The Dance of a Lifetime

•March 13, 2012 • 3 Comments

Sometimes I look back from the vantage point of a million miles and light years of experience away. And I see the me that I was, and I think, Oh you silly goose, that would have worked out so much better if you had just done thus-and-so. The mistakes are so easy to spot, like playing Where’s Waldo? when you already have the answer key.

I am so glad that I’m forty-something. Honestly. I’m smarter and bolder now than ever I was in the years that started with 1- or 2- or 3-something. Less of a wallflower, less of a patsy, so much more my Polish grandmother than I ever wanted to be.

When I was young, somebody sold me a crappy line that youth is where it’s at, and that old age sucks.

They lied. Or perhaps they were woefully misinformed.

Finally, finally, I am content with who I am. Well, except for the extra 60 pounds I carry around on my frame. But it’s good to have a goal. Those high school years where I longed to fit in? That was a complete load of bullshit.

I remember when I was 17, I made a vow to myself that I wanted to be 17 forever. I had gotten it into my head that 17 was the perfect age to be forever and ever, grown up enough without overdoing it. Seventeen was smart enough to make my own way, young enough to live life with complete abandon. I remember as clearly as though it were yesterday, sitting in my bedroom in my parents’ house. I squeezed my eyes shut and recited over and over to myself that I must never lose this moment, this clarity of purpose, this sense of immortality and invincibility that being 17 brings.

And that sense of clarity and purpose carried me along for quite some time.

Around that same age I read an Andrew Greely novel, the title long forgotten. But the preface contained part of an old Irish song, and I decided right then and there, all 17 years of me, that I wanted that stanza emblazoned across my life and across my gravestone:

I danced on a Friday when the world turned black
It’s hard to dance with the devil on your back
They buried my body, they thought I was gone
But I am the dance, and the dance goes on 

That last part was so important I wrote it down in my journal — “They buried my body, they thought I was gone. But I am the dance and the dance goes on.” My intention was that the depth, the meaning, the impact of the dance of my life would long outlive my corporeal existence, I was certain of it.

Also defining the me that I was then, even as it does now in other ways, Cat Stevens further narrated the soundtrack of my life:

Oh very young
What will you leave us this time
You’re only dancing on this earth
For a short while
And though your dreams may toss
And turn you now.
They will vanish away –
Like your Daddy’s best jeans
Denim blue fading up to the sky

Thus threatened the temporary and evaporative nature of my life’s dance. How to cancel the fleeting nature of life and ensure that my impact on this world would last, have depth and meaning?

I undertook a life’s dance that can only be compared with the fury, frenzy, and senselessness of a mosh pit. I ran headlong into a life overflowing with experience utterly devoid of meaning. I spent so many, many years gulping in life as though last call was ever mere moments away.

Many, many years later, when I finally found my life’s companion and settled into my own skin, I began to choreograph a life’s dance that was slower and yet overflowing with meaning. I find that the everlasting imprint of my dance will be defined by the impact I make upon the lives of others, one meaningful interaction at a time.

I made mistake upon glorious mistake, dancing my way across a landscape that was ill-prepared for my style of choreography. And in the end, I did have impact, although the meaning remains murky even to me.

With the vantage of hindsight, age and experience, I look back on the me that I was, and I wonder, “How could you be so senseless, so insecure, so full of bad choices and pitiful mistakes?” and I think I would do it all so much smarter now, so utterly flawlessly. My dance would have been perfect if I could have choreographed it with 40-something eyes.

As if I don’t make any mistakes anymore, now that I’m older and wiser.

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Clarity

•February 24, 2012 • 2 Comments

A few people have offered condolences — okay, well, one guy. But I don’t think he read my earlier blog post so he gets a pass.

The most touching thing anyone said is sorry for what might have been. Thank you for that.

My mother is upset, also for what might have been. I wish she weren’t. Upset. For what might have been.

Because what we had was filled with endless love. We were content. We were safe.

Looking back with adult eyes, I have no doubt my mother was white-knuckle terrified most of the time. Wondering where was the rent money coming from? Where was the next meal coming from? Would the water or power be shut off? My brother and I had no awareness of these things. Nor should we have.

One of my favorite memories-that-isn’t-a-memory was the time my mother was laid off from her factory job. We received food stamp assistance to help us through. Out grocery shopping, my mother asked my brother and me what we should buy. We, being seven or eight or so, said we should have lobster, of course!

My mother tells me now, years later, that she was quite taken aback by the lobster suggestion. But then, upon further reflection, she thought, “Yes, what else but lobster?” When your life has unraveled and nothing is certain, when The Man hands you a check you go big or go home. We went big, and we did well in a harrowing moment.

There is a place in Naperville on Ogden Avenue called the Stardust motel. Once, when we were children, my mother took us there to spend the night. Perhaps it was to escape an overly-emotional ex-husband, or more likely because it was so hot outside it was worth a few dollars to buy an air-conditioned room for the night. Whichever, it looms large in my personal history as a monumental adventure. Go big, indeed.

More often on hot summer nights, we would sleep outside in the front yard under the stars to escape the heat. Back then air conditioning was less ubiquitous and stars were more prevalent. It was a fearless and ferocious time, we were bold because we had little to lose.

Someone challenged me this week, daring me to defend my position of not caring that my father just died. Obviously, my first retort was that the man was never my father. He did not contribute to my life in any way. The next argument was that I had, indeed, befriended the man for a few years in my late twenties. Again, three years does not a relationship make.

And finally, he WAS my father after all. And to that I say he absolutely WAS NOT. He was not there when I was stung by a wasp, not there when my uncle came back from Vietnam, not there when I walked to kindergarten alone for the first time, was not there when my brother learned to build ramps for his bike and skateboard, was not there when the power got shut off. He missed my first lost tooth and my violin recital, I went to the Daddy/Daughter dance with someone who was not my father. My brother missed an entire childhood of having a father in the house.

I do not care that the man who was supposed to be my father is dead because he was not my father. The most I can say is that he was the low-down dirty f*<k who at the very least should have paid child support so the power never went off.

And really, that is why I don’t care that he’s dead. Because if I did feel anything, it would be a slow-burning, exploding sense of rage and disgust. An urge to spit upon his very existence. An outraged urgency to know Why? or How? a man could abandon his children so completely.

Mom, you shouldn’t feel bad. Yes, we did deserve more, but more from him, not from you. You gave us the world and then some. You gave us love and safety and a family like no other I’ve ever met. The man who was supposed to be my father was a broken, addicted, toxic, psychopath. By keeping him out of our lives, you gave us innocence, and sanity and safety.

My life has been and continues to be truly blessed. I regret nothing, and neither should you ❤

Fred’s Dead

•February 21, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Well, his name wasn’t really Fred, but he’s definitely dead. And that’s just about all he is to me.

What Fred should have been was one of the two most important people in my life. But I never even met him until I was in my late twenties. I’ll get to that.

Growing up, my family was large and loving. My mother, brother and I lived in a tiny house with a big yard in a safe community. My grandparents, aunts, uncles and piles of cousins lived just the next town over. I can’t remember a day that I didn’t spend in the company of my extended family. I’m sure there were those days, but they don’t stand out in my memory the way the family days do.

My mother worked hard and provided my brother and I with a warm and loving home. We were very poor, but to her credit my mother and her family gave us endless wealth in love and stability. My brother, cousins and I had great adventures together. We went exploring, rode bicycles, went skateboarding, played ball and built snow forts. We used stilts my grandfather built, had a pogo stick, and even a unicycle that I never learned to ride. We played dress-up and put on skits and plays for the family. We drove lawn mowers, tractors, mini-bikes, go-karts. There was no end to the motorized vehicles we had.

My grandparents kept a vegetable garden and had apple trees and a grape arbor. They brought home baby ducklings that we watched grow into adults. Later they kept chickens and rabbits, pigs, a cow, goats, sheep, and even a pony that tried to amputate my leg by scraping it off on a fence. I tried to ride the cow once too, but I didn’t get hurt myself (sorry, Melisa).

My grandfather was a smart, clever man who could create and build almost anything. He loved smart humor too, and was always trying to impress us grandkids with amazing science tricks. One of my favorites was when he put an empty metal can on the open burner of the stove for a few minutes then screwed the cap back on. Wow how that can crumpled inward when the air pressure tried to equalize!!

But I digress, don’t I? This was about Fred.

Fred was not a part of my family nor any part of my life. I was acquainted with Fred’s brother and sister, his nieces and nephews, but not Fred himself. Fred’s mother was a woman of extraordinary strength and will, and she carved out a rock-solid place in the lives of my brother and me. Fred’s mother was always there. She taught me that you can walk absolutely everywhere. She taught me how to take the train. She taught me to take pictures of everything.

I used to wonder about Fred, where he could be, what he might be doing, why he wasn’t a part of my life. I imagined maybe he was a scientist, off doing field work somewhere. I didn’t think to ask my mother where he was, probably the way I also knew not to ask for extra things that cost money. Because I had no other way of getting information — this was long before the internet — I used to check the obituaries for Fred’s name. I would take the local or city newspaper, open it to the Obits, and search for Fred’s name. I never found it, not once. I certainly didn’t wish he were dead, but I just wanted a clue as to where he might be, even if it were a death notice.

Every now and then, a gift from Fred would show up delivered by Fred’s mother. A warm winter coat, a new bicycle. “This is from Fred.” But no further answers than that. I had one picture of Fred for a while, a small cut-out part of a larger picture. I now realize the scrap I had was cut out for a reason, and it was by simple accident that it made it into my possession rather than the trash can.

As time went on, I stopped looking for Fred, stopped wondering who he was or where he might be. Well, that’s not entirely true. Once when I was a teenager, I heard he lived on a certain street in a certain town. I drove down that street looking at the houses on either side of the road wondering which house might be Fred’s. After a while I realized that it didn’t make any difference to me, and I stopped driving down that road altogether.

Many years later I had occasion to meet Fred. In fact, I spent a couple of years getting to know him. And what I found out was that Fred was a very selfish man who really only cared about himself. Actually, I’m not sure he even cared about himself because he didn’t treat himself or his body very well. I learned that Fred could turn his back on a wife and two children quite easily because the only thing that seemed to matter to Fred were his addictions. Ultimately, I learned that I had been fortunate, indeed, not to have had Fred in my childhood where he could have wrought all sorts of trouble and grief.

And yesterday I learned that Fred’s dead. Not all the way, but soon. It seems he got up in the middle of the night to have a cigarette and he collapsed and died. The responders resuscitated his body but not his brain.

I’m not particularly sad, not happy, not feeling loss or relief or anything else I could name. I was sorry for Fred himself once, but that was a long time ago. Fred’s death has nothing to do with me in the same way his life had nothing to do with me. I guess maybe I’m sorry that I’m not sorry, that I can’t dredge up even a little pity for a man who should have been important to me. I am sorry for anyone — if there is anyone — who loved or cared about Fred.

For anyone who was a part of Fred’s life, you have my deepest sympathy.

Mum’s the Word

•August 18, 2009 • 1 Comment

Right, I have so much to say — so where is it? The content? The deluge? The mind-changing, world shaking content that’s begging to burst from my brain, heart and soul?

When I staked my digital claim, using Facebook, Twitter and WordPress, I thought, “Finally! I have an unfettered playground where I can share the gazillions of thoughts and ideas and groundbreaking interpretations of the world that chase around my very clever mind!”

And yet, my blog remains almost singularly devoid of content. Hmmm.

Perhaps I’m not as deep as I suspected?

And today I was able to engage a very intelligent, very plugged-in, remarkably enthusiastic community of like-minded technologists and theorists and pragmatists. And somehow the dynamic sparked a thought.

About my blog. This blog.

I am paralyzed and prevented from unleashing my unfettered creativity because I don’t know who my audience is. To whom I am speaking. Who is peeking over the back fence, so to speak.

I am a technology professional. I work at a nicely prestigious, Catholic University. I am a mother and a wife. I live in a neighborhood, and my children go to school in a school district. I am a daughter, a cousin, a niece. I am an alumnus of a high school and a university. I enjoy the outdoors and hiking and fishing. I am a Buddhist, I meditate, and I love.

I use social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. When I use Facebook, I generally am engaging a group of family, friends and co-workers. With Twitter, I focus more on my Buddhist, meditation friends. But when I blog, who is my audience? To whom am I speaking? Who am I engaging and who am I offending?

It’s often said, “Write what you know.” I know a lot, but it all seems so compartmentalized. If I blog about work, are my family and friends saying WTF? If I say WTF, is my work audience gasping aloud at the profanity? Ditto on the Buddhist/meditation crowd. If I am feeling exceptionally joyous and throw out a “Namaste,” do I run afoul of my coworkers and my Polish-Catholic family?

These thoughts are paralyzing me, even though I suspect I should just DO IT and stop trying to be everything to every one. Or stop being afraid of being something different to people who perceive me in a certain way.

Wow

WTF?

Namaste

toothpaste

•April 23, 2009 • 1 Comment

I’ve been thinking about toothpaste this week. More specifically, the use and handling of the actual tube, its cap and its contents. 

A coworker told me the other day that he is driven MAD by his wife’s squeezing of the toothpaste tube from the middle rather than from the end. Having small children, I am well familiar with the squeezing of the tube from every position possible except the end.

I’ve implemented a simple fix — every other day or so, I sort of vice-grip the toothpaste tube over the edge of the sink under my palm starting with the non-cap end of the tube. This compacts the remaining paste into the business end of the tube, resulting in a properly end-squeezed tube of toothpaste.

I have another, more desperate, process for the cleaning of the toothpaste cap. My children appear to be completely untrainable in toothpaste cap hygiene, so I’ve given up and just clean the cap under warm tap water every few days.

My point is not really about toothpaste or toothpaste tubes and their caps. My point is about the emotion and significance people can build into the small things in life. As I’ve heard anecdotally, marriages have crumbled in the face of improper toothpaste tube handling.  Not that toothpaste ruins marriages, but that people put so much significance into whether their partner will or will not follow the other’s toothpaste handling rules.

I guess they interpret toothpaste handling compliance as though it reflects on their partner’s level of respect and actual affection, as if using tube of toothpaste as requested is a sign of love and commitment. But it’s just a tube of toothpaste, dude. Really.

I don’t think we should sweat the small stuff. I don’t think these things should be used as tools to assess love or respect. I think people place different levels of importance on things, and while one person thinks proper toothpaste tube processes are important, to another person it’s barely worthy of attention. My husband thinks the toaster should be kept out on the kitchen counter for easy access, while I think it should be put back in the cabinet after it has been used and allowed to cool.

Is my husband’s opinion more valid or more correct than mine? How do you decide? Do you have to negotiate ALL these things with your partner? Or can you just agree to laugh off the small things and focus on the really important issues, like child rearing and home purchasing and morals and ethics and things?

When I see the toaster out on the counter and no longer being used, I put it away. That’s it. I don’t view the leaving-out of the toaster as a sign of antagonism or disrespect. I don’t think I’m more right than my husband is. Well, actually I DO think I’m more right, but I don’t think he’s wrong or bad or disrespectful. He’s just different than I am, which you would well expect in a person who is not, in fact, me.

play place

•April 20, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Long time listener, first time caller.

That’s my Web 2.0 story in six words. I lurk, I gather, I consume. I’ve been waiting to kick off my 2.0 experience until… well… until today.