Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Those Mongols in Eyeliner Can Happen Fast

I cannot expect to be shunned, despite myself. You know those mental processes that take you from point a) to point z) in 0.68 seconds? I’m constantly there. I go from taking my change absentmindedly with a kind smile at the counter in the grocery, to walking out wondering about the Mongols some thousands of years ago, and starting the car to my thoughts buzzing on Cleopatra’s eye liner. Mind you, it is all connected by a webbed myriad of passing thoughts. One older friend of mine took a lick of ice cream and he was building a bomb shelter in case of Nazi invasion. This may or may not be funny.

I just did it to you. I was just talking about not expecting to be shunned, then dragged you through Mongolia, ice cream, and Nazis. Our minds take us places, and suddenly an assumption, becomes a fact. But the fact is sometimes we begin to think something is truth, just because we thought it.  This is one of the most self-destructive tendencies of the average human being.

You know this example.

“Did you just see what she did?”

“No? I missed it! All I saw was when she took the trash out.”


We think we know something about someone and build more upon that mentally, until their every action is connected to our mental image of who they are. She really only took the trash out, but the person believing something based on assumption, saw so much more. I can tell you for a fact that if someone lives like that, they have a wake of destroyed relationships behind them and more are coming their way. They are unconscious to it. “They” might even be… “you.”

“But, seriously, this is not based on an assumption! I know she’s mean and I’m not going to be blind-sided again!” Just a second.  You know she’s mean because of an action you experienced previously that was based out of what flaw? Who appointed her with that flaw? Don’t tell me it was your brain without all the facts surrounding her entire person…There is so much more to every moment on this universe than we will ever absorb. I personally cannot attempt to be so bold as to assume that I understand every instant enough to condemn someone in my thoughts immortally.

There’s something to the Scriptural adage about “taking thoughts captive to obedience.” It is protection.  Examining our own thoughts for truth based upon unadulterated fact, keeps you safe from trouble. Recognizing your own fallibility protects the people you should be trusting, but won’t. Or maybe you like living and thinking the worst of others based on nothing.

Now, we go back to the shunning. Taking thoughts captive runs both ways. We can look at ourselves and assume people are thinking about us a certain way, when in fact, it never even occurred to them to do so. Do you realize how this could trap you into living how you otherwise would not? People are not even thinking about you in the way you think they are. True story.

It’s a matter of doing what matters. Choosing mind over what you think is matter.

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. (Philippians 4:8)

Finding a Place for The Unspoken

Have you ever really needed to say something and there was no way you could? Whether it was expressing your heart to a loved one or telling someone what you really think, there was an interminable block between you and words. Maybe it wasn’t a matter of not knowing what to say, but of being able, your thoughts culturally or relationally tied to a post. This is assuming you know better than to say whatever comes to mind.

You know if you break the barrier you make a thousand more. A step over that line and you probably go beyond “enigma stage.” Or you just stay right where you are, pretty much writhing in the joy of being misunderstood. A glance around a room rubs it in. Or a long silent car ride gives that aching feeling. You’re really stuck.

What to do? Well, I’ve tried a number of things. As you can probably imagine if you haven’t already experienced it, I easily emit a verbal response for anything and everything—instantly. Thankfully, time has metered that to usually include a prelude of silence, yet the words still knock around inside my skull, looking for an unauthorized escape route. So that is Option A) The prelude of silence. Just give it some time. Often, you’ll think of something else far better to say.

Option B) Write it down. All you carefully-crafted, necessary words will not be wasted.  And if, in time, there is an opportunity to share, you have it ready. And the wise may find by the time that time comes that you don’t want to say it anyway. However reread thoughts, once thought, usually have been surpassed when tried to be contemplated once more.

Option C) Say it out loud, in seclusion to the God Who Hears. This is by far the most effective method of expressing latent thoughts. Scripture says He keeps each one of our tears, and knows our thoughts and heart. That’s pretty personal and understanding. Speaking out loud to God also helps eliminate most, if not all, of the poison from your words—and your heart. He gives renewed thoughts, too.

Option D) It is commonly accepted that New York City, Chicago, Seattle, and such places have lots of people. Where there teeming crowds, I find that frequently one can disappear into a swarm and, even using a megaphone, can say whatever they like. However, this does not eliminate the problem of being misunderstood.

Option E) Nature has a way of hearing and healing. Not the little strips of grass and shrubs along Mainstreet, but the Wilderness beyond limitation. Waiting silently and taking the time to breathe in the wild, clarifies like a polished translator, turning your own words over into a soul-language akin to a sunny day and gentle breeze. Its metaphrastic.

Option F) The easiest response is feeling sorry for you yourself, finding fault, and building up a wall of begrudging thoughts and feelings. Frankly, this one is  stupidly immature, and spirals you downward. If someone were to do this and actually be thinking at the same time, they wouldn’t do it. In fact this whole “shooting myself in the foot” routine is not an option for you. Sorry.

Option G) Hire an ear. However, I will warn that this can be extremely expensive. Look in the phone book under Physicians, Psychiatrist, Tattoos, or Hair Salon.

Option H) Go shopping. This is also expensive and relatively short-term pain relief. There are no lasting benefits to this one except perhaps an improved credit score if done properly, or a reputation as “the one with all the stuff.”

Option I) Create a masterpiece in your artistic mode that mirrors your heart. Take the time put it down in stitches, paint, words, Kodak, or wood. Using the gifts you’ve been given in your style of expression sets your heart on wing.

Option J) Combine Options A), B), C), and top it off with E) or I) for the best results. It works.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Running with Stilettos: Are You Looking Sharp, My Friends?

You know you’re a fashionista when “being held up with a stiletto” sounds like an everyday, proper occurrence.  Personally, I have stilettos of both kinds. They’re mostly shoes, though. You see, my problem is that when you wear the shoe variety, people don’t actually trust you with the knife variety. The Seal knife you put on your wish list every Christmas gets passed over, people thinking “That’s not really her.”  That is called stereotyping—and it’s not nice.

So let us stereotype. People are like shoes: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

·         Some you don’t even see and others do their best to be all that you see.

·         Some classily add to their surroundings, and others bring the house down with bad taste.

·         Some smell nice and some don’t.

·         Some are for the long haul and some get painful to have around because they’re too pointed.

·         Some are your mother’s friends and some are your friends: the ones that are both are the best.

·         Some are season-less and timeless and some are only for fair weather, after all.

·         Some are made of good quality from the inside, out, while others wear away.

·         Some last forever, and others you actually want to throw away.

·         Some are just for fun, and others are the go-to for serious times.

·         Some make you feel amazing, and others, kind of…”dumpy.”

·         There are those that raise you up, and those that keep you low.

·         There are those that take you places, further than you thought possible, and those that hold you back.

·         Some are bold, and others are quiet: you need them both.

·         Some are the life of the party and then you have the snuggly, quiet ones.

·         Kept for too long, some give you deformities that others can cure.

·         There are those you can shop all day with, and those that can “just do dinner.”

·         Some make you look better just by being there, and others “backbite.”

·         There are those that you leave at the door, and some that are clean enough to meet the folks.

·         Some look sharp, while others are blunt.

·         Some are too much for you and you fall out of touch with them, and its embarrassing—

·         You know a good fit when you feel it, but when it is off, it bothers you more and more over time.

The saying “shoe love is true love” goes a little further, if you think a little deeper. It reminds me about loving people and the ups and downs we face and things we put up with in that love. I used to have it on a sign in my bedroom…But nobody got it. They assumed that because I had over ninety pairs of shoes I must be somehow obsessed with shoes and thusly hang a sign signifying my devotion. Such assumptions people will make about others...

I sold that little sign in the garage sale a few weeks ago, along with as many pairs of my shoes as I possibly could. I didn’t realize I was Cinderella until I watched half the county try them on and sadly walk away barefoot, except the little Guatemalan ladies. They left high and mighty and toasty brown in my pumps, one mincing step after the other. Yes, I was selling my shoes. Because I realize that I don’t need a gajillion pairs of shoes: I just need those that are helpful, a good fit, and belong in my life. Just like people.

Sending a second glance over that bullet pointed list I just wrote, made me evaluate what kind of friend I am. Do I tend to be a good fit, or bring pain to the lives of others? Am I always there for the long haul, bringing comfort and making others look good? I certainly hope so.

You are my friends, no doubt, if you read this thoughtfully. But there are those that cut into people like a poor quality stiletto with a vendetta. These we must deliberately decide to walk away from: we actually have no choice. You can try to help them, add padding to them so you don’t get hurt, keep adding Band-Aids until your heels heal, stretch them within reason, and even talk to them, but some shoes just don’t fit and you have to choose to say “goodbye.” (There is an exception for a family heirloom kept because of relationships to time and tradition. Note the emphasis on “family.”)

Just like I acquired far too many shoes before I sluiced out the racks, it’s easy for us to let things pass and we get run over in useless relationships. Give it up, though. You don’t need the hammering. You don’t need the people that make you feel like you’re in an eternal competition. You don’t need extra baggage and wasted time. You still recognize their value. And you realize they all have their place somewhere in the race of life and go with someone’s style, but, my friend, you do not have to wear them all yourself. Choose what suits you and run with them—or not. That goes for knives, too: though, as a friend, may I suggest you be careful when running with stilettos?

This is a photo I took recently with the concept image of "standing out in a crowd" for a company advertisement.
What stands out about you?


Seven teenage girls allegedly wrote me down as their “supervising sponsor” and signed out of their 4H barn duties and rushed to find me. “Take us to the rodeo, won’t you please?” they begged, tugging on my clothes and bouncing eagerly.  They really didn’t even have to ask. I would go to the rodeo every night if I could.

Kettle corn, cotton candy, drinks, and tickets in hand we took off across the fairgrounds, leaving a wake of giggles and our little bubble closing into the crowds around us. The stands were packed and we climbed over the laps of local cowboys, Indians, babes and babies before we found a steel riser with enough space: high on the south side, safely out of reach of the footle of the insidious clown. We had to be back in the barn before the girls’ 9pm curfew, and I quietly barred the idea of becoming his public fodder with my young ‘uns in the meantime.

I nodded apologetically at the middle-aged gentleman immediately at front right of us because my little group was definitely teenage girls watching a rodeo. But, I shouldn’t be apologizing for them. I was kind of making them scream with me, wildly, exceptionally, extremely loudly. I just didn’t want that gentleman to know that it was, well, my fault.

As I explained each activity to the huddle around me, we groaned, cheered, shrieked, clapped, and pounded our feet. As always, there were the moments I buried my head in my lap, refusing to watch something too gladiatorial, grateful I didn’t personally pay money to watch that fellow take a beating from a crazed animal. And there were the moments the clown was too disgusting for words when I turned around to watch the girls’ horrified faces with my own alarmed orbs, or to playfully cover my sister’s ears or eyes with my hands…

I asked the sweet sixteen-year-old girl next to me if she had met any of the brave-hearted cowboys or wranglers below, and she sighed sadly and shook her head “no.” She looked so forlorn about that thought that I had to try not to laugh, offering her my kettle corn remnants as solace. The middle-aged gentleman looked over his shoulder again and winked at me. She stared ahead with moonlit brown eyes, silently, slowly eating one kernel after the other.

“Noooooooooo!” we shouted when the brave men fell or failed, though we were sure to cheer them all the way back during the long walk to the edge of the arena. We tumbled over each other in trying to see if that man was really trampled, and doubled over laughing when the clown got it right. Our voice becoming hoarse cheered on the ropes that were straight and true and the ladies who seemed to fly on Pegasus’ otherworld wings.

My sister leaped to her feet with a gasp, when she was sure a young steer’s neck was broken after being violently wrestled to the ground. She wouldn’t sit until I assured her it was fine, after it worked its way back up onto wobbly legs. The blue-eyed lass behind me running her fingers through my hair, jerked suddenly when a cowboy took an inhuman launch off his horse, catapulting him to a night of fame. Another freckled girl tearily pleaded to leave because she thought they made the horses buck from painful abuse and then shot them for being so bad in a few years.  Lengthy explanation sorted it out and later she was the one begging for “one more minute” when 8:55pm showed on my clock.

Hues of brilliant pink and orange in our heady sunset had faded inky blue and starry on us. To our great disappointment, we had to scoot out before the barrels were all circled and the bulls loosed. But our dusty, boot-clad feet passed the threshold of the barn as the clock clicked over to “9.” So I ask…Does anyone have an extra ticket to the rodeo tomorrow night?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

My Relationship Coach's Tips

I am young and like most people, want to be married someday. I really shouldn’t ignore my relationship coach and lead her on by asking her advice, but I can’t help it. She’s the most sincere, albeit humorous, advisor I’ve ever had. She seems to care deeply about my future, almost like a sister might.

She approaches me like Edna Moe advising Helen Parr in The Incredibles. Wacking both sides of my head consecutively with a rolled up magazine while standing on the table yelling, “Pull yourself together! You are a superhero!” I usually come back for more.

“Now, your problems are solvable, if you’ll let me help you.” She says

“Problems? What problems?”  I reply.

“See. That’s your problem. You think you are perfect with problems.”

“Wait. I’m lost. Was there a comma after ‘perfect’? Why is that a problem? I have lots of problems!”

“Exactly. All that is also your problem.”

“OK? What’s your problem? What would you have me to do?”

When I sort out the words in the end, I find that my advisor suggests I try a variety of self-helps including the following

·         Do not talk to guys at all unless she has pre-approved them as “hot” and “good.”

·         Put on more weight and use slurred speech.

·         Do not smile at everyone impartially. It confuses everyone else.

·         Do not leave her for anyone else, ever.

·         Do not exercise so much. It makes you look intimidating.

·         Revise your personality to not be “entirely too accepting of worthless ugly ducks.” (Whaaaaat?)

·         Stop being nice and stop being mean.

·         Stop purposefully making guys stop liking you, especially in your “secret, nice way.”

·         Stop avoiding skinny girl clothing.

·         Stop trying to tell her she’s wrong. (She states that it makes me very unattractive.)

I suppose she might be right about some of those. And I’m certain she’ll have more for me tomorrow. In her mind, I’m not just a high-profile client, but somewhat high-maintenance due to my noncompliance in a few areas…

But, here’s what I say, humor aside. There is a God who cares more about that corner of my life than even I could. If I’m walking where He sends me, and doing what He says: the desire He has given me will work itself out beautifully all in good time. I will not be able to prevent the sovereign will of God upon my life, if I am doing what I know is right before Him to the best of my strength and if He intends marriage for my future. Contentment in our present life circumstance is a wonderful place anywhere it may be. So, I will keep consulting with my relationship counselor for kicks. Yes, “she” is my little sister.

The Advisor frosting a cake and by the expression on her face, doubtless incubating more advice for me...

When Your Guy Moves On...

Home alone, I packed a little box. I doubt he’ll ever know how emotionally that toilet paper ended up in there. The soap was nestled so carefully in the corner with the cups. A roll of paper towels and some rags and bath towels made their way in, too.  It’s the tears he will never see in that box.

I’m a sucker for the “way it used to be” with my siblings. I can’t help it. Countless hours we imagined together, built, and dreamed. Legos, teddy bears, sand castles, dinosaurs, and “we” became something of loftier worth in our eyes in our Land of Pretend. Somewhere we still possess the maps we drew of the islands, the pages describing the money system, and our documents drawing up the code of conduct, that our villains assiduously and professionally violated for our incessant amusement. We knew our characters flawlessly, and played them each to a “T.”

All of us remember the day when Mom said we needed less “stuffed animals” and asked us all to choose a couple to keep. The agony. We stared at each other in disbelief and sorted our cherished friends into piles of “Loves” and “Loved More.” It was a hard day. Somehow we managed. Although it did mean we had to determine how so many of the integral members of our communities so suddenly disappeared. There was a missionary team that was slaughtered on the evil beaches of Dollyville and a tragic school shooting redolent of Columbine. One catastrophic event after another swept Lisaville and the whole Land of Pretend. After the bloodbath, our game lost its luster. How could we play happily with broken families recovering from the slaughter and devastation of recent losses? One day I found them in a black bag, suffocating in the hall closet waiting to go to Goodwill. It broke my seven-year- old heart.

There was the year of the sand castles in my early teens. We studied castles, medieval times, and watched films. Led by again by Nathanael, together we compiled thoughts and laid plans for the world’s perfect sand castle. Whenever we had a chance we ran to the corner of the property with the rich, wet sand, and another epic castle would rise under our eager fingers. At the sand castle competition at the family reunion, with a glance at each other, we knew what our palatial enterprise would entail. We won that day, as one, with sandy hands and muddy hair.

Perhaps I’m reminded now of working together, hour after hour: weeding the garden, or work on the lawn, those group spanking sessions with the Fuhrer that left us feeling so blue, or digging those ditches, rescuing baby goats and chicks on the farm, putting out fires, reclaiming rat carcasses from the Angry Dog, cleaning house, running the feed store, then at work for my dad in his office as a team. Maybe I can’t let go of those times we used to hide under the bunk beds from adult conversations, the times we broke things over each other’s heads in rage, the races to open our stockings on Christmas morning, or when we sobbed on Mom and Dad’s bed until we could hardly breathe when our little brother died. We’ve always done it all together, and it seems so strange to be apart. I should get used to it, I know. I’m the youngest of Crew A, and 22, after all.

But, when my brother Ben packed his car Tuesday night to move to prepare his apartment for his soon-to-be bride, I felt as empty as his room. A stray tear ran over from the pools I was trying to hold back behind my smile. I made smirking comments about his “compact car,” and rushed to get him his electric razor he’d almost forgotten, but I’d rather have hidden it somewhere. He was grateful for the little box I had packed earlier: with those necessities brothers sometime forget. He called out, “I didn’t even think of toilet paper!” as he shoved it in next to the CPU and a twist of cords. His Jessica smiled cheerily from the passenger seat as he slipped into the driver’s. Abruptly, he looked back at me and quietly assured, “Jo, I’ll be back.” Mom took a photo, her mommy tears hidden behind a lens.

I turned, wandered back into my bedroom and slowly pulled my comforter off my bed and started heading to Ben’s room to go to bed. I thought sleeping in there would ease some of the pain I was feeling from knowing that beautiful chapter of life was fully over. “It reeks in there, Honey. And the bed squeaks like ___.” came from my kid sister perched on our loveseat, flat-ironing her hair. Smiling despite myself, I turned around and came back and sat beside little her: Crew B. “You’re right.” I grinned at her. “We’ll be fine: right here.”
The rest of Crew A moves on...
The last standing member of Crew A, merges to Crew B. There is satisfaction amongst the crew.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

If I Say Something Strange...

As a side note and point of reference, if I ever say anything peculiar to you, it is not because I am intending rudeness or anything of the sort. I would like to diagnose my alleged randomness to be caused by inoculation. Injections of chance, unusual incidents throughout my societal experience have numbed me gradually to noticing anything odd, as such. I’m sure it has created a sliding scale much different than many people and I do endeavor to be sensitive to that fact. However, I extend my sincere apologies if you are one of the strangers I told to, “Stop frowning or get a new job.” or “Oh yes, you may tie my shoe, sir.” or “Do you sell the game Kmart?” or “Perhaps you should just keep your cat in your purse while you’re swimming?”

I may need to blame my condition entirely on the myriads of extraordinary persons with which I have collided. They say things to me as varied as, “I veel go ‘ome. Deevorce mahee vife, and come back for you.” and “Excuse me ma’am, but your hair looks so nice – Oh! I mean, from the back.” Now a couple of my miniature experiences that may be at fault are coming to mind.

Perhaps I’m still reeling from the group effort at the paint store headed by a curly-headed male, strongly resembling Linguine of Ratatouille, to predict my future astrologically and how it pointed towards our “togetherness.”  Maybe it was the bounty hunter who stopped in at work, made me blush, my mother pale, and my dad enraged. It could be partially caused by the fashion photographer who I upset by not posing like “a lioness in spring.” No, it might have been Ahmed from Lebanon and his 30-something son who had an all out argument regarding settling down and marrying me, while I cowered at fifteen, behind the front desk with their paperwork. Perhaps explaining to a group of newly-arrived, Romanians that I and other young ladies were not “for” them, left a dent on my mind…

I can’t tell if it was the gigantic, hairy Jew in the airport who called me a “wildcat” or the willowy, blue-eyed dancer who spent hours talking to me on an airplane about fashion, makeup, and his boyfriend.  What if it was that seventy-year- grizzly man who surprised me, paid for my coffee, and told me about our potential glory days together? Yes, it must have been the police officer who nearly did a summersault because I was unzipping my coat. Poor fellow; I should have known better: I could have been seventeen and hiding an Uzi in there. Maybe it was the time I sang an aria on the airplane because I was sitting between two drunken fellows and the timing seemed appropriate, contextually? Conceivably it was the little child who asked sincerely if I was “a pirate booty.” It could be the strange texts I got from that stalker about socks, trampolines, and showers until we got a restraining order...

Please don’t misunderstand. (Almost) All these conversations were with wonderful people who make for such fun memories. I just speculate that it’s done something to me. You know? Perhaps it is just part of who I am now. My sincere apologies if I become a happenstance inoculation in your life by saying something you consider “strange.” If you don’t consider these things “strange” like my family does, well, I like you very much. In the meantime, if it makes you feel better like it does for my parents, it’s getting better. Nothing they consider weird happened this week, yet.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Seriously now. I Messed Up.

Sure enough, it happened. I should know that when I open my big, fat mouth declaring some truth of the ages, that I will be tested on it. This time it was instant. I hit “publish” on the post about Selfishness, and prepared to shut down my laptop and head home, when my phone rang.

A volley of false accusations and tangled anger came out of my phone. I scowled at it and held it out in front of me while it got louder and louder. I scrapped wisdom and coolly interjected, “What? I don’t get what you’re saying. Don’t you think it is rude to talk to me like this, when I can’t read your mind to know exactly which false assumptions about me you are talking about this time?” and set the phone on the counter to make more noise on its own. After a while, I simply touched the red button icon and it got quiet.  I know. I am mortified to confess I did that. That was all extremely unhelpful of me…and selfish.

Being misunderstood and lied about pig-headedly can be two of the worst things to experience. Both of them faced me in a moment and I chose selfishness as my response. Sure enough, it felt to the speaker like I was hurling them against the wall with my cold response, only because the response chose my feelings, over hearing the heart’s need hiding behind the raging nastiness.

So I went to the home of said nasty person, as a halfway-towards-kind gesture. And I must confess that suddenly, I was further selfish. Oh, but they were so wrong! They desperately needed me to talk them into a corner in a torrent of carefully crafted words for three minutes without breathing and see just how stupid they were being. But wait, that was definitely a shape-shift symptom, bulging with potential to wipe out proof of God’s testimony in my life to this individual, (as well as my heretofore sweet repute) in a matter of seconds. So, I bit myself mentally, instead.

I leaned against the door jam and listened. This someone had actually been hurt by someone else, and I happened to have done something that remotely reminded them of it. In an instant I was remembering that in every relationship, one of the individuals is more mature than the other one. One of the individuals chooses the hard path towards healing; one of them sacrifices their pride. Hence, I had to let it go. Right there I finally actually killed that glossy black predator in a battle. A smile came in and my Selfishness slunk miserably from the room.

Thanks for keeping me accountable just by reading this. Please know that what I exhort others towards, I’m definitely just learning myself.

The Feet that Are Going to Fair

Over my home-cooked suppers in the evenings at our house, my family has been after me for years to enter “food, or something, or anything” in our county fair. My mother gave me the final impetus when she asserted once and for all, “You will enter your bread, at least.” So, I drug my feet to the fair Sunday to enter a toasty brown loaf of stoneground, whole wheat bread. The aroma of fresh-baked bread kept my place in line almost as well as those two feet beneath me.

But then, I couldn’t help but smile. Above me hung a magnificent quilt reminiscent of a complicated tree-of-life, already marked with the grand prize ribbon and best of show, while from behind, hung a brilliant original piece that seemed to teach the solar system in primary colors. Indeed, quilts hung as far as my eye could see and every one represented a person who labored bent over their work for hours, and now doubtless was soon to tell their grandchildren about “the quilt that won at the fair back in ‘11.” Somewhere in the distance a little train raced around an elaborately decked out track, prepping for the real show to come.

Around me in line stood the shuffling feet of the eager hands holding boxes of dried fruits, brightly-hued jellies, carefully canned uniform peaches, and a cake that looked like a paper machѐ Indian mound, topped with a sparkling lightning bolt. As I glanced over my shoulder to the long line winding out the door, I couldn’t help but notice the anticipation. It’s time for the county fair.

A rotund man with all the freckles left from childhood, contemplated his cookie entry beside me. Any number of things could have been in his mind. “This line is much too long, should I just judge these myself?” or “Perhaps, I should have left out the minced ginger this time.” or “My great aunt used to put the same fork marks on those cookies she made. That’s what makes them win, every time.” I beamed and nodded a greeting when he glanced up at my watching eyes.

But my thoughts kept darting back to the woman in front of me. Her tag was sticking up in back out of her color-blocked summer dress and it was all I could do to keep from tucking it back in along her neck. I kept reminding myself, “Girl, this is Washington State, you’re not living in the South anymore…its not Texas…its not Texas...” That kept my fingers from generously helping a neighbor in need, at the risk of causing awkward embarrassment. After all, she might have dropped that dangerous cake.

“How’s this one, Jemima?” prompted a bearded, white-haired man in spectacles and overalls, jerking his head towards his completed setup. “You did it perfectly, again, Charles.” came from a little woman with a toothy old smile as she smoothed the display cloths down. Then a very pink-shirted, bold-looking woman grinned at me as she collected an armload of newly turned-in baked goods, I assume to carry them to the mysterious place where they get judged. I think I might have winked at her.

“So, I met him last year. He’s in the Navy, and my only requirement is that he puh-lease just be my friend and love me...” That seemed sensible enough to me. A pile of yellowed tags counted from the quick fingers of the girl behind the table, while her other hand of fuchsia nails adjusted her nose ring. I couldn’t help but notice how pretty she was, but I did wonder what compelled her to volunteer at the fair. And the tow-headed young man behind the register who blushed at me when I assured I was paying as an adult, what brought him to our county fair?

The longer I stood there, the more familiar faces began to appear: in both ways. An older gentleman the 4H kids call “grandpa,” because he might be somebody’s grandpa, came over to smell my bread and regale me with his bread stories. He concluded by patting his ample belly with both hands and a hearty, “So, there’s been a lot of bread for me!” I couldn’t help but hand him the extra loaf I had brought along. He gratefully promised to “let” my sister win at bingo someday soon at the dog barn. I think I might have wrinkled my nose at him.

My sister nudged me out of my reveries nonchalantly pointing out, “Its hard to believe that’s the exact spot my dog peed last week, where you’re standing.” Though I couldn’t help glancing down at my feet despite myself, it was indeed hard to believe the transformation of the echo-ey warehouse into this tantalizing maze of treats, art, displays, homespun, and people.  Suddenly, I just knew why the volunteers were there and the line was out the door. The fair starts this week and I realized right there that I just couldn’t miss it for anything either.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Shape-Shifter inside...YOU

It is a low crawler, black and shiny. Its clusters of red eyes across its back and underside flash in every direction, looking for more to snatch up with its hairy, arachnid-like legs. If dinner-plate spiders make your skin crawl, then a glance at this creature should make you run in terror. With its slithery tongue licking up all in its path into its flashing jaws, it skitters around: shrinking and growing to fill every space it can. The only time it momentarily spares a victim is when it knows there is gain to waiting; perhaps a juicy bribe or two before the ultimate deadly feast.

If “selfishness” were a “thing,” I’m pretty sure I could point it out. Perhaps I can see the reader squinting their eyes at me in disbelief with the thought bubble overhead, "A bit dramatic, donchta think?" All I have to say is, "Think deeper, and remember your own experience."

It doesn’t just destroy people, lives, property, and time itself; it can hide inside of a person. Shape-shifting into your own likeness, it is as if you step back and watch it push and shove your loved ones, throwing them against the walls with the breathe of cruel words. Often, it will live in your body using you as a weapon to drag out a painful death to your closest relationships. It’s the invader manipulating for short term gains by backstabbing, ignoring, and cutting off even accidental offenders. As if it could be worse, your own mind becomes effected. You begin to believe the subtleties it whispers to control you, “You know best. You are the best. In fact, you deserve everything that you can possibly get."

Thankfully, there is a way to kill the creature inside. Like taking an anti-parasitic drug, it’s painful, difficult, and nauseating to wipe out the creature inside. Dying to yourself must be done, before the real you is killed along with the people around you. Indeed, selfishness is a fierce adversary to overcome with kindness, letting go of "control," and recognizing the value of every human through your reponses. But, what choice do you have, really?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Why I Worry

About my sister...

She's growing up around me. Poor thing. I have nothing more to say. A picture is worth a thousa--no, two hundred words. (Got to factor in the current economy, you know.)

In other news this week…

It seems there is a constant inquiry as to "What did you do this week, Johanna?" So here, my friends, is the answer...

·         My dad is such an amazing green thumb, I tripped over a white radish on the kitchen floor that was about the size of my lower leg. No smart comments: the radish is big, and my leg is average.

·         While making my burrito bowl in a fast food restaurant, a young man from the Middle East made a running commentary on, of all things, my teeth. I didn’t get what he was saying until he summed it up at the register with the heavily-accented remark, “Eventually, you have, most beautiful smile, in world.”  I accidentally smiled really big and laughed because I got stuck on the word “eventually.” That was kind of mean of me...Yet, I keep walking around saying “eevenchewallee.”

·         I went to see “The Help” with an awesome friend and liked it very much. Do not be surprised if I read the book—or do my hair like it’s the sixties again.

·         I grilled over 50 hamburgers for houseguests and dinner company. Yes, I’m taking something to help with the smoke inhalation. And there will officially be no hamburgers served next week.

·         My sister formally outgrew more of my clothes. Oh no, it’s OK! I don’t fit in them either.

·         I mowed two-and- a-half acres of our lawn with a push mower in one “sitting.”This is my key to becoming hot, if I ever need that. I would have finished it all if the mowers had not gotten tired.

·         I had coffee Monday morning with a mother of ten…accidentally until noon! It was awesome. We talked about you.

·         I replaced the three, chisel-tipped Sharpies I had finished off completely recently while handcrafting all those garage sale signs and tendonitis.

·         In Port Townsend after I got off the ferry, I closed my eyes and listened to the most glorious cello playing for tips outside near the waterfront on a perfect summer day.

·         Our woodshed got filled to capacity for the year on Saturday, thanks to the help of a splitter and many other good friends.

·         My doctor told me on Wednesday that I am not in menopause. This, of course, is good news. Especially since I hadn’t thought of that as an option quite yet…at all. She also charged my dad $400 to poke a hole in my arm, and it’s already healed. She’s the best.

·         The cat only woke me up twice in the middle of the night this week by breaking in the window and licking my knee.

·         I went to Nordstrom with a lovely friend on Tuesday, and we spent all the pennies we found in the parking lot and acted like millionaires. I explained how and helped her discover “her colors” in clothing and makeup, as if she could possibly be more beautiful.

·         My brother successfully flew cross-country and home again without getting searched, undressed, cross-examined, experiencing some form of federally-mandated suffocation, losing baggage, or missing a flight. This is a glorious first. However, his baggage did take a different flight. But that doesn’t count as “bad.”

·         My mother said that from now on when I fly, I am only to purchase “one-way airline tickets.” I was crushed, and I suppose the look on my face told her. She looked at me funny and suddenly changed her mind, saying, “I meant non-stop airline tickets!”

·         Sunday night I finally got to talk to my oldest brother and found out he’s way out of my league. He daily consorts and advises on a first-name basis with third-generation, world-renowned amputation research doctors! Hmm. As amazing as that is, maybe I don’t want to be in that league...

·         A gorgeous Brazilian lady asked me to begin work on her husband’s office interior, because “he’s making people sick walking into his cave!”  He’s a Doctor.

·         Wednesday I heard what my borrowed, Flinthill guitar used to sound like…and realized the tone has become fuller, deeper, mellowed, and rich from being played so much! Maybe she should be paying me for the improvement to the instrument under my fingers?

·         My sister carefully crafted and trimmed five little dogs out of hair she brushed from her dog. She alleges that it is “clean” and the tiny “matts” make the mutts more realistic. Despite her valiant efforts to compel me, I refused to “smell the little doggies’ soft fur.”

·         On Thursday, I went to lunch with my newly married co-worker, and talked her ear off for an hour because I was on an espresso high from the coffee my brother bought me at my Starbucks. She’s fantastically long-suffering, and says weighty things like “Its not so much about how one acts, really: it is about how they react.” Ooooh, how I LIKE her!!!!

·         I spent my evenings picking blueberries, raspberries, making kefir, planning fair entries, browsing paint colors for our new apartment project, baking pie for my hungry people, writing a rental agreement, and listening to little sister tell me about the man she thinks I need to marry. I need more convincing.  I have a few questions about him before I’m interested. Like, “Where does he want to be in five, ten, and fifteen years?” and “What would he think about Sharpie on his bare skin?”

·         My sister put one googley eye in the middle of the bathroom mirror. I had been looking into other options for places to “do the necessities” until it is removed. However, I ended up overcoming my fear of it by drawing  a friendly looking creature with dry erase markers around it, and naming it. Much better now, indeed.

·         I walked into a clothes iron in the dark on my way to get my purse in the kitchen and got a giant burn on my arm. What are the odds? That’s pretty special. It looks like I was fighting pirates.

·         Went to a prospective wedding venue with my brother and Jess, introduced as the “sister-slash-wedding-planner.” I floated poignant questions, admired the beautiful landscaping, scratched my head about the BLUE water in the fountain, smiled at the rooms, asked sweetly about tearing out their décor, and gasped appropriately at the prices. Although we told him we would not be paying what he said, he marked off the days on his little calendar for the wedding, and winked, “The price is negotiable.” I like Joe Wedding Man at Golf Course.

·         Went out to coffee with a close girlfriend who confessed that my accusations of her acting different were true. She’s just starting a courtship relationship this week and I’m so extrememly happy for her!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

·         Last night I learned a new love song on the guitar in the dark in our family room for a few minutes. The lights flashed on and my sis started singing it, too: exactly copying everything I did with my voice. Suddenly Dad and Mom were there, too. Mom was crying and I think Dad was trying to sing along. So precious. We are a teeny bit emotional these days.

·         I paid taxes at work and was struck by the irony of clicking the “submit and pay” button…

·         I’m sure the mailman is trying to top my UPS guy. The UPS guy may be made of “swag and finesse” and bring me custom mix tapes…But Phil promised to bring me a guitar from his collection. I’m so excited!!!!!

So there you have it. A teeny, incomplete glance into my week...Have an awesome weekend.