The Old Saddle Just Doesn’t Feel Right

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My excuse for this years-long break in my career chain is coming to an end.  The boy who is chasing dreams on the ski hill will soon be chasing different dreams at college.  He doesn’t need me for moral and nutritional support the way he once did (although the financial requirements continue unabated).  It is time for me to reclaim my life.  I march back to Denver, where I think I might find it.

A former professional, hard-driving (that’s a nice way to say it) attorney, I jump back into the fray of what I used to do.  I put myself out there, my resume listing all the great things I have done for past employers in embarrassingly measurable detail.  I shore up my self-confidence and submit myself to an interview for essentially the same job I once had.  I am in a video-conference site (because that’s what the cool recruiters have you do these days) and look at the image on the screen of the woman who would be my boss and I just don’t.  I don’t want it.  I don’t care about why she should want me.  I see the few-years-ago me in her and I am sad.  I do my best to feign interest and enthusiasm, but we both know my heart isn’t in it.

The last half-decade of my life living in the Colorado mountain air has changed me.  My heart is different.  I am softer, more of a mother, less of a shark.  I have volunteered in classrooms, hiked with friends to talk about tough life stuff, given more hugs, been more present. I have ridden my bike over mountain passes and back, breathing in both oxygen-depleted air and God’s beautiful creation.  I’ve listened to a lot of country music, along with the boy’s hip hop and (truly awful) gangsta rap. I have been surrounded by people who made choices to be happy with less, live in the moment, enjoy the sunshine and be grateful for fresh snow.  I have sat, tears flowing, in a gym where young hearts mourned the loss of a 15 year old boy who had personified life.  I have loved more than I have ever loved before.  The long-term growth objectives of a corporate non-entity just don’t carry the same level of importance that they once did.

I head to a local organization that works to prepare public high school kids for college.  My spirit is bouyed by the hope, fears and futures reflected in their eyes.  I answer their questions about what it takes to be an attorney, while secretly praying that they won’t lose themselves in the process.  I remind myself that they are not me.  Their paths will be unique.

I recognize that I must shift gears to match my new self.  I don’t know what that means.  I don’t know how to change course in the middle of life like this.  Is it doing what I did before but in a different way?  Putting this new skin of mine to good use as a more effective me?  Is it a new direction altogether?  Do I become the book store-lurking, public radio-working person Randy Newman sang about.  (If only I could write lyrics like Randy…)

Apparently I just can’t pretend to be the person I once was. Time to put on my big-girl panties and figure it out, because getting back in the same old saddle just doesn’t feel right.

 

 

 

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Zero to Hate in a Flash

498296601_4f1f24bae4_zWhen my son was in day care years ago, he came home with bite marks all over his back.  I was shocked, outraged, disgusted.  Was he spending time with children or animals?  The caregiver patiently told me that it’s a phase that toddlers go through and that they were aware of it and working with the children to help them learn it isn’t okay to bite.  In a few weeks, my own son was biting other children and me, I suppose to vent his frustration. We got through it.  You can’t expect a small child to be rational, so you deflect and say no-no and wait for his little brain to develop some more.

I fear that our society is comprised of a bunch of toddlers, lashing out at-will and with great eagerness.  When news of the gorilla incident hit the airwaves this weekend, outrage instantly erupted against the kid’s mother, the zoo, the kid, the designer of the zoo and his or her mother, the manufacturer of the gun that killed the gorilla, the trees that line the road to the zoo … virtually anyone or anything was fair game for blame, attack, disdain and hatred.  Internet discourse is now the stoning of Biblical days. Kill the heretic that we only just heard about!  There is only Good and Evil and [insert here] is deigned by me to be Evil and must be beaten to a pulp.

We have heard all the theories about social media, the internet, video games, music, ISIS or  global warming causing our collective psyche to have a hair trigger, to go to the extreme on a moment’s notice, to riot at a political rally, to cyber bully just to get clicks.  All of those theories may have validity, but I’m sick of the excuses.  It’s time to take back our rationality.

Sometimes bad things happen and there is no one to blame.  I know, it’s shocking that I, an attorney, would be an advocate for the “shit happens” philosophy.  But sometimes, that’s what you’ve got to work with.  Tragedy occurs and there may not be a villain to attack.  Sometimes someone makes a mistake.  There is no bad intent, there isn’t even negligence.  It happens.  We may be sad and angry that a bad thing has happened, but there may not be a bad guy.

And get this, sometimes someone can have a viewpoint that differs from yours and it doesn’t make them a bad person.  It doesn’t make them stupid or irrational or bad.  It makes them human.  Here’s a shocker:  we can disagree without hating each other or threatening families and dogs. (Yes, this happens to people in the public eye everyday.  Their lives and those of their families and pets are threatened because they support a given candidate or cause.  What is wrong with this picture?)

Sometimes people do have bad intent.  Sometimes people are evil.  That’s why we have law enforcement agencies, a free press (well, if you roll all the news sources together we may approach some level of the truth) and a court system designed to ferret out people who do bad things or act recklessly and hold them accountable. I know, these institutions are not perfect and sometimes they make mistakes and are the wrongdoers.  I get it.  But let’s take a breath before attacking.  Let’s wait to learn some facts before assuming the worst.  Let’s consider that someone’s opinion is just that and not a plot to take our freedom.  Let’s turn our attention to mending the fabric of our society rather than leaving bite marks on each other.  Go to your time-out chair, people. 

 

 

 

Wait a Minute ….

 

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Patience may be a virtue but it has never been a virtue of mine.  It’s a failing.  I hate to wait.

I’ve had some practice in the last year or so with my twice-daily walks with our aging pug.  He cannot see or hear and it takes him quite a bit of time and effort to find the exact right spot to take care of business.  He cannot be rushed.  I should be getting better at this. I am so not getting better at this.

Lately, my challenge with patience has been pushed to its limit.   Our family is in a holding pattern.  It’s no one’s fault but our own and it is something that we could put an end to but we have consciously decided to wait and see.  As with Heinz ketchup, the waiting is the hardest part.

There is a point in the near-ish future where we will not be waiting.  We will be seeing.  And doing.  It’s not that far away.  But as each day goes by, my patience is more and more threadbare.  It’s beginning to unravel.  The thing is, the possible outcomes from all this waiting are all pretty good ones which, in theory, should make it easier to wait and see.  But I’m so darn ready to do something that I’ve kind of lost sight of the fact that, in the words of Bob Marley, everything’s gonna be alright.  Let it go, already.

My son is in the vortex of this waiting game.  I am trying so hard not to be an annoying gnat (or am I more of a horse fly?) circling his head.  We have promised him we will wait.  We will see.  We should make good on that promise.  We will.  I just may not have much sanity left by the time we get there.  I hope at least one of us does.

<I also hope that you hear Bob Marley singing in your head after reading this, rather than the Heinz commercial or the song from Freeze ….>

They are Wrong (a lot)

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“No one ever said it would be easy.”  That saying is so wrong.  A lot of people have said it would be easy (consider the quick weight loss and anti-aging industries) and for the most part, they are wrong.

People are wrong all the time.  Drink grapefruit and you’ll lose inches in days.  Wrong. Vote for this guy and all our problems are solved.  Wrong.  Avoid cholesterol and you won’t have heart disease.  Mostly, wrong.

In fact, people are wrong so much, I’m wondering why we give People a voice in the first place.  People.  Huh.  I’m a people, and I’ve lived long enough to know a thing or two and I’m wrong a lot.  Yet for some reason I  subconsciously believe that People somehow has a leg-up on me and knows better.

Okay, okay, so if a People is an expert in astrophysics, that People is more likely to be right about something astrophysics-y.  But life?  Nope.  And even in astrophysics, other people may disagree and try to prove the People wrong.  And they may be successful.  They may not.

We can’t even count on someone who has lived a long time to be right.  That People’s words are based on a unique set of perspectives, life journey, brain chemistry and childhood traumas that haunted them for decades.  Age may bring an accumulated wisdom that is worth considering, but not always.  People can be wrong at any age, social strata, level of education or place on the beauty spectrum.

And yet, People get stirred up in the pot and their words and perspectives get churned into They.  As in, “They say you should walk 10,000 steps a day,” or “They say that if you make your bed every day you’ll live longer,” or “They say he is a socialist.”   They has a pretty significant voice.

Back to the topic (I didn’t have a topic when I started this little jaunt, but maybe I found it …):  Life is not easy.  People are often wrong.  Consider carefully whose words you value and why.

We give a whole lot of credence to what famous people say.  Famous people, who have managed to make some really bad, and really public, choices and we still think that what they have to say should guide our daily thoughts.  That they are somehow able to discern life better than we do.  Weird.

Charlie Sheen springs to mind.  I don’t know why him, as there are so many famous people we could point to as a little whacked and still have a say out there in the world.  Anyway, Charlie has managed to do a lot of really dumb things: drugs, demanding outrageous money to continue appearing on a mediocre TV show, “Winning,” tiger blood, having unprotected sex with women after being diagnosed with HIV.  And yet, he gets a spot on the Dr. Oz show this week.  (Let’s not get into how nuts Dr. Oz is.)  And I’m sure he’ll talk about HIV, or any other aspect of modern life, like he’s an expert and people will listen to him.  Charlie Sheen is a part of They.  Scary, isn’t it?

The thing is that we (lower case) people are fundamentally lazy.  We seek a quick way to understand our world and love to be told by People what They think so that we can be like Them.  And now, more than any time in human history, we have the ability to decide which People They are.  We choose our news sources on TV and the Internet to be the ones that espouse views consistent with what we think are the right ones.  We follow on Facebook and Twitter the voices of the People we decide are the best at knowing what is true.  So, in reality, They are Us (in the limited microcosm of our chosen reality).  It becomes a tornado of insular thoughts and ideas, throwing off any others.

I’m trying to evaluate where my They voice comes from and why.  I live in a small place, made smaller by the group of people my family most associates with.  I no longer go to work each day with people who force me to consider their unique life views.  Selling lift tickets a couple of days a week does expose me to people from varied lives to be sure (and the germs they bring from all over the world), but we don’t tend to engage in deep conversations while I swipe their credit card for outrageously priced tickets.  My views could become pretty entrenched.  And so, I’m working at expanding my influencing sources.  It’s really hard, but hey, They say Rome wasn’t built in a day ….

My kid turned 18 on Friday.  As I look at my <ahem> adult child, who will be voting in the next election, I wonder who his They will be.  If I have any influence at all, I hope to help him challenge Them, whoever They may be.  Teachers, hip hop singers, Snap Chatters, the producers of Ridiculousness, me.  I hope to help him realize that People are often wrong.  Take it in, breathe it out. As hard as it may be, think for yourself, young man.

 

 

Summer Take-Away

Summer rocks.  Hard to say that I love it more than a crisp Autumn afternoon, a perfect bluebird day on the slopes or a morning full of spring blossoms, but as seasons go, summer is my favorite.

I’m an Aquarius, sign of the water bearer.  I’ve always been a water baby and I still love the water — being in it, on it, by it, watching it.  I also love warm.  Campfires, evenings on the deck, hikes in the woods, rides over the hills.  Summer time, and the livin’ is easy.  School’s out for summer.  Yay!

School is back in session and 2015’s best season is coming to an end.  What did I learn this summer?  To focus on where you want to be.  Hokey, I know.  It was a key lesson in a June mountain biking clinic, and it has been floating around in my mind ever since.

As a rule, I don’t mountain bike.  It always seems really hard and I tend not to like being ground into rocks and dirt when I inevitably fall and I’m a grown-up so I don’t have to do something I don’t want to do.  Right?  Well … I should be open to new things, I thought.  If someone shows me how to do it and shares all those little secret tricks that obviously all the mountain bikers out there know, maybe I’ll like it.  And so, my friend and I signed up for the clinic.

Day one was basics in a parking lot.  We rode around, up curbs, tried some wheelies.  Finished up with a drink at the Dusty Boot.  This mountain biking thing isn’t so bad …  Day two, we were on dirt.  They showed us how to look ahead, anticipate, trust the bike.  Check, check, check.  And then we went on a little trail ride, stopping off here and there to learn about obstacles and switchbacks.  We were faced with our first real hurdle — a little ramp over a log.  To one side was a bunch of tree branches and rocks.  “Don’t look where you don’t want to be,” our guide told us.  “Focus on where you are going, where you want to go.”

Our more experienced riders jumped easily over and rode on.  No problemo.  My friend geared up for the log.  “You got this,” we said with bright smiles.  And then she looked down at the brambly mess.  It felt like slow motion.  As she got to the top of the log, her head turned toward the place she most certainly didn’t want to be and the bike followed.  Ouch.  Confidence shaken, she had several more spills over the rest of the ride.  Ouch, ouch, ouch.

Ever since, I’ve wondered how many times I have focused on where I didn’t want to be rather than the trail ahead.  How many messy and painful places have I careened into because I couldn’t keep my eyes forward?  I wish I had taken a clinic like this at age 15.  And again at 21, 30, 35 …  You get the picture.

Bad stuff happens.  It is inevitable.  As a planner and an over-thinker, I can focus way too much on how things can get worse, rather than the way out.  Rather than the way things can and do go right.  As the leaves start to change colors and summer sighs her last beautiful breaths, I’m trying to take to heart what I learned in that clinic:  hold on, loosen up, keep your weight centered, absorb the bumps, trust the bike.  Look toward where you want to be.

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Columbine Memories

flower-603873_1280Sixteen years ago tomorrow, the school shootings at Columbine sent tremors through our nation.  At a relatively quiet suburban high school outside of Denver, two boys armed themselves with homemade bombs and semi-automatic rifles, walked down the halls and lived out their extensively planned terrorist attack, murdering twelve students and one teacher, and injuring many more before killing themselves.

My son was a toddler at the time.  He and I had gone home to meet a locksmith at our home in central Denver when I learned of the deadly standoff.  I picked him up and held him close, trying to work out just how to raise him up in a world where he could go to school on a day like any other and be randomly killed by a class mate.

A couple of years later, as my husband and I got ready for work, we watched as our normally friendly morning TV showed us planes crashing into the Twin Towers a half a continent away.  By then, we had moved, ironically, to the suburbs just a mile or so from Columbine High School.  Again, I looked at my curly-headed boy and thought how different his world would be from ours.

He would never know a world where mass school shootings were unimaginable, or where holy war was some esoteric concept discussed in classrooms as something that happened somewhere far, far away.  His world is where attempted shoe bombings make us expose our feet as we pass through intense security before flying to our vacation destinations.  Where a backpack left unattended on a busy sidewalk is something to be feared.  Where the debate around the rights of the individual versus the safety of the masses makes it feasible for our government to monitor personal communications.

Our society learned a lot from Columbine.  We learned that warning signs and threats from young people cannot be ignored.  We learned that years of bullying may push a child to the brink and we have to try to stop it.  We learned that we can never forget but we must carry on.  Columbine High School was repaired and healed after the attack.  Its teachers and students returned and found their way through the scars, unified as only co-survivors can be.  Now, almost a full generation later, I’m sure its hallways are like those of virtually any other high school across the country.  It has carried on, in-part, to honor the lives cheated by the incomprehensible actions of two.

No matter how much we learned, though, the sad truth is that we couldn’t prevent mass shootings from happening at other schools across the country.

I’m reminded of the adage, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” Parents have feared for their children’s future world for thousands of years. As long as man has existed, people have done horrible things.  They have waged war in the name of ideals and principals, they have murdered both family and strangers for no apparent reason.  They have abused and taken from our land and the people on it.

If I had the chance, I might tell my younger self clutching her child that for all the horribleness bubbling up around her, there is still life.  There is still good.  There is still a curly-headed boy who cannot live from a place of fear.  While she must teach him about the dangers around him, she and the boy’s father must also help him learn to embrace the world around him, to love, to go and do and experience.

The other day, that curly-headed kid (who now towers above me) and I were confronted by a woman on the escalator at the mall.  “What beautiful hair you have!  And your son is beautiful, too!”  She beamed at us from a couple of steps up.  I noticed something moving in the clear tote she carried.  A small rat was perched upon some cloths.  “Oh, my,” I blurted, “Who do you have there?”  She happily told us what great pets rats are, so smart and all.  We nodded, having known this from pets of years past.  As we approached the top, she waved and told us to “Have a blessed day!”

The kid and I couldn’t help but smile as we made our way past the shoe department.  “What a great way to go through life,” he said. I agreed and we decided that we should give more complements to random strangers, bringing more smiles to more people. Maybe without the rodent in tow.  But still.

Bad things happen.  Good things happen.  Sometimes the difference we can make is to notice something good and say it out loud.  Live life.  Embrace.

On Strength

I’ve been thinking a lot about strength over the last several months.  Most recently, because I haven’t had any following my bout with the stupid flu.  But even before that, I’ve had flitting thoughts of what it means to be strong, why we value it so much and whether and how I and others are strong.

A couple of weeks ago, I went to see the movie “Wild,” with Reese Witherspoon.  She plays Cheryl Strayed, a woman whose life was plagued with difficulty, heartache and addiction.  She hiked, alone, over a thousand miles on the Pacific Crest Trail.  I walked out of the film wondering again at strength.  How did this woman, by all accounts broken, find whatever it was she needed to dig deep, survive and face her demons?  Physical, mental and emotional strength came from someplace in her.  Where?  Why do some people have it and some not?  What is it?

I’ve been collecting a few thoughts, which I’ll share here, even though I’m still pondering.

1. Our society places enormous value on certain types of strength and I think we’re a bit out of whack.  Fortitude, stick-to-it-tiveness, having convictions, being bigger-than-life.  We love strong athletes and pay some of them ridiculous amounts of money.  (No matter that they may shatter their brains or those of an opponent, because at the end of the day they are human, even if they can accomplish unhuman feats.)  We speak with admiration about someone who is “so strong” in the face of adversity.  Or we tell them that they must “be strong,” meaning that they must shore up, fend off, stand tall and generally never fall apart.  At least not openly.

Where does this awe for strength come from?  Are we overall better for it?  Or would we be better off viewing ourselves as part of a collective, where ones’ strength is recognized as a complement to another’s weakness?  Where we view the individual more holistically and value them for them, not just how fast they can run?  Where sometimes it’s ok not to be strong?

2.  We should have a little more respect for someone who acknowledges a weakness.  Ms. Strayed knew she was at a cross-road.  She recognized that her life was crumbling and she found a way to face it.  People were confused by her decision and told her to give up along the way.  If she hadn’t acknowledged that she needed help, she would have continued to spiral.  There is value for her and for those around her (and society, as we got the benefit of her writing) when she says, “Yep, I’m a weak mess and I need to figure this out.”

One of the first things I learned as a young professional was to admit when I didn’t know something or that I had messed up.  It was so much better to say, “I don’t know the answer but I will do my best to find out,” than to give the wrong answer and have to explain that later.  Or to look like an idiot by fumbling through what was obviously something I knew nothing about.  When I was further along in my career, I appreciated that same trait in a colleague or outside advisor.  Don’t give me a half-assed or guessed answer.  Go figure it out and get back to me.  Please.  It shows that you know what you don’t know and I can trust you.

Similarly, the best leaders know their strengths and their weaknesses.  They aren’t afraid to surround themselves with those whose strengths can fill in the gaps.  The most effective people I have encountered have a willingness to be exposed at times, to point to the number 3 or number 10 person and say out loud for all to hear, “This is her thing.  She will carry this part of our load.”  Doing this demonstrates an understanding of the landscape, the team and the individuals.  It shows confidence in that person and allows her to shine and grow.

3.  An area of weakness doesn’t have to stay that way.  We can get better.  Maybe not as much as we would like, or maybe not to the degree of the next guy, but better.  We all have soft, unexposed baby skin, areas that will flare red from life’s friction, joints that may buckle from the weight of too much, muscles atrophied from lack of use.  We may not be able to change our complexion or strengthen a joint, but there is more than one way to skin a cat, as they say.  Find the sunscreen, wear a rash guard, put on a brace, move those muscles.  Rely on a friend, talk with a colleague, study up, take a break.  Hike the Pacific Crest Trail and face the demons.  You can find strength from other places.

I guess it comes down to this:  we need to give ourselves a break.  No one can be strong in all ways always.  The sooner we come to terms with that, the sooner we can appreciate the beauty of life’s mosaic, comprised of all of our strengths and our weaknesses.


A Rock’s Weakness Paints the River’s Path

A Rock's Weakness Paints the River's Path


Wish I’d Known Then

That everyone feels weird in junior high.

That high school years go by ridiculously fast, even though it doesn’t seem that way at the time.

That youth is the time to try everything (well, almost).

That the one in the corner may have been the most interesting of the bunch if only I’d gotten to know her.

That college is such a unique time — sharing every aspect of life with people from all sorts of backgrounds.

That complaining and bitterness are gigantic wastes of time and energy.

That what you do is less important than how you do it and who you do it with.

That it’s ok to give yourself a break. Your expectations for yourself often exceed everyone else’s.

That recognizing your weaknesses is a strength.

That your baby’s babyhood is but a blink.

That everyone has a story.  Everyone.  And it could explain a lot.

That when someone gives a compliment, time should stop for a second to let it soak in.

That giving a compliment can make all the difference in someone’s day.


Glad I know these things now.  Wonder what I’m going to wish I knew now later …


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How I Grew into Country Music

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Most of my life, country music lived in the margins.  My dad would listen to it as he worked around the house sometimes.  Willie Nelson and Kenny Rogers, “You got to know when to hold ’em.”  Or, as we drove to our cabin in the Up North of Michigan, the choices on the AM radio were static, talk or country in that order.  Twangy stories of heart break and dead dogs, I couldn’t relate and wondered why anyone else would.

A few years ago my life perspective shifted.  Part of my liberation of thought included buying myself a convertible.  It was illogical and selfish and fun and just what the doctor ordered.  And with all of the music available on local and XM Radio, I found myself tuning into country as the wind blew my hair into a frenzy.

My kid and I figured out that any good country song includes the elements of a truck, a girl, beer, America and sometimes God.  Generally all within the first two lines. “Truck, Yeah.”  Unapologetic.  Free.  Grounded in hillbilly, redneck, muddy pride.  Country singers are storytellers who draw us into a different world.   For three minutes, we become a girl pissed off that her boyfriend cheated on her or a father lamenting how fast life goes by or a man honoring the memory of his friend killed in the war.

I grew into this world of country music by letting go.  I let go of pretenses and prejudices.  I realized that whatever I thought I had been or was going to be, the core of it all is this short time we share together.  And those simple themes in country’s stories capture the essence of living fully and unabashedly.  Sometimes it isn’t pretty and sometimes we make mistakes.  Sometimes we go looking for something bad to happen.  Sometimes we hang out on a pontoon and sometimes we just love the ones in our lives.

And that’s how I grew into country music.  Or maybe country music grew into me.