one such passage has just appeared. In Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, the young clerk Septimus has been swallowed up by London, just as "London had swallowed up many millions of young men called Smith; thought nothing of fantastic Christian names like Septimus with which their parents have thought to distinguish them."

He makes his way for awhile, Septimus does ... reads incessantly - determined to educate himself on the classics - and then he enlists. He goes to France. He comes home shattered, like many men did from the first European War, which "smashed a plaster cast of Ceres, ploughed a hole in the geranium beds, and utterly ruined the cook's nerves at Mr. Brewer's establishment at Muswell Hill." He comes home from a war that has changed him irretrievably. But he had to go. You see ...
Septimus was one of the first to volunteer. He went to France to save an England which consisted almost entirely of Shakespeare's plays and Miss Isabel Pole in a green dress walking in a square.
He went to France, in other words, for the sake of England's soul - and for it, he paid with his own. What makes The Great Husband great is that this exquisite sentence awed him too - and he knows why I cry.


Happiest picture in the world

Matthew McDermott took this picture.
TRIUMPHANT: Kiki Joachin, beaming as he's pulled from rubble Tuesday


Three Years and Counting

Hard to believe!

This next week - on Tuesday - it will be three years since I started "blogging." I still think the word blogging sounds like something a person with food poisoning does, but then ... that fits. Word poisoning is what it was. Too many words inside - had to get them out - they were festering in there, making me a bit ill. And so I blog.

That flower "cake" is from a place called Arena Flowers. Isn't it pretty? (You can click on it to see their florist site.)

I started blogging because I wanted a place for my words to be "out there" and available for criticism. I wanted to be able to really see my words again. It was like inviting company for dinner - all of a sudden you realize where the places are in your house that you haven't been cleaning. That was the first reason.

The second reason was a faint hope that maybe the people who kept insisting that writing about a thing had some power to make it happen might be onto something. Voice your dreams, they said. Say what you want, they said. ("Ye have not because ye ask not," He said.) And so I blogged. I wanted my sub job at the library back again. I wanted to go to school. And so I blogged. I said it. I wrote it. And poof! It happened. That was the second reason.

The third reason was so that there might be some non-threatening, challenge-free, openly giving way to communicate with people who might have known me when and wondered what happened since then and where I am now. This too has happened, but not as expected. In three years it has become obvious that an open offer of friendship and community is received openly by open people ... but those who perceive threats, challenges, and trickery in openness aren't actually helped by its offer. (dang. shoulda seen than coming) People I knew back in the olden days have found me, though. (You know who you are. I love you.) And I've found people I knew, too. And my brilliantly creative cousin started a blog of her own. And moms I knew in our homeschooling days stop by, and I stop in at their houses too, by way of their blogs, and while there I have met other moms who blog and now have several growing families I am enjoying. So, all in all, this third reason has been fulfilled. It's a kind of community here, and I like it.

I'm glad you're here, whoever you are. Thanks for reading my words. I appreciate it.


Isn't it interesting

...that the words we use can morph and re-frame and change the "nature of the debate," to use an over-utilized buzz-phrase du jour (straight out of the box, off the rack, and mass produced). We need to start replacing our native phrase "conservative Christian" with the phrase "Christian extremists." This sort of thing is so hateful and so very, very wrong-headed - and this is not an issue of liberal and conservative. This is an issue of extremism and it is the agenda of every extremist who has ever tried to assert that the rest of humanity must submit and obey, regardless of the religion or ethnicity of the extremist at the time. I am a Christian. I have classical Christian values governing my life. I accept the sacramental view of Holy Communion, I obey the Church's "marriage laws" which govern my own sexuality, and by that same Christianity I am thereby obligated to love the people Jesus died for.

I am a white woman, and not a white supremacist. I am heterosexual and have homosexual friends and relatives (and wish that such a distinction between people never came up in conversation - or, at least, not any more frequently than other personal matters). I homeschooled my kids, but not because I wanted to keep them safe from the big, bad world. I homeschooled because I wanted my kids ready to take their places in this world of ours. Christians are not supposed to be conducting a culture war at all! Jesus, in case you are not a Christian and do not know this, wasn't the least bit metaphorical on this matter. He said it outright. "My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom was of this world, then would my servants fight." We're not supposed to fight. We're suppose to love. To serve, like the Son of Man himself came to do. We are supposed to be disappearing like salt and leaven, quietly doing good work to the best of their abilities and in our own situations, praying and worshiping, loving and loving and loving. And Christian extremists are hideous parodies of Christianity, in their teaching if not in their personal lives. I apologize to the world on their behalf.

A three-by and a plea

We have a lot of "by" things here. When the guys are working on the house, barn or garage, they talk about whether or not a "two by" will work. That means a "2 by 4" - a long plank of wood, cataloged as 2" deep and 4" wide, probably 8, maybe 12 feet long. But these long, milled planks are not actually 2 inches or four inches - the milling takes off some of the wood and changes the measurement - unless it's one of ours, milled by Uncle Dan - but I can't remember if that makes the result closer to its name or further away, larger or smaller. (See how confusing my life is?)

One of the guys has a fascination with the "military six by six" - a vehicle with a lot of tires rolling under it. Six of them, somehow - but it can't be six of tires six times because there are not 36 tires under the vehicles. I have seen one. But while I was looking at it, someone's voice started going on about something having to do with the drive "train" (there's no train anywhere to be seen) and axles and things. I don't have good recall of the incident.

Today I have a "three by" -- three by two, I'd say. Three kids, two happy things each.

My baby, the Young Giant with the tattoos and guitar and developing career (one of the bands he is in is playing at Jimmy Mak's next week - yay!), has finally moved to a decent apartment, and he's rooming with his best friend. This move was accomplished in the middle of a lot of financial chaos (beginning of the quarter, needing the student money as well as the job's paychecks, and both of them to slide into the accounts in time for rent payment), but he still got 100 points on his music theory quiz, which was the writing of counterpoint. (All of that might be a six by six - but I'm counting the apartment and the good quiz as the two things.)

His brother, the Young Giant who cut off his beard over the Christmas holiday and looks a lot less like a Yedi now, has a new Trader Joe's opening near him in Olympia (that's one thing), and so now he can shop at Trader Joe's and "the co-op" for food. He told his mother about it - that's the second thing. His mother likes to be told things.

And their sister, the soldier, is moving on out of the crowded Kandahar base, to a much smaller one. Fewer people will be a huge relief to her. She's not a fan of playing sardines. I got a message (not directly from her) saying that she'll be on a base run by the Brits - which is also good news. I hope she'll have web access there - and an address that stays put for long enough for us to send her things. But the better news is that we're at the halfway mark. From here on out, there's less time left in this deployment than has already been served.

I can be very deeply grateful for a lot of things today. The earthquake in Haiti has thrown a sharp and dusty light on a lot of things. In the olden days, we rich and rapacious "first world" folk might have read about this in the papers - today we see it on television, hear it on the radio (through our computers if we want to), and like never before in human history the entire globe has responded. The deeper the anguish, the more the heroes shine. In this disaster, all creeds, nations, peoples, and tongues have gathered to bring relief. Humans are amazing. Give if you can. Give what you can. And pray for the Haitians and the relief workers.

Heal the anguish of the world. Have mercy upon all the faithful departed. Amen.


Perfect PBS Timing

So ... I'm sitting here at my desk, listening to OPB online, and I hear about the upcoming fund drive ... and I realize that they're calling for volunteers during the time when we'll be gone on our vacation. Nice! We give to OPB. We love OPB. But we loathe and abhor the programming schitzoid festival of whatonearth!? that passes for the broadcasting schedule during fund drives. So ... they can do all that while we're gone, and we won't be irritated one little bit. Nice!


As in Lit, so in life

Meaning isn't a given, it is a process.
It involves an interaction between the reader, text, author, culture, history, etc. There is great agency given to us in this demand for interpretation.

This is in my notes for my modern literature course. My instructor said this, summing up the course work for the week. The above are three sentences that I just might put in the front of my volume of ELW work when I'm done with this degree. And as in Lit, so in life.

I'm a sphere. You're a sphere. We exist in an ecosystem of souls - spheres, with gravitational pull and polarities. From within our spheres, we see out. From outside your sphere, I see you, through all the layers of my own sphere, deep inside the layers of yours.

Inside your sphere, you have the responsibility to keep the fluid clear and clean and healthful; if you don't do this - if you don't confess your foibles and own your successes and take your place in the ecosystem - your fluid becomes murky. Toxic. Deadly. If this goes on long enough or badly enough, you become toxic to everything around you. Your walls will not contain that sort of thing - it becomes a polluting oil slick.

Outside your sphere, you move through life's seasons and situations, gathering up the stuff you move through while your veneer rubs off. What you're made of will show through eventually, if you live long enough. In the end, you will not have your sphere's walls. I will not have mine.

And in the meantime? In the meantime, we make our view of the world more and more clear ... or less so. We look out from inside of ourselves, and we, the readers in life, interact with text and context, culture and history, experience and memory, understanding and will.

Meaning is a process. Selfhood takes time. And although it is true that a person can only choose from among the present options (it's just not possible to choose to make the killer leave you alone if you live in Darfour, nor find food for your children in Sierra Leone), it is true that among your real world options, if you live in a place that has access to this blog, you can choose clarity in your sphere. You have to choose it over and over. We have to choose our process every day. All the time. There is great agency given to us. Humans choose.


Modern Tragedy

In the past few months I have been in contact with several members of a club that until recently I did not know even existed. These people are not identified by a secret handshake, a tattoo, or a uniform. Membership seems to be tied only slightly to heredity, and the people in this club are made, not born. It takes years and years for full membership to become evident because nearly nothing differentiates these people from their happy neighbors.

I think the name of the club is Bitterness.

These are the men and women who have been blessed beyond measure, and yet are not happy. They have families (until they drive them away by correcting, pontificating, prescribing and pick-pick-picking). They have houses and cars and jobs and food enough and to spare. They live in nice neighborhoods, and it bothers them if the front of the house doesn't look like it belongs there. Most are married - but I have met a few single members of the club. I do not think I have encountered a member who did not have health insurance - the good kind - the kind that actually pays for medical care.

(I haven't read that book, but the cover is perfect.)

See, the only qualifying attribute for the members of this club is that they do not want what they have. They always do have. They have stuff, and they are surrounded by people who love them, and they have many ways in which they could be useful and helpful in the world. They are not bitter because they do not have (that's a different club).

I'm not sure when the single members get their first invitation to the club, but the married members seem to be invited sometime in their thirties. The first flush of youth is past, full adulthood is supposed to be achieved, and children have probably entered the picture. I know that's when my first invitation arrived. It comes folded into the swaddling blankets of a newborn, and it wafts through the house and blooms like an algae when the conditions are right.

Who is this kid? Were you like that?
No, but I didn't get the chance to be.
Well, I didn't even want to be! This child is driving me nuts.
Nothing we do works. We've tried everything.
(That's a tell, by the way. When you assert that you have "tried everything," you sound just as silly as if you said, "I never do that," or "I always know." If you hear yourself saying, "I've tried everything," you're ripe for some new information. I recommend taking it.)

It's the individuality of the spouse, or the child, or perhaps even the long-time "best friend" that sends us the invitation. People do this to us. They frustrate our longings, and disappoint our expectations, and teach us that we are not as powerful as we want to be. Mothers freak out ... and remake the beds their children made, schedule more activities, get the difficult child some counseling, hound and pick and fuss the household dad into distraction or anger, forbid certain clothing or reading material, put the kids on stage - or keep them in the house. Father freak out and find messes instead of happiness when they come home from work, complain about the unfairness of it all, or wonder why no one is loyal or why all their hard and clever work is so underappreciated. Men and women with homes and jobs and families and health and stuff and opportunity descend into despondency - and try to claw their way out by being powerful with those who are closest. It is as if the spores of the Bitterness Club bloom. The people breathe in the toxins.

And the would-be members develop lung spots because when they breathe out again they retain the one requirement for the club. First, foremost, always, and ever, the members of the club are Never Wrong. If you have met someone who never says, "I could be wrong," or more tellingly, "I was utterly in the wrong. Completely. I'm so sorry" ... if you've met a person who does not know how to talk like that, you have met a member of the club.

Recently, I have watched several people, men and women both, declare their membership in the club. I have wondered why. I've been thinking.

I think it might be because there is a great temptation for the self-made man and the socially successful woman believe their own shtick. They have begun to believe they are living in "god mode." If over time, a person starts to believe that the reason he got what he got was his personal ingenuity, cleverness and fortitude, and not at all any other people's work, forbearance, or provision, then he has outwitted the fates and tricked his fellow humans into going along with the plan. Who can outwit the fates? Gods can. And gods have no intimacy with mere humans. Gods are very lonely beings. It must be tough to be a myth; but for the Bitterness Club, it seems that it is even tougher to be just one of the humans.

How I know it's time

1. When the phone rings, I flinch. Recoil. Feel slightly panicky. There is nearly no one I have the energy to talk to, but I am still waiting to hear from my soldier.

2. When the clock says it's time to wake up, my body resists every effort of movement even though I'm not sleepy and slept just fine.

3. The outdoor thermometer has been stubbornly, persistently, implacably stuck for weeks. I may never see 40 degrees again, and I know I'm not encased in ice and snow, but I'm not at sprouting temperature either. Not frozen. Just chilled.

4. Absolutely no project, with the occasional exception of academic work for the quarter, looks even remotely interesting.

5. We got a really, really good deal on our favorite hotel - for a whole week away.

And that is how I know it's time to plan for our winter's vacation at the beach. In less than a month from now. Salt air, and ocean light, and the sounds of gulls and other shore birds ... a record crab harvest this year, and I intend to eat my fill ... a large soaking tub and a stack of foreign films and some fruit and stinky cheese ... no web access, no ringing phone, no course work for the week ... the Great Husband all to myself for a whole week.

Man, oh man, is it ever time.


My mothers, aunts, sisters, and friends

One of my favorite authors is Elizabeth Goudge (1900-1984). She wrote in England, about England, and from her own place in the midst of things, the daughter of a professorial clergyman type of man and his golden, lively, "shockingly modern" wife - who decided to marry him rather than pursue her own dream of being a doctor.

I'm reading Goudge's autobiography, The Joy of the Snow, and once again marveling at myself. I've tried to read this book before. Couldn't get into it. Couldn't relate to it. It meant nothing to me. And now, suddenly I see (my personal theme song), and once again the latter half of my life seems interesting and exciting and expansive and anything but boring or settled. I'm bigger inside than I used to be - more of the world fits in there now. (Who knew!)

Little by little, I'm getting to know the women who helped form my mind and heart and vision. The currently fashionable Jane Austen ... the ever-engaging Madeleine L'Engle, whose "Time Quintet" of books will, I'm sure, mean as much to young people for generations and generations as they meant to me ... and Elizabeth Goudge. Anglican women, all. That's one surprising thing to discover. My Anglican brain and heart began to form about forty years ago because these women wrote books in 1815, 1940, and 1960.

Later, I met Dorothy Sayers as well. Austen, Goudge, and L'Engle feel like mothers - or trusted and admired, especially beloved aunties - Sayers is the wildly intelligent and fiercely perceptive neighbor lady I can sometimes dare to visit. I love her, but she is a little scary. Women. Anglicans. Authors. Educated. Odd. Funny. Intense. Conscious. Determined. Understanding. Women. There are others, of course. Not all the influences on my life have been female (there's C. S. Lewis, after all), English (because my life would have been much poorer if I had not met modern Americans like Pat Conroy, Clyde Edgerton, and Beverly Cleary), or even authors - singers, playwrights, painters, and the friends who've been brave enough to love me ... lots of people made me who I am. But these three women - Jane, Elizabeth, and Madeleine - have left their ink and fingerprints on my soul.

That is why I am very happy - chuckling about it happy - to have read this.
I have never tried to do carpentry but am sure the process is much the same. The love of the wood, the feel of it in the hands, the glow in the mind and then the slow labour of craftsmanship. With a book this labour is so slow that that though writers will tell you they love their work, yet they never want to do it. A book existing in the mind is one thing, enclosed there it is delightful company, but when the glow becomes an explosive personality demanding to get out that is quite another. It must be got out, or the writer will go mad, but getting the thing down on paper is a grinding slog. The thought of starting the process yet again fills one with dark despair. I heard Joyce Grenfell say once in a broadcast that whenever she knew she must get down to writing a sketch she remembered it was her duty to do some very elaborate cooking.
I suppose whenever the true choices on a path are either to stay put (and go mad) or move forward (in a grinding slog), then one knows that one is on the right path. The other paths are pretty or not, easy or hard, boring or diverting ... but the path of creative vocation only leaves us two choices. Madness or mud. (Or very elaborate cookery.)


Logjam Sorting

Ever heard of it? These guys are at the sorting jam. The logs are all jammed up and they're being sorted so they can be sent on their way to where they're supposed to go. That's what I need to do next. Sort my logjam.

I've got papers, files, course notes, syllabi, books, and notebooks from last year and last quarter, all mixed up in here with all my church writing projects and ideas, and stuff I want to save and archive, and stuff that needs to be tossed and recycled ... log jam.

And I've got emotional pileups too. New relationships forming, old relationships morphing, and the knowledge that as little as two minutes a day of writing about things is good for my immune system - to say nothing of cognitive and emotional processing.

And classes have started. All online this quarter, with a break in PLA writing because I got confused about tuition and finances and all of that, so I'll finish up PLA in the spring. For winter, I'm playing with the big kids now. Two Human Sciences courses, and one Lit course, and my school adventure is suddenly far more intellectually challenging than it has been yet. All online, though. My driving the Gorge in the winter is not safe for me or anyone else who might be out there with me. Seriously. Not good.

It's time to get back to basics. The List Queen has been long on hiatus, and she needs to come back to her kingdom. Lists, Ahoy! One of the young giants got away with my dry erase board. I need a new one. And a desk calendar. It's Hard to Make a Difference When You Can't Find Your Keys, and it's time to get busy making a difference. I need to start here - or the only difference I will have made in the world will be to have added to the clutter.


Golden era when?

Warning: I'm not a Democrat. But I'm not a Republican either. And nothing makes me instantly nuttier than the insane assertion that the "good old days" were that great. My grandmother's day wasn't that great. She only got to go to the third grade before she had to leave school to help earn money. She wasn't born in 1850. She was my grandmother. That's not that long ago. Or ... how 'bout my mother's landlord in her girlhood. They called him "Dirty Joe." Geee ... let's try to guess why ... Or a girl I went to high school with who didn't have a way to talk about what was happening to her - and it was pretty nasty. Presidents who got everyone to hush over infidelity ... the sorts of politicians who inspired the characters in Born Yesterday, or the employers who inspired The Apartment and How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.

We live in very good times. (They did too. But ours are a lot better, if you ask me.)

I don't agree with all the politics of anyone, probably. But I agree with this. And so here, for that silliness of the golden era of American wonderfulness ...

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Even Better Than the Real Thing
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealth Care Crisis


THIS is EXACTLY what the best home schooling moms have figured out about school, it's the reason money isn't the problem with our public education system, it's the reason taking the profit motive out of the health care system would have unimaginable benefits to us as a society, it's the reason there's something truly heinous about megamillionaires calling themselves workers in God's vineyard.

(WHAT a GOOD report!! I just heard this author on Morning Edition, and since he had such brilliant things to say, I didn't even mind the awkward, corkscrew, modern colloquialisms in this guy's speech patterns ... much)

Rewards are really bad for us most of the time. Rewards for learning - passed out to children from some patronizing adult - grrr! - those act like little bits of rust, the little pocks and spots that will devour an entire car over time. In fact, the look on a kid's face when the adult "praises" learning ... well, the kid looks like someone who's just been paid for kisses. It's just nasty to be paid for learning.


Do I rant?

Why, yes, I believe I do.

Here. Here's what the guy said, and here's his book. He's less ranty than I am. And he's right. Regarding the "Tom Sawyer Effect," Daniel Pink says,
Adding a sense of autonomy and mastery to an otherwise dreary task can turn something that is work into playfulness.
(That's the way wise moms handle household chores. Let the kid own the mastery of it. Praise the skill level with genuine admiration. And for heaven's sake, stop picking at it!) He goes on:
Paying somebody to do something they really love to do can often turn play into work.
(!!! and ...)
There's a lot of research that shows that if you apply contingent, external rewards on something that's inherently interesting, you can actually extinguish someone's interest in that activity.


Checklist Manifesto

Another one to check out.

Atul Gawande is a staff member of Brigham and Women's Hospital and the Dana Farber Cancer Institute. His other books include Better and Complications. And the NPR story I just listened to is enough all by itself to make me get my lists back out. I've been avoiding my reputation as the List Queen ... I think I got embarrassed. (Put down the ducky. Put it down.) Why would I not want to be seen as efficient? Intentional? On top of it? Nearly fifty years old, and I don't think evidence of effort is cool enough? (Put it down!)
Despite all the evidence, Gawande admits that even he was skeptical that using a checklist in everyday practice would help to save the lives of his patients.

"I didn't expect it," Gawande says with a chuckle. "It's massively improved the kind of results that I'm getting. When we implemented this checklist in eight other hospitals, I started using it because I didn't want to be a hypocrite. But hey, I'm at Harvard, did I need a checklist? No."

Or so he thought.

"I was in that 20 percent. I have not gotten through a week of surgery where the checklist has not caught a problem."

(Click to see a sample "Surgical Safety Checklist".)

Putting it Down: It's the difference between a ruptured disk and a stronger core

You know what I hate? Figuring out how much is too much. You know what I spend all my time doing? Figuring out how much is too much. Or not enough. Where it's just a wussy cop out, and where it's an obsessive compulsion. Where it's walking away from a valiant effort at resuscitation, and where it's beating a dead horse.

The only reason I keep trying to figure it out is because I have finally figured out that I am not very happy with a wussy life, but I'm also not very happy when I'm standing there, panting and sweaty and frustrated and the damned dead horse still won't get up and walk. So I keep trying to figure it out.

Right now, a wussy life would include:
  • taking the bait and entering old conversations, old conflicts, old stories ... even though I know it's useless
  • ignoring this week's course work, pretending I can do it later ... after all, it's only the first week of the quarter
  • spending a lot of time watching old movies, reading an interesting novel, or ... well, or nothing, actually -- those are the ways to escape. It's not time for escape.
  • worrying, making myself otherwise useless, obsessing, and refusing to courageously walk away from the lives, difficulties, and decisions that belong to my adult offspring
Notice something? Wussy life and overexertion turn out to be the same thing. It's actually easier to obsess, revert, escape (even if it makes more work or takes more apparent effort), fuss, and "try, try again" than it is to just get on with it.

Valiant effort, courage, and a stronger core would be:
  • deleting, walking away from, turning my attention, and otherwise leaving even the dust of old habitations behind (translation: do not answer that email, do not keep trying to form the perfect answer, even in my head)
  • doing the school work as soon as it comes assigned
  • pray, trust, and leave it alone
There is a lot of jazz in my life right now, and you gotta put down the ducky if you wanna play the saxophone.


"Only" an illness

Thank you to everyone for your prayers and comfort for me. This business - this business of having adult children out doing things like being in the army - the hardest thing about it is knowledge without power. Our daughter got a message to us, and although she won't be able to contact us directly for awhile yet, she is safe. She's "just" really ill with one of her champion sinus infections.

I knew it was something. I'm relieved that it is "just" a sinus infection. "Only" an illness. That's all. Well ... that and the fact that there will soon be so many soldiers in Kandahar that they're going to have to double up the living arrangements, which aren't exactly spacious now. That, and she will probably be moved out of there within the next few days anyway, to a different forward operating base. That, and she's too far away and too on the move for there to be anything at all that I can do about her illness - I can't even ask her about symptoms, look them up in one of my books, and tell her what I find. But still. It's only an illness. Weird. I am glad she has a sinus infection. Because that's all it is.