Monday, February 27, 2012

The Capes That Carry Me...

When I saw this drawing, two specific people came to mind.  There have been a lot of good and loving people who’ve had a positive influence in my life.  But this isn’t about that whole group of people.  It’s about THOSE TWO specific ones.  But before I share why, and who they are, I’ll share who and what they’re NOT.  They’re not super heroes.  Super heroes are for comic books and fiction stories.  Super heroes possess capabilities beyond the human realm.  And I don’t see them as heroes either, because honestly, in my mind, I think a hero is more of a moment in a person’s life ~ it doesn’t comprise who they are, but more of an action. Many will disagree with me on this point, but that’s not what this is about, so I’ll tackle that subject another day.
Like I said, this drawing reminded me of two specific people – they have impacted my life and I have seen their capes.  A way of life.  A moral code.  A life lived by example.  With no thought of reward, recognition or anything other than just living their life in the way that’s the right thing to do.  A life of goodness that builds on itself for them and for those around them.
They are not saints.  Not heroes.  They have flaws and they make mistakes.  But they are good, honest people to the core who live their life by a moral code that is as natural to them as breathing.  I don’t know that I’ve ever told them of the impact they’ve had on me, so it’s about time I did. 
In my 20’s, I met Patricia Harpster, aka Trish Dish.  (Don’t ask me where the nickname came from, I don’t remember!) We were receptionists in a doctor’s office and she was the first person I ever met and still know who lives her life, every day, as a Christian.  Yes, she was Catholic, but I don’t mean she lived her life by the Catholic religion and its rules and practices.  I mean she is a Christian.  She had a relationship with her faith that was just simply a natural part of her actions, her words and her who she is. Her marriage, her family life, and her friendships reflected a sincerity and truth that were grounded in her faith.  She made me want to be a better person, to be a Christian, and was the person I looked to emulate long before I embarked on my own spiritual quest.  Today, 15 years after I stopped working with her on a daily basis, she still affects me and the person that I strive to be.  I don’t feel I’ve nearly come close to her example, but she is who keeps me trying.
Those who know me will not be surprised to hear me name the second person as my husband, Steven.  If our marriage of the past twenty nine years had been “perfect”, I would not trust my judgment.  It’s because of the imperfections (otherwise known as those things that sometimes drive me to aggravating distraction) that I see his cape flow so brilliantly.  There have been people’s lives who he’s touched that would call him a hero.  As a paramedic, he’s saved people’s lives - as a firefighter, he’s entered burning buildings in search of someone trapped – as a friend and coworker he’s made a difference in a suicidal idealization.  But it’s not those things I refer to.
Steve is a black and white kind of guy.  There’s right and there’s wrong.  And no middle ground.  Not for him.  The right way he sees is to be the person who’s there.  Who helps with a sincerity behind it that’s unmatched.  Who steps in to do a job because it’s just something that needs to be done for the greater good.  Who strives to be a better man on a daily basis. He stays when others would walk away. He wears a lot of hats:  son, husband, father, friend, mason, and confidante to name a few.  We often clash as his black and white ways and my gray area ways collide. And although I don’t always agree, I can always acknowledge that his actions and decisions are always done with the best of intentions and integrity.  He inspires me to search deep within myself for the same type of qualities and actions.    
I don’t put Trish or Steve up on a pedestal.  They are everyday human beings.  And I can lump us all together as good people.  Like many other good people around us.  And yet to me, they stand out.  They probably don’t know they nudge me to push myself a little further…to dig a little deeper.  And someday, because of them, I believe I’ll catch a glimpse of my shadow and see a little something waving in the breeze behind me.  Thanks guys. 

Friday, February 17, 2012

My Good Freaky Friday

I can’t wait to see what the rest of the weekend brings.  Or at least what the remainder of Friday holds.  The surprises started when I lifted my toothbrush and was startled to see my watch on my right wrist.  Of course, my first thought was “WHO put that there?  I’ve never worn a watch on my right wrist in my life and although I remembered picking up my watch just a few minutes earlier, I couldn’t remember actually putting it on.  Couldn’t even imagine how I did it as I generally struggle every morning to get the clasp done as I’m putting it on my left wrist! 

Well, the immediate shock of seeing it there made me miss my mouth with the toothbrush and after smearing it across my cheek, I proceeded to drop it and watched it tumble down my arm, leaving a trail of toothpaste down my dark purple sweatshirt sleeve. 

After a few minutes of toothpaste clean up detail and correcting my watch placement, I headed to work, thinking I was safe.  I took off my boots and put my shoes on and low and behold, had put on white socks (gasp!) instead of navy blue to wear with my blue loafers and jeans.  I was beginning to think I was back in the pre-school days of my son where they got to wear pajamas to school on “Freaky Friday”! 

At work I sit behind a desk and not many people see my feet, so overall it wasn’t that big of a deal.  Seeing as I work on a University and how the majority of students express themselves through their outfits, my faux paux of white socks didn’t really mean much. 

However…every time I got up from my desk, they jumped out at me like a red flag.  And they made me smile.  Big smile. Every time. All day.

I’m sure I had a much happier Friday than I would have with my blue socks on.  And that wouldn’t have happened for me a couple years ago.  I’ve noticed a subtle shift lately.  Whether it’s red wine on my all white bathrobe (yep – came right out with some Clorox bleach), a burned casserole (scraped it off and we ate it anyway) or a task forgotten (there’s always another day) I don’t get tipped over the edge to craziness like I used to.  I yell less – berate myself less and just generally try to remember to breathe and just deal with it.

And today I smiled. Big smile. Every time.  Remembering back to my Martha Stewart days, which coincided with my son’s pre-school Freaky Friday days – I’d say it’s a good thing.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Love is…a Whitman’s box of chocolates.

Bought these today. A cup of tea and a chocolate sounds heavenly.
Year after year as I grew up it appeared on Valentine’s Day like clockwork – the small Whitman’s heart shaped box, with six prized chocolates nestled inside.  My passion for (and daily fix of) chocolate in some form on a daily basis most likely finds its roots in the significance of that box for me. The front was usually adorned with a Peanuts caricature with a valentine’s message about love or hugs or the coveted “Be Mine?”   Who could resist such a loving ritual from a dad?
My dad was a softie.  I mean the big teddy bear heart kind of guy who loved his family more than himself.  I didn’t doubt my dad loved me, but didn’t give it any conscious thought through my younger daughter years – I really grew into the knowledge more as an adult, but the signs were there, just waiting for me to see them.  Valentine’s Day was my first clue. 
My dad was a quiet man.  He believed his actions spoke louder than words (written or spoken) and so “I love you” didn’t cross his lips a lot in those early childhood years.  Maybe it was the generation, maybe growing up as an only child with a gruff father, maybe it was our family dynamics.  Whatever the reason, he felt the proof of his love was in the showing, not the telling.     
Dad and I - long before Whitman's.
He worked hard to support his wife and five children.  He was involved in his community and volunteered his whole life to help others.  I don’t remember him ever reading me a story, or sitting down to play a game.  But I remember him at the father/daughter dinners for Girl Scouts, at the head of the dining room table at nightly family meals and when he walked me down the aisle to marry a man who would also love me for the rest of my life.  Dad was the only one I thought to call when I had what can only be deemed as an emotional breakdown in my freshman year of high school.  He picked a hysterical me up at the flag pole in front of the school, took me home, hugged me but didn’t question me, tucked me in on the couch after giving me an orange juice (heavily laden with Vodka) and sat with me as I slept until my mom got home from work later that day to handle whatever it was that had pushed me to my breaking point. 
Oh, how I wish I still had one of those valentine boxes.  I kept many of them for years, keepers of mementos, trinkets and whatever else a young girl squirrels away.  I’m sure at some point during an emotional “rite of passage” time when I was shedding my childhood and embracing my adulthood (hear the violins? I was probably around the oh so grown up age of 14 or so) I threw out my boxes.  And sometime around then they stopped coming.  Maybe he felt they wouldn’t be appreciated anymore – maybe I inadvertently gave off some sign that I was beyond that type of expression from him. 
My Dad. William P. Wood.
In his later years, he became much more demonstrative.  He told me he loved me each time I saw him. His arms would wrap around me, pull me close and hug me with a love I felt deep into my bones.  It was like receiving a Whitman’s heart shaped box every time.  A few years before he passed, I got the courage to ask him if it was him or my mom who had bought the boxes for us girls year after year.  His answer was clear.  “Of course it was me honey, your mother didn’t know what I wanted to say to you”. 
Thanks dad. I love you too.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Am I Ready to Ride?

“Everyone must have a fantasy.”
Andy Warhol
It’s a fine line for me between fantasy and reality, much like when I’m driving and make that choice to cross over the limit.  The reality - the posted speed signs, the fantasy - the gray area where I make a conscious choice and decide just how far over I can go.  What level of risk I’m willing to take; what pushes me to go beyond what’s “allowed”.  Always the question of will there be a reward or consequence for the risk? 
In every fiction piece I write, the fantasy that evolves has roots in the reality of my life.  I find I can’t write any other way.  My fiction doesn’t involve Middle Earth or alien life forms.  It doesn’t have characters that cast spells or engage mystical powers.  It’s human nature.  It delves into and dallies amongst the hopes, fears, dreams, desires and flaws that drive us forward each day and of course, the rewards or consequences of our choices.     
I wrote a short story a few years back about two strangers at an airport terminal. It’s written in the first person point of view from the woman’s perspective.  It opens:  “His face is serene. From the bottom of the large window that looks out onto the runway, the sunrise creeps in.  Its rays, broken by branches of a large leafed plant, lay across him at odd angles.  They settle on his face like a soft blanket and I take in the long lashes that rest at the top of his cheeks.  I shift in my seat, clasp my hands in my lap, and swallow against the dryness in my mouth... I feel my body soften into the vinyl-cushioned chair beneath me in response to the passive invitation he offers.  In my chest, a hollow ache forms.  I close my eyes for a moment to indulge in the harmless fantasy. 
Harmless fantasy?  For the most part, my belief is that fantasy is harmless and also that it’s essential to our well-being to have a little rush of it every now and then.  We can label it anything we like - imagination, daydreams, creativity, hopes, brainstorming….for me, it’s writing. 

Who knows what lies around the curve?

Somewhere around 6 or 7, I loved to take out my Barbie doll and set up house.  The thick Sears & Roebuck catalog covered in one of my dad’s white handkerchiefs became a regal four poster canopy bed, the top of the hairspray can a living room chair for beautiful poised Barbie with her incredibly long legs crossed in front of her.  Pencils on the carpet outlined the rooms of her home and the hallways where she was allowed to walk.  In my imagination, she lived in the palace I’d made her.  Never mind that Barbie always had to wear shoes and gloves because I had a compulsion to chew off her toes and fingers.  There was something about her perfection that even then I realized just wasn’t right.   Long before I started writing, I created for my Barbie, a flaw, my fantasy for her.  I longed to take her perfect self, give her a taste of the human condition and see where it took her. 
Now when I write, my characters all have flaws woven into who they are. They lie.  They dream.  They have goals.  They’re abused or lack self-confidence. They love and hate and feel jealous and have kindness in their hearts.  They’re good and they’re evil. They overcome disappointments and obstacles and sometimes grow to become better people (and sometimes not). 
I strive to stay true to the nugget of reality as the fantasy and my characters grow.  But I’ll be honest here and admit that my writing, much like my driving, only pushes to the “acceptable” limits.  Flowing along with the rest of the pack, hesitant (scared maybe?) to lay it all on line, rush forward and feel the exhilaration of no limitations. 
My strangers in the airport story ends with them never speaking. They go their separate ways, choosing to not travel the road their fantasy beckons them to.
Steve always said I'd look good in a red convertible...maybe he's right!
But what if…..what if they indulged and went for it?  What reward or consequence of their risk awaits them?  What if I risked it and went for it with my writing? Hmmm.  Maybe I’m ready.  Maybe it's time I brush off their story, (gather up some other pieces while I’m at it), take a detour, put the pedal to the floor and feel the rush.