Friday, December 18, 2009

christmas freaks

As it turns out, we are Christmas freaks. No, not in the sense that we obsessively celebrate the season with boat loads of presents or a 50,000 light display, quite the opposite, really. We are Christmas freaks because we’ve never really made a big deal over Santa or the presents and don’t plan on it.

To be clear, our house is not a Santa-free zone. We just consider it a really fun story like Peter Pan or something. So we have a pretty little Christmas tree with all of the twinkling lights and ornaments and candy canes. And there are a few gifts underneath there but not that many. And it works for us but it's not what you’d call typical these days so by definition I guess that makes us freaks or as my sister lovingly calls us, The Murderers of Christmas Fun.

I have to admit that being a Christmas freak is harder than it used to be. We’d read The Night Before Christmas and hang some Santa ornaments on the tree but by choice our main focus has always been Christ’s birth. It just seemed simpler that way. So Santa, for us, was always something fun but we pretty much left it at that. No problems whatsoever until November 30, the Monday after Thanksgiving which, unbeknownst to me, marked the reading of the first Santa book of the season at Seth’s preschool. The teacher cracked open the book with great joy and anticipation and my son, my pride and joy said, “Santa’s not real.” Fortunately, the other kids didn’t hear him but the teacher, who by all accounts is a lover of all things Christmas, most certainly did hear him and started to cry. It was then that Seth received a short lecture on how to preserve the magic of Christmas for the rest of the class and then he started to cry.

Talking it over later that afternoon, Seth and I agreed that every kid should be able to have fun with Santa and it would be really wrong of us to say something that would take that fun away. But all of it made me wonder for a moment if we’d done it all wrong, if Seth would be forever traumatized or filled with some deep sense of loss for having freakish parents who did not embrace Santa as a source of Christmas joy and fulfillment. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that no matter how crazy it seems to some people, Christmas for our family is centered on Christ and generosity. These messages are so easily drown out by want and commercialism that, for our family at least, it’s good to just simplify the focus.

So for me bumbling Christmas freak that I am, this Christmas season has taught me some really valuable new lessons: 1) lectures on preserving the magic of Christmas for all boys and girls begins early next year - like right after Halloween, and 2) do what’s right for your family at Christmas and always - even if it seems fairly odd.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

u2 and then some

Well I have lived to witness U2 in concert. That was my little goal for this week. My grandfather had this habit of making goals for himself. It kept him alive for years. “I’d like to make it to my 90th birthday,” he’d say. "I’d like to live to see my great-grandson,” and so on. It worked so well for him I thought I should give it a try. You see, I’ve felt simply awful for about three weeks now and I needed a little something extra to help me make it through the dark hours. I suppose my little cocktail of antibiotics, decongestants, and muscle relaxers may have helped a bit too.

My ticket to U2 was actually a birthday present from my beloved sister who, among other things, takes great pleasure in finding expensive forms of entertainment, for which I am grateful. I love her completely but as it turns out we are almost polar opposites. She is fun and social and a bit of a fashionista with a wardrobe consisting primarily of bright and/or shiny clothing, sexy boots and a large collection of what I lovingly refer to as “hooker shoes.” I am not all that fun or social, wear sensible loafers and do not possess an ounce of the fashion confidence required to wear clothes that shimmer. If we didn’t sound exactly alike on the telephone I would swear we were not related at all.

Back to the concert - we got there early and parked about a mile away from the venue. We spotted a fence and potential shortcut so we did what anyone from Lake City would do - pulled real hard and squeezed through the opening in the gate. We were at the stadium in five minutes. The next bit is pretty uninteresting. We found our seats, listened a bit to Muse. I got thirsty, went to find something to drink, watched the sunset while standing in line for 20 minutes to get two bottles of water, got beer spilled on my shoe, then returned to my seat to watch Muse’s last song and wait for U2. And they were good. Very, very, very good. I liked the songs from the new album way better than I thought I would. Bono did this nice little take on "Amazing Grace" to lead into "Where the Streets Have No Name" which was supremely beautiful. He also wore a jacket with red lights on it for the last few songs. I found this strangely interesting. At one point, Larry took a little walk while playing what I’m guessing was a djembe. The Edge, dressed in plaid, was as fantastic as ever. And then there was Adam, pounding away faithfully on the bass; I only wish I could have heard him. He’s as cool as the come, but then, bass players are always cool, aren’t they? Overall, awesome stage, great performance, and a very nice birthday present.

So now I am thinking about fame and how interesting it must be to have millions of people you don’t know exist speak about you in familiar, admiring ways. I’m afraid I will never know what this is like. It may surprise you but there is not a lot of fame and fortune associated with speech therapy. And if I were to become some superstar speech therapist there is a very good chance I would crack under the pressure and be forced to create some stage name and alter-ego personality so that I could deal with all it all.

Alas, the show ended around 11. The band went back to wherever and we shuffled out of our seats. It was hot and humid and everyone was all squished together like sardines moving en mass toward the exit. I began to realize why people die in stampedes and I plotted my escape route just in case. We eventually made it out alive, squeezed back through the gate, and drove across town to our room. I was in bed by midnight. And here’s the best part – I slept until 9:30.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

a tidbit

So I just finished Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year by Anne Lamott and I'm so glad I read it. I am especially glad to have read it after having my own son. I will share my most favorite section for you, in case you are interested. From page 206 -

"My plans for molding him into the leader of the rebel forces do not seem to be going very well. I think of all those pacifists in the sixties and seventies whose children chewed their toast into the shape of guns. Sam will be one of those children. I can see it all now. He will probably be a Young Republican by the age of eight and want to spend his summers at camp with other little conservative boys and girls, singing patriotic songs in shorts and knee-high socks, holding his briefcase in his lap. He'll pound the table jovially and cry out. "we're table one and we want the salt!" and then help plot the forced internment of the left wing in America. Then he'll come home from camp, and everywhere I go in our house, his eyes will seem to follow me, and when I notice this, he will give me thin smiles."

I laughed very hard. It was a good read.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

the swine flu blues

I tried to write a bit earlier this morning when I was feeling somewhat perky due to a sudden burst of adrenalin. All this deceived me from the fact that I still feel pretty terrible, something I found out only after I came into the study, plopped on the couch and realized that both thinking and reading hurt. Now a few hours, a peanut butter sandwich and two ibuprofen later, I will attempt it. Thinking hurts a little less. Typing hurts not at all. So I will write because writing is therapy. I can’t remember who said that but someone must have.

So here are the details: I contracted the swine flu within three days of returning back to full-time employment. I can not begin to express how deeply disappointed I am in my immune system right now but I am dealing with it. I’m not quite sure what I expected. Realistically I knew there was a chance, a good chance of getting sick once I started working in an elementary school but after three days? That is pathetic even by my standards.

The first day was rough. I lay on the couch with my little sick kit – chamomile tea with honey, thermometer, Kleenex, Tylenol – and watched a show about pirates on Hulu. I moaned a little, shivered under covers, and tried to breathe. I worked out the lyrics for a song, “The Swine Flu Blues” but stopped because nothing rhymes with Relenza except credenza and I just couldn’t make that work. Then I spent some time mentally designing the flag I should attach to the house to warn people to stay away, just like the sailors had to do once they discovered the black plague was aboard. I decided that mine would be black with a little white pig in the center.

On Friday, Seth joined me in my sickness. I was sad for him because I really wanted him to stay healthy but in way it was nice to have a little companionship. I hadn’t hugged him in a couple of days and all of the people I talked at the doctor’s office were wearing masks so I guess I was getting a little lonely. So we drove to Gainesville to see Seth’s doctor. I wore my mask when I got there. People stayed very far away from us because of it – good for them. The nurse asked why I was wearing it and out came the story and she laughed when I told her that I’d only been working for three days before I got it. That is good. I’m glad someone else has a sense of humor. People like that remind me that life is funny if you look at it the right way. I think I will begin to approach this perspective when my temperature returns to normal and also when I forget that my pay has been docked because I haven’t built up enough leave.

On Saturday, Seth woke up at 6:30 am as happy as ever. He is an early bird, God bless him, and a very good sick person for the most part unless we’re talking tonsillitis then he makes me spoon feed him and he sleeps in my arms for most of the day. So despite the fact that he still had a pretty good fever and cough, there he was, bouncing on the bed asking me if I can play a game. At that point I was coherent enough only to understand that I should never have encouraged Shaun to go out of town for the weekend because now I was really all alone and no one on Earth could come to help me what with the black piggy flag flying from the house and all. But somehow I managed to pull myself together and made it though the rest of the day on prayer and painkillers.

So now it’s Sunday. Shaun is home and abundantly healthy. He’s cooking us lunch and playing with Seth. The ibuprofen has definitely kicked in and I am looking forward to a long afternoon nap. And although it’s probably not been much to read, the writing has indeed been therapeutic, just like so-and-so said.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

life song

So I am currently discovering something that is kind of exciting - a quasi-revelation about life. I use the words “quasi” and “kind of” because this may be absolute garbage and produce no real revelation at all – that is my official disclaimer. But like most revelations, if this truly is one, time will bear it out.

It began when an idea for a song somehow found its way into my in to my head. This doesn’t happen often these days but when it does, I try to take a few seconds and write it down on a scrap of paper or the back of a napkin or some bubble gum paper whatever is handy. And though the likelihood that I will actually devote any time to these little wisps of inspiration is practically none, it makes me feel better to know that I am making some sort of an effort. And so it was with the words that popped into my head the other morning. I dutifully scribbled them on a blue post it, then placed them in the desk drawer designated for creative thought, AKA, the black hole.

The revelation came as my mind turned to the creative process as a whole - the excitement that comes with that first thought, those first lines, the first hint of a melody. The feeling you get when all those little neurons start firing in earnest and you stumble upon a beautiful mystery that is larger than yourself and compels you to just watch and listen for a while so it can reveal itself to you. It’s in that moment you feel unsinkable, as if you could conquer the world, or at least a small part of it with sheer creative genius alone. That’s how it feels to me.

I’d like to say it carries on like that but it’s never really worked out that way. Creating something takes time and effort and changing. Somewhere along the line you start to wonder whether it’s worth your time or effort because that is a real question after all. But then you decide to stay with it only you really must change this word or that one or make the chorus the bridge because it was never actually a chorus at all, it just seemed that way at first. And then ultimately you arrive at something that you can be proud of, something that is really meaningful to you. Only you look back and you find that the one line, the one that got you going in the first place, the springboard for all your efforts, has been replaced by something that you found along the way or perhaps forgotten altogether. And that seems odd at first because when you first began everything was so focused around it. Only now looking back, you see it was essential only in the sense that it served as a starting point.

Songs are like that, and sometimes so is life.

Friday, July 24, 2009

recycled thoughts

An old post came back to mind today. I wrote it about two years ago. It is interesting to read what was written in the past. Some things change, some things seem to endure. This one, for me, has endured.


I've been thinking today about wounds - the ones that heal and the ones that don't.

It was a long, long time ago, but I can still remember sitting on my grandpa's lap looking at his hands. They were worn and calloused. He was a sharecropper's son. I noticed that one of them had a long, thin scar, a perfect diagonal running right across his palm. I asked him how he got it. He told me it happened when he was about thirteen. His sisters were fighting in the kitchen and one of them got out a knife. Grandpa stepped in and tried to take the knife away. When he grabbed at it and got the blade end. His scar was earned for keeping the peace.

There is another story about my Grandpa. My Dad told it to me on the way back from my Grandpa's funeral. When Grandpa was seventeen or so, he was out drinking and playing cards with a group of buddies. He and another guy, one of his best friends, got into an argument that turned into a full-blown fight. Somebody pulled a knife. Grandpa nearly killed his friend that night.

To this day, I have never known a person more gentle and humble than my grandfather. Maybe that humility was borne out of the grief and shame that followed that horrible night. I can't see how a life could not be affected by it. Ironic that a man so remarkable for his quiet gentleness could be capable of inflicting such pain. I think it reveals something of the nature of man and life here on Earth - we wound and we are wounded.

My mind thinks back to another wound "...wounded for our transgressions," it says,"...bruised for our iniquities." With those precious wounds, peace was purchased.

I am acquainted with many words but redemption is among the sweetest. I'm inclined to think that if I asked him, Grandpa would agree.

Monday, July 20, 2009

magic carpet

Last night I dusted off A Light in the Attic and started reading some of my favorites to Seth.

When I was in elementary school, my favorite Shel Silverstein poem was called "Sick." It is the one about the little girl who gives a rambling list of illnesses in the hopes of staying home from school only to find in the last stanza that it is Saturday. So she decides, of course, to go out and play. This was my favorite because as a child I had a bit of a history of faking illnesses to get out of school so I could completely relate to that poem.

Now here I am, twenty something years later, reading about bears in refrigerators and pet hot dogs and all the other brilliant silliness that was churned out by Shel Silverstein. And in the middle of this book, a light did go off in the attic (as was certainly intended) and now I have a new favorite which I love because I am a thirty-two and at a crossroads so I can completely relate to this poem. Here it is:

by Shel Silverstein

You have a magic carpet
That will whiz you through the air
To Spain or Maine or Africa
If you just tell it where.
So will you let it take you
Where you've never been before,
Or will you buy some drapes to match
And use it
On your