A Little Less Preoccupied, A Little More Happy

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Sometimes the preoccupations, joys, and demands of this life – of any life – make friendships seem almost optional – something you can go back to when you have time and space after all obligations are met. I am guilty of back-burnering too many things and people that engage me in a positive way, even within my own house.

I withdraw to my iPad too often, looking for the news or posts that will push me a little further along in advocacy and giving me the illusion of being in touch with people. I am grateful for the ways my online exploits keep me connected to people I love, but sometimes it usurps the ones closer to home. That, my boy would say, is simply too stupid.

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Today, a bunch of little things went wrong but they led me to a place I was clearly meant to go, to see someone I always love to see. I came away with this bracelet as a reminder to be more deliberate about being a little less useful and a little more happy.

Putting Autism in its Place

There's more than one way to get lit
There’s more than one way to get lit

Autism Acceptance Month includes Light it Up Blue day, and people find themselves reminded, pummeled and delighted by blue lights everywhere. It’s hard to know how to feel about the hoopla when we try so hard not to let autism dominate our lives. That’s why I moved my autism posts to their own blog. To be honest, though, those were the posts that got the most hits when I began writing Lettershead back in 2009. Much as it would lovely to be vastly popular and widely read, Lettershead is about trying to keep some perspective and focus on ideas that are not directly informed by autism.

Autism casts a long, blue shadow, however. Sometimes it feels like I spent my early years escaping the shadow of alcoholism only to turn and face autism. It was good preparation, as it turns out. An anxious person by nature, living with an alcoholic taught me to be flexible and to live with a specific kind of uncertainty about what each day would bring. In recent years I discovered that if I replace the word “alcoholic” with “autistic” in the Al-Anon daily meditation book, it works beautifully, if not in exactly the same way.

The most dangerous thing I allow myself to do is look back and see the years in my between alcoholism and autism and idealize them. I think everyone indulges in this during a standard-issue mid-life re-evaluation. We see high school, college, single life, some point in our youth as something that slipped away accidentally rather than as part of a progression to a fuller life. George Bernard Shaw had it right: youth is wasted on the young. What I’ve come to appreciate by looking back is the value of the cumulativeness of my experiences. For all the randomness of my choices, they all seem to have prepared me for the life I have now, unexpected and unpredictable as it is.

Laurie Anderson said in a great interview with the New York Times that she has “zero time for nostalgia,” and that is a phrase I keep in my head because the world is changing so rapidly that I want our kids to know what the world used to be like without getting myself stuck there. In the process of talking about the past it also occurs to me that for all the good experiences we try to create for other people, we have no control over how they see or will remember it. I have no idea what my parents were thinking half of the time they were raising us, but it’s clear to me now that regardless of their intended blueprint, my own memories were built by me and there isn’t a lot they can do about it now. The reality of a large family is that there are as many versions of the truth as there are people. Our children haven’t even left home yet and they are already constructing versions of their childhood that bear little resemblance to the one I thought we gave them.

And autism? It is a changeable, petulant child all on its own. The disorder I learned about in 1998 is unrecognizable to me. I was not a refrigerator mother, my child’s brain is not empty, limited eye contact does not mean a lack of engagement, and we enjoy a level of love and empathy we were told was impossible. It morphs and changes along with the boy, advancing and receding on a schedule known to no one. It’s a cat, a bowl of Jell-O, a dish of mercury, a block of granite. I will follow it, chill it, contain it, haul it around, chip away at it – whatever it takes to deny it center stage. That’s the job, that’s my job, and every day it will change and still be the same. It’s not something I planned for, but I know it’s what I was meant to do.

10 Ways to Make the Most of 10 Minutes

File under: posts I wish I had written. Miranda writes an excellent blog.

Studio Mothers: Life & Art

10 Ways to Make the Most of 10 MinutesIt’s a rare but beautiful thing:An unexpected gap opens in your otherwise overbooked day. You realize — with disbelief — that you’re actually “free” for a short window. No one’s hair is on fire and there isn’t anything urgent to take care of right now. Maybe the baby who never sleeps finally closes her eyes or your spouse takes the kids out on an errand or you’re between conference calls. Whatever it is, you realize that the next little bit of time is not yet spoken for. The window is too short to dig into a project, but you do have time for something. What do you do?

For many of us, one thing rises reflexively to the top of the list of possibilities: Facebook. (Or whatever social media you happen to prefer.) We fritter away our 10, 20, or 30 minutes scrolling through the minutia and photographic…

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Ending the Year Talking About the Best Kind of 20-Year Olds

Nearly perfect pecan pie
Nearly perfect pecan pie

The world is rightly preoccupied with the details, perspectives, and aftermath of the Sandy Hook tragedy, and I have said my piece here. One day just before Christmas, as I blogged and read the news and generally wallowed in the injustices of the world late into the evening, my cell phone rang. It was a 20-year old young man I have known since he was a tot, and he was calling to say he was on our front porch because he did not want to startle us by ringing the doorbell. He and his friend came by to deliver…pecan pie. Pecan pie that they made from scratch (crust and all) that they wanted me to taste and critique so they could make a second pie even later that night. Home from college, they were following up on a pie tutorial they had from our neighbor over Thanksgiving break. The pie they brought me was nearly perfect – better than I’ve ever made, for sure – and they asked me to pull out all of my many pie plates and tins to see if they should try a different sized dish for the next version. I’m not sure if you can justifiably say that deconstructing a pecan pie recipe is a life affirming experience, but I will happily go out on that limb. Watching the meticulous, bright-eyed enthusiasm these guys showed as we discussed how to improve their recipe (it came out eventually that the perfected pie would be proffered to a girl the next day) was the closest I came to pure joy in those days following the tragedy.

As the holidays have progressed, it is this newest emerging generation that gives me the most smiles, the most hope, and the most confidence that we will emerge from this era of dysfunction and despair with our souls intact. I love you guys.

The Sugar Mill

I want to live in this picture for a while

Sit in that chair

Watch the shadows grow long through the archways and windows

Eat salty sweet food

Drink sparkling water

Wear practically nothing

Let the sun and sea air dry out my skin

Listen to Italian music but only after dark

Join in with the tree frogs

Watch my memories wind themselves around the vines

Lanterns are lit and people walk by

They cannot see me

I am a ghost

The Oracle

I have been reading the letters that inspired – and continue to inspire – LettersHead.  She really was ahead of her time; Mom should have been a blogger.  Her words are inspiring, sweet, maddening, crazy, funny, wise.  The best ones are family updates with a little local history thrown in followed by “I have been reading the Encyclopedia Brittanica on [insert topic here]” with a page or two xeroxed and stapled to the letter.  When I read them now I can understand exactly the way she felt as she sat at the typewriter tapping them out, cigarette burning on the ashtray to the right, Hershey bar half out of the wrapper to the left. We may not be passionate about exactly the same things but in large part we are both driven to do what is right for our families and to express it, explain it and expound on  it early and often.  At least once she signed my name to a Letter to the Editor because she had met her quota for the month.

But a key thing I loved about her was that while on paper should could be relentless, most of the time in person, with the family around, she was such fun.  I so wish she had taken the time to write down the stories she spun after dinner – a little less L’Osservatore Romano and a little more Spy Magazine.  Both she and Dad had such great stories about the early and mid 20th century (their WWII courtship is a novel in itself) and they were good at telling them. I know that most of us (with some very notable exceptions) do not do them justice in the retelling.

I admit there were days when those postage-paid envelopes with the telltale IBM Selectric type address on them stayed on the counter for a bit until I was ready to open them – but I’m glad I did and I’m glad I kept them.

Steve Martin: Pied Piper with a Banjo

I work out to Steve Martin‘s banjo music.  I imagine he would be appalled to know that, but then again maybe it’s a marketing idea.  I sort of admire people who can go the gym and work out regularly but I am not one of them.  The idea of getting in my car and driving somewhere to exercise just seems wrong, not to mention embarrassing for someone who refuses to wear sweatpants anywhere, ever.  If it’s too cold to walk outside, looking out the basement window and listening to The Crow gives my mind something wonderful to do while my body is busy being miserable. It’s perfect.  Forget Katy Perry, Michael Jackson and the rest of the thumping-base workout music – it all only reminds me of how young I am not.  But banjo music brings out the young in everyone.  It is inherently happy, endlessly sunny and an invitation to love life. The winter melts to spring, the rural roads stretch before me, and when I am finished I can go and write.

Speaking of which, a while back my daughter and I went to hear Steve Martin himself talk about his life and play a little banjo.  At the end of the interview by insipid entertainment reporter Joyce Kulhawik (I am loathe to even give her a link), Mr. Martin took questions.   One person whined to him about writer’s block and asked him how he kept himself creative and he was blissfully bemused.  In effect, he told her that, having worked so hard to get to this point in his life that he can now pursue his ideas whenever the mood strikes him.  No pep talks, no tricks of the trade, just a very candid glimpse of someone who has earned the right to do nothing and thus pursues everything.  Think about it – writer, comedian, actor, director, playwright, poet, collector, musician.  Even if you did have writer’s block how could you think someone like Steve Martin could provide you with any more wisdom than he already has?

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