Category Archives: Amanda’s Posts

Today is Tomorrow’s Yesterday

IMG_1660Kudos to Mikel and David for their faithful blogging week after week. I am impressed by your dedication and delighted that you still welcome me when I occasion to drop by, which is almost never on a Wednesday, even though that was my originally designated day.

A word on being “present,” which is a big concept in the spiritual (and not-so-spiritual) circles in which I run.

Americans (at least the ones I know) are busy. They always have lots to do and lots to get done. I think this is human. I know that it is at least “upper-middle-class-American” (which is the bracket that I tend to fall into even as a grad student living below the poverty line). This busyness is one of the things that keeps us from being present. Because we are always thinking about what we need to do or what we didn’t do and very rarely about the thing we are doing. Even as I am writing this blog I am thinking about a call I need to make, a book I need to read, an e-mail I need to send, and the tea that is brewing in the kitchen (Licorice Spice). Keeping my head in the “here” or “now” (whatever exactly that means) is something I’m still learning.

On top of that, there is the matter of my own personality and perception. In a previous life I was diagnosed by a spiritual director as being “chronically discontent”. At the time I was a year out of college, recently relocated, looking for a job, looking for a place to live, and not at all doing what I wanted to be doing when I finished my degree (which was living in Europe and teaching ESL and having a terribly romantic life). I had also just gotten a flat tire and I wasn’t feeling particularly hopeful. I spent so much time wishing for what had not yet happened and longing for what had already passed that I saw nothing good in my present situation. This wasn’t true “100% all the time,” but it was true “over 50% most of the time”. And it had been for a large part of my life.

One of the reasons that this happened is that I have a terribly vivid memory. I can play and replay pieces of my life like tracks on a CD or scenes in a movie–over and over and in rose-colored detail. And because the past is often rose-colored, it often seemed ever-so-much-better than the present. I didn’t appreciate the present until it was a memory. At some point I realized this and decided take on a new perspective. If I regularly projected myself into the future and looked back on the present moment as though it were the past, then maybe I could appreciate in the “now” the things I knew I would miss later.

It’s strange, I know. Like something out of Alice in Wonderland or a time-bending tale of travel, but it had a surprisingly positive effect, and is a practice I come back to every now and then, especially when the “now” seems particularly dire. For example, as I am writing this, I am sitting at a desk watching the sun stream in through my bedroom window and onto the clothes that are still hanging on my drying rack. The window wears  curtain that used to hang on a shower rod in my parents’ bathroom. There are piles of paper everywhere and books in stacks on the bed stand, the dresser, the desk and the floor. My life feels haphazard. My life feels messy. But my life will never again be the way that it is right now. In four months I will be moving out of this apartment, I might even be leaving Oakland. I will return the desk to the faculty member who loaned it to me 18 months ago. My clothes will be folded up and shoved into boxes and suitcases and clear plastic tubs. I will not be workshopping essays or showing up for internships. I will not be making tea midday in my kitchen and running around the Marina on a Monday afternoon. And when I remember that in the future all of these things will be a piece of the past, I tend to hold onto them just a little more tightly. I am present to them now, because I never will be again.

It might seem a little mind-bending to continually shift perspective, but it’s something that has helped me to be a more grateful and graceful person. It has tempered my chronic discontent, replacing it with a genuine presence, giving me the ability to crystallize memories and the desire to share experiences. If I remember that today will be yesterday’s tomorrow, I spend more time in today, wanting to take it for all that it is.

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Finding My Fromness

IMG_1660 Hello Again Small Word! I’ve missed you.

This discussion of “fromness”—closely related to the concept of “home”—is one I’ve thought about a lot ever since graduating from high school and leaving “home” for the first time.

The transition from Lincoln, Nebraska to Orange City, Iowa was not that large. Not really. Not when you consider how large and diverse the United States is as a whole. One Midwestern state is often just as rural and farm-spotted as the next. Still, most Americans I know have a very strong sense of “state pride” and identity, so the contrast between any two states is really in the eye of the beholder.

For most of my four years of college/university, “home” was my parents’ house in Lincoln, Nebraska. By the time that I graduated, however, I had established a second sort of home in small-town Iowa. I could tell by the feeling I got when I went back to visit. Orange City held roads I had walked and trails I had run, coffee shops where I’d talked with friends until two in the morning and fields of stars that watched over my first relationship. I continued taking trips back for nearly a year post-college, and yet I would never say that I am “from” Iowa.

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This is Nebraska

What I do say is that I am “from” the Midwest—a classification that is somewhat controversial, but which I identify with strongly. Probably because Midwesterners with their stereotyped friendliness, dogged work ethic, and lack of sophistication are “my people,” (whether or not I want them to be). I grew up in an urban city, the daughter of suit-clad actuary and a van-driving career mom, but two generations back, my people were farm people, rural people, hands-in-the-dirt and sweat-on-the-brow people. And somehow my spirit knows that, even though my actual experience of rural living is limited to four summers of field work and a handful of visits to our family farm in Holstein. Somehow I know that the Midwest is the base of my “fromness,” that it is part of what makes me who I am.

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This is the Midwest

 

And yet my family has only really been “from” the Midwest for a little over 100 years. The United States is still so young that few of us are really “from” America if we trace our history back far enough. Four generations ago my family was from Germany, even the branches of it that had relocated to Russia in order to acquire more land in the late 19th century. They referred to themselves as “Germans from Russia” even after they immigrated to the States (there is an entire museum in my home city of Lincoln, that is dedicated to the Germans from Russia). I have not been to Germany, but I wonder if I would have an experience similar to Mikel’s. I wonder if I would find a sense of belonging and identification that is even stronger than my feelings toward the Midwest and my loyalties to its farms and fields.

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These are Germans from Russia

 

I have never identified very strongly with being an American, except perhaps during the ’96 Olympics, on the Fourth of July (American Independence Day), or when learning about US participation in the world wars (which is unavoidably biased).

Sometimes national loyalty heightens when you leave your country of origin, which I did for the first time when I studied in Oxford. But rather than discovering a love and longing for my homeland, I found myself developing a deep affection for England. So deep, in fact, that I returned to England after finishing university and spent five months in the Derby loving a whole other side of the country. When I went back to England for the third time in 2013, I reflected on the evolution of that relationship and the odd extent to which I’d come to identify with a country that was not my own.

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This is England

For long time I believed that England was the country in which I should have been born, that I was European (maybe even British) at heart and had been living out of context for the better part of my life.

Now that Europe and I have had some time apart, I no longer feel that is true. I think what is more true is that I am a lover of stories and of history, and Europe is a place that holds stories and histories that my own country does not, stories that I was hungry for by the time that I made it to Oxford. Europe is also the place where my heart grew up—twice. It is the place where I first developed a global perspective, where I first opened myself to connecting with other cultures and languages and people and customs. That connection is what was and is at the core of my being—the belief that we are the same because we are human, no matter where we are from.

And finally, Europe was the place that I learned to love what I had left behind and to value the heritage that I have. To that end, Europe is where I found my “fromness,” and to it I have attached all that those experiences taught me.

San Francisco Skyline from Tiburon, California

This is the Bay

 

I currently live in California. I love everything about the Bay Area, aside from the cost of living (which is significant). I love the blending of cultures and the diversity and the ocean and the landscape, the farm fresh produce, organic coffee, homegrown herbs and the small batch everything. I love the energy and the artwork, the innovation and ingenuity. But I will never be “from” California. I will always be from elsewhere. Even when a transplant thrives in a new environment, its origins are in its roots.

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Five Universals

IMG_1660After a long stretch away from It’s a Small Word (sorry friends), I find there have been many much things to read and many much things to discuss. This was true two weeks ago when I began this post and it is even more true now. I’m going to start with a response to Mikel’s blog on “the universals” of humanity. There are a great many things that tie us together as people, a whole lot of universals that surpass all of the idiosyncrasies and specificities and cultural norms and mores that distinguish us from one another. Based my observations and interactions with a small portion of the world’s population, these are some of them.

5. Parties:

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Today is New Year’s Eve—an eve on which many people throughout the year will celebrate. They will gather in groups and get dressed up and go to parties and eat fancy hors d’oeures and drink too much champagne and stay up too late and at the stroke of midnight they will kiss and shout and shoot off fireworks and sing songs. They will do all of these things because they are human and because a new year is as good a reason as any to throw a party and to celebrate. Now, most of my New Year’s Eve’s have looked more like me in my pajamas eating cheese, watching the Twilight Zone and stepping outside to listen to the world sigh sometime around midnight, but that is beside the point. We as humans, regardless of race or religion or status or gender, need to celebrate. The world can be dark and cold and bitter and cruel, making it all the more necessary for us to hold to light like a candle in a black out, to celebrate that which is exceptional and unusual, to break up monotony and routine with moments of recognized grace. So we celebrate. We light lanterns and shoot firecrackers and sing songs and chant mantras. We say prayers and don costumes, and make the foods we never eat on normal days but that we always eat on the days that are anything but normal. We celebrate birth and death and beginnings and endings, weddings and bar mitzvahs, promotions and housewarmings. We throw parties to send people off and parties to welcome them home. We celebrate religious days and seasonal festivals, annual pilgrimage and days of independence. We celebrate because we can and we celebrate because we must. Because there is brokenness and anger and depression and despair. And wholeness and joy and forgiveness and hope.

4. Children/Babies:

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I have never been a “baby person.” Never. I wrote an entire two-part blog post on this subject, (which you can find here). I have warmed to babies in the past two years (aunthood, nannying, and being an au pair helped with this), but I’m still somewhat selective with my infant affections. Still, babies in general are universally loved. We ooh and ahh over their tiny little hands, chubby little cheeks, heart-warming smiles and confounded expressions. We start speaking to them in “baby talk,” even those of us who swear we’ll never do that to our children. We shush them and bounce them and bundle them and kiss them. We cannot help ourselves. They are our progeny, our future, our DNA living on for another generation. Evolutionary theory tells us that this is the basis for most of instinctual actions—the survival of our genetic information. But I think that really, it’s a little more complex. We may innately need to see something survive, but I don’t think it’s our DNA. I think it’s hope. And children are the evidence that hope will live on.

3. Sleep:

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Let is be said right now that sleep is vastly underrated in the United States. We live and strive and work for the day that we can rest and retire and vacation, but seriously, sleep is not valued enough. I speak for myself as well. I have the strongest affection for my bed, the place in which I most often find the sweet gift of sleep, but we do not spend nearly enough time together. A friend once told me, “People think that they know what they value most in life. Let them go without sleep for a week and they will almost certainly change their minds.” Regardless of how many hours your body needs to function well, I think that sleep (also rest in its various forms, but really, sleep) is something we universally love and need. We may not love that we need it, but such is the state of our bodies.

2. Collaboration:

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There are many individualists and independents and introverts out there (and I claim to be all of these things), but there is still something that we seem to universally appreciate about collaboration and teamwork. Whether it is the unexpected musical collaboration of Bing Crosby and David Bowie, the creative collaboration of Disney Animation and Pixar Studios, or a feel-good story about a brother and sister opening California’s first Italian-style wine shop, at our heart of hearts we love to see partnership. We love when enemies become friends, when old lovers get back together, when teammates secure a victory and friends come to one another’s rescue. We love Frodo and Sam, Batman and Robin, [insert culture-appropriate duo here]. We like to see and celebrate teamwork. We might be a little afraid of it, a little hesitant to trust anyone who has the power to deceive or destroy us, but at our heart of hearts, I believe that humans value collaboration. And this is one of the reasons why…

1. Connection:

connection

Now more than ever, I am absolutely convinced of the essential importance of human connection. Whether or not you believe that the story of humanity began with a lone guy hanging out in a garden, humans were not meant to be alone. I value my time to myself as much as the next introvert, but I also crave to be seen and heard and understood. It has been the driving force of my being longer than I have realized, and it is the subject around which nearly all of my writing revolves.

The past two weeks I have been away from California. I have been in Kansas City and Nebraska, where I have been eating pastries, exchanging presents, writing cards and drinking lots and lots of coffee. I have intended to read books and write blog posts, to make my way through that list of “Things I Want to Do Over Break,” but all of that has taken a back seat to what I have really been doing, which is connecting. I have connected with a dozen members of a disbanded small group in Kansas City and been vulnerable with a pastor who has listened to my heart cry many tears. I have stayed with a college friend turned adult friend turned life friend and her husband, visited my parents and siblings and a cousin all grown up. I’ve reconnected with a high school teacher and a middle school youth director, a girl I met in preschool and friends I didn’t know until college. And I have been surprised time and time again at how easily I’ve picked back up with these people I haven’t seen for months and years and even a decade. There are connections I wish I could make, connections to people with whom relationship has been broken. But connection is a two-way street.

Maybe that’s what makes it such a gift. Because it requires that both parties open their hearts and bestow forgiveness, that each of them rolls out the welcome mat and offers an embrace. We all welcome in our own ways and with our own customs and words and actions and expression, but the connection itself is universal. It transcends language and culture and all kinds of division. It is the reason we have this blog, the reason that we write, and the reason that we read.

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It is finals week

That is my only excuse for not writing more right now.

Also, it has been a very heavy past couple of weeks in the US and in the Bay Area.

My heart and my schedule are full to overflowing in a way that might be more than I can handle.

More on all of this soon. I promise.

In the meantime, I think of you often.

Amanda

Turkeys and Pilgrims and Indians…Oh My

IMG_1660If you don’t get the reference in the title, it’s a spin off of the Wizard of Oz, a true American movie classic if ever there was one.

It dawns on me that it is that time of year when I have the opportunity to discuss one of my favorite American phenomena, which is the season of Thanksgiving. I always forget when I am insulated in my own country (which is most of the time) that November in the U.S. is distinctly wonderful, especially if you have roots in a Christian faith tradition. During the month of November, American party stores are full of faux leaves and big paper pumpkins, paper cut turkeys and pilgrim-themed centerpieces. It is a celebration of the harvest, a celebration of abundance. But it is also a celebration of the practice of giving thanks.

A myth has been passed down to little Americans through the ages that once upon a time a group of English puritans set sale for The New World on a ship called the Mayflower (which interestingly enough was the name of the moving company that relocated my family from Omaha to Lincoln). The trip over was long and difficult and many died of illness. Those who survived the crash into Plymouth Rocks faced the harsh conditions of American New England, where the soil was different and the winters were desperate. Again, many died. Were it not for a fortunate friendship formed between a handful of settlers and a few brave native people (Americans who still refer to them as “Indians” truly mean no harm), all might have been lost. But the native people (Indians) were benevolent, despite the threat posed by the armed and dangerous and terribly ignorant immigrants (Pilgrims). The natives shared a new magical food called corn and the settlers and the natives broke bread (and corn) together and that was the first Thanksgiving.

pilgrims-and-indians-and-turkey

At least, that’s the way that I remember it. It’s roughly the story that I told my British host family the second time I celebrated Thanksgiving in England (the first was when I was studying at Oxford). I’m sure you could just as easily Google a more accurate telling, but you can do that on your own time.

thanksgiving-food-coma

Rooted as I am in the myth of the first Thanksgiving and rooted deeper still in the practices of the Protestant Christian church, November, for me, is a season of thankfulness. It is a time to recognize abundance of all varieties—material wealth, friendship, family, food, shelter, assets, land, resources, etc. It would be wishful thinking indeed to say that this sentiment permeates the hearts of all US citizens. It is only too easy to make note of the disparity between those who can afford a Whole Foods free range turkey served with organic kale salad, prosciutto wrapped brussels sprouts and rare vintage wines and those who will be begging for a handout the third Thursday of the month. It is too easy to point out that we are grateful around the holidays and generous for a week, but then selfish and stingy the remainder of the year. What is harder is to embrace gratitude, to make it personal, to let it settle; to reflect on the gift of your own life before you start speculating on someone else’s.
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Many an American has taken to posing “gratitude challenges” around this time of year. They post them to Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and Twitter. #gratitude flies around cyberspace, dropping little “I’m grateful for’s” on unsuspecting passersby. Again, it’s easy to get cynical about these things. It’s easy to look at abundance and douse it with the cold water of satire and poverty. It’s enough to keep you from joining in, from becoming one of the “over blessed” so caught up in their own gratitude that you wonder if they realize the dire situation the world is in. It seems safer to just stay out.

gratitude journal

This year I chose the opposite. This year I chose to participate. It’s been simple really, hardly an effort and certainly not a sacrifice. Each day I log onto Facebook and scroll through my list of friends, looking for common ties and recalling the origin of our relationships. I post the theme, I reflect on what it’s meant to me, what these friends and contacts and connections have meant to me, and I tag them to let them know. I’m not out to prove anything. No one is anxiously waiting to see if I’ll mention them in a post. It has not changed the world. But it has changed me. I’ll be damned if gratitude doesn’t always change me when I start to practice it. I find myself getting excited for future posts, tearing up when I take stock of how many people I’ve encountered in my life, how much blessing they have brought me, how vital they have been for the survival of my soul. There was one night I posted in advance for the next day. I was just too excited to wait.

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This is what happens when we begin to shift our perspectives. Gratitude changes us. And if it can change us, maybe it can change others. Maybe we can change others when we encounter them in humility, when we view them as a blessing even before we know their story. Maybe it’s okay to live with a little myth, to believe the best rather than anticipating the worst. Maybe there is something to telling stories that are true regardless of whether or not they really happened.

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Accepting Powerlessness

IMG_1660This will not be one of my more thought out blog posts, but I have been wanting to write it, so I will do that now before the onslaught of another week. (My weeks have been much of an onslaught lately, but that is by my own doing.)

As one of three part-time jobs, I currently work with high school students (ages 14-7) as a writing tutor. My kids are history students. When they have an essay due in a history class they send in a draft, I mark it up with notes, we meet to talk about it for 15 minute-sessions during the school day, and I send them on their way to make revisions. This happens twice.

I try to help them to understand the concept of a thesis statement and the use of topic sentences in organizing a five-paragraph essay (an American past time). Some of the kids are great. They appreciate the additional help. They make all of the changes I ask of them. Their writing gets better. Some of them think they’re way too good to be there. They have no interest in improving what they believe is already an exceptional essay. Some of them just don’t care. They hand in first drafts that are half a page long, maybe less. They look at you with blank faces that tell you they’d much rather be in bed. You want to tell them that the feeling is mutual.

Most recently my freshmen have been writing papers on democracy vs. absolute government. They’re studying the Enlightenment in Western Europe (Americans always study a disproportionate amount of European history in our World History courses), and have been asked to argue for one form of government over the other, integrating primary sources from Louis XIV, King James I, John Locke, Montesquieu, Machiavelli, and Voltaire. They are asked to discuss both sides. Most of my students get it, but a lot of them don’t.

I forgive them when it’s a matter of being confused by a concession thesis (why would you argue for an opposing viewpoint? How is that helpful?), but I really wonder when I read some of their comments:

“In the US we have a democracy and there is no corruption in our government,”
“In our government the power is divided, so everyone has an equal say,”
“There are still absolute and democratic governments in the world. In England they have a monarchy,”
“When the other countries saw that the US had democracy and it was good, they changed to democracy too.”

Sometimes the comments make me laugh. Often, though, they concern me. I don’t blame the teachers. But I do wonder where this idea of “We’ve got it right, let us help you,” comes from, how far back it goes and how deeply it permeates our nation. Are other countries like this? Or am I right in feeling that it is “very American” to believe that you can fix the problems of other societies by implementing structures and systems that have worked in your own? I am not nearly educated enough to know.

The other thing that has struck me about these papers, (especially in light of what Marz has shared with us recently) is that this is a response to powerlessness. It is a response to seeing someone else who is hurting, suffering, failing. It is terrifying to watch and do nothing, to wait before acting, to discern a specific solution (if in fact there is a solution to be conjured), so we act. We sound the alarm on injustice and then either we ignore it or we try to fix it. “Here, this worked for me, I’m sure it will work for you too.”

But sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes that quick response to feeling powerless ends up causing destruction, implementing systems that don’t work for people who don’t want them. I am in agreement with those who say that first we must observe. First we must empathize. Empathy is hard. It hurts. But it allows for connection and conversation. It is the first step in establishing our shared humanity before we go about setting up governments and vaccinating cities and air dropping food. But look at me offering my hypothetical solutions, still wanting to fix when sometimes fixing isn’t the best choice. Or at least not the first choice. But should the first choice be acceptance? Accepting that I might be just as powerless as the victims I want to assist? If that is the case, how long do we wait? How long do we learn before we act?

If America doesn’t have the answer (and I’m sure that very often they don’t), where can we find it?

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Sober Admission

Dear friends,

I am so busy. It is ridiculous. Recently I’ve had trouble falling asleep because my mind spins with thoughts of what I ought to be doing–finishing essays, grading papers, preparing lesson plans, applying for internships, submitting my work, reading novels, reading short stories, reading other people’s work, critiquing, commenting, calling, cooking, blogging. Then I realize I ought to be sleeping, that sleep is vital to living, so I lie there and try to will myself to sleep, which is, of course, the worst thing you can do when you need to sleep.

Suffice it to say have have mental drafted several posts. I am terribly disappointed in myself and my time management skills. I am not powerless, but I have been thinking quite a bit about powerlessness recently. I hope I will blog about it tomorrow, definitely (nope, not going to say that), most likely by the end of the week. If it happens sooner than Wednesday you’ll know that I was up at night unable to leave you alone.

Much affection and apology,

Amanda

The Importance of the Intergenerational

IMG_1660My first week as a freelance writer for the Lamorinda Weekly, I was assigned to cover a presentation entitled “Hearing Aids: Fact or False Advertising”. I took the story, put on my “reporter clothes,” and attended the presentation in a room full of white-haired lens-sporting seniors. Months later I was assigned another “seniors story,” an article on the Lafayette Historical Society and the efforts they were making to record the stories of “living legacies,” of older community members. Before I knew it, I had a “beat,” and my beat was the senior population of an aging community.

I have learned so much from the people I have interviewed, not only about their personal lives, interests and stories (which are often fascinating in and of themselves), but also about some of the situations and mentalities that surround the perception and treatment of the older portion of the population. I recently showed up at the 10-year celebration of a senior ladies book club and afterward got to talking with one of the members. “This group is just wonderful,” she said of the dozen or so women. It seemed that no one could say enough about how supportive and thoughtful and encouraging they all were. “But you know,” the woman added, “my favorite events and experiences are the ones that are inter-generational.” I nodded, realizing that at this point in my life this is just as true for me as it is for her–that I value being around children, teenagers, middle-aged parents and seasoned veterans of life. Another member of the book club added that though she enjoys many of the activities that are targeted at seniors, “every one is just so old.”

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The No Guilt Book Club

She laughed, fully realizing that she herself is now one of these “old people,” but it got me to thinking about the way that we group people by their age demographics, at least here in the States. There are age specific sports teams and reading groups, community events and church activities. There are “toddlers groups” and “teen book clubs,” “senior yoga” and “young adult dancing meet ups.” We get so wrapped up about making things “fair,” when it comes to competition and equality that we lose the wonderful beautiful that happens when a 25-year-old guy and an 8-year-old girl are both fixing a puzzle, running a three-legged race, or carving a pumpkin.

Perhaps one of the reasons that post-retirement persons are so often overlooked or forgotten is because we have made it so easy to do so, because we have categorized and pigeon-holed and separated our society into age groups, and in making that division we have lost what it means to be an integrated society.

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I was 17 when my last grandparent passed away. I hadn’t even finished high school. There have been very few seniors involved in my life since, and the older I get the more I see this as a loss. I feel the same way about children, having none of my own and having grown up in communities of my peers. There is something really wonderful about the duality of perspective that is present in an intergenerational community. There is wisdom coming from all points of the age spectrum. Everyone learns. Everyone grows. Maybe a key part of respecting our elders is also seen in respecting our children. Our teenagers. Our young adults and seasoned professionals. Instead of singling them out as special, perhaps we first need to integrate them as similar.

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Aging in the United States (Part One)

IMG_1660  My goodness! It has been so interesting to read the posts that have been shared on the topic of aging and the treatment of elders in society. I have refrained from blogging on the topic myself, not because I have nothing to say, but because there is so very much to discuss. So much, in fact, that I will need multiple posts to do it.

First, a word aging.

This year, I entered my late-twenties. It was sobering for a number of reasons. One being that though I am not yet “old” by American standards, I am no longer “young” either. “Young” is before you have wrinkles or sun spots; before your metabolism plummets and your body shows the effects of it. “Young” is before all of your friends are married and established and buying houses and having babies. “Young” is when you are still in school, still wandering and wondering and not at all settled on anything. “Young” is before your body reaches its physical peak, at which point you move from “Young” to “Ideal” and then swiftly onto “Aging” as you make your way toward “Old.”

“Young” is “pre-Ideal.” Though few women ever really meet the American version of the “Ideal” woman, each female does at some point hit the physical peak that is her own “Ideal.” It is elusive and fleeting and if you’re not careful you’ll miss it entirely. You may even sleep through that moment of “Ideal” and wake up to find yourself “Aging” and quickly on your way to “Old.”

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Does she look like she’s aging to you?

All of that said, “Old” is not something that Americans think of fondly. At least, not in my experience. Aging is a painful and detestable process. I have seen advertisements for wrinkle creams and skin care products since I was a child. I have been fed this idea of the “Ideal” and now that I have reached the age of the target audience, I am only too aware of how much time and money I could spend attempting to stop, stifle, or disguise the effects of aging.

These are lines that are regularly used to sell products: “Stop signs of aging,” “Slow the aging process,” “Rewind time,” “Look younger than ever,” etc. Youth, beauty, flawless skin–it can all be yours if you use these creams. serums and three-step cleansers. And that’s just what you do for your face. Forget the rest of your sagging, aging, aching body.

I apologize if I’m being overly dramatic, but this is something that really gets to me–this focus on the physical changes that come with aging and the ridiculous amount of attention, concern and disdain that we give them. Because there are really truly wonderful things that can happen to your mind, soul and spirit years after you have passed your physical prime. And in my culture, these things do not get nearly enough attention.
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It is only now that I have less-than-gracefully started my own aging process, that I am seeing what is meant by the cultivation of wisdom and experience, of the “inner beauty” that we sometimes mention, but that too few of us intentional pursue.

This past semester I have been immersed in the world of seniors (that is what we call citizens over the age of 65; for the most part I think this is okay with them, but everyone has their own reaction to being granted “senior status”). I write for a local paper in a community that is brimming with folks over the age of 65, entire towns that are dominate by seniors. I cover their stories–hearing aid conferences, book clubs, softball leagues, etc. And in sitting down to interview these individuals, I feel I am dining on the caviar of their memories, being treated to the decadent delicacies that come from a life well-lived. I am also teaching a memoir writing class in cooperation with my graduate program and Lafayette Senior Services. My first week of class, I asked each of my students to introduce themselves and share a bit about where they were from and what they were writing. I was floored to see so much life in such a small space.

When I look at the women in my class I do not see their wrinkles or sun spots. I do not notice if their hair is thinning or their eyes are weak. I see their history. I hear their wisdom. I listen to them tell me stories about being a child in Hawaii when Pearl Harbor was bombed; of losing a husband to cancer or a brother to war. I see women who have raised children and carted them across the world and back. I hear their laughter. I value their humor. And I absolutely live for the connections that we make with one another. Here, I think. Here is someone I can learn from.

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Though I may no longer be Young, I also am not yet Old. But Old is something I hope to reach, and Aging is the path that gets me from here to there, at least that is how I would like to view it; it is how I am learning to view the passage of time, not as slipping through my fingers, but as getting me one step closer to wisdom and understanding.

In the past two years I have gained weight and acquired wrinkles. I have found the first of my gray hairs and have all but lost the ability to pull an all-nighter. But I have also learned patience (while simultaneously learning to love children). I have grown in kindness and generosity and flexibility. I have deepened in the ability to love and empathize, gone deeper into my heart than I knew that I could. I have even begun cultivating the tiny seedlings of what might grow into wisdom. It is actually a pretty fair trade off, though I do not always view it as such. It is a process I will go through whether I like it or not. Wisdom would tell me it is best to enjoy the ride.

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Better to Have Posted and Been Late then Never to Have Posted at All…by A. K. Carroll

IMG_1660That title is pretty much the gist of this post, so I will not go much further in explaining myself. At least not this week. Again it is Wednesday (though I realize as I am writing this for many of you it is already Thursday…for most of the world in fact). Again it is time for me to post my weekly installment of insight and discovery. Again I am late. And again I am profoundly sorry. Being habitually late is a very serious problem for someone who wants to be a journalist. A very serious problem indeed.

Now there are all kinds of reasons why writers put off writing and don’t meet their deadlines. There are writers who hate the act of writing, who love “having written” and who have in fact written a great many things, but who still freeze up every time they open a new document and are assaulted by all of that ghastly white space. Sometimes I am one of those writers.

But more often I am a writer who loves writing. But I love a great many other things as well, and therein lies the problem. Because I love all of the things, I want to do all of the things and I always think that I can get more of the things done in a day than I ever really can. This causes stress, which is a motivating but nasty little creature. Most of my life I have preferred to be stressed than to be late, but more recently I have preferred to be late. Which is not really a good solution. I am working on finding a better one.

IMG_1772In the meantime, there is coffee. Sweet, sweet (or not so sweet) coffee. And in that vein I give you the following video discovery, one that deserves further elaboration when I have the time to do such things. In short I give you Starbucks, a place in which I can write and blog and read and talk no matter how tired I am or how far behind I feel. Next week I hope to do more of that.

I realize the following video may resemble shameless brand promotion, but if you had any idea how much time I spend working, writing, reading, interviewing, pondering, emoting and connecting at Starbucks, perhaps you would understand why it is so very close to my heart. I regularly work at coffee shops because it is too lonely to be isolated in my apartment. I pick up conversations with the people in line, watch laptops for my table neighbors, play peek-a-boo with babies, swap stories with children and give directions to strangers. And all of this giving and taking and sharing and connecting; this is where I see God. God lives at Starbucks.

http://adage.com/…/starbucks-launches-brand-campaign/295175/

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