Friday, March 20, 2009

I Love You, and I Disagree (TJEd)

My husband’s cousin taught me this. Thank you, Big D.

It was after 9/11, we had already invaded Afghanistan, and we were preparing to invade Iraq. Darren had sent me an article challenging the planned invasion. I responded by voicing my support for our government’s decision. Darren responded, and was strenuous in his arguments against invasion; I responded and was strenuous in my arguments supporting the invasion. We debated back and forth by email for a while, and it was clear we simply were not going to come to an agreement. In the end, Darren told me he was glad we had the discussion, glad I was willing to take a stand and argue for it, and glad that disagreeing on politics did not have a negative effect on our relationship. In fact, it strengthened it, and that was kind of a shocker for me, since I’d never experienced “relationship building through debate” before. We disagreed with one another, and still loved and respected one another. Long before I heard someone say it was possible to “disagree without being disagreeable”, Darren showed me how to do it. Because, you see, we weren’t trying to change one another, we were just having a discussion. A lively, passionate, heart-felt and very important discussion, but still just a discussion in which each tried to understand and be understood by the other. That is why we remain good friends, and why we will always be there for one another.

I do my best to practice this every day, because for me this is at the very heart of diplomacy, and Leadership and Statesmanship very often require a hefty dose of diplomacy. Sitting across the room (or the world wide web) from a friend or community member, and disagreeing on something that each of us is determined we are right about. Passionately discussing the “issue”, but never failing to see the person before me, continuing to respect them despite the words they are speaking which I simply cannot accept as “right”. Honestly and deeply looking for the rightness in their words, not finding it, and respecting them anyway.

So, what if we didn’t just practice this with our friends and family and members of our community? What if every American citizen who engaged in debate honored and respected every other American citizen enough to spar on the important issues, without ever losing sight of the American they are sparring with. Continuing to honor and respect that person as a fellow American, even when the debate ends in continued disagreement. What if all of us being Americans, all joined in our common love of our country and one another, was always, always, more important than who is right? Wouldn’t you like to live in that America? Wouldn’t you like your children and grandchildren to live in that America? I would. It’s going to take Leaders and Statesman to create that America, and I have absolutely no doubt that we can do it.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Knock at the Door (TJEd)

Okay, this has absolutely nothing to do with anything, but I thought it was funny, and maybe you will, too, so I’m just posting it for my friends. Hi, friends :)

One of the particular delights of homeschooling and being at home all day is you get to chat with those nice people who come to your door with Good Book in hand spreading The Word. With the truck almost perpetually parked in the driveway, and frequent screams and crashes audible from the front walk, it’s kind of hard to pretend we’re not home. And I’ve almost always got three kids madly dashing through the house in a winner-takes-all race to see who gets to open the door the moment the bell rings. I’ve kind of given up on the whole “don’t open the door if you don’t know who it is” thing, and just try to be within earshot whenever a caller is being greeted.

So, one morning last week, the kids and I were in the family room doing our reading together, and the doorbell rang. I think it was Thomas who made it to the door first, and I could hear bits of the conversation from where I was sitting on the couch, rolling my eyes at the umpteenth interruption I’d borne so far that morning. Thomas came back and informed me that “two men with a Bible want to talk to you.” Now, I’m just not a confrontational kind of person, so usually when these nice folks come to call, I listen attentively, remembering to smile and nod, and when they’ve finished (or, if it’s been 10 minutes already and I feel I can politely interrupt), I usually end up saying something to the effect “this isn’t a good time for us”, and wish them a good day. I usually have a small pang of guilt about not having invited them into my living room for tea, but, goodness, they are strangers after all. And, part of me kind of feels bad for them, going door to door doing what they genuinely feel is a service to the community, and probably not getting a lot of positive responses. That’s a tough job, and they’re not even getting paid for it (are they?).

So, I go to the door. And, this time, I was actually thinking ahead and brought with me the book I had been reading aloud from. As I greeted our visitors, I had a respectably sized hardcover book in my left hand, discretely tucked up against my torso. The two gentlemen were nicely dressed and groomed (I think they even had name badges), and respectfully standing off the front porch on the front walk. The elder gentlemen was in the forefront, introduced himself and his companion, and said something about wanting to visit and share a scripture with us. He was actually holding the Bible in front of him, and pointed to it as a way of illustrating his intent. At that point, I parried with The Lord of The Rings, smiled, and said “I’m sorry, we’re in the middle of studies right now, and we’re really not interested.” The nice man kind of started for a moment, and I realized I had said the words “not interested”. Like he was the Fuller Brush Man or the Avon Lady or something. Did I actually say that?

He politely gave me a “have a good day” and turned to go. It was only after I had closed the door that it occurred to me what kind of impression I must have made. I was wearing a black form-fitting knit tank with the words “I Feel A Sin Comin’ On” emblazoned across my chest in bold-and-flirty white letters, no mammary support, no shoes, a tattoo clearly visible on the top of one foot, no makeup, and I don’t think I had even showered yet. And, I actually said the words “not interested.” Somehow, I don’t think I’ll be invited to join their church.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Autumn Leaves and a Mild Sense of Panic (TJEd)

When you move from one house to another, there are always adjustments to be made. Where to put the silverware, where to pick up quick carton of milk, remembering the names of new neighbors. All of the moves I undertook during my adult life were pretty much within the same region (Southern California), except the last. In October 2007, my family and I moved from Corona, California to Lawrenceville, Georgia. Now, I was expecting to have to make some more significant adjustments than where to put the silverware, mostly on a social level. After all, we were moving from what many consider the most liberal State in our Union, to the heart of Redneck Country in the middle of the Deep South. And, there were some small adjustments to be made, like overcoming the shock of having neighbors actually visit us and introduce themselves the day after we moved in (one of them actually brought home-baked cookies and later hosted a “welcome to the neighborhood” shindig for us). But not nearly so extensive nor difficult as I had envisioned. The most surprising adjustment I had to make was primitively sensory.

We moved into our new home the first week of November. I was in awe of the turning of the leaves, something I had never really experienced before living most of my life in a two-season region (rainy and green for about a month, dry and brown the rest of the year). Thomas’s second floor bedroom window is very friendly with a respectably sized oak tree in our back yard. The week of our moving in, I would pass by his open bedroom door and notice the tree had changed its hue. By the end of our first week, the color had changed to such a brilliant, vibrant yellow, it seemed as though Thomas’ bedroom has been painted a new color. Then, suddenly, all of the leaves were gone, abandoning their trees to lay down a golden brown carpet on the earth. That is when the mild panic began visiting me.

In Georgia, Autumn means burning leaves. In open fires. In your back yard. In Southern California, an open fire demands nothing less than calling 9-11 immediately and letting the fire department know where they need to rush to prevent a blaze that could destroy hundreds, or even thousands, of homes. In our seven years living in Corona, we had no less than three major brush fires close enough to our home to 1) see from the front yard, and 2) warrant serious preparations to evacuate. The first was just weeks after we had moved into our first “ours” house (one we had bought instead of renting), and I was home alone with our brand new first child, still recovering from a difficult delivery. I stood in front of our house, swaddled infant in my arms, watching the gray plume of smoke in the not-too-distant distance, the unmistakable smell of smoke in the air, warily eyeing our 25+ year old shake-shingle roof made of actual wood, which was now old enough and dried out enough to catch fire rather easily. The second time, the plume of smoke rose straight overhead into the sky, ash was falling on the house, and the fire department had set up one of its operational bases in the park across the street. This time I had two small children, whom I packed up and took to a friend’s house across town, along with the family dog and the two cats I could catch on short notice (they were not happy). The third time was at night, there was a distinct red glow just over the nearest ridge, and we were watching the national news as thousands of homes all across California were being devoured by a dozen different raging-out-of-control fires, some of which took weeks to contain. Several of our own family members and friends were in the line of fire, literally, and were compelled to evacuate their homes by authorities, but all were, thankfully, unharmed.

So, the first time I stepped outside the back door of our new home in Georgia and smelled smoke, I was hit with a gut-wrenching anxiety-bordering-on-panic bred from years living in a fire zone. The only thing that prevented me from immediately calling 9-11 (and thus proving myself an incompetent foreigner to those parts) was the fact that our house came with its own fire pit in the back yard, and the sellers had kindly explained the best way to burn the autumn leaves without setting fire to the surrounding trees and houses. Breathing deeply, I called David. “Honey, there’s a fire somewhere.” He came out onto the back deck with me. “Yeah, someone’s burning leaves.” “Yeah?”. “Yeah, it’s fine honey.” It took me a month to get used to the smell of smoke so near my home. But, I did get used to it. Funny, but now the distinct smell of burning leaves is almost has homey to me as the smell of a mid-winter blaze in our own family room fireplace.

The second sensory adjustment was almost more primal than adjusting to the smell of fire, if you can believe it. It was the critter-induced rustling of the fallen Autumn leaves. We have squirrels everywhere in our neighborhood. And, I mean everywhere. And chipmunks, too, although they’re not nearly so bold as those darned squirrels. You can’t step outside the house without spying at least three or four squirrels bounding across the yard (they kind of run-hop, like drunken rabbits), scrambling up a tree, or dashing across a power line. When the ground is covered with freshly fallen dried leaves, there is an almost perpetual rustling sound, distinctly punctuated by scurrying, each time a human enters the zone. Now, in Southern California, a rustling sound usually means only one thing: a snake. And, it’s a fair bet it’s a rattlesnake, a critter you certainly do not want anything to do with, and certainly one you don’t want anywhere near your kids. So, again, stepping outside the door of our new home and hearing a rustling sound every time…well, it took a few weeks for the pounding of my heart to subside, and a few months before my heart quit its acrobatics every time I went outside.

The third sensory adjustment was more subtle, but has lingered longer. The rising sun is different here than what I was used to. In Corona, I had only a lace curtain across our bedroom window, because it looked out over our patio and secluded back yard. As the sun rose, bright light filled the bedroom, almost suddenly, making for a very pleasant, yet insistent, natural alarm clock. I loved waking to the rising sun, and pacing my day accordingly, shifting with the seasons. Here in Georgia, the sunrise is different. Not so bright, not so insistent. It sort of sneaks up on you, and even with the curtains drawn aside, it is so drawn-out and so subtle, the sunrise is not quite enough to waken you with a “time to get up!” I still have not adjusted, I still have difficulty obeying the sun, or even figuring out when it has actually risen, and rising accordingly. I hope this will change with a few more seasons. I hate relying on alarm clocks.

I’ve read a few authors who talk about “knowing a place”. Dr. DeMille talks about patriotism being linked to “knowing a place”. John Gatto writes about a similar sense of “place” as related to belonging and patriotism. After 2+ years of living here, I’ve come to know this place, even if I’m not yet entirely acclimatized yet. I’ve settled in a very primitive and instinctual way, as well as adjusting to the visual display that I love so much. There are times when I miss the new-found awe and wonder I felt our first fall and winter here; it has been replaced by a familiarity that almost borders on dismissive. But, I still find myself grabbing my camera and capturing images that make me smile and warm each time I look over them. I still love sitting on the back deck in the swing reading to the kids, even when we have to wrap up in blankets. I love the trees, and the fallen leaves, and the squirrels, and the slightly different tone of the morning sun. I love the bulbs pushing up in February, bravely risking being doused with snow or frost after their bloom, which seems to happen every year. I love the explosion of white blossoms on the dogwoods, so profuse in our little town, and madly clustered at the onramp onto the Parkway. I’m not quite far enough along to call myself a “Georgian”; I am still a “Californian transplanted”. But, I love my home, my “place”, as much as I love my country. And, I would do much to protect it.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Proof Positive I'm a Genius. Sort of. (TJEd)

My dear friend, Sarah, sent me this article, called How to Procrastinate Like Leonardo da Vinci. I could have just reached right through the ethers and given her a great, big cyber kiss. It explains in no uncertain terms exactly why those of us who procrastinate and rarely finish everything we undertake are geniuses on par with daVinci. Okay, well, it doesn’t exactly say that. But, close enough to suit my purposes.

There has apparently been a modern attempt to psychologically dissect da Vinci and write him off as someone who was so terrified of financial success that he subconsciously sabotaged himself into utter failure by never finishing anything that he started, a theory which has apparently been put forth by those who champion mediocrity. The linked article has a somewhat different take, one that I am (biased as I am) more apt to accept as applicable: Genius and efficient productively are not necessary compatible.

Now, I have nothing against planning and organizing. Among my friends and closer homeschooling co-conspirators, I am known as an Organizational Goddess. Anything and everything that might possibly need to be structured, organized, and condensed into a handy form or graph, I’ve got it covered. And, my innate organization streak has served me well in a myriad of environments and circumstances, whether it be in my PC (pre-child) career as an office administrator and property manager, or at home trying to keep a household running with the precision of a Naval battle ship (that would be me being ironic).

However, I have recently noticed a particular trend that might suggest that organization for the purpose of maximum productively might not actually be totally conducive to Leadership Education (yes, I like using big words). During those spells when I blow off our family routine, such as during recent spats with flue and colds, and spend more of my time lounging and reading and thinking than if I were otherwise occupied with running the household and educating the kids, I seem to be more creative in the one aspect of my life that I feel even remotely creative in, and that is writing. Suddenly, instead of just composing a response to someone posting a concern on a homeschooling list, I’ve suddenly got twelve different ideas about several different topics running through my head, and if I take a moment to jot them down, I’ve got some raw material to work with, either in the moment or at some time in the (hopefully) near future. Since I’ve recently bowed to the omnipotence and intemperance of the Writing Muse, I have found myself, more and more, jotting down ideas and notes about ideas; a flow that had, in previous times, been stoppered most of the time, and only released in times of apparent need. Now, I can’t get through one day without a half-dozen ideas charging through my head, and the more I write them down, the more of them that show up on my doorstep like poor, desolate orphans, begging for someone to take them in and feed them.

The “downside” of this is, there is so much raw material that I will never be able to bring each to fruition, fully developed and ready to bring forth unto the world. Or, even post to my personal blog. They come too fast, and time is too short for me to give each of them full attention. (Yes, believe it or not, I am not posting every idea on the Community blog that flits into my tiny little brain…it just seems that way). So, for someone who considers themselves entirely – ENTIRELY – uncreative, this apparent hint of creatively is simultaneously unexpected, titillating, intimidating, and horrifyingly non-conformist.

So, here I am with 116 pages (over 54,000 words) of “ideas”, only a small fraction of which are currently fit for public consumption, none of which have made it out of my "idea" file (yes, I hear you all trembling in fear). Very few of these “ideas” will end up on my personal blog (yes, I hear the collective sigh of relief), which a very small number of people will actually ever read. None of them, I am sure, will ever make their way into mainstream thought. The novels that I frequently have running around in my head, I don’t even attempt to begin writing, because I know time will never allow me to do them justice. But, there they all are. Patiently waiting.

Leonardo daVinci “produced” an estimated 100 volumes worth of “notes” in his lifetime, the vast majority of which never earned him a single penny, or even ended up being used for “productive” purposes. But, all of those thoughts, all of those ideas, culminated to reflect a human being of extraordinary genius. Every thought and every idea, built one upon the other, is what enabled daVinci to create the extraordinary, breathtaking, and timeless masterpieces that he left us. So, what masterpieces lie silent, latent, and waiting in each of us “common” folk, just waiting for the lapse of time, space of silence, and moment of daydream, that will allow the Mona Lisa, or the David, or the Flying Machine, to come forth? Perhaps the religion of productivity is not serving us so well as the principle of idleness may. Daydreaming. Staring out the window. Doodling. Jotting down ideas which may or may not culminate in anything “productive” or “commercially viable”. But, perhaps the non-productive and non-commercially-viable ideas are the most valuable in the long run.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

My Grandfather's Eye (TJEd)

I know it’s supposed to be “she’s got her mother’s eyes”, but in my case (I hope), it’s closer to “she’s got her grandfather’s eye”.

My grandfather was a photographer. And a weaver. Okay, he was, technically, an engineer, but once he escaped his official career, he immersed himself in weaving and photography. He had “an eye” for photography, and an engineer’s meticulous mind. This was an absolutely perfect combination for creating his black-and-white Ansel Adam-style landscapes. Not so great when Grandpa wanted to take pictures of the grandkids. Kids just don’t sit still as long as valleys and trees and waterfalls do. I have several of my grandfather’s prints, and they are stunning in their beauty and composition and quietness. And, I remember, painfully, the day my three brothers and I sat for a portrait done by grandpa. Thankfully, his weavings were of landscapes, and not of children.

Today, it is snowing. This doesn’t happen very often in the Greater Atlanta Area, and my family has spent most of its cumulative life in Southern California in an area where it happened even less often. So, snow, for us, is a Big Fat Hairy Deal. Especially since we are only out in it for short spells, don’t have to work in it, don’t have to commute in it, and don’t have to shovel it. We go play in it for a while, we have a grand time, then we run inside for a hot tubby and a blazing fire. We love it.

But, there is just something about snow falling, and the rapidly changing landscape that impels me to grab the camera and start shooting. I suddenly begin seeing things in a different way, combinations of colors and shadows and textures that are just drawing me to see them. I shot off close to 100 photos in the course of about an hour, creating a visual history of the changes I was witnessing. Then, my camera died. Thankfully, I was able to retrieve the photos I had taken. But, there were still hours of beautiful light left in the day, beautiful children and giant dogs romping in the snow, comically timid cats delicately picking their way through the bare patches, bucketloads of beautiful, fat, wet snowflakes dropping and plopping from the sky. Without my camera, each passing moment, each gloppy slop of wet snow falling, is a moment forever lost in time, except in my own memory. I wish I could go back and catch each one of them, but they are gone.

Note: This was written on Sunday, while it was still snowing. I'll post a few pictures on My Page for anyone who would like to see them. Not all 100 pictures, I promise :)