Tag Archives: personal

The joy of a fresh start

I’ve gone through the full cycle of feelings toward new year’s resolutions, from childish dedication to cynical 30-something rejection to a renewed appreciation.

It’s not that new year’s resolutions really mean anything. Let’s be honest. I could dedicate my body to the gym on any day of the year. There’s nothing magical about a Bonza Bottler date (though it’s fun to know that you can celebrate them each month). My house won’t be any cleaner next week than it is now most likely, no matter how many articles hit my feed this week telling me how to de-clutter, live simply, or get everything organized.

But the older I get, the more I appreciate a fresh start.

One of my favorite and long-lasting literary quotes comes from a book in the Anne of Green Gables series: “Tomorrow is a fresh new day with no mistakes in it.” I struggle to remember exact words for anything I read; the fact that Anne kept those words in her heart spoke to me in my adolescence with such force that I never forgot them. I might be all grown up now but I still fumble around and muck it up and have to retrace my steps and turn life sideways sometimes to see where to go next. Knowing that tomorrow is yet unspoiled by my actions gives me hope.

Considering how shitty 2016 has been overall for pretty much everyone, I’m not sorry to see it go.

2017 is a fresh new year, with no mistakes in it. (Yet.)
His mercies are new every morning.
Here’s to a new start.

Softie

Around the time of my Hobbit Adult Birthday*, I began to notice something: Someone opened the spigot on my tear ducts.

No, really. You gotta hear me out.

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I don’t  know why I’ve become this person whose emotional lake rises to the surface and crests its shores at the slightest nudge.

I don’t know if I much like it, either, truth be told. Nobody told me this was part of the deal.

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I cry during movies now: Like, I balled when Groot wrapped his best buds in a bundle of twigs in Guardians of the Galaxy and declared, “We are Groot.” Sobbed. Probably turned red as a beet too because is there anything more embarrassing than being a fully grown adult sobbing in a comic book movie?

I cry at weddings now. Not so much if I’m playing for a wedding, because I’m stressed enough about the logistics that my attention is too divided to be emotionally overwhelmed by all the mystery and symbolism. But put me in the congregation and you’d better have a hanky in your pocket during the vows: richer, poorer, sickness, health, till death. Yeah. *sniffs*

I cry when something is really serious. I tear up when I’m  happy. I get watery when I see someone nuzzling a baby. I shed a tear if I catch a big tough teenage boy giving his mom a kiss on the cheek (because those are rare during the teen years and it’s such a sweet gift for Mom).

I used to tear up when I was talking with parents about their kids. We’d just be chatting at some coffee shop, often a parent-initiated informal “conference,” talking about how Johnny needed to do his homework forgoodnesssake and reassuring Mom and Dad that he’s going to make it—thrive and grow and excel in college and go on to Do Great Things because all the seeds were there and I could see them, every day, despite the mess and the tangles and zeroes in the grade books….. And there it would come: Eyes full. I’d look away, embarrassed. Damn it. NOT NOW. This is a conference forcryingoutloud. Be professional!

Talking to myself never works. Deep breaths. Look away. Don’t make eye contact. The dam will break. Fight for control. Keep your voice even. Keep talking. Count the seconds till it’s over.

I fight back tears anytime I get to hear Coart preach. Because he’s so damn good at it but he very very rarely gets the chance. And because he knows how to unpack the Word in a way that  hits me right in the feels and in the heart and the soul and the head all at the same time.

Grace. Gets me every time. Show me a story where someone gifts himself to someone else; tell me a tale in which someone sacrifices herself in genuine love. I will be a puddle. I can’t even. I’ve seen those stories up close in real life. Having a ring-side seat changes you. And I can spot ’em at a thousand yards in movies. Groot? His sacrifice embodies Love. Hey kids! That’s what Love looks like when the only options on the table are to do the loving thing and lose everything, or hold onto your life with both hands because you love yourself too much to let go. When you get the chance to make that decision, choose Love. 

*****
I didn’t grow up in a household full of emotional displays. It honestly didn’t occur to me until I went to college that my parents had emotions (besides getting angry at one another or at me, or showing pride when they thought I did something awesome).

I mean, we had plenty of laughter and good times. We really did.  And I knew my parents loved me – every action was testament to that (it just took me a couple decades to wake up to the love language of sacrifice). Hugs weren’t so much a thing.

But crying? Nah.

My mom drove me 500 miles to college (I couldn’t afford my own car, like most of my college peers at that time). So that she wouldn’t have to drive back alone, a couple of my good friends from youth group / school rode along. One of them told me later, “Your mom cried as she pulled away.”  Hadn’t even occurred to me that she would be sad that I’d left.  We just weren’t a sentimental family.

I don’t know that I ever saw my dad cry.  Steel worker for 30 years; a lifetime of hardship and struggle.  I guess maybe at my mom’s funeral. Surely he shed a tear; he certainly sorrowed at losing a woman he loved, though in broken and imperfect ways. No one wants to be the one who outlives their spouse.

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If we’re looking to pin the tag of “emotional wreck” on a particular group of people, a few stereotypical answers leap to mind.

There’s always the sweet lady at church who cries at all the weddings and funerals and baby showers and stuff. She cries on schedule, like daily rainstorms in Seattle: quick, light, effective, and done. We all love that lady. She’s ….nice.

We know hormonal or stressed people can be criers. Pregnant women, right? Isn’t that the joke? Up at 3 am, hormones raging, nesting instinct in full swing, waterworks on full blast. I can’t speak from experience, but hey, I read y’all’s blogs. You talk about this stuff.

And of course, teenagers. Hearts on the sleeves. Girls in a puddle all the way from age 12 to 17. Boys don’t usually cry; they punch things or shut down their entire communication centers. Girls talk out the feelings and sob through the Kleenex box. When boys do cry, it’s hella serious. It’s a hurricane. Batten down the hatches.

We pat teens on the head and think, “D’awwww.” And we nod, knowing that Life Is Hard Sometimes and that This Too Shall Pass and Time Heals All Wounds.  We smirk a little, because it’s not so cool in adult world to feel like that: all emotional and unbalanced and unaware of What Really Matters.

*****
I guess it goes without saying that I didn’t realize how much I would learn to feel after I grew up, really grew up. After I learned What Really Matters.

My capacity now, after four decades of life, to process both emotionally as well as rationally means that ideas can hit me from both a logical and an emotional position of strength- at the same time.  You can argue me into your point of view.  You can also feel me into it.

I know now that some relationships, some people, some ideas, some tragedies, some joys or sorrows or moments – they are worth the tears because they reach across the brokenness and numbness of broken humanity to touch the deep magic of the world.

Glimpses of Grace.

*****
The old King James language – and Shakespeare’s – for strong emotion uses the word “bowels” as the emotional center. We all snickered as kids. Hehehe. “Bowels.” A bathroom word. Scatological references are always funny when you’re 12.

But really.  That’s where the feels are, right? In that lower abdomen, the pit of the stomach, the very center of our core? That’s where I feel it.  I’m rarely angry, but when I am, it sits inside my stomach and churns. I’m rarely afraid, but I feel it in my gut when it happens. Sadness may spark tears and a fight for composure but they also trigger something deep on the inside, nowhere near where I could put a finger.  Do we even have nerve endings there? How does this work?

*****
I learned emotional control from my mom. She sat still, perfectly still, in public gatherings like at church. Chewing her half piece of gum (always a half! “Don’t chew like a cow,” she’d say before handing me the other half), her mouth barely even moved. Silent. Still. Unmoved. Not cold or frozen or unkind. Just….still.

A little terrified of the consequences of the “meek and quiet spirit” language in 1 Peter that people loved to toss in the direction of females, I spent some time in college studying the phrase in Greek to sort out what it meant. I was quite afraid that God might be condemning my entire personality to hellfire and disobedience, since gender roles were already pretty established within Fundamentalism and they didn’t include women who voiced opinions (or utilized intellectual capacity for work other than motherhood). So I dug in and hoped for a lifeline.

There it was: “quiet” in the Greek means “still, unruffled, unshaken.” It’s like a deep, deep lake with a glassy, undisturbed surface regardless of what churns below.  “Meekness” is often defined as “strength under control.” Whew. I wouldn’t have to embark on a weird psychological battle for suppression. I could pursue settledness as a virtue rather than silence (a lost cause anyway).

My mom was onto something perhaps in her stillness.  The woman stared down divorce, single parenting, teenage boys, ruthless coworkers, backstabbing bosses, soul-sucking work, loneliness, bill collectors, poverty, and cancer. You don’t beat that shit by crying about it.

*****
It’s probably not healthy, really, this emotional control thing, my white-knuckled insistence that the emotions you get out of me, dammit, will be only positive ones. You can have all the joy you want. You’re not getting to see the others. Not without my psyche putting up a hell of a fight.

This is where you who know me are thinking, “Nah, she’s going off the rails here. RameyLady, you just admitted to crying during superhero movies and weddings. You wear your emotions on your sleeve.”

No, I don’t.
You’ve never been invited to see anything below the top layer.

I’m hard-coded—maybe bred—for emotional control. Despite years of teaching students to act, my own steel walls make acting agonizing and terrifying when I’m the one on stage because acting demands emotional nakedness. And, if we’re being honest, so does marriage and friendship and nurturing community.

Vulnerability. I ditched it sometime in my single digits. I don’t do vulnerable. I never have.

Well, I didn’t. Until my eyeballs turned traitor on me and started tipping my hand without asking permission.

*****
We went to a Lessons & Carols service over the weekend. Lovely service, beautiful music that was well-performed, excellent readings. Packed house.

Somewhere in Isaiah 11, the woman reading the Fourth Lesson broke. It was the part about the lion and the lamb, the radical dismantling of the effects of sin on this world. We’d heard (in words and song) about the fall, the destruction, the effects of sin in humans and creation. I was thinking of Syria, of ancient Israel (how on earth does this passage reconcile with the destruction of the Canaanites, I had wondered briefly before shoving any and all nagging questions out of my mind), of migrants stuck in fetid refugee camps while I drink Starbucks. And the woman’s voice cracked. She stopped. She fought back the tears for many seconds before she could go on.

I broke too. I need to break. I needed to weep. (I didn’t. I swallowed hard, dabbed my eye, avoided the mascara, sat so still between my husband and the nice grandmother beside me cradling a grandchild.)

There is a Day coming when we will not sob because of cancer, the deaths of teenagers, wars, mass shootings, suicide, or systemic injustice. But that day is not yet here. And despite the harsh realities of our world and the nagging doubts and the unanswerable questions that rage inside, we regularly see Love doing its work.

I guess that’s probably worth a few tears. Maybe even ones I should let you see.

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*One of my favorite tiny details in Fellowship of the Ring is that hobbits don’t “come of age” until they turn 33. We gave and received Hobbit Parties that year with a few exceptionally nerdy friends. Hobbit parties are also extra fun in that the recipient is supposed to give gifts to their friends, rather than receive them. It’s a lovely touch, and I wish more parties were structured that way. 

Hamster Wheels.

Is it just me, or are my fellow bloggers also weary of the hamster wheel of self-promotion and social media content marketing?

Having a personal brand is all the rage these days.  Meanwhile Buffer, a tool similar to Hootsuite, reminds me each week that I haven’t “buffered” any tweets or Facebook posts to push people to my blog content.  Other bloggers – including my favorite reads like John Spencer and Michael Doyle  and Pernille Ripp – tweet merrily what they’re reading and saying and thinking.

My friends John Ellis and Joffre the Giant (who’s even rocking a Patreon campaign) and Erin Russ are writing amazing posts about their lives and thoughts.

And I struggle to get more than two sentences to rub together once I get home from work.  Or so it seems this year.

I got my start in blogging on Xanga back in the merry 2005, back when blogging audiences were scattered among a wider variety of platforms, some centered on different kinds of audiences and purposes.  You could post poetry on Pathetic, indulge in diary entries and gossip on LiveJournal, write stories on Xanga, be a “real” blogger on Blogspot or Blogger.  Communities on each platform tended to be a little closer since the audiences were smaller.

And I knew a good 20-30 people right here in the Upstate who were all writing and sharing on the Xanga platform, so conversation erupted all the time.  People got mad, wrote diatribes, gossiped, and occasionally connected or learned or challenged me to change my views radically.

I really liked that world a few years ago when a small, tight clutch of readers logged into Xanga once in a while to see what the others had said, thought about it, said a few things in response, and carried on with life.  It wasn’t all-consuming like Facebook later became; we weren’t all glued to smartphone screens and unable to carry on uninterrupted conversations.

The hamster wheel of personal branding, tweeting, social media content marketing – it’s wearing me out.

I don’t need to feel guilty because I don’t write 3x a week or have time to unravel every stray thought into a post.

I don’t want to jump all over myself because the Teaching Redemptively blog doesn’t get a lot of love or content, despite my honest desire to fill a huge gap in the conversation about how the Gospel should be forming educational practice.  But it does seem foolish to let months go by without investing time and thought into my primary research/content field.

And I wish I didn’t feel sad that the big shiny world of WordPress means fewer comments, more commodification, less connection. But it does. At least for me.

Sorry for the downer.  It’s September.

 

around this time, a few years ago….

…. I was celebrating my 18th birthday, having just graduated from high school.

My parents and I on the night of my high school graduation.
My parents and I on the night of my high school graduation.

This photo is rare for a few reasons.  One, the reality of anyone over the age of 15, every photo from my pre-digital age is still packed in a box somewhere. So I have to resort to bootleg pictures-of-a-picture taken with my cellphone because I don’t own a scanner and who has time to send this stuff off to Wal-Mart?

Secondly, we weren’t a huggy, feely, photo-taking family.  I owned a small camera and shot pictures all the time — well, as much as I could when film was $2-3 a can and developing cost at minimum $6 for the super-cheap 3×5 prints you could get through the mail, and $7-9 at a drugstore counter.  I didn’t have a huge film budget, so I had to make those images count.  Taking photos of my parents didn’t really occur to me. I lived with them…. I mean, like, duh.

Thirdly, my dad just didn’t “do” pictures.  He didn’t “do” suits either.  He’d owned a suit and some sport coats about 10 years before this photo was taken …. but then he’d lost half his sight, his job, and any reason to dress up from time to time. In fact, his woodcutting beefed up his entire torso, so none of his sport coats would have fit anyway.

Someone gave my dad a suit. I don’t remember how it happened, exactly … if the person had actually handed my dad money he would have bought groceries with it.  Suits were a lavish waste of resources when he had a family to feed and too little income to do it.  But I do remember helping my mom pick out that tie, wondering whether Dad would like it, or even consent to wear it.  I guess the benefactor gave the money to Mum, and she and I shopped together.

Anyway, sorry for the digression ….   Dad, in this photo, looks almost nothing like the mental image that’s burned into my memories.   To really be Zeke, he needs to be wearing Dickies pants (in brown) and a plain pocket t-shirt, and a black ball cap that’s seen too many years of working in the sun. His shoes need to be steel-toed work boots, and he really ought to have a pair of work gloves sticking out of his back pocket.

And a smile.

My parents both had wonderful smiles, wonderful laughs.  You wouldn’t know it from this photo, though. 😉

Maybe they were feeling what all parents of high school graduates must be feeling: My word, when did our baby grow up?! 

The rhododendrons would be blooming, just to the right of where this photo was taken. The azaleas in front of the school / church building would be blazing in their orange-coral glory. The irises (“flags,” my mom called them, because they were up in time for Flag Day) would be budding, preparing for a glorious show of color.

It was late May. That evening I would don a white graduation gown (the boys wore kelley green) and tassel and honor cords and give a valedictorian speech. A speech about pressing on, moving forward, getting ready for an exciting new stage of life. Don’t hold back.  My principal asked me twice to tone down my “Yeah! We’re done!” rhetoric. I didn’t really understand that request, and I still don’t. The whole point of commencement is to start something.  I knew the meaning of the word.

More years ago than I’d like to admit 😉 I commenced a life that has been rich and good, though often unexpected.  I’ve been joined in the journey by a man who loves God and loves me, and I walk the road with friends for whom I care deeply.

So as I come to another turning of the sun, another birthday (shout-out to Bob Hope and JFK and Patrick Henry, who share my natal day), I’d like to think I’ve got a few more great decades ahead to explore and experience life under the sun.

photo

Consequences

If the evil gremlins kill the woman’s desktop computer, she has to borrow her husband’s laptop.

When she has to borrow his laptop, he can’t do his Big Important Assignments.

When the man can’t do his assignments, he agrees the wife can buy a new desktop.

When the wife goes desktop shopping, she decides on an iMac (of course) so she can do her design work on a new shiny screen.

When she decides on an iMac, she spends all week impatiently waiting for it to arrive.

When she finally sits down to work on a design at her shiny new iMac, she remembers that her home office chair is truly a piece of crap.

When she sits on a crappy chair, she is motivated to do more design jobs so she can pay for a new chair.

Moral of the story: I am a freelance designer and would love to pick up some extra projects this year.  🙂   I do print design mainly — posters, magazine and book layouts, brochures, flyers, billboards, ads, etc — but I also do shirt designs, social media marketing, and a bit of logo design. Hit me up. 

The Backstory: What’s your earliest memory?

My Backstory series offers stories about my upbringing and background. You can find the whole series under the category “Biography,” if you’re interested.
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I don’t know about you, but my earliest memories stretch back pretty early.  I can’t prove it, but I’m pretty sure I have fuzzy memories of being 2.  For sure, I recall events from when I was 3.

Not unsurprisingly, my earliest memories center on strong emotions, usually negative ones.  But most of these stories are funny nonetheless.

For example, every older sibling can remember the ball and chain of watching a little brother or sister.  I’m sure it’s a drag. I’ve never had to do it. 🙂  I do remember belong left in the care of Brother #2 when both of my parents were at work during summer months – I’m sure it made perfect sense to my parents that they not pay someone to babysit me if they had a perfectly capable teenage boy at home to take care of it.

Of course, that wouldn’t have been as simple as it sounded.  I have two striking memories – mostly just images – from those brotherly babysitting sessions.

The first involves me wandering outside by myself bawling because I woke up, found my parents gone, and stumbled out the back door to find them. The vehicles were gone, and I must’ve assumed that I was abandoned.  lol   Brother #2 was dead asleep – teenage boys aren’t known for being early risers — but he finally found me outside and I guess it got sorted out.  I’d cried myself into fits.

The much funnier story involves the first curse word I ever learned.  My parents weren’t curing people …. even when my dad was furious and yelling, he didn’t curse.  Not anymore, not after he got saved, or at least never in my hearing.

Brother #2, who was probably 16 or 17 at the time of this memory, was home babysitting me (again) when he had some reason to call something shit. Shit is a fantastic word — it starts with a sibilant, ends with a  hard consonant, and works great in rhymes. My brain has always hoarded words, and my tongue quickly picked up that one.

I was walking around the upstairs enjoying the taste of the word when Brother #2 tackled me.  His intensity frightened me and I immediately started to cry.  “Don’t ever say that again! Never! I don’t ever want to hear you say that!  That’s a dirty word! A bad word!”

The memory is all red and black in my mind – I am not making this up.   I can see the room, the moment, my brother’s shadowy outline (my memories and dreams rarely capture full details).  The shadows are deep black; the highlights in the room are red.  When I was old enough to spell and recognize words, my brain tagged the visual tones of this memory to the word – even today, if you say the word shit, I will see a word in bold black sans-serif type against a deep red background, with the ghostly outlines of my childhood house lurking in the corners.

I was too scared by his reaction to say the word to my parents, which is (I’m sure) his motive for freaking out like he did — the only way I’d know a “bad word” would be if I learned it from my brother, and he knew my dad would lay into him.  Honestly, I think it’s a hilarious moment.

Some memories are borrowed from later storytelling — as family lore enters the minds of the next generations from hearing tales repeated at family gatherings and big dinners.  I am too young to really remember wandering the field on our property in tandem with our friendly golden retriever Brownie, but my dad loved to tell how he’d lose sight of me in the tall grass — but he wasn’t worried because Brownie was barking happily and the grasses and field flowers swayed as our trail rippled through the field.  I’m not sure what happened to Brownie; my memories of him don’t go past 3 or 4 years old.   But I’m pretty sure my dad ranked that memory of me as one of his favorites.

My brothers, perhaps as “payment” from my parents for dragging them up to the mountain to live, got a horse. Apparently this was the meanest, orneriest horse ever to reside on our hill, because nobody could ride the damn thing.  It had a name; I can’t recall.   But if you want to get my brothers laughing hard enough to snort their beer, let them tell you about the time Bruce, the Martin boy – who’d grown up around horses and figured he knew enough to break the animal – found himself lying on the ground after the horse took a direct beeline for a Y-shaped tree and scraped him off!

(The horse was sold; the field lay fallow; I apparently wandered it as a toddler and then the forest retook its own ground — you’d have no idea today that the area had ever been cleared.)

Brother #1 has always been interested in guns and hunting. He made friends with Eugene who lived a few hundred yards down the road, and they made their own fun on most days.  At one point they ordered a fancy scope from a gun magazine and hooked it to large caliber rifle that my brother always called “an elephant gun.”  They took their beast rifle out to test out the scope and the recoil shook the scope to pieces.  Apparently the company hadn’t expected teenage boys in Pennsylvania to shoot elephant guns? lol

My memories of home life accumulate rapidly by the time I’m 4….  I remember my dad finishing our house on his 2 days off each week, with me as “helper” …..

I recall lying down on the seat of his 1964 Ford pickup truck for naps, wrapped in a quilt that used to have a name, cradling a beloved red yarn octopus (that I named “Octopus,” of course) …

I definitely remember playing with our friendly black lab that my dad named “Governor Shapp.” (“Laziest dog I ever saw….just like the governor,” Dad would tell people, getting in a zing against the late 70s Pennsylvania governor.)

Governor (the dog) and my dad played a game — the dog would steal my dad’s work gloves or hat when my dad “wasn’t looking,” then he would chase him around the yard and I would help or laugh or both.

Someone stole the dog one day, and that was the end of my dog ownership.  We were a cat family, really.  But it always hurt my dad’s heart that someone would steal a dog…..

Mountain life was hard on animals. I probably won’t post those stories- nobody really cares about my cat tales. But dad buried a lot of animals on a corner of the property.  ….We lost a whole pile of “outside” cats one winter when they drank antifreeze that had spilled as my dad was prepping our truck for sub-zero weather that night.  Cats love antifreeze; drawn to it like moths to flame. But it poisons them and they die a pretty sad death within a day.    …. Then there’s the black cat who crawled up into the truck motor to warm up; nobody knew he was there and the fan belt took off most of his tail.  He was a much wiser cat after that.

But I promised I wouldn’t get into the cat stories.

What’s your earliest memory?

 

So, it’s been a while

Moving to WordPress made my blog much easier to maintain than it was on Xanga.  But I also feel like more people are disappointed in me over here on WP – I write in spurts, so people who’d rather read a steady stream of content may find me too sporadic.

My creative well for writing refilled itself a little faster when my job focused  on teaching writing not generating copy. Now my work hours are filled  with much more creative thinking and output (rather than employing creativity as a means to achieve a classroom goal).  Draining the well at work each day means I’ve lost a lot of my impetus to write by the time I get home.

I think that’ll even out soon — I finally feel like I’ve got my feet under me in my job (with all of its may parts).  When I’m not spending so much mental energy trying to figure out how to tackle my to-do list, my will to write is returning.

So – all that to say – sorry if you’ve been around and noticed that I’ve been quiet. I don’t want to fill my blog with just links to other content, though I do stumble across a lot of great articles in my daily journey through social media.   I have several new posts planned for the remainder of the month, including more in my Backstory series.

I hope the coming spring finds you doing well.  If you’re reading my blog and I don’t know you, feel free to introduce yourself in the comment section.