Saturday, February 20, 2010

In Appreciation of Lists

My boss loves lists. So much.

This makes some sense to me, because I am rather fond of lists myself. Even so, my fondness of lists cannot compete with hers; she has a list for every thing. Everything. It seems to give her a sense of calm--to know that she has reliable records of where everything is, how everything is organized, what she needs to do, what she has done, where she did the things she has done, with whom, and for how long. That woman picks up a list and this perfect peace falls over her face, like all is right with the world.

As I said, I cannot compete with a love of lists that runs so deep. My fondness for lists is more shallow--I care for them, but I view a list more as a charming organization specialist who stops by, evaluates my situation, and tells me how to move forward. With each new step, my world becomes clearer. Cubbies in the closet, files alphabetized, pens in the pen cup thingy. Then at the end of the day, I shake the organization specialist's hand and say, "Thank you! You've been a big help today, and I will now watch you walk away with a quiet sense of accomplishment and gratitude."

Then the organization specialist walks away, leaving her card behind and knowing that I will call again soon.

I like my list. In fact, I am about to make a new one now to sort out the millions of things I have to do today. Then I will do each thing one by one, seeing my day and my plans fall carefully into place, feeing a sense of perfect accomplishment as I draw that perfect little line through each task completed.

Yes, the list is good to me. But if a list is looking for a really serious, really deep love, it'll want to go find my boss.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Bright and Marvelous World!

My cup, as they say, runneth over.

I have just had the most delightful birthday run. On Thursday night my brother took me to the Justin Townes Earle concert, which was (as I'm sure you would by now expect) a marvelous, wonderful, perfect occasion. I will refrain from going into detail, as I am sure you have all had your fill of JTE by now.

Last night, the night of my actual factual birthday, I went out for a delightfully gluttonous meal with my friend, Nora. Our birthdays are six days apart, so we celebrate together every year. We went to one of those Brazilian restaurants where they keep bringing you meat as long as your "meat beacon" is set on green. It was a meal to remember.

And now, here I sit this morning, beside the bay window of my "nook", a dark amber-colored tea in the glass tea pot my parents sent me, with a list of work to catch up on and birthday calls to return. The sun is shining and I'll probably take a walk later.

What a blessed thing it is to have love in all its forms!

Happy Valentines Day.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

For the Love of the Game

Add ImageI’ve never really “gotten” baseball . . . which I’m pretty sure is a vile transgression, considering I come from baseball people. My father was named after a baseball player. My brothers spent their childhoods in little league uniforms. And to this day, when I think of St. Louis summers, I think of the sound of cicadas mingling with Jack Buck's voice on the radio.

But I never could find my way to embracing the sport. When my mom offered me her ticket to a Cardinals game during my visit to St. Louis last fall, the only thing that drove me to take it was the opportunity to spend some time with my dad. It had been a while since he and I had hung out, just the two of us.

So we went to the new Busch Stadium, with its Rockwellian design and good-timey baseball feel. My dad treated me to a hot dog and a grossly overpriced beer, and we sat, side-by-side, to watch the game. And then it happened . . . my dad taught me things.

They say that teenagers have a natural resistance to the wisdom of their parents. I was not that teenager, but to some degree, I am that adult. It’s not that I doubt I can learn things from them; it’s that I’m finally beginning to learn things from myself. And as that happens, as I begin to embrace and assert myself as an actual, bonafide grown-up, I find myself trying to make it clear to my parents that I am an adult now—that my opinions are just as thoroughly thought-out, and that they can feel free to learn from me, too. When I really think about it, I don’t think I do this for their sakes. I think they know I’m grown up. I do it for mine.

When I was a little girl, trying against the nature of my language-oriented brain to learn the numeric values of money, my dad would invite me into the dining room, where he would spread his pocket change out on the table. I would stare at the nickels and dimes and quarters, trying to make meaning from their sizes and colors. I watched, transfixed, as my father’s long, thick fingers slid the change around on the dining room table, his steady voice explaining each move with patient genius. He worked with such confident ease . . . no need to calculate or count. He just knew that dime, dime, nickel was the same as one quarter. He was that smart.

It became hard for me to hate the science of money, because I loved the way my dad taught. I liked the reassuring steadiness of his voice and how fascinated he seemed to be with the options of money, with the strategy involved. He grouped the coins to show me that a nickel and five pennies were the same as a dime, and when I began to catch on to the game--when I began to arrange and present my own strategies--he smiled broadly and said, "Yes! That's right!

That's what it was like to be at the baseball game with him, to be at his side, watching a sport that has always been beyond my interest or willing comprehension. I asked him what I was seeing, and he taught me the same way he taught me change: in a careful, patient way, his manner approachable, his voice welcoming. He taught me with an obvious fascination for the strategy of the game, and once again, learning from an enthusiast made it difficult not to be enthusiastic myself. Before I knew it, I was observing the game using the new terms he'd taught me, and, just as he had twenty years before, he smiled broadly and said, "Yes! That's right!"

And suddenly, I was a true adult, admitting to myself that I liked learning something from my dad, that I liked bringing him my curiosity. I am my father's adult daughter. I am independent, self-sufficient, intelligent, and solid. I can think for myself, fight my own battles, and solve my own problems.

And the more confident I am of these things, the more willing I become to learn from my parents again.

Monday, February 8, 2010

A Lot of Power in a Little Honesty

This will be my third post on Justin Townes Earle. Does this mean I have a problem? Perhaps. Perhaps I do. Nevertheless, I feel I must mention him again in anticipation of Thursday night . . . the night the alternative-country love of my life takes the stage in LA and sings (I will imagine) just for me.

I love JTE for the same reasons people all over the world love their favorite musicians: because he makes music that cracks my soul open, that speaks to me, that moves and inspires me. When I listen to Justin Townes Earle--cheesy as it sounds--I catch myself thinking of the type of person I want to be.

It's not that he's singing "Man in the Mirror" type songs. It's simply that he's singing truth. He sings about the good and bad in himself, in the people around them. He sings about how he's loved, how he's failed to love, how he's been hurt. These are, of course, standard topics. But there's something pure and simple in his delivery. Something very honest. No forced poetry, no attempt at clever phrasing. Just stories . . . true stories, shared with deliberate openness.

Take for example one of his most popular songs, "Mama's Eyes." As the son of a largely absent, but fairly well-known father (Alternative Country artist Steve Earle), Justin wrote "Mama's Eyes" to, as he says, "set the record straight." Justin skips past the typical angsty descriptions of his relationship with his father and instead sings in earnest simplicity about the dark habits he learned from his dad. "I ain't foolin' no one," he sings. "I am my father's son."

After a length of singing about being the same as his dad in all the wrong ways, he pays tribute to his mother (and communicates his discovery of his own personal strength) with no great poetic displays of adoration. He simply leans into the microphone and sings:

Now it's three a.m. and I'm standing in the kitchen
holding my last cigarette.
I Strike a match and I see my reflection in the mirror in the hall
and I say to myself,
"I've got my mama's eyes,
her long, thin frame and her smile,
and I still see wrong from right,
'cause I've got my mama's eyes."

Pure and simple.

There is something marvelous about an artist who isn't trying to force emotion out of you. It takes tremendous confidence and balance of mind to be able to simply speak the truth--to simply tell the story--and trust that the clear and simple truth is enough.

This is how I would like to operate as a writer. No manipulating my audiences, simply writing truthfully and trusting that truthful writing will be enough.

This is also how I hope to live my life. No games, no affectations, just pure and simple honesty. And when I am a little bolder, some deliberate openness of my own.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Day the Blah-Blah-Blah-Whatevers Came for Tea

I burst in to 2010 like a . . . thing that bursts really quickly in to something else.

And now this. As you can see by my attempt at metaphor (above), my well is drying up a bit. The well of creativity, the well of motivation, of inspiration, of intrepedation.

It was bound to happen, despite the season I am in. Not Winter . . . I mean, the season of my life. I announced to my brother in early January that this is the year "things happen." 2008 was the year of figuring myself out--figuring out what I wanted and where I was headed and who I hoped to become. 2009 was the year of outlining--of making plans and preparing, of clearing out the things that don't belong in my life and ushering in the things that do.

And when I woke on January 1, 2010, I could feel that gentle breeze of continuing motion. I have been doing nothing but moving forward for the past month, keeping my sights focused on my goals, my mind bursting over with a million ideas for achieving them. Yes, indeed. This is The Year Things Happen.

And then it happened. I woke up yesterday with an overwhelming desire to stay in bed. And when I finally talked myself into getting out of bed, I wanted nothing more but to wander purposelessly through the day--to spend long moments staring at walls, to check my email seven times in a row in the hopes that something interesting would happen to me, to brew tea and then forget to drink it. It was a severe case of the "Blah-Blah-Blah-Whatevers," and I am sorry to say that it continued on to this morning.

But here, my friends, is the blessing: regardless of how I felt yesterday and how I feel today, this is still The Year Things Happen. Therefore, this is the year I learn to deal with the Blah-Blah-Blah-Whatevers. This is the year I learn to acknowledge them without judging them, then interact with them civilly in a way that encourages their exit without forcing it . . . because they cannot be forced out, and they cannot be stifled.

This morning, I opened my blinds, in a gesture that told the Blah-Blah-Blah-Whatevers, "Please make yourselves at home. I just hope you don't mind a little sunlight." Then I took a long shower, all the while saying to the Whatevers, "I'll be with you in a moment, I just need to refresh a bit." Then I cleaned up my room and cleared off my desk. By this point the Whatevers were awkwardly sitting in the corner of my room, with a look on their faces that is often reserved for those moments when one is the only guest at a dinner-party who is not privy to all of the inside jokes.

And here I sit now, on my freshly made bed, easing into the work of the day with some writing designed primarily with my own mental health in mind. The Blah-Blah-Blah-Whatevers are still here, but they're glancing at their watches and trying to think of a good excuse for leaving so soon.

And I am smiling to myself over a small victory. I realized this morning, that lying in bed next to the Whatevers, resenting them and thinking of how I should be pounding out proposals and words at the speed of blind ambition only made me feel overwhelmed by laziness. But a slow and steady response has apparently put me back in control.

Good to know, seeing as how this is, after all, The Year Things Happen. And I have just found a tactful way to make unwanted guests leave.