Color me beautiful

Colouring_pencilsThe past several months have held quite a few losses for my family, and I’ve had several opportunities to observe and participate in our grieving rituals. As I joined my family yet again this past weekend, I learned something important.

You see, unlike the other recent funerals, this one had less elements of pre-planning. Most of the decisions about what to do and how to it were left to the survivors. And before I go any further, let me emphasize that it all came together beautifully. It was a very appropriate tribute to a life well-lived.

As a (long-term) step-relative and a bit of a sideline-sitter anyway, I spent the days leading up to the service taking in the family dynamics. Through lots of fun memories, laughter, and tears, I noticed tiny pricks of tension. Nothing big, just now and then, I’d sense a digging of heels or an undercurrent of friction. Everyone had an idea of how “it” should be, and though they were similar, they didn’t always align perfectly.

And then a couple of events started my gears whirling. In a private family moment, we shared adjectives and descriptors of our loved one. I was quite surprised that many of them didn’t seem to line up with the ones that popped into my head. I realized there were facets of our loved one that time, distance, and life phases hadn’t allowed me to see. As I listened, I also became aware that it wasn’t just me. Although there were common themes, everyone had different insights, saw her just a bit differently.

I chewed on that until the memorial service, where the feeling became even more pervasive. As a series of people took turns remembering our loved one with words and stories, I kept seeing different sides of her. Although her sweet, caring demeanor shone through everyone’s tributes, each one had a personal spin that left me thinking, “I never realized that” or “I didn’t think of it that way.”

On the trip home, I finally figured out what was going on–what is always going on, in life or in death. It’s so simple that it often eludes understanding: we see things through our own eyes. The traits and words and events that define a person come at us through our personal filter, and we translate accordingly. The tension I felt came from each of us struggling internally to defend our own memories.

My view of a person is unique; it has to be, since it comes through filters only I have. Everyone else’s view of that person is unique, too. It is only through the sharing of stories and remembrances that we can start to understand the wholeness of a person. Each person’s narrow view alone can’t encompass the richness of a life.

It took me awhile, but I finally realized that other people’s perspectives don’t erode my own. Rather than taking something away, they add richness and fullness and color.

Log jam

Photograph_of_Log_Jam_-_NARA_-_2129372Communicator though I am, I have my issues, too.

Sometimes when faced with a problem that seems beyond my reach, I’ll actually *gasp* ask for help. That’s great; after all, haven’t I espoused–right here in this blog–knowing your limits and reaching out to those whose strengths complement your weaknesses? The issue is that I often don’t wait for the help I’ve summoned. I dive in and work to figure it out myself.

Like the time I was faced with a tax issue that didn’t make sense to me. I asked a couple of accountants, but before they could get back to me, I worked it out myself.

Or the time I needed to redirect a URL to another domain. I put out a cry for help, but before I could sit down with my expert friend, I had it all worked out.

I could go on, but you see the pattern. These scenarios happen more often than I’d like to admit.

Here’s my problem. I think it’s fine to ask for help. I also think it is admirable to work things out for myself. Either one is a great way to solve a problem. Is it such a good idea to keep a foot in both camps, though? If I ask for help, I should probably give the person the opportunity to deliver. If I were in his place, I’d probably find that insulting–or at least annoying.

I’m not sure why the cry for help dislodges my logjam of thought and allows me to proceed on my own. Maybe it’s because I don’t like to look as if I don’t know something. Maybe it’s because it turns my issue into a competition to finish first. Maybe it’s just cathartic.

Whatever the case, I haven’t been able to solve this one yet. I know I’ll be better for it when I do.

Snowshoes

SONY DSCA friend and I have been trying to figure out this new world order. You know, the one where we enter into interactions, relationships even, and suddenly we find ourselves wondering how we got so far down a path without really knowing the other person. It sort of feels like walking on snow that has frozen into a crusty shell; it’s solid enough that you can walk on top of it for a while, but now and then, the lack of substance underneath makes you fall through.

I have a few friendships that feel like that: solid on top, powdery underneath.

My (real) friend tells me she has some, too. We both think we’ve gotten there by a process she calls skipping steps. That is, with our snow friends, we somehow jump past the usual milestones of friendship and just start going on vacation together, metaphorically speaking. We haven’t played the getting-to-know-you game that should take weeks and months, not hours and days, or worse yet, a spin around the internet. We become besties before we really “get” each other.

I recently came across another term that describes it even better: unearned intimacy.

Perfect-o.

Unearned intimacy can come about in lots of different ways, I think, but here are three I’ve identified in my life. The first is far and away the biggest culprit.

  1. Social media. I love, love, love the interwebs. I’m a serious Twitter junkie and I interact with Facebook friends I haven’t seen in real life since 1987. But a 140-character peek into someone’s life–posted for public consumption nonetheless–does not qualify me as a real friend. I’m not knocking the medium, but seriously, how often have I (or you) assumed I “know” someone by what s/he posts? If we met up in real life, would we be able to take a long car ride together? Would the silences be awkward? Would I be able to doze off without guilt? Could I order for her at a drive through while she takes a potty break? That’s intimacy, not knowing which song lyrics she quotes regularly or that she loves her dog and hates school drop-offs.
  2. Past lives. I may have known someone a long time ago, but even if she was my BFF in high school, I probably don’t know much about the years and events that have shaped her life between then and when we reconnected. It’s hard to pick up where you left off; you’ve got a lot of ground to cover before you both fall into the Circle of Trust again.
  3. Friends of friends. You may feel as if you know someone because you’ve vicariously experienced her life through your current bestie, but that doesn’t really qualify you when you actually meet. Even if you experience a mutual affinity, you still have to build your own foundation.

Sometimes we jump into an intimacy we haven’t earned, and when we do, it’s hard to back up. But if we really want a friendship to work, we have to. Go out for a cup of coffee. Chat about life. Check for chemistry. Ask questions. Don’t assume. Retrace the steps you’ve skipped.

Retracing is like buying snowshoes; it’ll keep you from falling through the crusty part.

Music to my ears

I’m not the world’s best parent. Truth be told, I’m not even close. Once in a while, though, I get something right.

With two teenagers and a dog in the house–and me as the antithesis of Suzy Homemaker–the messes and chores never end. I keep looking to my kids for relief. Their able bodies should be able to unload the dishwasher or fold a load of laundry, or even *gasp* hang up their coats.

And, grumbling notwithstanding, they usually do–when I ask.

Futilely, however, I keep hoping that they will notice what needs to be done and just do it. After all, the dishes don’t magically disappear. Without a list or a specific request, though, I’m convinced my kids have tunnel vision in the house. This panics me, because I wonder how they will ever manage on their own.

Note to self: continually dropping passive aggressive hints does not work.

Like putting all the clothes from the bathroom floor into the sink. (They just use a different one.)

Or wondering aloud if I am the only one who ever loads the dishwasher. (No reaction.)

Or asking why that coat is on the table, again. (I really had to go to the bathroom when I got home, so I just threw it down. [Yet there it remains.])

Note to self: nagging does not work.

Who is going to do this stuff when you live on your own?

You left your dishes in the sink–AGAIN.

Your bathroom is a disaster!

And if one of those tactics doesn’t work alone, neither does an alternating chorus of them, nor does repeating them over and over. And over. It just becomes the equivalent of shouting at a person who doesn’t understand the language.

Finally I smartened up and tried something new. When I leave the house, I don’t give them a specific list of chores anymore. They’re clearly not learning from that. Instead, I give them a number and vaguery.

Today I want you to do three meaningful things around the house. You get to pick what those are, but they have to have significance. (Folding three pieces of laundry in one load does NOT constitute three things.)

Holy moly. The results I got with that approach far outweighed anything else I had tried. It forced them to take note of their surroundings and self-evaluate (is it enough?). The first time, I got a clean toilet, a clean kitchen, and a vacuumed floor. Oh, joy of joys!

I don’t know why we (read: I) don’t look at our home lives like we look at our professional or social lives. We fall into ruts and don’t even think about changing them. People are people, and the same principles apply: if someone doesn’t get it, increasing the volume won’t help. Change the way you communicate.

Stop nagging and get creative.

Dreamgirl

Dreams_quotes_07I don’t have a vaguely interesting back story for this post; it’s just the culmination of years of self-examination and, finally, realization. (Remember, I’m the girl who puts the anal in analyze.) So I’m just going to hit you with it.

Don’t try to become someone else’s dream. Instead, become the person you’ve always dreamed of being–and let him (or her or them) love you for it.

Whether you’re a child whose parents want to live vicariously through you, someone’s prodigy, or that person who has wrapped up another’s heart, I’ve got news for you: you won’t fit. Sure, you might come close, or some parts will fit–but others won’t. But you’ll never be a perfect match for someone else’s expectations. That’s a fantasy.

Be yourself. Pursue what you love. Get better at it every day.

They’ll love you for it.

Inspired interruptions

Fry-lightbulb-on-forehead1I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a brilliant idea–absolutely, positively the best one ever.

And then *poof* it was gone. Disappeared into the ether. A faint contrail in my cerebral atmosphere. The footprint of a memory.

Too often, when thoughts flit through my consciousness, I swat them away instead of grabbing them. Usually it’s because I’m busy. I need to finish writing a brief, make dinner, wrap up an email. I think, Ooh, you’re a good one! Hold on a sec while I finish this up. I’ll get right back to you.

The trouble is, I don’t always get back to it and that germination of an idea dries up and blows away for lack of nurturing.

Or when I do jot it down, it finds its home in the margins of a notebook used for something else, on a post-it note that loses its grip and flutters to the floor, or on the back of a grocery list that gets crumpled in the bottom of my purse.

How many ideas have I missed because I let the good ones go?

How many problems have gone unsolved?

How many times have I settled for less?

We all have good ideas, big ones and small. It’s not about not having the inspiration; it’s about being willing to embrace it when it comes.

Inspiration rarely descends upon us when it is convenient. Don’t resist the interruption.

***On another note, HAPPY BIRTHDAY to RLK, my BFF and rock in all storms!***

Generationally speaking

young and oldI follow a blogger who writes about her challenges and opportunities as a 20-something in the workplace. Even though I’m not in her demographic (unless you count my 40-something as two of her 20-somethings), I generally find raw truth in her commentary.

When one of her posts popped up in my feed the other day, I noticed something.

Like me, she had taken  an unintended break from blogging.

Like me, she has made major life changes in the past year.

Like me, she has taken a new job in a completely new industry.

Like me, she is discovering the truly important elements of a career.

Sure, she’s half my age and sees life through a lens unclouded by experience and tradition. She’s fighting for recognition and I’ve got a long resume. She has future and I have history.

But you know what? We’re not all that different. In fact, deep down inside, we’re pretty much the same.

We want to make a difference.

We want to love what we do and where and with whom we do it.

We want people to judge us by our abilities and accomplishments, not our age, background, or gender.

What we really want is to be relevant.

So even though her writing centers on generation gaps (I’ll see her Gen Y and raise it my Gen X), reading her commentary constantly reminds me that the only real generation gap is in our minds. People are people. Let’s stop making judgments based on the folds of our skin (I refuse to call those things around my eyes wrinkles) and focus on the folds of our brains and the chambers of our hearts. Age is irrelevant.

Thanks, Kayla.

**Want to read her blog? Here’s the recent post that had me vigorously nodding my head in agreement: 5 Reasons Why…

And if you just delete the word “older,” you’ll find a guide to interpersonal relations, regardless of gender, HERE.