Saturday, May 12, 2018

A Mother's Story: Dare to Be Brave

This is a Mother's Day story. It's not about my mother. I've written about her wonderful, loving, quirky self many times. It's not about me. That's a story someone else will have to write. But it is a story about the woman who made me a mother and grandmother. And about bravery. Not the running into a burning building kind of courage, but bravery all the same.

A month or so ago, daughter Kate was offered the opportunity to sing for 4,000 people at the Beautycounter Leadership Summit in Minneapolis, which took place last weekend. Now, this child of mine has a fabulous voice, but she isn't a professional singer. She did a fair amount of singing at All Saints' Church as a child and played Guys and Dolls' Miss Adelaide in middle school. In high school she carried around a guitar around doing the Jewel and Sarah McLachlan thing. And I think she spent much of her 20's showcasing her pipes in Buckhead karaoke bars. But unless she has a secret showbiz life that I don't know about, this opportunity was somewhat unexpected.

Now, she could've said, "Y'all, I'm flattered, but why don't you go for Gaga or Justin Timberlake?" Or, "I'd love to, but I'm out of practice." Or, "Are you kidding me? What if I screw up? What if I disappoint everybody? What if I embarrass myself?"

But she said, "Yes." Bravely. Yes. Brene Brown would be so proud. But not as proud as Kate's mama. Heck, yeah, let's do this!

The whole thing was kept mostly under wraps. Only a few of us knew what was going on. She had a quick trip to NYC to get the arrangement down and do a little practicing. I think she had a run-through Wednesday before the Saturday performance, then had a dress rehearsal the morning of. She sent me a video of the rehearsal early afternoon, and I was blown away. I never doubted she could do it, but after watching what she'd sent, I knew she'd kill it.

And she did. She bravely took the stage and cut loose in front of 4,000 people, closing the conference with a bang.

What does this have to do with Mother's Day? Well, to me it has everything to do with all the makings of a good mama. It's no wonder a woman that brave is a wonderful mother, too. The example she sets every day for Liam and Charlotte demonstrates the courage and reward of saying "Yes." Even if unsure. Or nervous. Or stressed. Even if failure is an option. Say yes and give it all ya' got. Practice, practice, practice. (Study, study, study.)
Listen to your heart. Say yes to good things. Dream big. Be fearless even when fearful. Step out and sing your song.

Happy Mother's Day.

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Appreciation? Not a Strong Enough Word for a Great Teacher.

It's Teacher Appreciation Day. If Facebook says it's so, it must be so. Having been taught by the best (and a few of the worst) and having headed up a high school classroom of my own, "appreciation" seems a pretty tame word for the glory, laud, and honor (and money) we owe teachers.

Let's get this out of the way first. Yes, there are crappy, mean, awful teachers, though I venture to guess there are far fewer of these than, say, the same crappy/mean/awful folks in politics, business, religion, and internet provider-world. Dedicated, knowledgeable, caring, passionate teachers far out-number the bad ones. And yes, I'm talking about public school teachers. They are, on the whole, amazing.

So on this Teacher Praise To High Heaven Day, I offer two personal reflections. One about the teacher who most influenced my life, and one about recent contact with a former student of mine.

She was young. She was pretty. She was smart. Sixth grade can be hard because all sorts of stuff is happening to you physically and emotionally. And 1962-63? The space race. Integration and civil rights. Cuban Missile Crisis. Kennedy vs Khrushchev were our headlines. Monster Mash, Sherry, and Surfin' Safari led Dick Clark's Top 10.

We were on the brink personally, nationally, and internationally. The perfect time for a teacher who demanded excellence, who asked questions about what we thought we knew and what we might need to explore further before being so all-fired sure about the answers, and who put up with our budding adolescent nonsense. She was 29 years old, and we helped celebrate her #30 in April 1963. That was our teacher, Marilyn Rushlow. Appreciation? Way bigger than that.

In the mid-90's I set out to find her. I wanted to reconnect to let her know what a force she'd been in my life. This was before the internet people-finding capabilities we have now, though I did employ The Chattanooga Public Library and CD-ROMs of old newspapers. (Obituaries are a goldmine of information, by the way). It was a process, but I did find her in Lompoc, California, where she was still teaching.

From that point on we stayed connected. I visited her in California. She and husband Dewey visited me in Atlanta and New York. I called her about every three months or so. There's so much more I can reflect on about her, but my heart is still too full.

Marilyn Rushlow Maxwell died April 19, just a couple of weeks after turning 85. Appreciation? Deep, deep, life-changing gratitude is more like it.

Late last year a former student of mine from Chattahoochee High School reached out to me via email. I'd taught Advanced Placement Government & Politics, US + International, and Lauren had been one of my students. Back in the early 2000's, we'd worked a lot on political and personal efficacy (sometimes I'm really low on both) and staying engaged in the system, even when you disagreed or things looked bleak.

Lauren reconnected with me because she believed that those lessons from almost 20 years ago had prepared her for this moment in time.

We were finally able to meet face-to-face last week. It's a new kind of relationship now. Much as I discovered with Marilyn, it's not teacher-student but adult-to-adult, and very gratifying. I'm happy to report Lauren has grown and traveled and put her writing ad marketing abilities to good use. She's also a hands-on political activist, working to ensure the future for her generation and those after her will be safer, cleaner, more civil. And "appreciation" for her reaching out, for putting her AP knowledge to work? How about "pride" and "hopeful," from me? It's one of the many pay-offs of teaching.

Which teachers changed your life? Which influenced the way you write a sentence, understand history, put science to work every day? I suspect "appreciation" doesn't even begin to cover it.

Sunday, February 04, 2018

Where Do I Want To Go?

I'm suffering from a little bit of wanderlust. I want to go somewhere, but I don't know where. Not sure why this is getting under my skin, this need to go some place other than where I am. That I'm feeling the need to travel right now is a little strange since over the next three weeks I have trips to New York, San Antonio, and Austin.

But I want to go somewhere . . . else.

Maybe all I need is a few days in the mountains or a beach. But which mountains? Which beach?

Or a week or ten days in London. Or strike out for a place I've never been before. Copenhagen. Dubrovnik. Banff. Budapest. Perhaps an historical World War I nose around Ypres. The fjords - I've always wanted to see the fjords, so maybe Norway?

I travel alone so besides cost, I have to consider safety. And timing. It's a very busy year at work, so only a short trip if before July, but beyond mid-July a longer trip can be planned.

Ah, well. Maybe the feeling will pass.

Still. Natchez? Dublin? Venice?

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Putting 2017 to bed. Forever.

Ah, it's almost over. Though an annus horribilis in many ways, there have been many bright spots that kept life afloat in the midst of down now being up and wrong now being right. Here are some of the moments of grace, fun, love, laughter, hard work, and pure joy that have come my way in the past 12 months.

Best Vacation at a Place I'd Never Been Before: Key West with the family. So much fun - great fun, beautiful sights, comfortable accommodations, and watching Liam and Charlotte fall in love with the area. 

Best Sabbatical Moments: I had no bad moments at Atlanta History Center or The Center for Puppetry Arts during my 3-month stint serving both amazing organizations. I learned so much, and even better, I worked with incredible people - creative, gracious, innovative souls who welcomed me into their environments. Still, a couple of standouts: checking the progress of the Cyclorama installation at the History Center and working in Puppetry Arts' museum studio during DragonCon. Two incredible experiences for vastly different reasons. 

Best Family Gathering: As always, our Bully Bartows Christmas get-together, where I store up a whole year's worth of love and laughter. Tides me over through any rough days. And re-creating our 12 Days of Christmas video was the highlight of highlights!

Best Theatrical Experience: Hands down, Bette Midler in Hello, Dolly! I'm still high on "Put on Your Sunday Clothes." Sometimes, you just have to go old-school. (Props to The Great Comet, though. Sad it had to close so soon.) But y'all - Bette Midler!!

Best Weather Experience: Snow! In Atlanta! In early December!

Best Place to Work: As much as I loved working at the History Center and Pupptry Arts, I love my crazy, constantly-under-pressure colleagues who work on the Presiding Bishop's staff. 

Favorite Liam Hockey Photo: The boy loves his hockey! Go, #5!

Favorite Photo of the Year: Last year, it was Liam being pulled off the ground while ringing the church bell; this year, it's Charlotte's emotional Cherub Choir performance before the annual Christmas pageant. Thanks, Lisa Bell-Davis, for capturing the moment.

Thankful for good health, good friends, good job, and great family. We can and will overcome the rest of the mess we're in, so let's put Mr. 2017 to bed and wake up Ms. 2018.  And if all else fails: Put on your Sunday clothes when you feel down and out . . . 

Happy New Year! Cheers, y'all!

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Thoughts and Prayers. Now What?

The world is a mess.

Some things I can't do a darn thing about. If a friend has shared a worry or is dealing with the loss of loved one, maybe all I can offer - and all they need from me - is to keep them on my heart for a while.

But there is an awful lot of stuff - even huge, tangled-up stuff - that needs more than thoughts and prayers. These are the thoughts and prayers than demand action.

My friend may need a hug. Or a phone call. Or a hand-written note. Or someone to share a meal or a glass of wine with. Or to pick up her kids from school.

My congressfolk probably need a phone call, fax, or postcard letting them know how I feel about something pertaining to the latest catastrophe or political tangle. Yeah, it may not matter much to them, but if I keep at it - who knows? Big positive things may happen. (Hope springs eternal, y'all.)

Maybe I need to send money to a reliable relief and development agency that knows way more about how to help in a natural disaster than I do. I can certainly help fund folks who can be of real benefit to people who are suffering.

Perhaps all I can do is listen to someone in pain or in trouble. Even if that person is a stranger, the least I can do is hear her story, put my own agenda on hold for a while, and honor what she has to say. Some positive path may emerge - who knows?

I can always smile more. Pick up that piece of trash in the school hallway. Give way. Hold the door for someone. (And write my senators, send the donations, call the friend in need.)

My own actions won't seem world-savingly grand. In fact, most of what will grow out of my own thoughts and prayers will seem like baby steps to me. Inconsequential. Unimportant little drops in gigantic buckets. But something is better than nothing.

So certainly keep those thoughts and prayers rolling in. But if you're thinking and praying about things that require your action and you do nothing, well then, my friend, it is just so much sounding brass and tinkling cymbal. Pull your head out of the clouds (or sand) and get going. Think. Pray. Do something.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

What Aren't We Hearing?

The other day a friend from Wales requested I blog about the current football-kneeling kerfuffle to help her understand the uproar. I gave her a short but very incomplete answer on Facebook, thinking I could do something more in-depth here. But after much deliberation the truth is I just don't have it in me. Well, not true. I do have it in me. Too much in me. I have lots to say about it. Which is one of the problems.

As a white woman of a certain age, it's not my place to explain or pontificate on this. What I need to do is listen. But I want to make a couple of important points:
  1. We white folks need to stop telling black folks how to act. How about we check own behavior and that big ol' log in our own eyes before giving advice to people who have very different life experiences - just by walking around in black skin - than we do? 
  2. We need to shut up and listen to the stories different from our own. We don't know best, obviously, or our country and our world wouldn't be in the state it is now. Shut up and listen.
  3. Stop saying this is unimportant compared to impending war with North Korea, health care, climate change, Russia election influence, and current weather disasters. None of those is more important than systemic racism and upholding everyone's constitutional right to freedom of speech, regardless of race, gender, socio-economic class, bat-shit crazy politics, or fame. Downplaying what is being expressed here is a great example of white privilege, y'all. 
There's so much more I could say, but I'm going to take my own advice to shut up and listen. And read more black authors. And do my damnedest to walk together with, rather than ahead of, folks who have really important things to teach me. 

Monday, July 31, 2017

Let the Sabbaticalizing Begin

It's 6:00pm July 31, and I am officially on a 3-month sabbatical. No, I'm not writing a book. (Or maybe I am.) No, I'm not trekking to the ends of the earth for adventure, or taking a class in Etruscan cinerary urns, Xhosa, or Shaker dancing. I have been instructed to cease, rest, refresh, replenish the well, think, read (OK, and maybe write), so that upon my return to work in November I'll be fresh as all git-out creatively, physically, and mentally.

However. All that rest sounds fine and dandy until reality hits. Little A-type personality me can only do so much chillin'-out navel-gazing before going out of my tiny mind. So, here's the plan.

I'll be splitting my time between hands-on helping out at the Center for Puppetry Arts and interning at the Atlanta History Center. The work of the organizations interests me, and I'm a proud member of both. I'll be thrown into different forms of creativity that I hope to apply to my own job when I return. Both are successful non-profits, not religiously affiliated, and offer a variety of experiences into which I can joyfully plunge. Neither are 8-5/Monday through Friday jobs (I've been instructed to relax, remember?), but I'll put in whatever time I can to ween me off my usual work-a-day schedule and keep me just busy enough for my sanity.

Yes, I will have more time with the grands. More time with family, friends, and former colleagues that I always put off with "Well, I still work, so I can't go here/there at that day/time." More time to test my limits of dealing with unstructured time, which I understand may take a week or so to get used to.

And while I can't wait to see what this sabbatical holds for me, I love my job and will miss being in the thick of things. Which is exactly why a sabbatical is called for.

So off I go, sabbaticalizing. And so it begins.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Summer of Cool

Growing up in the 50's and 60's, summers took on over-arching themes. The summer we lived in Perry, Georgia, will always be the Summer of the Gnat. All I remember about that year is being covered with tiny, annoying insects the minute little 4-year-old me walked outside. Then there was the Summer of Endless Vacation Bible Schools, when Mother made sure we sampled VBS experiences at home and wherever we had relatives - Chattanooga, Atlanta, Nashville. Many popsicle sticks gave their lives for tawdry projects the year of VBS-overload.

But the summer that changed everything was the Summer of Cool.

That's the summer Daddy carved out one of the windows in the den and installed our very first air conditioner. Until that magical day all a Southern kid could count on for summertime cool were open windows (praying for a breeze), oscillating electric fans, popsicles, and the water hose in the side yard. But y'all, none of those - or all of them in combination - came anywhere near the cooling power of a whackin' great window unit air conditioner.

Now, ours was a large-ish house with lots of little rooms. The exception in this rabbit warren was a good-sized den in the back that ran the width of the house. With the TV and multiple comfy places to flop, it made sense that room got cooling priority. Yes, the rest of the house suffered from the lack of a full-powered artic breeze, though strategically placed fans helped move the air through. Still, somehow the whole crazy place seemed, well, cooler in every sense of the word.

It was a brand new world, baby! Cooling air, cooling tempers. Life a Southern girl had never known. And that was the beginning of my AC addiction. I've never out-grown it. When Yankee friends complain about our freezing cold Atlanta buildings, I just tell 'em to throw on a sweater.

Now I do realize that air conditioners are bad boys when it comes to affecting climate change, so my challenge to all you STEM babies out there - get busy finding an earth-friendly way to keep us cool. Because as much as I love oscillating fans, popsicles, and a water hose in the side yard, they just don't have the same refreshing punch they had before Daddy pushed the ON button that fine day in the Summer of Cool.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Can't Help Falling. Again.

I've always been a girl on the go. Little did I realize that sometimes I need to stop. Safely. Without falling over.

While vacationing in Key West a few weeks ago, I decided to join the younger set for an afternoon of calm, easy-going cycling out to Fort Zachary Taylor State Park. I mean, I can ride a bike, right? The only thing concerning me was that I might not be able to keep up with the rest of the group (I am getting on in years).

Turns out, keeping up was a problem, but not in the way you might think. The problem wasn't keeping up horizontally moving forward; the problem was keeping up vertically when coming to a stop. It was as if I'd lost total muscle memory when it came to braking, putting my feet down on the pavement, and keeping myself and the bike upright. See? I know how it's done, but my legs and feet weren't getting the message from my head.

Now, I didn't fall every time. A bike lane with a curb to step on to was a big help. That extra 5-7 inches made a difference, I reckon. But without the benefit of something easy to help brace my stop, I just couldn't manage it without some kind of calamity.

It just got crazier and crazier. Once I decided (it was a decision, right?) that old-fashioned muscle memory wasn't working for me, I tried everything I could to forestall the inevitable. I tried not thinking about the stopping process (hoping my body would do the right thing - er, no). I tried repeating the steps in my head before approaching a stop (push down on pedals, get feet to pavement, hold bike and myself upright). Nope.

So I'm wondering, is this what getting old is like? Disappearing muscle memory? The body forgetting how to do simple things that have always come naturally? Or maybe not. Maybe I just had a bad bicyle day. Maybe the bike was too heavy or too big for me. Maybe I needed hand-brakes, not the old fashioned pedal-brakes. Time will tell.

Do I rush out and get back on a bike as quickly as possible, or admit my biking days are behind me? I'm pretty spooked about it. I love riding a bike. Let's face it, it's the first feeling of flying and freedom that you have as a kid. But the pain and embarrassment are still fresh in my mind, just as the bruises are still fresh on my knees.

What would you do if it were your knees?

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Why Life Isn't Fair

Life isn't fair. We say it to our sweet toddlers, surly teens, frustrated 20-somethings, and anyone of any age confronted with perceived injustice. We say it with a shrug, as if that's the end of it. Move on. Suck it up. Too bad/so sad. Life ain't fair.

But why? Why isn't life fair? Why are we resigned to such a lame, depressing notion? At what point did civilization give up on the idea of fairness, of justice? I've wondered about this a lot lately. Sign of the appalling times, I reckon. So why isn't life fair? OK, I'll start:

Human beings. However adorable, noble, or holy folks may appear (and I do believe - probably naively - that people are basically good), every single human is, well, human. We lie sometimes. We cheat a little here and there. We convince ourselves that our opinions are superior to others. (No use saying you're not guilty of these things. You know you are.) And we all have a drive to get as much as we can - education, money, success, chocolate, whatever. There's nothing wrong with that until we use underhanded ways to achieve our goals or tip over to "I got mine, to hell with you," which happens more often than it should. Ego and that wild streak of personal survival is a part of our DNA. Some folks just have wider, deeper streaks than others.

Nature, also known as: shit happens. Accidents, disabilities, earthquakes, floods, famine, scarcity of chocolate. Granted, some of these things are directly caused by human actions (see above), but often it's just nature doing its thing. Fairness and justice have nothing to do with it.

There you have it. Life ain't fair because of humans or nature or a combination of both. One of those reasons needs to try harder, do a better job on the justice-equity thing. Fewer lies. Less cheating. More compassion. More attention to those who look and think differently. Work harder at living-and-letting-live. Though we may not all be equal physically, mentally, financially, we should work harder at being compassion-equal.

And stop saying "Life isn't fair" to that person who needs and deserves a better response to the situation than a sad old platitude. Practice making life more fair.