Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Lonesome Shaka Zulu Dove?

This is a long overdue Father's Day post. I visited my family in South Carolina for Father's Day in June, and I've been thinking a lot about my dad ever since I got in my car to drive back to Durham. This post is longer than usual (if there even is a "usual" after such a long hiatus) but he's worth every word.

I could just subject you to my original stream of consciousness, but to spare the potential reader from total glassy-eyed exhaustion I've decided to break up what would have been an even more massive post into a miniseries. You can think of this as the Lonesome Dove or Shaka Zulu of amateur Internet blogosphere musings about Southern fathers.

Taken for Granted

There was a time in my life when I thought of my father a little bit like the living room couch. He wasn't flashy but he was solid and comfortable. He was just quietly there when I watched TV in the evening. It seemed like he went with the room. I took it for granted that he was there. Because he was always there.

I had the briefest inkling in high school that not all fathers were like this. Three other girls and I carpooled to school, taking turns driving and sharing one coveted parking space. One of the girls, a girl from my church, not really a close friend, more like a friendly acquaintance, had a different sort of dad. She was terrified to make even a small detour or stop on the way home because her dad checked the mileage on her odometer and would know if she varied her route at all. I could tell the repercussions were more than just a, "You're playing when you should be studying and you're wasting too much gas," sort of scolding. For awhile, she and her mom moved out and we picked her up at a rented place just a street or two over from their house. My parents knew the family and considered the father "odd." I knew something was different in that situation, but the life I saw on the surface was pretty much like mine and I didn't really pay much attention or wonder about sinister undercurrents.

And then I grew up and life happened and I realized that not all men are like my father. I realized that what I had taken for granted - a decent and honest man who worked hard, loved his family, stayed married and loved his wife deeply (even when he wasn't all mushy about it), came home every night, wanted the best for his kids, set a pretty good example, cherished the family name, had a wicked cool sense of humor and a sharp mind, loved animals and reading about history, wouldn't turn down a racy novel but didn't think the kids needed to be reading that trash - was a blessing that not everyone shared.

Daddy Don't You Walk So Fast

I think my father spent a lifetime mourning the loss of his own father, who died when Daddy was only six. I think he mourned him even when he didn't realize he was mourning. Daddy has always carried a sort of pensive sadness around with him. But in the midst of that sadness he has shown unwavering love.

My father generally has only one walking pace, an amble to go where he wants to go when he wants to go there. No one in my family has ever had much luck speeding him up or turning him in a different direction. I've only seen the man run twice in my life. The first time was when I was a little girl and swerved on my bike to miss the family dog, who, if I remember correctly, was trying to bite the front tire. It was just a tumble in the back yard, but Daddy saw it from the back porch and ran out to see if I was all right. He wouldn't even remember it today. I saw him run again 20 years later when my mother fell in the pasture and shattered her leg. He ran to her and sat in the grass with her waiting for the ambulance to arrive and telling her that he wished he had fallen instead of her. I'm sure he's run other times, but I'd wager that most (if not all) of those times he was running toward a member of his family.

Staying at my parents house 18 months or so ago, I had insomnia and opened a bedside table drawer in their guest bedroom. Inside, I found a love letter my father had written to my mother before they were married in 1954. She was in Arkansas at the time and he was in South Carolina. It was one of the most romantic and touching things I've ever read. (There was a humorous element, too. My father's family had just gotten their very first television and he kept cutting away from the romantic action in the letter to update on the programs he was watching... thus setting the family precedent for the next 60 years.) If my mother reads this post, she may be embarrassed that I read the letter. I consider it a gift that I got to read it and see that side of my father. I wish I'd copied it while I had the chance. I think Daddy said something about the sunset always making him just a little bit homesick or sad, and that after they were married he would probably always come running back into my mother's arms like a little boy as the sun set at the end of the day.

We found a photo in my grandmother's house after she died, an old black and white snapshot of my grandfather sitting solemnly with his legs spread a little bit (as men tend to do) and my daddy, just a little fella, standing nestled between his own father's knees. My grandfather has his hand on Daddy's shoulder, as if to hold him still. Mama and I joked that Daddy had probably been running around wildly and his father had to hold him still for the photo. I think it's the only photo of the two of them together. I wonder how Daddy's life... how his being... would have been different if his father had lived.


The few memories Daddy has of his own father are very much like my early childhood memories of Daddy. I'm pretty sure my father, at the tender age of 6, thought his father could do most anything. I am both heartbroken for Daddy that he never got the chance to know and appreciate his father in a different way as they both matured, and envious that his father will forever be in his mind as the strikingly handsome young man who could do anything.

Up Next....Part 2, It's a well known fact!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

People Are Mean

Bear with me here. This is not a rant or a "mean people suck" diatribe.

But people are mean. Even when we're not mean spirited, we're mean.

We unknowingly say things that tear at the raw emotions of people who are struggling, and then walk away oblivious to what we've done.

And we knowingly say cutting things when we feel threatened - as if jabbing at a weak spot in someone bigger, stronger, better will make us bigger, stronger, better, too.

I know people who will say that actions must be intentional to be mean, that an unintentional slight is unfortunate and embarrassing but not really mean.

And I know people who will say that the self-preservational things we say and do when we feel threatened cannot be considered mean. They're the visceral reactions of a cornered animal, not mean.

But I call it mean. Unavoidably mean.

Why are we mean? We're mean because we're broken. It's as simple as that. And it's neither defeatist nor pessimistic to accept the unavoidable capacity for meanness that is the broken human race.

In fact, it's easier to be empathetic when you can accept that we're all in the same broken boat, each of us doing the best we can in the moment. Empathy enables forgiveness. And forgiveness offsets meanness. 

Too many people get caught in an endless loop of trying to fix what's cosmically broken rather than acknowledging that brokenness cannot be easily fixed. Why not reach into your stockpile of empathy to find the power to forgive the people who've been mean to you?

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The ghost of diets past

My earliest memories of diets and calorie restrictions revolve around Ayds diet candies and Roman Meal bread.

Ayds (pronounced "aids") was an individually wrapped candy that was either an appetite suppressant or a placebo. It had a very strong presence in my childhood home in the early 70s. I clearly remember the chocolate and caramel flavors nibbled before meals by my mother and older sister, usually with a nice hot cup of coffee. I was a kid - somewhere in the 5 to 7 year old range - and I'd sneak in and chow down on those candies by the handful. They were tasty and, I'm sure, oh so chemical. Probably accounts for the tics and recurrent blackouts today. Ayds candies would surely have fallen out of market favor by now even if the public image disaster of having a product name pronounced the same way as a dread disease hadn't driven the product off the shelves.

Roman Meal was a wheat sandwich bread at a time when all I remember seeing on grocery store shelves was white, white, white. It screamed diet with its darker color and the Roman Meal Diet Plan. I think you could write to the address on the package for the diet plan. It may have been included in some packages. We found the Roman Meal Diet Plan in my grandmother's papers when she died in 1995. As "diets" go, it's a reasonable eating plan. At least it lists real foods. Of course, slices of Roman Meal bread feature prominently. It includes black coffee or tea at every meal, never mentions a glass of water. My grandmother must have been an extremely caffeinated woman.

And there was the summer of great weight loss. I think it was the summer I turned 11. I was a healthy kid, a solid kid. I was growing into a pudgy kid when Dr. Eaves told my mother that if a girl did not lose extra poundage before puberty set in she was doomed to fight the weight monster for life. Those hormonal changes would make it more difficult. From that appointment day through the rest of my summer vacation, my mother was in a mad race against my pubes. I remember gallons of Shasta diet drinks - lemon lime, black cherry, root beer - and chef salad after chef salad. I did lose weight. I also lost inches, helped in that by a growth spurt that summer. But I shudder to think of the artificial sweeteners and artificial colors I downed that summer. I can't remember drinking water. I probably swallowed a good bit of chlorinated water swimming in my cousin's pool, but I don't think that counts.

Swirling throughout this memory mish-mash, there are a few memories of receiving praise for sticking with it or looking good. That's a minor part of the memory gel. Most of the memories involve that panicked race against puberty (at which point I think I would go from chubby child to fat woman and... I don't know.... maybe give up on life or something?) and the womanly unity I felt with my mother and sister and other female relatives (who were usually either "on a diet" or had recently fallen "off a diet") in looking for a quick fix. Some thing that would fix our bodies without really engaging our minds. Oh yeah, and we didn't relish sweating.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Resistance is futile, puny earthling.

Originally published March 13, 2013

More stress. Drama at work.

Did you think drama would end when you graduated from middle school? From high school?

Did you think it would end when you tore the pages out of that sad old diary you called a journal and trashed them because the embarrassment of reading your own histrionic words made your cheeks flush and your stomach hurt a little bit?
HA! Resistance is futile, puny earthling. The wind cries MaryDrama!

With impeccable timing, Leo Babauta at Zen Habits just posted about sticking to a habit when life falls apart.

Leo's list is common-sense, affirmative, not all that different from the stuff I've I've said right here in previous blog posts.

The take home message is not that life stuff can happen to derail your plans. I think the take home message is that life stuff WILL happen to derail your plans.

Let go of the stone tablet and grab hold of the sandy beach. You build a sand castle, the tide washes it away, and then you build another.

Your treasure is not the impermanent sand castle. Your treasure is the feel of the sand between your toes and your experience of each re-creation.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Ode to a Spotted Dog

In my last blog post, I said I'd post about accountability.

The very next day. Accountability, community, and competition.

It's not the next day, and I haven't held myself accountable.

But I've been human.

My dog died. That simple statement carries more depth of emotion and implication for my life than most people realize.

Let me tell you about Hannah.

I committed to Hannah the first time I met her and decided to bring her home. I told her that I would be there for her until the very end. She could count on the fact that I would not throw her away and I would do the best I could for all the days we knew each other.

I committed to love her before I actually loved her.

I secretly doubted I could ever fully love her. Hannah was a wild woman - a smiling, spotted, running at 50 miles per hour, waking me up before dawn to go walk and run in the icy January air, chewing through her leash if I stood still for too long, eating all the little plastic ends off my shoelaces, honest-to-goodness wild woman.

And then I set myself up to love her. Granted, it was easy because she was lovable.

And she had a moment, a visible moment soon after we met, of deciding to trust me and join my pack. That made it even easier. It's always easier to love someone who's loving you back.

I was consistent in my love for Hannah and in the life activities associated with having a dog. That proves I can be consistent, right?

Hannah seemed to age quickly over the past year. And for the last 4-6 months, she'd required a lot of personal care. A lot of coaxing her to eat tasty morsels. More trips outside in the middle of the night. From symptoms she'd slowly developed over the last 4-5 years, I think Hannah had a brain tumor that reached critical mass this year. The nature of her ailment was definitely neurological.

Hannah was a lot taller in real life.
An impromptu portrait

Spotted Dog sleeps, Spotted Dog dreams

Hannah was with me when I got this blog idea. She lay beside me, in a companionable way that only good dogs can, as I jotted notes. I knew time with Hannah was short when I was prompted to doodle a pencil portrait of her curled up and sleeping in a sunbeam last fall.

As I watched the elderly Hannah doze, I remembered the young active Hannah. She had the heart of an athlete and a natural tendency toward healthy lifestyle. I'd often said that I'd be a much healthier and happier person if I just lived life like Hannah the dog.


When Stress Derails Your Plans

Things have been stressful in my world for awhile now. Hannah's illness and the disruption to my schedule has just pushed it over the top. I'm a stress eater. A stress crap eater. It's not that I eat so much more, it's that I eat all the wrong things.

I'm also a stress "curl up in a ball and try to sleep to pretend the stresses are not there" person. You don't burn many calories or rev ye ole metabolism or build much lean muscle when you curl up in a ball in the dark. It turns out you don't even sleep all that well.

I'd lost about 5 pounds when I had to make the hard decision to let Hannah go. I could beat myself up for losing my momentum, for staying away from my exercise class. But that's not the spotted dog way. Remember, it's always easier to love someone who's loving you back. I figure that means it will be easier to love myself if I love myself. (Take that, circular logic haters!)

She was much taller than her impromptu pencil doodle portrait.
Savor the sunbeams!
So I'll get back on track when I can and remember this smiling healthy face and all the joy it brought me. I leave you with a half-dozen of Hannah's rules for a happy life.
  1. Choose running and playing over eating a big meal.
  2. Refrain from drinking. (I swear she got a look of distaste and scorn when I let her sniff a beer.)
  3. Enjoy the time with your pack.
  4. Head to bed at the stroke of 10:00 and sleep peacefully in your own bed. (She slept through the theft of my car from the driveway in August 2005, but in her defense, the air conditioning was on and how could a dog be expected to hear a thief with the heat pump running right outside the bedroom window.)
  5. Wake up in a good mood, stretch big, and go outside to sniff your perimeter.
  6. Savor a good sunbeam.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Unresolved Resolutions

While I haven't consciously formulated a list of resolutions for 2013, I think a part of my brain has been preoccupied with plans and lists. This has been going on for the better part of the month, but I think the current trend toward mental lists is probably related to the winter cold snap as much as anything else. It's the same mechanism that makes me want to pore over seed catalogs and make garden plans that are far more ambitious than anything I will actually do.

Two Faces Have I

Two parts of me are duking it out to see which part gets majority control of the uber-Lisa. There's always a part that wants to hibernate in the winter darkness, to curl up in a ball under the covers and listen to improvised white noise like an old western serial podcast (current favorite is The Six Shooter starring Jimmy Stewart).

But a second more creative and lively part struggles to raise its head above the hibernation. It's that second part that finds the chilly wind invigorating when I walk between buildings at work. It's that second part that cannot help but consider new planting beds and different sowing strategies when the seed catalogs arrive in the mail. And it's that second part that makes to-do lists, even if they're just lists in the back of my mind and not written down on paper, and has genuine desire to follow through on the items on those lists to grow and improve.

Aging Gracefully?

I guess the shadowy unwritten lists that the one half of my brain is composing this January while the other half dozes and listens to Jimmy Stewart's whispered narrative are resolutions for the new year (at least as close as I plan to get to calling them resolutions). The very general term of "fitness" occupies the number one spot on the list. I want to feel good about my body and in my body. I want to be able to do the outdoor activities I enjoy without becoming so winded or tired and sore that I just say, "Oh, to hell with it... ."

And to be honest, I think I'm running from time.

In my mind, I'm still the same person I was when I was 27. Well, maybe not exactly the same person. A lot can be said for the lessons we learn between 27 and... um... well... older than 27 (thank God). But more or less the same person... physically and energetically similar.

And then I see myself in the mirror. Or take another look at the DMV photo on my driver's license. (Really, DMV? You got to play that way? Would it kill you to get some soft lighting, inspire some happy thoughts so it wouldn't look quite so much like I'd just taken a break from the prison laundry to snap updated mugs for the inmate registry?)

And then I spend a Saturday doing yard work followed by a Saturday evening lying prone on the couch watching British comedies on PBS and thinking "I'd like to pop some microwave popcorn but that would entail standing and walking into the kitchen and I'm pretty sure parts will just break off me if I stand up because I'm that sore from the yard work."

I don't want that part of growing older. Do I have to have it? Is it inevitable? Egads!

Taking My Own Advice

This is the point at which I circle back around to things I wrote a couple of months ago and say they're still valid. It does help to break a goal down into smaller parts. And I can help myself even more by making specific contingency plans to lessen the chance that circumstances outside my control will throw me completely off track. But I'm adding a few additional elements to the list - accountability, community, and competition.

Accountability, Community, and Competition

I've joined a weight loss competition at work. I've lost 0.6 pounds in the first week of the competition, but that's not really the major point. On the surface the competition is about pounds and prizes, but I want more than weight loss. I want to improve my cardiovascular function. I want to improve core strength, flexibility, and balance. I want to tone and tighten to lose inches and gain muscle definition. I want to feel better, and feel better about myself.

I'm looking for ways to hold myself accountable. For example, I'm being open at the office about the challenge - no shadow dieting for me - and commiserating with others about the temptations of cookies at training sessions and left-overs in the break room. That's a good start, but I can do more. In fact, I've already done more.

Tomorrow - more about accountability, community, and competition.