August 30, 2010

Adventures in suburbia: what the beep do we know?

It's hard to fall asleep. At work we have a chance to bid on three evening events for a big distributor meeting. Somehow, I've been put in charge of the creative. Normally, I'm the person who lays out the book once other people figure out the overarching concept. This time, I'm being asked to run the brainstorms, corral the big egos in the room (a scenic designer, a stage designer, a menu designer, a writer and they guy who will lay out the book), coordinate the creative and direct the process for the next three weeks. It's similar to the job description I wrote for myself, so I'm excited to try it, but also a bit freaked out. The kickoff meeting and initial brainstorm are today. I have to put together a capabilities presentation by 1 PM. I pray my way to sleep...


I bolt up in the bed and run to grab our car keys. I point them at the floor and push the 'unlock' button.


The sound continues, louder, as I open the patio door and try again to point down at the carport. Still going. I run downstairs and try again. Then I see our neighbor in the next carport doing the same thing. I realize it's not the Subaru. I go over to help her. She's frantic. "I can't get it to stop!!" She pulls out the owner's manual and is going through it. Of course there's nothing in there for how to stop a runaway car alarm. She runs inside and I keep flipping through the manual. Upon returning, she pops her hood and then some tall stranger is standing behind her car, "You can unplug the battery!" he shouts. "That's what I'm about to do!!" she shouts back.

Silence. She hadn't touched anything. We breath a sigh of relief and head to our apartments. Jrex mumbles, "What was that?" I explain and we try to sleep. It's 1:30 AM.


It stops on it's own. I grab my Soduko and try to calm my whirling brain. As I'm drifting off...


I try to ignore it. Jrex gives up and rises to continue his daunting pile of work. I lay there and imagine my neighbor alone as she tries to figure it all out. I sigh and head downstairs.

She's totally freaked out, "I've disconnected the battery. I've pulled out the fuse that goes to the alarm! Nothing!? I called my Dad in Nevada. I don't know what else to do!!!"

I look around the car port. The upstairs neighbor's little old car is next to hers. I touch the hood and it's vibrating. I run upstairs and bang on their door. He opens it and says, "We don't have a car alarm!" I nod and exclaim, "That may be so, but it's your car!"

He and his wife (both fussy, anxious people) come running downstairs and try to turn on their car. That doesn't do anything. Then he's trying to open the hood from the top, then in the front, he doesn't know how to open it. Two cops show up. Finally one of them disconnects the battery.

Silence. Blessed, lovely, thick, heavy, delicious silence.

The Anxious Couple keep insisting that they don't have a car alarm. I smile at them, "It sounds like there's a short in your system or a fuse that might need to be changed." The couple keep apologizing and the single woman keeps telling what happened to her. When they start to repeat for the third time, I sneak away and stumble back to bed.

August 25, 2010

Did it have to be so hard?

Last Sunday I shared a farewell lunch with Math Artist. We met in February at a women’s retreat and bonded quickly over our love of farmers’ markets. Since then, most Sundays we’ve gone from church to the best local market and wandered, sampled, bought and talked. Her PhD in an incomprehensible form of math/sociology/engineering completed, she’s heading overseas for a post-doctoral fellowship.

The subject of her upcoming 30th birthday raised a question, “Are you at all worried about being intimidating to guys now?”

She laughed, “Well, I don’t really look like an engineer and I can describe what I do in lots of different ways. Really though? No. I told the Lord a while ago that I trust Him. I know that He can satisfy my need for relationship and I trust that, even if it doesn’t look like what I expected, He WILL satisfy me.”

I was so struck by that. Jrex had challenged me (lovingly and very gently) that I might need to let go of my perception of motherhood. Bemusedly, I commented to Math Artist, “Jrex told me to let go, but I didn’t have a sense of what to go TOWARD. What you say gives me a better direction. The Lord made me with a gift for mothering and it will get expressed. In the meantime, I may need to let go of my idea for how that’s supposed to take place.”

At another point she said, “I asked the Lord if my life, particularly the last six years, really had to be this hard. He said ‘yes’. I knew he was right. I would have never, ever let him into the deep places in me to break me and heal me without all this. I wish I’d been made bendable instead of strong and stubborn, but I’m much more pliable now than I’ve ever been.”

This morning, I read a post by Joe about not defining how God is good. It’s a long post, but a compelling read. He’s been sick since he was a teenager and has some interesting thoughts--some are parallel to questions I’m still trying to sort through.

Here’s the thing, both Math Artist and Joe have been through years of pain and trauma. If they said the same things without suffering to back it up, I would nod and smile and keep right on walking. To assert that God is good in the midst of confusion and darkness makes me listen. Hearing it from a young friend who hasn’t been battered yet? Call me in a couple years.

I look at my life and ask, “Did it have to be so hard?”


I haven’t welcomed the process, but I wouldn’t trade who I am now for the zealous, cartwheeling 20-something version who gleefully declared she’d give EVERYTHING for God. Now I know how hard I clutch, yet what freedom I find when I let go and trust goodness in the middle of all that confuses me.

August 17, 2010

Some highly random link love

The licking is really loud and my foot is really warm. Her butt rests on my foot as she leans over for her nightly grooming. I swear this dog is a cat. She even coughs like she has hairballs.

I've been wandering all over the internet tonight. Jrex is working on writing a grant, a review paper and his interview talk (a 55-minute lecture with 40-50 PowerPoint slides), so most evenings he's busy and I need to keep fairly quiet after dinner.

On Gifts of the Journey I read one of the most horrifying posts ever. She told of a near drowning experience she'd had and linked to a story that relates how drowning doesn't look like drowning. My horror is not just at the facts in the article, though they are scary enough, my horror is that my two rounds of American Red Cross lifeguard training did NOT cover the symptoms of drowning!!! What the heck!?

Then in a complete tangent, I jumped over to Psychology Today. One of my college boyfriend's is now an Autism expert and has a column. He was one of the least altruistic and most self-absorbed people I knew in my hippie college, so the fact that of all of us he's probably helped the most people is bizarre. I'm oddly proud of him.

From there, I read a bunch of Asperger articles, including a link to a Wired article about how Silicon Valley is the genetic breeding ground for severely autistic kids. Also another one about affluent couples being most likely to have autistic children. Which leaves me wondering, does the fact that Jrex and I met OUTSIDE of the valley when we were poor mean we're less likely to breed an autistic child? (sorry, gallows humor)

August 16, 2010

This one's for you, babe!

In a slightly discouraging, but humorous presentation, Matt Might, professor of Computer Science at the University of Utah, explains what a PhD really is:

Now, I'd argue that Jrex has a little more knowledge than that, given Med School, Residency, Fellowship and a post-doc, but he doesn't know EVERYTHING. As witnessed by the reality that when we go for hikes, he has no idea what kind of rock, tree or bird I'm asking him to tell me about. I keep asking what good it is to be married to a scientist if he can't answer all my science questions. On the other hand, at least he can examine my bruises and fevers and tell me if I should call my official doctor.

On a humorous note, I heard from my friend that the designer that New Company hired is slow, not that good and turning out to be a disappointment. Turns out she doesn't know web design either!!! I guess she was $25,000 cheaper than me and they saw dollar signs vs value.

In other job news, I met with our General Manager this morning and it sounds like she might want me to do the Production role, though she wouldn't let me jump to director status. We'll talk further and I'll try to figure out if I really want it. They're in 2nd rounds with a potential creative director so we'll see what happens.

August 13, 2010

Tonight's Conversation

[After something silly I'd done...can't remember what]

Jrex speaking in a mournful tone to the dog, "Muttola, your mama is a cru-el woman."

I snorted, "Really? You're just now figuring that out? And here I thought you were a smart man."

He sighs, "I was blinded by luv, but no more!"

August 11, 2010

Only the images remain

September 17th will be the one-year anniversary of Dad K's death. One of Mom K's requests of me is to put together a book of his photographs. She sent me a box FILLED with poor quality print-outs he'd done from his digital photos. The box also contained a stack of 20 CDs. As I've sorted through the CDs, there are essentially the same 5 folders on all of them. The folder labeled "South Africa" doesn't contain a single photo from the South Africa trip, it's filled with photos of their only grandchild.

So...having gone through everything today, I'm missing all pics of that trip. I'm also missing his award winning photograph. I have pictures of him posed next to it (with a nice flash flare obliterating the image), but not the actual photo. Sigh.

I'd hoped to have a wonderful memento book including older pictures of him. Instead I have the last five years worth of so-so digital photos. Mom K wants to give these away at the anniversary service, but I'm not sure how to shape this blob into a compelling book.

Going through the pictures brings back so many memories. Dad K and I shared a love of photography. Every time we'd go for a hike or an outing, he'd have his big Nikon and I'd have my high-tech point and shoot. Most of the time, I'd take a picture, then he'd come behind me and take the same picture. "LOOK!" he'd exclaim and point at his camera's LCD screen. I'd always exclaim, "Wow, Dad, that's beautiful." He'd wave over my camera and want to see my version. I always said a variation on, "Yours is so much better. You take wonderful pictures." He'd usually nod then fall behind to smoke a cigarette.

Below is one example. I took an image without the flash, trying to get the glow of the yellow leaves (I don't have my image anymore). He just let the flash burn away the gloom.

He did have a decent eye for landscapes, but all of his people photographs have the subject dead-center surrounded by vast spaces of non-interest. I wish he'd been the kind of man to humble himself and take a class to learn the craft of photography. More than that, I wish he'd had a father who'd praised him. No matter how much encouragement my MIL and I poured into him, it was never enough.

Looking at the pictures makes me wistful for many things. In his photographs I see his eye for birds, flowers, sunsets, and people he cared about. There was a sensitive soul in him so battered by life that it shriveled and starved. He exuded so much gruffness it could be hard to find that warmth. He was a man who craved love, yet pushed it away.

I wish I really missed him.

August 9, 2010

The freedom of the wide open road

Due to my upbringing, I’m a strange combination of VERY independent and yet casually accepting of ‘charity’. Since my father ran a non-profit housing ministry we were given cars, clothing, money and food by strangers. This results in a sense that it’s ‘normal’ for people to give me material things. At the same time, my parents went out of their way to foster independence. When I was 5 years old, they flew me down to Florida to stay with my grandparents as long as I wanted (which lasted until Grandpa made me turn off the Mickey Mouse Club to come to dinner). Having an absent-minded father meant that I was usually the last one waiting to be picked up from soccer practice, or my friend’s house. So I learned the bus system and figured out ways to not ‘need’ anyone else.

For the four years we’ve lived in California, we’ve managed to share one car. It’s meant Jrex and I have had to closely align our schedules and constantly communicate to make this lifestyle work. Yet much of the ‘burden’ in that arrangement has been on me. I found jobs that worked with a train/bike commute. I’ve figured out climbing gyms, small groups, friends I can visit--all based on the train and my bike. I’ve asked for rides and been loaned cars. I think that all the shared rides have drawn Jrex and I closer together as well as providing bridges to getting to know other people more quickly. I’ve really enjoyed living a simpler life.


It’s also been limiting. We’ve had it in mind that if I ever get pregnant, we’d buy a beater for a couple thousand. While that hasn’t happened yet, we got an email from a friend who is selling her 11-year old Honda. Knowing her, we know it’s THE most meticulously cared for car EVER. We both felt really peaceful about jumping on the deal. Nothing is signed yet, but we’re all fairly certain about it.

Which has released a floodgate in my mind that I didn’t know was there. Now I can visit my college buddies who live up in San Francisco and over in the East Bay without waiting for a time when Jrex won’t need the car for a day. I can easily meet people for lunch, for coffee, and for outings. I could sign up for an agility class with the mutt and not have to fret that the car won’t be home in time to make it. No more coordinating rides, checking train schedules and waiting for late trains. I want to still ride my bike to work most days, but it opens up my evenings and weekends. No more dependency!

I’m sad that my ‘green’ aspirations are so easily trumped by convenience. It’s also showing me how strong that independent streak is and how much less comfortable I’ve become accepting charity as an adult.

August 4, 2010

What's on your list?

My mother was a gifted storyteller and poet. She wrote amazing monologues and dialogues using in the voices of women from the Bible. She'd run retreats and start each session dressed in character; her dramatic words brought tears, laughter and healing. One piece I loved had my sister as Mary and my Mom as Elizabeth (Mary's older cousin who birthed a child in her old age). The piece starts when they are both pregnant and ends after the birth of both children. It was a great way to bring the Christmas story to life.

Another year, she worked with the kids in our inner city church to write a modern version of the Christmas story. My brother played the slum lord who told Mary and Joseph, "There's no room in the apartment building, but you can crash in the garage for the night".

As much work as she DID produce, there was one work that she never finished. I read this article today and thought of my Mom. How, if she were still alive, she'd read it and self-flagellate herself. I literally can't remember a time when she wasn't talking about her "Chelama Tale". She read us a chapter when we were little and it was GREAT. There were many, many, many times when she'd look around our messy house and sigh, "If only this were clean, I could write." Dad would use her computer and tell her that he'd get off whenever she wanted to use it, but never understood that she needed a sacred, blank space that was waiting for her whenever she found the energy and courage to attack the void.

I understand that need. When I was a fine art major I spent as much time cleaning and organizing my studio as I did painting. Before I cook at home, I have to clean the kitchen and have everything in it's proper space. The organizing phase is part of the ritual descent from logical left brained activity toward creative, right-brained connectivity. If I'm in a creative mode like painting or cooking, any need to organize snaps me back to left-brained mode.

After my mother died, I eagerly searched the house to find her notes and scribbles of the Chelama Tale. It was supposed to be an autobiography of her life set in a fantasy/spiritual allegory world. In the arrogant confidence of a 20-something woman, I thought I could take what she'd started and finish it. Build something from the ashes of her wishes and early death. When I found her stash, I was crushed. There was the chapter she'd read us, a few notes, and many, many empty folders. Waiting for the work that never filled them.

It changed me. Now, if I want to do a project, I might let it simmer for a while, I might talk a while before doing it, but I don't hold the project over the head of people around me. I don't make excuses for what I 'need to do to give myself permission to write'. It's the Yoda wisdom, "Do or do not do, there is no try."

I have a novel that my Grandfather wrote to entertain us. It's a GREAT plot with wonderful characters but told in a non-empathetic, matter-of-fact writing style that isn't appealing. One item on my life list is to take that skeleton and add the muscles, skin and tear ducts. I started to do it in college and made some wonderful progress, but it was lost when that computer was retired. I know it's in me and somehow, I know it will happen, but the time is not now.

Do you have a 'list' in your head? Where are you in your progress toward checking items off? Or have you lived while surviving someone else's list?

August 1, 2010

Stumbling towards contentment

Last night over a lovely homemade pizza (Jrex learned from my many mistakes over the years and his first pizza was a resounding success), I asked Jrex how I should blog about contentment. “There’s nothing to write about. It’s great to live, but not a compelling story line.”

He tilted his head and thought about it, “You could write about how you’ve become content versus your old restlessness.”

He had a good point. Why have I laid aside my (usually thwarted) restless need to be doing something, moving somewhere, changing lives, having babies and/or creating art? Four years into our then troubled marriage, a counselor kept encouraging me to accept where I was and where Jrex was in life. I resisted that wisdom with all my might. For me, accepting meant giving up and surrendering to being completely stuck. Why would I accept stuckness? That felt like emotional suicide. So I kept pushing and pushing. It took two subsequent years of marriage counseling for me to finally stop pushing (which had the wonderful effect of allowing Jrex to stop withdrawing).

Before moving to California, my sense for WHY we were moving came from a passage where God shows one of the Hebrew prophets (Ezekial) a picture of a trickle of water coming out from the temple. That trickle later becomes a river along whose banks grow trees with leaves “for the healing of the nations”. I sensed that our time in California was for the release of that trickle. It wouldn’t be a huge river while we were here, but where we’d been in a desert for a long, long time, a small trickle would begin.

Soon after moving, I did a prayer retreat with my church. As I sat alone on the banks of a stream, I wistfully looked at the bright water and wanted desperately to be able to bless others and then move along to the next new thing. In the midst of that thought, I felt a quiet, persistent thought, “I don’t want you to be a stream, I want you to be a tree.” I looked up and saw a huge redwood across the stream. My gut reaction was, “But then I’ll REALLY be stuck!!!” I cried and prayed about that for a while. Once I’d calmed down I began to sense why He might want that. He showed me how a large tree becomes a haven for others. He reminded me of a verse that talks about us being “rooted and established in love”. He reminded me of the image in Ezekial of the trees that are for healing.

In the last couple months, I’ve sensed Him asking me to lay down what I thought my life was going to be about. As a kid I’d always had a picture of me and a dog, or later, me and a son traveling the world. I saw myself mothering abandoned kids, starting an orphanage, changing lives. I was convinced I would live in a place where people doubted that God exists and I’d be there to be His hands, His heart, and His expression of love for them. Instead here I was in a small apartment, tending to one man and one silly dog. Could I give up my need to DO (my Plan A)? Could I also give up the picture I’d created of a house of healing for broken Christians (my Plan B)? Could I just wait for Him to give me His dreams instead? Could I wait in emptiness and content myself with just seeking Him?

I’m definitely not there yet. I haven’t finished writing down all the details of Plan A and Plan B. I know I’m supposed to do that and then burn the pages. (I love creating rituals, especially if they involve fire!) Jrex told me last week that he has a sense that I need to give up my identity as a mother, too. Not that we’ll never have kids, but that I need to lay down the image I’ve had around that.

Sigh. I feel like I’ve mostly accepted my quiet reality (or at least, I’ve stopped thrashing around in stubborn resistance), but I’m still just starting on the journey toward contentment. It’s hard to blog in the midst of this process since I don’t have a big enough picture to fit it into a coherent narrative, but I figure glimpses of the process are sometimes as helpful as the finished story.