George Bush Was Right!?!

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When our 43rd president spoke at the interfaith memorial service in Dallas on July 12, he expressed a powerful truth:

Too often, we judge other groups by their worst examples, while judging ourselves by our best intentions.

I abide by a similar notion—life would be far more pleasant if families, friends and colleagues chose to define and talk about us based on our best moments instead of those we undoubtedly wish never occurred.

graffiti-1472472_1920Over a lifetime, painful and embarrassing experiences stack up for everyone. How people acknowledge or disavow that reality is always interesting. I’m acutely aware of mine and would suffocate under the weight of humiliation if they were my sole focus. Thankfully, they are scattered among weeks, months and years bursting with everyday events and remarkable occasions that are infinitely more worthy of remembering.

Hence my hard time with those who choose to keep everyone’s most unpleasant incidents top of mind, not only singling them out as the default material for conversation but holding on to them as the irreversible benchmarks to forever measure character or assess intentions.

We do not elevate ourselves by knocking others down. Millions of us in full knowledge of our imperfections offer up many times more positive and colorful anecdotes with which to be judged.

I find it overwhelming that George Bush shared these remarks at this difficult juncture in our country’s history. I’m not one if his fans, but I’ll never forget his observation earlier this week. Neither am I naÏve, still I relish those words, and I’ll never be able to think about him again without recalling them.

There were many profound moments during that sad service. President Obama reminded us:

As we get older, we learn we don’t always have control of things, not even a president does. But we do have control over how we respond to the world. We do have control over how we treat one another.

Two US presidents from rival parties came together in Dallas despite the deep political schisms wrenching our country apart. Even with their many differences, together they appealed to the greater good. The recognition that we are all imperfect is a powerful first step in helping us do better at home and in the world, if we make the conscious decision to choose respect.

Is that too much to ask?

Legacies are All We Have Forever

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Our lives begins to end the day we grow silent about things that matter. — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Nonviolent resistance, the cornerstone of Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy, is a powerful resource we can all practice. January 15 marks his 86th birthday. In his honor, it’s worth thinking about what we can change by lending peaceful actions and words to the things that matter to us.

There are endless issues needing attention from equal rights and the environment to sensible gun control and the unfriendly political personality. We don’t have to argue or blog or Facebook or Tweet. We can show our kids, nieces, nephews and grandchildren what matters by example.

We can choose not to buy them guns to play with, and we can share our doggie bags with the hungry. We can pick litter from the sidewalk and put it in the garbage. We can hang our voting receipt on the refrigerator. We can treat each other respectfully, even if it’s not returned.

Children are sponges so they’ll pick up on what we do as long as we’re consistent. Then, when we can talk to them about weighty matters we have validity. The one or the many little things we’ve chosen to do or not to and the kind words we’ve chosen to say day after day earn us credibility, perhaps the most powerful tool.

Building a legacy begins when we start to care about others. The Montgomery, AL, bus boycott King led in 1955 went on for 381 days before the Supreme Court ruled that segregation on transportation was illegal.

In 1963 he was part of the March on Washington, bringing a quarter of a million people to the National Mall in Washington, D.C, to shine a light on the lack of civil rights, jobs and freedom. He had a dream and he told the world about it.

In 1964, at the age of 35, Martin Luther King, Jr. received the Noble Peace Prize. In his acceptance speech he said,

“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.”

In the same year, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, making it illegal to discriminate against blacks or other minorities in hiring, public accommodations, education or transportation.

And he had only just begun. In 1965 he led thousands from Selma to Montgomery, AL, in a nonviolent march for voting rights. They were brutalized by law enforcement every step of the 54-mile route. When marchers tried to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge through Selma, state troopers on horses attacked them. They were threatened by a restraining order to disband before trying again. Faced with ignoring a pending court order, King led 2000-strong nonviolent marchers again to the bridge and when confronted once more by troopers, the marchers got on their knees to pray then turned around and marched back to Selma. Six months later President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

In 1968 he was gunned down on his motel room balcony in Memphis, TN, where he was protesting on behalf of striking city garbage workers.

You can choose not to rally thousands and still create change. The courage of your convictions makes a difference in your world every day. Every little person in your life looks up to you in every sense of the word. Think about using your words and actions for the greater good. There’s nothing to lose.

How do you manage your writing time?

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Outside of ensuring my family and friends are happy and healthy, I have only two big goals over the next two years. The first is to move, and that’s simply a matter of timing. The place is ready to be shown. We already did the “big” downsizing when our girls had the audacity to leave us so this next one is much easier.

My second goal is to finish the two-year Writing Certificate program at the University of Chicago. Tonight is class #2. I’ve done my homework, and I’m excited to get to know my colleagues and teacher better as well as learn to become a better writer.

Still there is also so much info on the web to read from credible sources like “What turns editors on?” “What gets you thrown off the slush pile?” “10 ways to impress an agent,” “How to manage your time!” Then there are the magazines—Poets & Writers, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, The Sun not to mention all the great literary publications from Glimmer Train, Ploughshares, Fifth Wednesday JournalAnd the on-line journals and blogs—way too many to list. But so many great ones to read.

I’ve worked hard to keep up a writing routine. In the morning I go to my desk. It’s somewhat away from the hub of the house so it’s relatively quiet. But people know how to find me! At least once a week I go to my girlfriend’s. She lives on top of offices. We work in the offices, and truly get very few distractions so we do get a lot of work done.

But we never end a long and intense day without feeling like there’s so much more we need to do, learn, research, double-check. Writing is hard, time-consuming, and we know it’s unlikely to make us wealthy. But writers have to write.

Any suggestions? I guarantee I’ll find time to read those.

Learning to Share Your Journey

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Thirty-two years ago I married a guy I was certain I would love forever. After all, in your 20s you know that you already know everything about yourself and the world. Some parents try offering insight from the decades-bigger buckets of experience they lug around. But that journey’s bends and bumps are ours alone to navigate. How we manage the curves turn us into the Adults every 21-year-old adult believes is the marker into the all-knowing. Still, loved ones watch us confidently stride into our futures, acutely aware we don’t know that we don’t really know much of anything about ourselves and the world yet.

What I didn’t know marching down the aisle 32 years ago would have long ago destroyed rain forests if I printed out the volumes describing it. And the guy I married is long gone. He’s grown into a Husband, Father, Uncle, Grandfather, Coach, Teacher, Wage Earner, Partner and more. While at that, we hurled head first into multiple moronic mistakes. There were times we thought we’d implode if we stayed together. We couldn’t agree on a path, and they all seemed too narrow to fit us both.

Yet We Did It. In huge measure by his toughing it out despite all the potholes I drove straight into as well as the unanticipated twists and turns. I’ve been sick, sad, mad, hurt, angry, exhausted and more. We’ve managed through his share from this list, but we learn that every couple racks up its unique set of shortcomings. It takes two to neglect or nurture a marriage. Some survive, others don’t.

Still, I needed seemingly endless support from this one person. Having lost my parents and siblings in only a few years over a decade ago, he somehow survived my wanting from him everything you get from your immediate family, not your spouse. The unconditional love, keeping alive a history he didn’t experience, sharing my new family’s experiences with my original one, and trying to grasp my loss as he participated with his six siblings and I shifted through anger, sadness and jealousy.

My bad luck became his, and he tried with everything he had when he could have walked away with ample justification. How lucky am I? Beyond bucket loads.

We’re all imperfect. The sooner we accept that, the easier it becomes to be most mindful of the best in others. Remembering the great and not the worst moments is neither a lesson learned early or easily, something our parents knew.

Now we are the parents. Our two daughters are our greatest achievements and possess the best of us. Yet, they’re already on their own journeys.They visit with spouses, awesome grandchildren and significant others, and then they leave us, alone.

We haven’t experienced just the two of us for almost 30 years. Neither of us are the same person we were on August 14, 1982. We’ve grown—together, even when we didn’t think so—closer, despite the moments that separated us—grateful that we didn’t choose the fork in the road when it seemed easier—and wiser, at long last.

Love is as much a journey as is life. I was lucky enough to marry a guy I could learn about love with, despite our youth and the many differences we shared but wouldn’t see until infatuation morphed into Adult reality. And I’m blessed to remain with the man he became, who stayed connected as we realized we really knew very little about ourselves and the word around us when we began this leg of our journey.

Those Short Summer Breaks

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I have a princess visiting over this and next week. She’s everything one imagines of royalty: beautiful, poised, self-confident, someone you’re proud to say you know and be seen with. Of course, as is also true of royalty, she can be high maintenance. She prefers to be served her favorite food on her schedule. She counts on her wardrobe clean and at her disposal. She enjoys books read to her, arbitrary trips to her favorite stores, mani-pedis and at least one person with or near her at all times.

Those who know me have already guessed I’m talking about my six-year-old granddaughter, Princess Caitlin. There’s a three-week gap between camp and first grade. Her mom, the original princess and my oldest daughter, Jill, has taken off the third week. She’s excited to get her pix1354681652941daughter new supplies and wardrobe for the start of school, 12 years that neither of them realize zip by in such a distorted span of time it defies any normal understanding we have of days and years.

After all, it was only a few years ago we were preparing Caitlin’s mom and aunt for grammar school, then high school and finally college. And now they’re out in the world doing remarkable things without holding our hand or calling us for permission or even advice. So when Jill asked the family if anyone might be available to watch Caitlin during the two weeks between camp and her week off, I didn’t hesitate to ask for every one of those days.

Caitlin grows more independent by the minute. She prefers Justice, a clothing story, over toy stores, Buffalo Wild Wings over Chuck E. Cheese. She’ll ask for Nutella and crackers too close to dinner time. She has known every word of Olivia Helps with Christmas for at least three years, but she asks me to read it to her all the time. And if I step out of the room for more than a few minutes, a sing-song, “Grandma where are you? Are you coming back?” is routine.

Sure we’re spoiling her. But she’s a loving, caring, kind little person who somehow also knows this time together is special and doesn’t expect everyday life to be as accommodating. At the same time, her grandfather and I know all too well that being able to make this remarkable little girl content so easily is a finite ability. Happiness will be more complicated, her needs something only she can find a way to achieve.

Thankfully, Jill agreed to let us revel selfishly in the little time we have left to soak in all that is Caitlin, fighting over our own time to spend with her. Soon enough we’ll revisit paddy cake paddy cake and Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star with our new grandson while Caitlin follows her mom and aunt out into the bigger world where greatness awaits her, too.

It’s a slap-happy silly Saturday

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Climate change naysayers pooh-poohing any personal responsibility for the environment, refusing to acknowledge the parallels, haven’t visited Chicago recently. This afternoon it’s 80-something, dampness droops over everything, heat hangs in the atmosphere and the humidity hovers at 187%, at least. It rained all Friday night and most of this morning. I don’t know how it isn’t raining now. Someone must have slipped some plastic sheathing between the heavens and the North Side.

Next week it’s supposed to fall into the 60s, maybe 70s. On the news, meteorologists are using that best-forgotten phrase from last winter: Polar Vortex. Yep. July 12 in Chicago, any number of neighborhoods flooded, and the 2014 Polar Vortex plans visiting next week. You can’t make this stuff up. I suggest any undeclared college majors  seriously consider a meteorology major. Mother Nature rules and  weather forecasting will never be an exact science. Type-A’s might rest easier knowing their predictions aren’t more reliable than thermometer-shattering temperature swings, daily plummets and spikes in barometric pressure, off-shore oil rigs spilling seas of gunk into our oceans. Not that I think it won’t be cold next week, I can’t blame the weather-people who probably wish for radio gigs so no one can recognize them. I’ve a feeling my favorite CPA is bordering on silly today, too. He sent a crazy funny list of Adult Truths, and I also found the following extremely insightful parenting article from the renowned paper, The Onion, on his Google page. There’s comfort in finding some stuff never changes.

Study Finds Every Style Of Parenting Produces Disturbed, Miserable Adults

NEWS IN BRIEF • Science & Technology • Parents • Our Annual Year 2011 • ISSUE 47•50 ISSUE 47•43 • Oct 26, 2011
SANTA ROSA, CA—A study released by the California Parenting Institute Tuesday shows that every style of parenting inevitably causes children to grow into profoundly unhappy adults. “Our research suggests that while overprotective parenting ultimately produces adults unprepared to contend with life’s difficulties, highly permissive parenting leads to feelings of bitterness and isolation throughout adulthood,” lead researcher Daniel Porter said. “And, interestingly, we found that anything between those two extremes is equally damaging, always resulting in an adult who suffers from some debilitating combination of unpreparedness and isolation. Despite great variance in parenting styles across populations, the end product is always the same: a profoundly flawed and joyless human being.” The study did find, however, that adults often achieve temporary happiness when they have children of their own to perpetuate the cycle of human misery.

Swag, Song, Images & Words

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Ragdale held a contest for its residents. We had to respond to “Ragdale is…. ” with words and/or images. Both the awesome visual artist Olivia Petrides and I won. Chances are this is the only time Olivia and I will ever be in the same sentence, she is an artist beyond words I can express.

We won some Ragdale swag―↗︎a coffee cup and t-shirt. My memories of the last three weeks won’t ever need prompts, but it’s cool stuff and I’ll use/wear it all the time, and therefore remind others that once upon a time….

Last night artist Jane Deschner and composer/pianist/songwriter/uke-strummer-extraordinaire Vanessa Vincent from the Old Town School of Folk Music both shared their work. And after dinner, writers read portions of ours.

 ⬆︎ Jane, and on the other side of the studio, Vanessa shared the hauntingly moving music she created to complete an album.

↙︎

My very first dorm-mate had never read her memoir’s word’s aloud before an audience, so we broke her in……………….➩

My mentor happened to be here. She just completed her first novel! She protested the chapter her editor chose, but read it anyway.  ⬇︎


The other fiction writer, and the last remaining representative of the Y-chromosone bunch (we gave the last one heart-problems), shared the first  ↖︎chapter of his second novel.

And what’s a retreat without a resident poet and playwright? Both shared their beautiful words.

 The poet:
⬅︎
               The playwright: ➡︎

Yes, I read, too. But I don’t possess a photogenic gene, and that was proven without doubt again last night so you’ll have to trust me on this one. I’ll be happy to read my personal essay to anyone who cares to listen. It’s not my words, it’s my images that pose a problem 🙂
Tonight we get a peek at Olivia’s work; I can hardly wait, and I’ll share it with you soon. Until then, back to the little remaining time to write. It is, after all, the first time since I’ve been writing my own words that they’ve earned me anything concrete. That’s heading in the right direction―I like black almost as much as green!
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