Monday, March 30, 2009

"Get Back to Where You Once Belonged"

Plato said that writing would rob people of memory. We'd record what we wanted to remember thus decreasing our ability to mentally store it . We would no longer have to remember everything. Lists replaced mnemonic devices. Traveling bards were replaced with books, written plays, films, photo albums, and scrapbooks. Sure enough, we don't have the memory to remember to charge our cell phones let alone recall the entire story of The Iliad.

More and more I'm becoming disenchanted with our high-tech world. Today's pet peeves include computer social networks (yes, still) and other desperate attempts to record life as it's being lived instead of living it and letting it record itself.

I understand blogging. I don't understand Facebook. I've dallied with it for several weeks and find it frustrating for the most part. Sure, positive impacts are recognized such as family and friend connections. But then, that's just it. Have I really connected? Or do I just know a few more tidbits and statistics about these people? I haven't seen their eyes, smelled their breath, touched their hands, or heard voice tones. I only know what tidbits they willingly share. While it's encouraging to know they are okay for the most part, that their lives give them pleasure and growth, still, I am frustrated. Like smelling dinner but never eating it. 'I can't get no satisfaction.'

This morning I reclaimed some of myself from my Facebook 'Info' section and removed dozens of 'friends'. It's impossible for me to do right by nearly 90 people, so I'll try to keep it under 50. I certainly don't require ego boosting by having inflated numbers. My ego is well out of its box as it is. It's challenging enough to stay true to my in-the-flesh friends and they will always have priority.

Equally perplexing is the constant craving to over-photograph life in stills or video. New cameras make it easy for even a novice like me to take pretty decent pictures and I do. And it gives me joy to capture special moments, though I often notice that I think too much about recording a thing rather than simply enjoying it. Lately, my mind relaxes into the idea that moments can remain unshared, that it's okay to keep them to myself or share them with whoever is with me, but I don't have to exploit the moment via some form of media. After all I can't record every single fantastic or beautiful or zany thing I witness. The freedom to pick and choose - without regret - is sweet.

I do understand the persistent recording of children. They grow and change quickly and without some sort of record it's easy to forget their small antics and adorabilities. This is all well and good. Though sometimes it seems we make them the stars of our world and go overboard. Life becomes a movie and is seen as such; realness is abandoned. It's a subtle thing, and regrettable. I've photographed or video-recorded kids only to have them grab and turn my camera hand to look at their image in the viewing-window, judging whether what I've captured is good enough or needs to be redone. I see kids aping for the camera, one eye on it instead of on the activity in which they participate. This bothers me.

Of course, lots of things bother me.

Like scrapbooking. I don't get it. I've done it, I have scrapbooks of trips, of occasions, of my dog. They take up an enormous amount of space and rarely are perused. I find it rather boring looking at other people's scrapbooks preferring to look at just photos without all that crap that the sticker and doo-dad people sell as must-haves for scrappers. Cartoonish. My life isn't a cartoon and neither is anyone else's.

Tell me about your trip with your body, your voice, and show me the photos as you go. Photo albums are big enough without adding silliness which bloats them up to sometimes unwieldy sizes. Can you imagine where they'll end up? I am eternally thankful that my mom is not a scrapper. Oh, the miserable responsibility of lugging those things through life, passing them down and down, hauling them around because you just can't throw away Grandma's scrapbooks. I refuse to do that to my kids. My memories are mine. The kids each have a lovingly-made baby book from their father and me. The rest of my recorded life is either verbally passed along or being sparingly written in journals (feel free to toss them, kids. I wrote them for me, not you). There are photos. The rest can be imagined, romanticized, lived without. I encourage my kids to live their own lives not feed off of the residue of mine. "But they can learn from my life." Yeah, sure, but how about this? How about they learn their own version, unique to them, discovering it for the first time through reality rather than a two-foot square, four-inch thick scrapbook filled with your memories? Walking backward instead of forward through life is to merely exist, to stumble, to react rather than to observe, decide, and create. The wisdom necessary to pass down takes up little space. The rest is gleaned along the way.

I remember reading an article about a young, vital, athletic woman who cancer began to kill. Independent though she was she was swayed to follow traditional therapy to the fullest including massive radiation and chemotherapy. As the cancer began to retreat so did her quality of life. Bout after bout of nausea-inducing foreign matter entered her body. Her hair fell out. That didn't bother her. Her body shriveled. Again, something she could live with. Her time was swallowed up in table-lying sessions as toxins dripped into her veins and rendered her useless, slumped over her toilet, and drained of energy. Weeks turned into months. Her life became a blur, unreal. She couldn't enjoy the fresh air, good food, or the touch of her husband's hand. She'd nearly forgotten that life was more - much more - than the sickly smell of a hospital, the phoniness of a doctor's office, and waiting rooms crowded with sick people who mirrored her misery.

While lying in the medical facility on a narrow bed, needle stuck in her arm, familiar white walls and disinfectant smells surrounding her this woman had an intense flash of memory. She remembered feeling alive. She remembered laughing and running, the feel of lake water rushing over her swim-suit clad body, picking and eating juicy berries after hiking for hours in the mountains, and her husband's relaxed countenance as they met in bed at the end of the day. That was life. Hospital beds and sickness were not.

She knew she was going to die from the cancer. It had spread. She'd agreed to attack and attack hard. She won a few years beyond what doing nothing would have given her. But she realized a tipping point while on that gurney with the needle in her arm. She could continue traditional countermeasures and feel sick until she died or she could unplug, walk away, and live - truly live - until she died.

As she remembered life and the glory of it which once was hers she made her choice. With index finger and thumb she firmly pinched the needle and slid it out of her arm. She stood up. She decidedly set the needle and tubing down on the bed still warm from her tiny body. And she silently walked away.

She died to live. Truly live. Again, before the darkness that was destined to swallow her could.

And that darkness is destined to swallow us all. The over-recording, the frantic expressions of our existence, our desperate pleas to be heard, known, and remembered, our needle-in-the-arm attachment to a world that is toxic will not change the ending or even delay it. It only robs of fullness, deeper knowing, understanding, and growth. Of quality. Here and now. Heavy laden, mentally crowded, junk addicted minds and hearts trudge and plod where there should be light, curious footsteps carrying unfettered minds and vigorous hearts.

Pull the needle of society's lures and expectations.

Die - to a world that has no heart - to live - in a world that does.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Pausing to Hug and Know

My aunt and uncle from Arizona came by to visit for a few days during Spring Break this week. Always nice to have fresh faces and flowing words as the seasons change.

We played TONS of pinochle, sometimes late into the night. So hard to stop! Uncle Floyd and Caroline ponder the bidding process.

Cassie either has a good hand or a good poker face. Aunt Joyce sorts and contemplates.

Uncle Floyd tries his lips on the didgeridoo. It worked! Kangaroos and koalas came running down the street and we waltzed with Matilda.

Aunt Joyce has for decades been the family genealogist. Her book of names, dates, photos, news articles and other papers of interest has grown quite thick! Turns out my family on Dad's side came over in 1711 or so, before there was a United States of America. Three brothers from Germany with a dream. It worked out just fine. We have fought and died and lived through wars - including a winter at Valley Forge - farmed, worked for newspapers, enforced the law, started churches, fled the dustbowl, settled in California, and here we are, thriving to this day. We helped build a nation. How cool is that? Tom received a good, long lesson from Aunt Joyce who two days prior gave the girls and I a thorough education as well. (Don't feel sorry for her. She LOVES this stuff. Right, AJ?)

Cassie and Caroline enjoyed catching up with Aunt Joyce. And height-wise, they've surpassed her! They taught their great uncle and aunt how to bowl and play tennis on the Wii, they walked around our neighborhood park talking a mile a minute with them, played cards, ate, laughed, chatted from dawn to the wee hours, and got to know two people who are some of their very treasured family members.

A most pleasant happening.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

"Much Ado About Nothing"

Tonight Cassie and Caroline debuted in their very first play, Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare. The play came together marvelously. Cast, crew, and audience all had a great time!

Cassie played the middle-aged spinster aunt, Antonia, getting many a hearty laugh with her animated, boisterous, comedy and drama. Caroline played a messenger (wearing an adorable brown velvet cape with matching hat, black pants, and puffy sleeved shirt) and Sister Anne offering elegance, grace, and emotional delivery of her important lines.

Mrs. Carr, the director, asked us to refrain from snapping photos during the play so as not to distract the kids. These photos are from afterwards when the pink-cheeked girls were mingling with their audience.

Caroline as Sister Anne and Cassie as Antonia

Gorgeous costumes!

Cassie loved these shoes!

Peace played Signora Leonato, Cassie's sister in the play, Cassie, Caroline, and Kyndra who played Don Pedro

Ben and Joe talk animatedly with the actresses, their little sisters

The villain Don John, as played by Maddy who's quite a character

The six of us in various stages of glee

Tired but happy. A wonderful experience!

Cassie and Caroline can't wait to see what the rest of the school year in Shakespeare class has to offer.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Athens Comes to Mind

"Freedom strictly limited by self-control - that was the idea of Athens at her greatest."

"Free men, independent men, were always worth inexpressibly more than men submissive and controlled."

"Civilization, a much abused word, stands for a high matter quite apart from telephones and electric lights. It is a matter of imponderables, of delight in the things of the mind, of love and beauty, of honor, grace, courtesy, delicate feeling. Where imponderables are the things of first importance, there is the height of civilization, and if, at the same time, the power to act exists unimpaired, human life has reached a level seldom attained and very seldom surpassed. Few individuals are capable of the achievement; periods of history which have produced such men in sufficient numbers to stamp their age are rare indeed."

Such was the brief Golden Age of Athens, which as best I can tell spanned years equal to that of my life so far.

Then, things went south.

"Solon, too great and too good to want power for himself...saw that power worked out in evil and that greed was its source and its strength. 'Men are driven on by greed to win wealth in unrighteous ways,' he wrote, 'and he who has most wealth always covets twice as much.' Of power he said, 'Powerful men pull the city down.'"

"The cause of all these evils was the desire for power which greed and ambition inspire." Thucydides III, 83

"Thucydides saw that the foundation stone of all morality, the regard for the rights of others, had crumbled and fallen away."

And thus began the downfall of the Greek Way.

Glorious that The Golden Age had its moment in the sun. Tragic that is was too brief.

I see our country's strengths and weaknesses mirrored in the pages of history. Of course. History repeats itself, right? But I thought we studied the lessons of days gone by so that we wouldn't repeat the errors and would benefit from the experiences of others. To study is not necessarily to learn.

To take a broad view, to stand back and observe, to lend a hand where I may, to live my life with honor and authenticity, to be unafraid of unfolding events in the trust that the hand of God cups them still, this is the way of wisdom and peace.

I think.

Processing continues...

(All quotes from The Greek Way, by Edith Hamilton)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

When Will We Ever Learn

Just finished watching The Wind That Shakes the Barley about Irish Freedom Fighters in the early 20th century.

Breaks me.

War is not healthy for children and other living things.

Heavy heart.

Heavy, heavy heart.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The Parting Glass

To my aunt.

Who gave me happiness in my childhood,
Who taught me that ingredients matter,
Who loved yellow and red as much as I do,
Who ate M&M's and drank Cowboy Coffee,
Who's heart and life have been a lesson to me
All my life...


Reunion on the other side will be sweet.

"But since it falls unto my lot,
That I should rise and you should not,
I gently rise and softly call,
Good night and joy be with you all."