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Posts Tagged ‘intangible gifts’

My grandchildren are fabulous and funny. (Erica Jong)

Nine-year-old Rebe (Rebecca) announces that it is time to play. Her tone suggests Grandma hasn’t been feeling well and needs more entertainment and less work. At the same time, she is here to entertain and be entertained. It’s the nature of the grandparent/grandchild relationship.

Imagination explodes through these small rooms as Rebe and thirteen-year-old Kate feed off one idea after another.

“I’m getting married,” Rebe announces.

She’s marrying a famous film star Kate suggests. However, Rebe constantly calls him by the wrong name, Ansel.

“You’re marrying someone, and don’t know his name?” I ask.

“That’s okay. I’ll just call him sweetie.”

She leaves the room to hunt for bridal gowns—at a local dollar outlet.

On the offbeat wedding day with the famous-actor-without-an-identity groom. Kate and Rebe design the veil: a shawl, held securely on her head with a pair of antediluvian white cotton underwear.

Then, seconds after Rebe removes the bridal dress, one of my white t-shirts, she is ready to deliver her first child. Or rather fifteen babies.

I don’t have anywhere near that many dolls and stuffed animals. Our fertile mama’s hyperbole delivery lowers to ten infants. Kate improvises the last child. She designs a creature from some of my summer clothes, and a pillow, held together with an Ace wrap and stretch band, with a toy Dora, the Explorer backpack head.

My grandchildren’s ingenuity can’t stay wrapped around pillows and scattered across the floor as make-believe infants forever. However, I celebrate this moment and cough through laughs.

No life is perfect. Illness, as well as problems both personal and world-wide, interfere and must be faced. Yet, beauty is not dead. I see it in two pair of bright eyes and hear it in two young voices.

I can echo Erica Jong: my grandchildren are mighty fabulous and funny, too. And I am grateful.

 

 

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What can go wrong will go wrong. (Murphy’s Law)

My computer is unplugged. Temporarily. A few minutes. No more. Its battery is at 69%. I checked two seconds ago. Then, the screen goes as dead as the inside of a serial killer’s conscience. The blackout has just destroyed 83 pages of edits.

On my final manuscript.

Scheduled to go to my publisher.

Today.

Yes, I do know how to write complete sentences. However, under the circumstances, my mind isn’t thinking in complete thoughts, especially as I realize the do-you-want-to-recover document I was editing contains an uncorrected way-too-common phrase I changed on page one.

And, no, I did not wait hours before hitting save. The save button would have a hole in if it were made of any earth material—including diamond.

Glitch two—some missed connection with my new Microsoft Word. No-o-o, a two-letter word that now has at least ten syllables.

Time to breathe before starting over. Two friends help make that happen, Ann and Shannon. They are coming for lunch and a personal concert. Fortunately, lunch has been prepared ahead. Simple. Homemade soup and tossed salad. Bagged tortilla chips. These two women appreciate. Excess is unnecessary.

Ann is blind. I pick her up from home and lead her up the steps leading to our house. She has no difficulty finding her way. Her sunshine greeting, light coming from her spirit, encourages me.

I realize there is no way I could have started over on my manuscript in a milieu of internal darkness. Shannon is already at the house and she is talking to Jay. Her laughter greets us as we enter the house.

We begin our afternoon with music. Neither of my friends could come to the Get Lit Festival last Saturday sponsored by Post Mortem Press. (Lit refers to Literature, not buzzed.) Local artists and writers brought their art to sell. I read a short section from my next middle-grade urban fantasy. I also played and sang three songs.

Nathan Singer from the Whiskey Shambles, rocked the program. He has an established following.

However, Ann and Shannon cheer as I play two songs on my guitar—just for them. Jay claps as well, even though he has heard my music so often, I close the door so he can concentrate on something else, anything else. A song may be incredible, but any sound repeated 7, 468 times requires ear canals as calloused as my fingertips. It’s called survival.

My heart lightens by the time I get back to start-over mode. And that is valuable because one beat after I get to the last page, Murphy’s Law shows up again. The computer freezes. Donkey-stubborn, won’t-get-out-of-bed, it refuses to budge.

My unprintable response remains in my husband’s and my memory since the computer is comatose now. It couldn’t hear if it were a living being anyway. Moreover, I reserve questionable language for the computer. I reboot the gosh-darned thing and pray my story has lived.

Trembling, I consider one of the last changes I made. Perhaps one of the angels my friends left in the house is present because I remember two edits. They are both intact.

Bye-bye, manuscript. Have a good time being formatted into a fantasy kids can enjoy where the good guys win. And hello, real life. No, I did not use the hammer or axe on my computer. The old thing will, however, be replaced. My birthday present from Jay.

After all, the innate beauty in life returns. Eventually. Murphy’s Law never destroys goodness completely.

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Acceptance and tolerance and forgiveness, those are life-altering lessons.  (Jessica Lange)

Today’s blog is the longest I have ever posted. Yet only this introductory paragraph comes from me. Kelsey Timmerman wrote the rest of it; I copied it verbatim with his permission. If you come from a different political platform, please hold on until the end. The purpose is not primarily political. It is human. Step into someone else’s shoes—at least for a few minutes. Peace, upon all:

…”I hated them because they voted for a man who I despised because of his hate speech. I hated hate so I hated and hated myself for hating.”

I wrote this piece on my blog after the election. Sharing again here on inauguration day:

THANKS FOR THE INSPIRATION, DONALD TRUMP. LET’S GET TO WORK.

There are a lot of reasons I didn’t want Donald J. Trump to be our next president, but there is one reason (and probably only one) that I’m glad he won.

The night of the election, I went to a watch party hosted at The Downtown Farm Stand. Gary Younge from the Guardian was there too. (Can you get more liberal than drinking organic beer and eating organic free-range, potato chips with your GMO-free friends, including a reporter from The Guardian? Probably not.) Like everyone else we expected to watch the election of the first female president. I can’t say I was a vigorous supporter of Hillary Clinton (there’s something rather unappealing about political dynasties), but earlier that day when I cast a vote for her I did get the “feels.” I have a daughter and if her fascination with burping and farting ever goes away, I’d like to think she could have any job, including President of the United States.

At the party, I thought, “If Trump did happen to win by some miracle, I’ll be more inspired than ever to get busy on my personal work and my work with The Facing Project connecting people through stories to strengthen community.”

At 9:30 PM it was obvious that Clinton was in trouble. The myth of the “silent Trump” voter was a reality. I stayed up until 3AM. I watched President-elect Trump’s victory speech. I felt like someone had died.

I had solid reasons to feel this way:

Since I’m a freelance troublemaker, we get our insurance through the ACA healthcare exchange. I have an autistic son who receives more than $100K of therapy each year. If/when President Trump repeals Obamacare, will a private insurance company outside the exchange insure us with Griffin’s “preexisting condition?” Or will we have to end therapy altogether?

Then there is Trump…

Did I mention I have a son with disabilities?

There’s the rhetoric of hate, fear, and misogyny. But I don’t want to write about all the reasons President Trump scares the shit out of me and makes me disappointed for our country, and how I feel for anyone that’s been labeled an outsider or other by the creepy nationalistic vibe that he represents. I want to write about how his being elected has inspired me more than ever to build empathy through stories.

On Wednesday I mourned. I skipped my morning workout and zombie-like drove Griffin to preschool. As I moved through the day, I’d see people and speculate that they voted for Trump on the smallest detail–what they wore, what they drove, facial hair. I was prejudging everyone and once I determined that they were a Trump voter, I hated them. I hated them because they voted for a man who I despised because of his hate speech. I hated hate so I hated and hated myself for hating.

On Thursday I was giving a talk at Northern Kentucky University. First year students at NKU read Where Am I Eating? as a common read. I had decided to make the talk entirely about the election and not mention our election once.

I told the story of a family who lived in the Mathare Valley slum in Nairobi Kenya. After a disputed election in 2008, violence spilled out across Kenya. The losing party was protesting the results of the election in which a candidate of the Luo tribe lost to a candidate from the Kikuyu tribe. Luo protestors went door-to-door in Mathare Valley and asked questions in their native tongue. If their questions couldn’t be answered, they killed all those inside. Shaddy Hopkid Marsha, the middle brother of the family, spoke both languages. He gathered up his neighbors and hid them inside his shanty. He answered the questions. He saved the lives of his neighbors.

“How many houses, dorm rooms, apartments, do you have to go from your home until you don’t know the names of the people who live there?” I asked the students and myself.

I shared a story about standing outside of a mosque in Bangladesh while men in prayer robes poured out. This was 2007, and, as much as I liked to think that the constant barrage of “fear the Muslims” in our media and society hadn’t sunk in, it had. My heart beat faster. I was nervous that if they knew I were an American, they wouldn’t like me. I was afraid. But then I spent then next month hanging out with people…people who were Muslim. They were amazing.

“How can we fear people who we’ve never met?” I asked the students and myself.

I shared Amilcar Lozano‘s story. Amilcar left his job as a garment worker in Honduras and risked his life to come to the United States where he works today supporting his family in a way he couldn’t if he were actually with them. No matter where you are on the immigration debate, you can appreciate the sacrifice Amilcar made for his family and the courage it took to make his journey.

“When we start with stories instead of politics and ideology, we can have a conversation with anyone regardless of what political team they are on or who they voted for,” I told the students and myself.

I talked about knowing our neighbors, listening to them, not fearing people we don’t know, and about the responsibility we all have to use our own privilege and opportunity to help others.

It felt so damn good not to hate. It felt good to take positive action to make a difference instead of complaining about things I couldn’t control.

On Saturday, the Facing Racism Project in Muncie project shared 38 stories of people in our community who had a racism story to be told. The event sold out in a matter of days. I’m the co-founder of The Facing Project, a nationwide nonprofit storytelling initiative that seeks to build empathy, and I was also a writer and a part of the planning committee for the project.

The stories reminded us all how far we’ve come as a society, yet how very far we have to go. To collect the stories, volunteer writers sat with volunteer storytellers to listen and collaborate on each story, and actors brought the stories to life. Well over 100 people were involved in the project.

The participants and the audience reminded me that there are people who are willing to sit and listen to difficult subjects. There are people who are willing to connect with people who are different than them.

After the election, we didn’t wake up in a different country. This is our country. If you were surprised by the results like I was, we obviously weren’t listening to other people enough. We let our politics and our politicians divide us. We need to connect and seek to understand those who have different opinions than us.

Universities, bless their souls, are providing safe places for students to mourn the election results. I’ll give you Wednesday. Wednesday I needed a safe place to just not do Wednesday, so I stayed home as much as possible. But Thursday? We don’t need quiet places to be alone, we need to be meeting people, getting engaged with all parts of our community and not just people who look, think, and act like us.

I will make this important caveat though: I understand why certain people are afraid of a Trump presidency. They are afraid of being deported, having a loved one being deported, being rounded up into an internment camp, of being unmarried to a loved one, of not being able to afford health insurance. Those of us who are less impacted by the possibilities listed above need to be there for the groups of people who feel like they may lose rights or be discriminated against. We need to listen to them and stand with them.

We also need to listen to the people who voted for Trump. I have loved ones who I believe are some of the best damn people on the planet and they voted for Trump. I side with Jon Stewart on this.

Here’s what he had to say to Charlie Rose recently:

“I thought Donald Trump disqualified himself at numerous points. But there is now this idea that anyone who voted for him has to be defined by the worst of his rhetoric. Like, there are guys in my neighborhood that I love, that I respect, that I think have incredible qualities who are not afraid of Mexicans, and not afraid of Muslims, and not afraid of blacks. They’re afraid of their insurance premiums. In the liberal community, you hate this idea of creating people as a monolith. Don’t look at Muslims as a monolith. They are the individuals and it would be ignorance. But everybody who voted for Trump is a monolith, is a racist. That hypocrisy is also real in our country.”

We fear what we don’t know. When we don’t know our neighbors, we fear them.

We all need to listen to each other and have empathy for one another. This election has reminded me of that and that the work that I do and the work of The Facing Project is more important than ever. I hope you have similar work to pour yourself into that isn’t just a Facebook post, or a Change.org petition, or protesting. Those things are fine, but if you really want to make an impact, you need to go beyond being against things and work on the things you are for. You need to become part of the community out your actual front door.

If you aren’t sure what to do and want to build empathy story by story, The Facing Project needs volunteer coaches and editors. We also need resources–you can donate here to the Building Empathy Story by Story campaign – http://give.classy.org/empathy .

Since the election, I’ve completed the first draft of a book proposal and shipped it off to JL Stermer–another global quest–and feel absolutely reinvigorated and as passionate as ever toward my work with The Facing Project.

And for that I’m thankful. It’s not a new world. It’s the same world and this election has been a reminder we still have a lot of work to do.

photos taken from Facing Project web page, highlighted with Word tools

A team studies possible approaches in the top photo. Autistic children celebrate who they are in the lower pic.

kelseys-post-hatred-is-not-the-answer

 

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If you carry your childhood with you, you never become older. (Abraham Sutzkever )

My almost grandson, Dakota, is about to leave our house to spend the weekend with his dad. I am on the floor of my office/playroom. The area doubles as both.

Ella and I are making Play-Doh food for two baby dolls. She leads each scene; I follow, savoring every inconsistency with reality. Time follows a whim. Meatballs can be blue. Toy characters can be friends even if they are three times the size of one another.

“I love you, Ella,” Dakota says. “Be good for your daddy and I will be home on Sunday. I love you.”

A five-year-old angel stands in a room filled with the imperfection that happens when every toy finds its way off the shelves. I want to hug the little boy, and gather in the beauty I see. Instead, I wait in awe.

He doesn’t know how incredible he is. I don’t have the pre-school language to explain to him what I see. I listen, and allow him to teach. About accepting life as it is, not how I want it to be.

Utopia does not exist. Anywhere. Even in play. Some of the Play-Doh has dried out. My grandchildren love the stuff. It’s inexpensive enough to replace. The toys can be returned to the shelf in less than thirty minutes.

I look at the world scene, however, and the pain in my neck and back increases—a somatic response as helpful as screaming into a storm, telling the wind to stop, immediately. I work toward taking one step at a time, and listen to the nuances of each situation. Act. Don’t react, Ter. Easier said than done, but a lot more effective than war, on any level.

I am grateful my grandchildren live in town. They may think they have a grandma-playmate. However, they rekindle a long-ago child who believes in creativity and kindness.

I may never be able to convince my arthritic hands they belong forming odd-colored vegetables for a stuffed snowman and cow. Nevertheless, the children convince my spirit it can remain fresh and pliable, capable of change, open to love.

(Dakota’s drawings of my son, Steve, and his family: Mom, Steve, Ella, and Dakota. When asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, Dakota answered, “A daddy like Steve.”)

dakotas-drawings-of-steve-and-his-family

 

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We all have our time machines. Some take us back, they’re called memories. Some take us forward, they’re called dreams. (Jeremy Irons, actor)

I’m at a book signing that is part of a small city pumpkin festival. Two memories, one from long ago and one from last year, hit me as I talk to a couple who stop at my table. The wife asks if there is violence in my middle-grade fantasy, The Curse Under the Freckles. The couple tell me their son is highly sensitive to anything brutal.

I give a short explanation of the story. Chase, an eleven-year old boy, was born with magical abilities. However, his mother knows about the curse and the dangerous side of the magical world. She never tells him. When Chase finally learns about it, he has lost every possible tool to break the curse. He must do it in three steps, but, no one gives him any idea what those steps will be.

They will not include the usual fight.

I say the book does not rely on blood and violence for entertainment. Then I realize a tragedy involves one of the main characters. In an early chapter. A death. Of course this is fantasy, and in a make-believe world a character can die and still be okay. The book has a happy and unexpected ending.

The young boy has been standing behind them. He moves between his parents, and shakes his head. I nod and smile. A silent way of saying I understand. In some ways he reminds me of me in an earlier century.

I recall the mobile library that came one day each week to my elementary school. In the primary grades I browsed for books with the least amount of conflict. I chose stories closest to utopia, places where taunting and meanness didn’t exist, where parents told their kids how wonderful they were. Most kids would have considered the books I read boring. Even then I knew I wanted safety. In real life and on the printed page.

Eventually, my tastes grew up. In fantasy, wild events could occur. I reveled in another world. It became my escape.

This young boy’s experience and mine are probably not even close. Yet, I suspect he has a keen sense of empathy that needs guidance. I am glad to see the concern his parents have for him. I watch as the family walks away, and I silently wish them the best, more than the best if that could be possible.

This is one time I am okay not to sell. To him. And yet I fully believe in the appropriateness of my story for kids. Real life sends difficulties to everyone. It doesn’t care how old the individual is. Chase’s losses would throw anyone, of any age. However, in fiction I can tailor the outcome, create a happy ending. In fantasy, possibilities extend beyond real life’s limitations. All the painful details don’t need to be elongated in a book for kids. Several young readers have requested a sequel. That book should be published next year, time yet unknown.

I remember another book signing when I came as customer, not vendor. A well-known children’s author told a girl the book was not suited for her age. I was impressed. To sell is not a writer’s sole mission. To entertain, to touch the heart, to make a reader’s life a little bit better, if only for that moment—these goals matter far more. Sometimes a story can plant answers, each word, chosen like seeds placed in fertile soil, lined across the page.

When the reader says, yes, I think like that, too, possibilities open. Perhaps healing then can begin…

bookfest-hamilton-2016

 

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Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others. (Jonathan Swift)

“How nice to see you, Terry,” A. says. “But she recognizes my voice as I talk to another Y member, not my short stature and senior version of what was once strawberry-blond hair. A. is blind.

I have met her several times. Each time I get to know her a tad better.

I call her later because I finally figured out the right date for a senior social event. Jay and I will be bringing her home. She expresses concern for the pain in my back.

When she says she will pray for me I believe her, and ask her to add someone else to her list, a young friend who lives out of state. S. will be having surgery at the end of September. I don’t give A. full details, only an overview of a nightmare that began with a bout of pancreatitis.

And I realize the larger story is stuck in the back of my throat, in a huge wad of emotion that won’t be swallowed. A. seems to understand. But I don’t know why this woman I barely know has brought this out in me. Through some intangible connection. Beyond the visual.

“Your husband refuses payment for the ride home,” she says.

“And so do I.”

“Maybe you can come to my house for dinner sometime.”

I pause before suggesting she come to my house instead, after I’ve finished physical therapy. And that will happen by the time of the social event. “I should be just fine by then. Besides, I love to cook.”

But, I think about how A. sees with her hearing and memory—and how I don’t. I have no clue how many steps there are from the table to the bathroom. There is a narrow space between the couch and the television. Jay and I leave our shoes in the middle of the floor. Sure, on that day we would be wearing them, but I take sight for granted.

“You can bring a friend,” I say, more for me than for her. Someone who already knows what she can maneuver on her own. And what she can’t.

She isn’t sure whether she can arrange an escort or not. She hasn’t read my mind. And that is probably a good thing. I will take the leap. Learn. Make a new friend, who will become more than an acquaintance with a keen sense of voice recognition.  Then perhaps, I shall see gifts, once invisible, yet present all along.

just once understand

 

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Intuition is seeing with the soul. (Dean Koontz )

As Jay drives to my ophthalmologist I sit in the backseat next to my granddaughter, Ella. Headlights from oncoming cars mildly bother me even though it’s daytime. Morning. No glare from dark to light contrasts. And discomfort from dilating drops hasn’t happened yet.

I am certain I need new glasses even though I got a stronger prescription last year. But am I a candidate for cataract surgery? Don’t know. Yet. Besides, the hot, polluted Midwestern air teases my lungs, constricted by asthma.

I sit next to Ella. By choice. At six she is old enough to entertain herself. We play games together. I look at a bright Ella instead of an outside sky I’m not ready to face even with sunglasses.

“Name an animal,” she says.

Mickey Mouse is also playing. I hold the toy and act as proxy. “Mouse,” Mickey answers.

Ella nixes that response. Mickey is a mouse. He needs to think outside his own species. At least I gather that from her head shake. And I smile.

“Monkey.”

Better.

She adds, “Moose.”

At the office Ella sits so close to me I have difficulty filling out the paperwork. She glides her hand down my arm and sticks her head into mine. “You be okay.”

I’m grateful Grandpa is taking her to the park. My sweet granddaughter doesn’t need to sit and recall her own surgeries. Including open heart. Twice. Although she couldn’t recall the first. She hadn’t been six-months old yet.

Ella's last day at Children's Hospital

“Fine. I will be just fine.” I bring my fill-in-the-blanks sheet back with me. Down the hall. Not far. But, my memory slips back to a day before Ella learned to walk. To the first time I realized Ella could connect with my spirit in an unexplained way.

I was sitting on the floor as she crawled across the floor. My husband was watching The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. He saw fiction. I saw a scene. A girl who could not escape. And I heard her scream. A waste of breath. The sound reached into my gut and ripped out my own memories… a moment that had been bad enough. The degradation afterward worse. I gasped.

My granddaughter could not have understood what I saw. Or remembered. Or felt. But, she climbed onto my knee and interrupted the scene, her eyes wide. She did not have language yet. Nevertheless, her face said, Look at me, not at the television.

At that moment I lifted Ella into my arms and returned to the present. The beautiful and blessed present. The horrid rerun of the past disappeared instantly with the power of her remarkable, aware soul. She caught me before my thoughts became entangled in the ugly. We moved to another room, another scene. Into the moment.

Ella has Down Syndrome, a tripled-twenty first chromosome. And, most likely, a tripled intuitive sense, a gift that is uniquely hers.

She is also right about today’s visit: I am okay. I need a new prescription for glasses. No surprise there. But, no cataract surgery yet. My vision may be surreal for eight more hours. And eyes a tad more sensitive. But, I don’t need perfect sight to recognize love.

“Name an animal,” she says.

And the game continues.

Ella back view at Mt. Airy Park April 2015

 

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