Saturday, June 30, 2007

What happens when you let your fifteen year old write a post for your blog...

They say you should write about what you know. The problem is, I know about a lot. So every time I start to write about one thing, I invariably go off on a tangent and then a tangent of a tangent and… well, you get my drift. It makes writing challenging and exhausting. And I lose interest.

I have to say, now that I have taken Trig, I actually know what a tangent is. Before it was just an expression, a figure of speech. I knew what the expression meant, but I didn’t really know what a tangent was. In case you never took Trig, or it was like thirty million years ago when you did and you have now forgotten, a tangent of an acute angle in a right triangle is the ratio of the side opposite to that angle with the adjacent side. I don’t think that is what they mean in the phrase “go off on a tangent,” though. That is a different kind of meaning of tangent. It means you go off course or change course or start talking about something else entirely different. I am not sure how they are related. But now, whenever I say “go off on a tangent,” this little voice inside my head shouts: “Opposite over adjacent!”

Which I suppose is weird. But, in all seriousness, when you are thinking about stuff, anything really, doesn’t some tiny voice inside your head invariably shout out something automatically? It need not be relevant or important, but it just kind of pops out. And you may not even notice it. Well, you notice it, but you can still ignore it. Because if you listened – I mean, really listened – to that small voice inside your head, you would never get anything done. Because you would be constantly sidetracked by tangential comments.

Sometimes, though, it is important to listen to that small voice. It can mean the matter between life and death. The trick is knowing when to listen and heed and when to just nod your head and keep on doing what you were doing. I haven’t quite figured that one out yet. But I am sure it is only a matter of time. I think there is some sort of formula or causal relationship involved. I may have to wait until I take calculus to figure it out for sure. Or maybe I will just invent a new kind of math so I can figure this kind of thing out for myself.

You know that’s how calculus was invented, right? Isaac Newton was busy trying to figure out why apples kept falling on his head, and he had to invent calculus so he could mathematically solve problems about falling apples and gravity and stuff. If calculus doesn’t do the trick for me, I may have to invent a new kind of math, too. Because I have a lot of problems to solve. And it gets confusing. Of course, I probably need to read more about Stephen Hawking first, because he figures stuff out in his head all the time and he may have already invented the kind of math I need. Because we are both interested in the origins of the universe. And Big Bang. And the cosmic loop of time.

I mostly keep this kind of stuff to myself. Because kids at school look at me weird and laugh when I start talking about it. I thought my science teachers would be able to help me out, but they haven’t really come through for me either. My eighth grade science teacher looked at me once in class and said, “You know, you are way over my head!” That made me kind of sad. I am just a kid. How can I be way over a teacher’s head?

I wonder if we can use science to prove that we have souls. What is a soul? Does it die when we die? Or does it live on forever? Do we come back as different people? Or is this all there is? That scares me. The thought that this is it. In the grand scheme of time, humans don’t really live all that long, and at the rate we are going, it is only a matter of time before we blow our planet up or get rid of all the oxygen and asphyxiate ourselves.

If I start thinking too hard, my head starts to hurt. It is just like a big swirling whorl of confusion in there.

I can talk to my mom about all this stuff, but she starts turning things around and asking me questions back. That is OK for a while, but then I finally realize she hasn’t answered any of my questions. I think it is because she doesn’t know either, and she doesn’t want to let me down. She says she is just playing “devil’s advocate.” That doesn’t mean she supports Satan or anything. It just means she is asking questions, trying to stimulate discussion of all sorts of different angles. Which is cool, I guess. Only I get tired after a while.

I talk to God a lot, too. He or She or It doesn’t answer me back directly, of course. Although I think that would be kind of cool. I don’t actually think God is a He or a She or an It. In fact, I am not actually sure there is a God. But I like to think there is. It gives me someone to talk to in my head. I don’t go to church, but I have my own religion. In my religion, people are free to think of God in whatever way they want, as long as it is not bad or evil, and when you die and go to heaven, heaven is whatever you think it is. So, everyone’s heaven might be different. I am kind of like a Buddhist, too. In fact, I kind of look like Buddha. Some people call me Buddha. But that’s because I am so big. Not because they know anything about either Buddha or Buddhism. Or would even know that I am like a Buddhist.

I started doing yoga this summer. I don’t really like sports very much. My mom said that was fine, but I needed to find a physical activity or a way to exercise. She said I needed to go outside more and get fresh air and move my body through time and space. She said I was spending too much time at the computer or up in my room reading. I think she is wrong. How can you spend too much time at the computer or reading a book? Especially reading a book. I mean, you could spend your whole entire life reading books, and you would barely even dent the number of books that have been written over the centuries.

Last summer I read Dante’s Inferno. It was awesome. I read it in English, not in the original Italian because I don’t know Italian. But it was still awesome. My mom told me she heard on NPR that the modern Italian language was based off of the language Dante used in his writing. I think that is so cool. Most other European languages are based on how people spoke in a particular city. Like in France, French was based on how people spoke in Paris. But in Italy… well, there really was no Italy the country until really recently. I mean, compared with other countries. So, there was really no one big, main city or center of language and culture. So, when they went to make Italian, they said, “Yo, let’s use Dante’s Inferno to make a really cool language.” I think that is so neat.

I would like to have my own language. That would be cool. It would be the official language of my own country. I want to secede from the United States when I grow up and make my own country. We wouldn’t have to do anything stupid, and there wouldn’t be any taxes. We wouldn’t have war, because I would make it illegal. Prices in my country would be good, too. So you could afford to buy a house and a car and support your family. Because you could afford the things you wanted and needed, there wouldn’t be any crime. It would be a nice place to live. I would be a benevolent dictator.

I think I said I was doing yoga. This morning I did yoga in the park. Well, not all by myself because that would be creepy and weird like the neighbor guy we had in Cincinnati who would go out into the neighborhood playground area and just start doing his Tai Chi moves. It was weird. I mean, he knew all of us kids were there playing and stuff, and here comes this old dude doing weird, strange body moves. It was like he was in his own Jet Li movie. He knew everyone was watching him. If you were some old dude doing weird body moves, would you want the whole neighborhood watching you? I rest my case.

I guess it would be more accurate to say I was doing Yoga in the Park. It is a program. A class. Offered every Saturday morning in our local park. It was a bunch of old ladies and women my mom’s age and me. The grass was all wet and I put a towel under my yoga mat, but I still got grass bits all over because they had just mowed the grass. All these women were in their yoga suits. I just had on shorts and a t-shirt. Which is what I wear all the time in the summer anyway. I am not really very flexible, either. So, a lot of the stuff they did was really hard for me to do. I had a hard time concentrating, too. When you do yoga inside, you are usually in a studio, although the yoga I have been going to was in the basement of a church, the same church where our band held its annual spaghetti dinner to raise money so we could buy a trailer to haul all our stuff around to games and band competitions. So, it seemed weird to me to be down on the carpet in this basement room where I know people had been eating spaghetti and meatballs only a few months before. But when we do yoga, the room is empty and pretty boring. And I can concentrate on my breathing. Which is like a huge, big part of yoga.

In the great outdoors, though, there are so many distractions! First of all, there were all the trees all around and the playground where a bunch of loud, bratty, crying little kids were playing. And the grass was wet and cold. And you could hear all these birds singing. And the traffic on the road. And airplanes going over. And I kept feeling like bugs were falling into my hair. And I was afraid people were looking at me. Because I was the only guy there, and I was a kid. And I wasn’t wearing a yoga outfit. And I am big and can’t really bend myself into a pretzel. The teacher kept smiling at me and telling me what a good job I was doing. That only made me more nervous, though, because I knew she was just saying that to make me feel better and every time she said it, all these ladies would turn around and look at me. God, it was a nightmare!

But it counted as exercise. So, now I am all done with that for the day. Tomorrow I am supposed to go swimming. And if I don’t do yoga or go swimming, then I am supposed to at least go for a walk. I like to go for walks. I can think when I am walking and plan out stories in my head and video game scenarios and reflect on the origins of the universe and which super power I would want most if I were a super hero. Besides omniscience and the ability to transport myself, I would really like to be able to have lasers shoot out of my hands. Or have four arms. It would be really cool to have four arms. I could get so much more done in life if I had two more arms.

I like summer a lot. Not the heat and the sun. I don’t like those so much. I hate sunny days. I like it more when it rains. So I can spend all day inside. And my mom won’t bug me about going outside and getting fresh air. I like summer because it means no school. I hate school. I think school is a waste of time. I already know everything I need to know to be a grown up, so why do I need to spend all my days being bored in school? I think they should make a law that once you finish like eighth grade you don’t have to go to school any more. Unless you want to. But why would you ever want to unless you were one of those teacher pet overachiever nerds? They drive me nuts. The world is too full of teacher pet overachiever nerds, if you ask me.

I want to design video games and write books when I grow up. I don’t need to get anymore schooling to do either of those. Well, OK, maybe it would be a good idea to take math and English. I kind of like math and English. But then you should be allowed to go home and play video games and read books the rest of the day. And do whatever you want. Because stuff like Spanish and Civics are stupid and a waste of time. Well, I like band, too. So, you could go to school in the morning and take band, math, and English. And then go home and life wouldn’t be so bad. I wouldn’t mind going to school so much then. And I would have time to do the things I really want to do in life instead of boring, stupid, pointless crap. Oh, and there wouldn’t be any homework, either. Because homework is boring and stupid and a total waste of time.

If only I were in charge of the world, think how much better a place it would be! Just wait til I grow up and found my own country. Now, that will be the happening place to be.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Stars and Stripes Forever

What do mattresses have to do with the 4th of July?

I am just curious.

As I don’t get the connection.

Every time I turn on the radio or TV, I am greeted by raucous mattress sale commercials:

“Blowout Mattress Sale!”

“Independence Day Long Weekend Plus an Extra Day or Two on Either End Mattress Discount! Buy Now!”

“Lowest Prices of the Summer!”

“Be Patriotic! Buy a Mattress!”


“Mattress Discount Warehouse Extravaganza Prices Sizzle!”

“Get off your Ass and Onto your Back with a New 4th of July Super Cheap Almost Free Mattress!”

“Celebrate America’s Birthday with a Bargain Mattress!”

“Red, White, and Blue! There’s a Mattress Here for You!”

“Free Illegal Fireworks with Your New Serta Extra Firm Mattress! Queen, King, and Twin! All Mattresses Must Go!”

I could go on.

Am I the only one who sees absolutely no connection whatsoever between the 4th of July and mattresses?

The 4th of July makes me think of red, white, and blue and flags and parades and picnics and fireworks. The Boston Pops playing John Philip Sousa.

Mattresses make me think of sleep. And sex. And the fact that I am supposed to rotate my mattress every few months but I never, ever do. And verily this will come back to haunt me one day.

The Founding Fathers did not think about mattresses. They were too busy thinking about freedom and independence and no taxation without representation.

It was life, liberty, and the pursuit of HAPPINESS. Not pursuit of a MATTRESS!

“Give me liberty or give me death!”

Not a Sealy, Simmons, Stearns Foster, Serta, or Tempurpedic.

I don’t know what this country is coming to. I know that I, for one, will not be spending this weekend and our nation’s birthday mattress shopping.

Although, now that I think of it, I do need some new mattresses for my kids’ beds.

And they are the lowest prices of the summer….

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


Eat, Pray, Love – Affluent, whiny white woman talks about herself as she travels through three “I” countries: Italy, India, and Indonesia.

I have several issues with Elizabeth Gilbert’s New York Times best seller. Can you tell?

First and foremost, how many women in their 30s and 40s – even if they have the money to do so – can just pick up and travel around the world for a whole year? Not a whole lot. Some combination of job, husband/partner, children, and family or community responsibilities would preclude such a venture.

OK, so what?

Now, Gilbert’s tale becomes a fantasy story.

Undoubtedly, I say this with more than a wee bit of envy. At the same time, I have no desire to toss aside my real life and my children and my commitments to travel the world right now.

That said, I am still compelled to read Eat, Pray, Love.


You could argue that I am just another whiny white woman (albeit decidedly not an affluent one), and you would not be inaccurate.

It is not Gilbert’s whimsical travel to the three “I” countries that intrigues me so much. Rather, it is the topics she examines and discusses. The ones other than herself and her failed relationships. And, yes, I have gone through a stressful divorce and a powerful, intense relationship that ended in complete and utter disaster, too. So, I can relate to her on those two accounts. But, it is the concepts of faith, spirituality, God, self, and purpose that intrigue me far more.

And I am a sucker for the journey myth.

In high school, I wrote a paper arguing that Peter Matthiessen’s book The Snow Leopard was a modern day journey myth. Matthiessen went hiking through the mountains of Nepal and Tibet, ostensibly in search of the elusive snow leopard, but in actuality trying to come to terms with the death of his young wife from cancer.

In the end, are these two books really all that different? They both deal with loss and grief and self-identity. Two American writers approach loss and life in ways most average Americans would never be able to. I mean, who can just pick up and leave home and travel the world or hike the Himalayas? Matthiessen left a young son behind. Gilbert – in an odd stroke of timing -- did not have a husband, children, house, or job to worry about at the time she set off on her journey. Granted, she had an advance for her forthcoming book to help her cover her expenses. Something you or I would probably lack.

As I walked around our local hilltop cemetery this morning – bolstered by the sun, the doe and her two fawns, the hummingbirds, the rabbit, the lumbering woodchuck, and the butterflies, tracing a path I have taken hundreds, if not thousands, of times before – I realized that I am the kind of person who thinks Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim of Tinker Creek constitutes a journey myth. Even though she didn’t go anywhere. Maybe because she didn’t go anywhere?

Perhaps Joseph Campbell – one of my dream dinner party companions – might look askance at my assessment. How can there be a journey myth without the journey?

My point, I think, is that in order to make an internal journey, to experience the shifting of our internal tectonic plates, we do not always have to take an external, physical journey. We do not have to travel to Italy, India, or Indonesia or climb the Himalayan mountains in order to have insight into ourselves and grow as human beings.

Thank God.

Sometimes, I would argue, we need go no further than our neighborhood, the nearby cemetery, some woods, a passing creek, a walking path, a park, a pond.

Does that mean we shouldn’t read books like Eat, Pray, Love or The Snow Leopard? No, of course not. Reading these books can always stir our minds, get us thinking. But the real ground work will be done elsewhere. In our everyday lives. On that early morning walk. Late afternoon bike ride. After dinner stroll. If only we move through our days with open eyes and ears and look around us and observe.

And open our hearts.

The real challenge in life lies not in finding some fantastical physical journey of mythic proportions, but rather in realizing the mythic proportions of our daily journeys.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

A piece of the puzzle

It is a little known fact that growing up I wanted to become an archaeologist.

Or more accurately, a geologist/paleontologist/anthropologist/archaeologist.

From a very young age, I liked to collect rocks and fossils. Which I meticulously identified, labeled, organized, and placed in small drawered cabinets in my bedroom. Although I had little guide books on rocks, I can remember running downstairs with new specimens to bother my father who was reading the newspaper. “What kind of rock is this?” He would answer me, and then I would run back upstairs, note this down, and run back down with another rock. “What kind of rock is this?” Unbelievably, my father put up with this for a very long period of time. At least five minutes.






He would answer me, and I would accept his answer as gospel. Afterall, my father knew everything.

Our driveway was graveled with limestone chips, and occasionally we would find seashell fossils amidst the gravel. It was like finding a treasure. Imagine! Finding a real, live fossil right in your very own driveway!

Our nursery school playground had a digging pit, right across from the large swing set. Oh, how we loved to spend our recesses there just digging and digging with our little shovels and pails! I convinced my father that we should have a digging pit in our backyard at home, too, because it was just such a fun pastime. We could dig elaborate tunnels and forts and quickly work our way clear to the other side of the earth! He relented and designated a spot out behind the tool shed as our official digging pit. Almost immediately my little sister and I began to dig up bits of painted china and colored glass. This was not so unusual, considering that our house was built in the early eighteen hundreds. People back then didn’t have their garbage collected every week by Waste Management. They simply threw their detritus out back behind their homes. Even today bits of china and glass rise to the surface of the yard, like shrapnel working its way out of a combat veteran’s skin. Back then, though, I earnestly believed that each shard of china we unearthed was a clear sign that we were getting that much closer to China! I am not making this up. I truly, genuinely believed this.

I had an uncle who lived in Indianapolis and was an amateur anthropologist/archaeologist. He worked for GE by day, but his true passion was searching for Indian artifacts. His basement was full of arrowheads and bits of pottery and bones. He researched likely locations of former Indian camps, often along rivers. When farmers would plow their fields each spring, he would ask them if he could walk their land. Often the tilling of the soil would unearth a myriad of arrowheads and other bits and pieces of mankind. The Indians didn’t get their garbage picked up either.

We visited my paleoanthropologist/archaeologist uncle once, right after I graduated from Kindergarten, and I was mesmerized by his basement collection of Indian treasures. And his stories. One of my most prized possessions growing up was a piece of a skull cap my uncle gave me right before we left. He told me that because of its shape and appearance, it was probably from a young Indian child.

I felt somehow connected to this young Indian boy – I thought it was a boy, a young brave, someone who had perhaps died in battle defending his tribe -- and fantasized about meeting him. How we would go creeping through the woods together, tracking deer or other game to bring back to camp for supper. He taught me how to tread on leaves and sticks without making a sound, our soft moccasins leaving barely an imprint on the forest floor. He showed me how to make a bow from a young sapling and string it with sinew. (Indians were the only people I knew who used sinew.)

He spent hours teaching me how to fashion an adze from stone and sharpen arrowheads. Then we would patiently follow animals through the woods with our new bows and arrows. We would stop to sip water from cold, mountain streams. Eat dried maize and pemmican that we kept in deerskin pouches. At the end of the day, we would start fires with flint and a piece of moss. Sleep in lean tos. And paint pictures of our hunts on animal skins with berries and twigs.

So what if I was mixing up all the tribes and their geographic areas and customs all together? It made for a great fantasy life.

For my birthday, it somehow became a tradition for me to go to our local bookstore and pick out any book I wanted. I would have to look over all of the children’s books, and this could take hours until I found just the one I wanted most. One year I spotted my treasure right away, however. The book spoke to me as soon as I saw the gold-plated Egyptian sarcophagus on its cover. It was the Landmark series book All about Archaeology. I read that book over and over again until it probably fell apart. I knew everything there was to know about Heinrich Schliemann and the discovery of Troy and Howard Carter and King Tutankhamen’s tomb. The book covered not only Greece and the Middle East and Egypt, but Central and South America as well. Mayan, Oltec, and Aztec cities lost in the jungle and Incan ruins high in the mountains of Peru! After a while, I felt like I, too, had traveled to all of these locations and helped take part in all of the wonderful explorations and discoveries.

As I grew older, I became enamored with the entire Leakey family and their intensive digs in the Olduvai Gorge area of Africa. I read the book Origins by Richard Leakey multiple times; it still holds a prominent place on my bookshelf. I was intrigued by the origins of our species and how modern humans went about trying to piece the puzzle (or bone) pieces together to figure out about our prehistoric ancestors and our evolution. It was a giant mystery, an incredible puzzle, just waiting to be solved by anyone who had the wherewithal to devote his or her life to it.

I dreamed of growing up to become a great paleoanthropologist or archaeologist (I was a purist; I insisted on spelling “archaeology” with an “a” in the middle. “Archeology” was simply not… right) and making all sorts of earth-shattering discoveries myself. I wouldn’t be like Agatha Christie who just followed her husband around on digs and wrote mysteries on the side. I would be the leader of expeditions all around the globe. They would probably make National Geographic specials about me and my latest discoveries.

I didn’t much think about how labor-intensive and boring the actual day-to-day activities on a dig might be and how they would require enormous patience and grueling work under stark (often hot) conditions. That didn’t matter to me. I was star struck. Intrigued. Hooked.

I am not sure how and why I gradually lost interest in this career choice. The topics still interest me tremendously. I have a memory of reading somewhere that a truck driver makes more than an archaeologist and this upsetting me. I am not sure why. I have nothing against truck drivers and, in fact, know several quite well. I know how hard that job must be. I would never want to be a truck driver. I would never be able to spend that much time in a vehicle sitting on my ass, just driving and driving and driving, and putting up with all the boneheads that are out on the road.

I can’t imagine the revelation that truck drivers make more than archaeologists would have had any real impact on me. I am not even sure it is necessarily true, although I doubt archaeologists make a whole heck of a lot. I myself am not really driven by money in any of my passions or career interests. In fact, it disturbs me when money has to enter into my job considerations at all, but in the end, I do live in the real world and I have a family to support.

I started out in the military and am now a librarian, neither of which is a career to go into if making money is your major motivator. I would prefer never to have to ever even think about money. I know we need it to survive, to pay our bills and our taxes and buy groceries and clothing and gas. But beyond that it has little meaning to me. I am not saying I want to be poor. Because I do not. I do not want to be rich, either. I just want to be able to pay my expenses and support my family and be able to do most of the things I want to do. None of which are ever terribly extravagant. And pursue my passions and interests in a constructive, contributing way.

Being an archaeologist was romantic. Full of fantasy and glamour and allure. Solving puzzles and mysteries for a living. Using my brain and sense of adventure to unearth new old worlds. A life of pursuit and discovery. Uncovering and piecing together the great truths of existence and of our past. What more could anyone ask for?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Day 4 of Yoga Camp

Yes, I do realize that I missed writing about Day 3 of Yoga Camp.

Never fear! I did attend. I just didn’t have the time yesterday to write about it. That and the fact that I have two teenagers who hog the computer.

Oh, and that the AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies -- 10th Anniversary Edition was on TV. I started watching it, innocently enough, at 8:00. I was thinking it would only last for about an hour or so. And I think it could have lasted for about an hour or so – IF there hadn’t been fifty million commercials every three seconds. I couldn’t believe how many commercial breaks there were! The show lasted until 11:00.

Still. I did watch the entire show. Taking advantage of the commercial breaks to do laundry, make phone calls, pay bills, fold laundry, try to convince teenagers to get off the computer, etc.

I LOVE movies, especially old movies. I think the American Film Institute does wonderful things as far as preserving and promoting films go. But it alarms me when groups post Top 100 lists of anything and then insist on rank ordering them. Yeah, sure, you can say: “These are the top 100 movies.” And then stop there. Although even that is going to be arbitrary and debatable to a degree. But proceeding to rank order 100 movies is extremely arbitrary and based on point of view and taste. When you start saying this movie is better than this movie is better than this movie, you start to lose meaning. Especially when you start comparing genres and time periods. I mean, can you really compare a musical with a serious drama head on? Or a comedy with a thriller? And why should you? Is a movie “better” because it is more popular? More technically impressive? More moving? More “artistic”? Or groundbreaking in some way?

In the end, I think lists like this reflect more about the people who make the selections (and their agendas and biases) than it does about the movies themselves. According to the AFI website, the list came from “a blue-ribbon panel of leaders from across the film community.” Whatever that means!

Although I stayed up far too late watching this schlock, it did make we want to re-watch some of the wonderful, wonderful movies on the list that I did love. And, actually, to re-watch some of the movies that weren’t on the list.

Yoga camp is going well. There is only one day left. I am surprised that it has gone so well. I don’t feel as sore as I imagined I would. And I am starting to develop that sense of bonding and camaraderie with some of the other “campers” that you gain while in any kind of intensive, repetitive training or socialization activities.

I may not be memorizing routines to use on my own at the crack of dawn, but I am definitely learning:

How to do certain positions more correctly.

How to breathe better (or at all).

The fact that I have the attention span of a two year old.

And that I really dislike downward facing dog.

If I never had to do downward facing dog again as long as I lived, I would not be sad. I just find it unnatural and uncomfortable. It bothers my lower back. I’ll take child’s pose over downward dog any day of the week!

I am also surprised that it has not really been a problem to get up so early. It makes me think maybe I should start getting up earlier in general – that this might provide me with more “personal” time to read or write or go for a walk and think.

Of course, when I get up this early, I want to go to bed earlier. Which, as I saw last night, does not always happen. And then I start getting progressively more tired.

Is it better to stay up later? Or get up earlier? I am not sure. I am neither clearly a morning person nor a late night person. In fact, I would say that I am neither.

I think I am going to miss the routine of yoga camp once it ends. It has been kind of fun getting up early and going to this class every morning. It has lent ritual and community and exercise and quiet time to my day. These are all things I need and crave and don’t always get.

Yoga camp has reinforced the importance that yoga can play as one aspect of an approach to healthy living. One that is the polar opposite of boot camp-type training and fierce competition, both of which I loathe but had to put up with for a good deal of my young adult years.


Monday, June 18, 2007

Day 1 of Yoga Camp

I went to bed early last night, anticipating having to get up early for yoga camp.

My alarm went off at 6:15. Right in the middle of this horrible dream about West Point where I was being sexually harassed by an overweight security guard. Like why on earth do utterly repulsive, unattractive men think you might be even REMOTELY interested in them???

I had to be at yoga camp before 7. In order to secure a parking spot, a place in the back of the room, and a mat. I nixed a shower beforehand because 1) we don’t have a shower right now (the old fixtures started leaking, and they have to be replaced lock, stock, and barrel); 2) why bathe BEFORE exercise; and 3) I didn’t have the energy to care what my hair looked like.

I did run downstairs to turn on the coffee maker. A cup of Joe definitely had to be in the cards for me to be able to even begin to function. Once back upstairs, I found my 15 year old son, who NEVER gets up before noon if he can help it, in the bathroom, brushing his teeth! My first reaction: he must be sleepwalking. Turns out he woke up with sore teeth and thought he should come down and brush his teeth! Not sure if that means he is worried all his teeth are rotting away because he never brushes them unless I nag him about it or what. Although he may be clenching or grinding his teeth in his sleep – it sort of runs in the family, on both sides. I offered him some Tylenol, but he didn’t want any. He said he couldn’t go back to sleep. I suggested he go online and do his Health Class homework (he is taking the course online over the summer, so he doesn’t have to take it next fall). I was kidding, the sarcastic smartass in me fully functional even before my first cup of coffee. The thought of him doing Health homework at 6:30 in the morning seemed positively ludicrous to me. Apparently, he didn’t think it was so outlandish as that is what he did. And then he went back to bed.

I, meanwhile, gulped down my coffee and headed off to the Methodist Church, where Yoga Camp was being held. There were quite a few people in attendance; I was surprised. Probably twenty or so. Only one was a man. He was actually one woman’s husband. I used to see the wife when I went to yoga during the week, and I see them both at Saturday morning classes. Some of the women were really dressed up in their fancy yoga duds, but I don’t think anyone had taken a shower.

The class went really well. Except that I was really sore. My triceps in particular were aching. I am not sure if that was from yoga class on Saturday or all the scraping of the garage wall I did yesterday so my older son could paint it today. I really dislike downward facing dog, by the way. I know that is like the quintessential yoga position, but I really hate it. It hurts my lower back.

The instructor, also much to my surprise, was actually going really slowly today. My memory of her is that she is the kamikaze yoga instructor. Maybe her style has changed. I had just drunk a big cup of coffee, though, so it was hard for me to be as relaxed and contemplative of my breathing as she would have liked. It took her WAY longer to count down from fifty than it did me!

I know her intent is that we learn a set yoga routine by the end of the week. I hate to tell her, that this early in the morning, I am not really paying attention. If she tells me to do something, I do it. But she has to keep telling me what moves to make. Because I am not really concentrating. Although I am trying to breathe. I am trying to go with the flow. And not look like the uncoordinated, inflexible retard that I am.

Naturally, the class did not let out on time. These yoga people have no sense of time!!! But I still had to go to the Y – in order to take a shower, as we had no shower at home, and then back home to change and get ready for work. That is an awful lot of activity to fit in in such a short period of time. And I was supposed to be relaxing and breathing all the while.

I felt really good all day long, however.

I am not sure how I am going to feel after several days of this, however. I am not used to doing yoga every morning. Or getting up quite that early to work out. I usually don’t make the swimming pool until at least 7:30, and by then I have taken one kid to the bus stop and another one to school.

My fear is that I won’t be able to move at all after several days of stretching, contortions, and frigging downward-facing dogs. And then racing off to take a shower at the Y and change and still make it to work on time.

Oh, well! The trials and tribulations of whiny white women….

My older son and I went for a walk last night. He was asking me questions about God and whether science can prove we have souls or not. And then he was talking about the Big Bang Theory and time loops and I kind of lost track somewhere in there. He really asks thought-provoking questions. And it leads to very interesting conversations. But I am not sure I am up to answering any of his questions. I find myself playing devil’s advocate most of the time and asking questions right back at him. Like I am the old dude from “Kung Fu” giving advice to Grasshopper. It is daunting!

I just took two books out from the library to help me in my cause: Why God Won’t Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief and The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief.

Right now, though, I need to go on another evening walk with my son, who spent the day painting and working on his course and playing video games. He also grilled hot dogs on the grill for us for dinner, which was nice, even though I can’t stand hot dogs. For a whole variety of reasons. But chargrilled and smothered in mustard and sauerkraut, just about anything would probably taste good! So, I give him credit for volunteering to cook.

Tomorrow morning I need to remember to relax better and breathe more deeply.

Or at all!

Saturday, June 16, 2007


I never realized, until I started doing yoga, that I never breathe.

It’s true. In my real, day-to-day life I do not breathe. Ever. That I am aware of.

The only time I breathe is when I am doing yoga.

I used to do yoga several mornings a week. But then I started working full time. And I can’t make any yoga classes, either before or after work.

Recently, they started Saturday morning classes. And I have been going to those. When I can. And I love them.

Because I get to breathe.

And relax. And stretch. And contort my cranky, middle-aged body into all sorts of bizarre postures.

For an hour and a half.

When I am all done, I feel totally relaxed and at ease. It makes me wonder how it would be if I breathed all the time. In my real life and all. But I don’t.

So, it is even more important for me to get to yoga on Saturday mornings. So I know I am going to breathe at least once a week.

It makes a huge difference in my life and how I feel.

This coming week is “Yoga Camp.” It goes from 7 to 8:15 am, Monday through Friday. I can actually make those times and still get to work before 10. So, I signed up. I probably won’t be able to move after the first few mornings -- and Lord knows how my body will react when I start breathing more than once a week!

The theory behind this “camp” is that we learn a yoga routine by heart. And then we can do it on our own, at home.


I am not sure that is going to happen. I mean, yoga instructors are always saying things like, “Now when you do this posture at home….”

And I always look around to see how other people respond to this. There may well be people who do yoga at home, but by and large I think the whole reason these people in the class go to yoga in the first place is so they actually do it. They know they would never do it alone, at home, on their own.

Me either.

I think it will be interesting to see what happens after I do yoga for over an hour, five mornings in a row. It will mean I can’t go swimming this week. But I will definitely be getting exercise. And relaxing. And breathing. Hell, if I breathe five days in a row, my body probably won’t know how to handle it!

Our yoga instructor started off class this morning with the following poem, and I just wanted to share it:

I will not die an unlived life
I will not live in fear
of falling or catching fire.
I choose to inhabit my days
to allow my living to open me,
to make me less afraid,
more accessible,
to loosen my heart
until it becomes a wing,
a torch, a promise
I choose to risk my significance,
to live
so that which came to me as seed
goes to the next as blossom
and that which came
to me as blossom
goes on as fruit
-- Dawna Markova

So, here’s to living!

And breathing!!!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Ruth Bell Graham, 1920-2007

I am devastated.

We have lost one of the planet’s most brilliant, beautiful lights: Ruth Bell Graham.

As I was struggling with my own faith, I stumbled across this wonderful biography – Ruth, A Portrait: The Story of Ruth Bell Graham – by, of all people, Patricia Cornwell. I fell in love with Ruth Bell Graham when I read that book. My faith in God was renewed and replenished because of this amazing, strong woman who happened to be married to one of the most famous evangelists of all time – Billy Graham.

Ruth experienced crises of faith, and she was open and honest about this. And that moved me so deeply.

At the time, I – a struggling, yet earnest Christian – was called upon to present a book worth reading to my Bible study group, the Heidelberg, Germany chapter of PWOC (Protestant Women of the Chapel) [never mind that I was Catholic!]. I leapt at the chance. This book had moved me so deeply. This woman had moved me so deeply. I wanted to make sure everyone I knew was aware of this book, and this amazing woman.

I did my presentation on Ruth Bell Graham. I talked about her biography, which Patricia Cornwell had been so moved to write, and I spoke about how this woman’s crisis of faith had made me MORE confident in my own faith. This woman was so real and true and strong. She was not the famous evangelist, but she was the strength, the source that kept him going. That was so evident to me. She was honest, out front, able to articulate her dark periods and her doubts. And her faith.

The woman who went after me in the book presentations, who up until this point of time had been another, closer-to-home beacon of faith, got up and talked about how the Left Behind series was non-fiction.

I was stunned.

Gloria had been my Bible study leader on Paul. She had been so insightful. She had seemed so knowledgeable and charismatic as a leader. Now, here she was saying: The Left Behind series was based on The Book of Revelation -- which was “non-fiction.” Thus, the Left Behind series was non-fiction. She was so adamant, she scared me.

I was speechless.

I never went back to Bible study or PWOC. I was crushed.

Gloria actually wrote me a letter, telling me that she missed me, asking me why I was no longer coming.

I wrote back to her.


I told her how I had so enjoyed our Bible study. How she had been such a role model to me as a Christian. How I had felt I was learning so much. And then how she had completely confused me by stating so categorically that the Left Behind series was non-fiction.

I told her how I had always thought her name was so appropriate – Gloria. As in “Gloria, in Excelsis Deo.” Glory to God in the Highest. I had always thought she lived that in her daily life and that she had been such an example of what a Christian was really supposed to be. But that I could no longer come to PWOC and I could no longer be in her Bible study.

I never heard from her again.

I was not trying to be mean. I was simply being honest. Here, I had been, an earnest, vulnerable doubting Christian, and she had seemingly been the answer to my prayers. In the end, she had not been. Her vision of God and Christianity was far too narrow for me to embrace. And so I had to turn away and look elsewhere.

Ruth Bell Graham has been an inspiration and a role model to me ever since I read her biography. I have passed the book along and recommended it to countless others. In my view, Ruth Graham was the epitome of a Christian. She was loving, kind, gentle, compassionate, strong. A true leader by example. She had doubts, she had faith, she realized that humanity was full of both. She embodied the Golden Rule. She was humble. She was radiant. She was non-judgmental. She was inclusive. She was a wonderful, beautiful human being.

She has touched so many people.

She touched me.

She will be sorely missed.

Be thou at peace.

Monday, June 11, 2007

The Adventures of a Modern Day Tom Sawyer

One of my favorite scenes in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is when Tom, tasked with whitewashing the picket fence as punishment, gets friends and passersby begging – heck, paying! – him to let them all have a turn at painting.

I always thought this was so clever and ingenious of Tom, and such a great way to flaunt authority. Pure Mark Twain!

I found myself an unwitting Tom Sawyer one fall about ten years ago as I started to plant bulbs for spring in front of our quarters at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. I am not a gardener, and why exactly I was planting these bulbs is beyond me. Maybe they were free from the Self Help Center, and I was trying to be a Martha Stewart good citizen. Or maybe my Martha Stewart good citizen neighbor talked me into doing it one evening after a glass of wine. Who knows!

At any rate, there I was digging holes in front of the house, when all of a sudden I found myself surrounded by a throng of inquisitive, sweaty toddlers and pre-schoolers. They wanted to know what I was doing. More than that, they all wanted to “help.” So, finally, probably having other things to attend to, like laundry or dinner, I told the lot of them to have at it! But to take turns.

I mean, how much damage could a bunch of rugrats do with a gardening trowel?

It wasn’t really all that much later, however, when my neighbor, the same Martha Stewarty one, knocked on my screen door.

“Hey! What are ya doing out here? Burying a body?!?”

I figured she was exaggerating, but when I went out onto the front porch, I found that the children had managed to dig a rather deep hole. I mean, you could have planted the Great Big Enormous Turnip in there, you know, the one that took the grandfather, the grandmother, the granddaughter, the dog, the cat, and the mouse to pull the durned thing up out of the ground. It was hysterical.

It made me think that maybe I had power afterall….

More recently, I found myself intentionally playing the role of Tom Sawyer. I got this brilliant idea to have my two teenaged sons paint our garage. I can’t remember the last time it was painted, and it was beginning to peel rather badly. Surely, I could convince my sons of the wisdom and joy of painting a garage as a way to earn money over Summer break.

I think my Tom Sawyer persuasiveness skills were more influential on me, however, than they were on the boys. Sure, they were interested in doing the job, but I found myself wanting to take part, wanting to help scrape and paint. I had never really painted anything big before, and the allure of creative manual labor was starting to take hold….

The day after school let out for the summer, I took my younger son (the only one awake before noon) down to the local Ace Hardware Store. We had a really fun time picking out brushes and scrapers and figuring out what color and kind of paint to get. My son helped me select the right shade of gray, and then we watched, mesmerized, as the hardware paint department guy used a computer to add the right mix of paints to a gallon of pure white paint. He then put the gallon in a machine that rotated and moved and mixed the paint all together. It was really cool! Even my teenager was enthralled. “Mom, this is really cool!” he whispered.

We could hardly wait to get home and start scraping and painting.

The guy at the store told us that first we had to scrape. Then we had to apply the primer coat. He mixed up a batch of that, so it was closer in shade to the final gray than its natural white. And then we had to paint over the primer layer with a coat of the regular latex exterior and trim.

I say “we” as in the royal we.

This job was meant for the boys. A lesson in hard work and manual labor and job satisfaction. They would get paid, of course, don’t worry. But I wanted them to learn about doing a job right and the satisfaction of a job well done.

The only thing was… I wanted to lend a hand at scraping and painting. And being in charge. And telling them what to do. And how to do it. And so on. And so on.

Only that is not what I wanted at all. I wanted THEM to do all the work.

So, last Friday I went off to work and announced: “Well, I left my two teenaged boys at home with two gallons of paint”

I knew they would do a lot better if left to themselves. With no one to nag or direct or needle or point out missed spots, et cetera.

And they did.

At about one o’clock in the afternoon, my younger son called me at work to tell me they had finished painting the first wall of the garage.

“It looks AW---”

[Oh, my God! I thought to myself. It looks AWFUL!]

“It looks AWESOME!!!”

Right. Yes. Awesome.

“Great!” I said.

My son was so excited with the work they had just done, he was calling me to tell me how incredibly awesome it looked. This was great! Wonderful! Just what I was looking for actually.

But then why did I feel so left out…?

Jealous or envious even?

Here, they were getting to have all the fun. Scraping and painting and painting some more. Sure, it was a long, involved process. But they certainly seemed up to it. And were having a ball!

Seemed like Tom Sawyer was being successful in her endeavors afterall….

A modern-day warrior
Mean, mean stride,
Today’s tom sawyer
Mean, mean pride.”

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Arts Festival

I bought this incredibly beautiful collage at the Arts Festival yesterday. The artist combines dried flowers, bits of pictures or stamps or images, and quotations to create really interesting collages. I couldn’t really afford to buy one of her pieces, but I found a smaller one that really spoke to me. I rationalized it by telling myself I was “supporting the arts.”

When I took the piece up to purchase, the artist was thrilled. “Oh, I made that one this morning! I love that quote.” Since she was the artist, I thought it would be tacky to say I was buying her work for the quotation, so I said, “Yes, the quote is nice, too.” She was caught off guard by that, genuinely pleased. To be honest, I liked the piece because of the combination of the artistry (which included dried purple flowers, and purple is my favorite color!) AND the quotation. It was the combination that made it so aesthetically pleasing to me.

The collage will go on my wall, to inspire and move and cheer me. The quotation I will share:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that frightens us. We ask
ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be. You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t
feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory
of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us, it is in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people
permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fears, our
presence automatically liberates others.
-- Marianne Williamson

Friday, June 08, 2007

"Music is the shorthand of emotion." -- Leo Tolstoy

I recently read a blog posting about how smells can often evoke memories far more strongly than images can. I tend to agree with this and can think of instances where a particular smell brought me almost bodily back to a particular point in time.

For example, I can remember opening a can of black shoe polish early on in OBC, which occurred two years after I had graduated from West Point since I went straight from USMA to Oxford for grad school, and instantly being transported back to the first days of Beast Barracks. It was a rush, almost surreal. It had been two years since I had had to shine any shoes and two years since I had smelled black shoe polish. Yet the first whiffs of it hurled me back through time and space to that stressful, horrific blur of some six years before.

Aside from smells, I find that songs can hurtle me back through time as well. I tend to be somewhat masochistic, I suppose, as I enjoy listening to the “Nine at Nine” on Bob FM on my way to work every day. Every morning at 9 am, this eclectic rock mix station plays nine songs from a particular year. They select the years somewhat randomly so you can skip around from the seventies to the eighties to the sixties to the nineties during any given week. I find myself hearing these songs I haven’t heard – or even thought about! – in years. And often they bring back striking memories from different points in my life. Even more strangely, I often remember the lyrics and music, even though I haven’t heard these songs for so long and am musically impaired to boot.

Some songs will bring back memories from high school or junior high, even grade school or a particular incident or even a record or CD I used to own. Others will remind me of West Point or the Army or Oxford or being married or living in a particular place at a particular time. Songs I used to dance to, songs I used to play loudly on my stereo or my car cassette or CD player. Songs I used to hear on the radio. Songs I used to hate. Songs I used to love. Songs that remind me of events I haven’t thought of in years.

This morning the number one song from June 8, 1985, was “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Tears for Fears. Immediately, I was transported back to May 22, 1985, a few weeks earlier than the number one song date, and the day I graduated from West Point. As I drove out Washington Gate for what I imagined would be the last time I would ever see West Point in my rear view mirror, I was playing Tears for Fears on my car stereo. When “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” came on, tears suddenly filled my eyes. My sister was sitting next to me in my gray Honda Accord, packed to the gills with all of my personal belongings, and we were driving back home to Pennsylvania, where I was scheduled to be married in just over a week’s time. I had recently purchased this Tears for Fears cassette; I had first heard the songs in a friend’s car a few weeks earlier and really liked them. This song in particular struck me as I was driving away from West Point because I suddenly realized that not only was I driving away from West Point, I was also driving away from some of the best friends I had ever known. And while I was happy that I might never see West Point again, I was suddenly sad with the realization that I might very well never see some of these special friends again, either.

This friend in particular held a very special place in my heart. Almost four years earlier, we had ended up next to each other on the bus that took us from Michie Stadium down to the Cadet Area on R Day. As I boarded this bus, a scrawny scared eighteen year old who really wasn’t sure what she had gotten herself into, I looked around for a friendly face amidst the sea of male faces. I spotted one face, the sole other girl on the bus, and went directly over to her. I asked her shyly if the other seat was taken and she said no, so I sat down next to her. We chatted nervously for the few minutes that it took the bus to transfer us from the safety and freedom of the civilian world to the gates of Army hell. In that brief period of time, we formed a sort of bond that has ended up carrying us through over 26 years of friendship. There were periods of time both during and after West Point where we really did not see each other often, and were not even really in touch. But we have always remained good friends, and I know without a shadow of a doubt that I can always count on this woman to be a good friend. She has been there for me during really awful times, and I hope that she feels the same way about me. I think she does. We have laughed together, cried together, talked, emailed, walked along the beach, and actually even returned to West Point together for our twentieth reunion.

So, when the first strains of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” came on the car radio this morning, my chest froze up and tears filled my eyes. I was back on West Point driving off post for what I hoped would be the last time ever. I was free, no longer a cadet, a brand new second lieutenant, a soon to be married twenty-two year old woman, driving down the road in my first car, my younger sister at my side, the windows rolled all the way down, singing, singing, singing, a tear silently sliding down my cheek.