Tuesday, November 29, 2005

This Doesn't Mean I Don't Have Dreams

I picked up Richard Russo's Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Empire Falls, a few months ago and have finally made the effort to read it. This morning on the bus, I read a bit that has provoked my thoughts all morning.
Down below, the Fairhaven and Empire Falls players were trotting back onto the field, halftime over. Janine did her best to act interested and upbeat, yet she couldn't help thinking how soon these limber cheerleaders, now doing back flips, would be married and then pregnant by these same boys or others like them a town or two away. First the panic that maybe they'd have to go through it alone, then the quick marriage to prevent that grim fate, followed by relentless house and car payments and doctors' bills and all the rest. The joy they took in this rough sport would gradually mature. They'd gravitate to bars like her mother's to get away from these same girls and then the children neither they nor their wives would be clever and independent enough to prevent. There would be the sports channel on the tavern's wide-screen tv and plenty of beer, and for a while they'd talk about playing again, but when they did play, they'd injure themselves and before long their injuries would become "conditions," and that would be that. Their jobs, their marriages, their kids, their lives - all of it a grind. Once a year, feeling rambunctious, they'd paint their faces, pile into one of their wives' minivans and, even though it cost too much, head south to take in a Patriots game, if the team didn't finally relocate somewhere to the south where all the decent jobs had gone. After the game, half drunk, they'd head home again because nobody had the money to stay overnight. Home to Empire Falls, if such a place still existed.

In their brief absence a few of the more adventurous of desperate wives would seize the opportunity to hire a sitter and meet another of these boy-men, permanent whiskey-dicks, most of them, out at the Lamplighter Motor Court for a little taste of the road not taken, only to discover that it was pretty much the same shabby, two-lane blacktop they'd been traveling all along, just an unfamiliar stretch of it that nonetheless led to pretty much the same destination anyhow.
I know the sentiment expressed in Russo's book isn't limited to fictional characters. My friend Henry recently wrote a note to a few of us sharing a similar attitude: "If everything goes according to plan, I will be moving back after law school and find some overpriced apartment downtown, pay off my loans in 60 years, make a little money, or in the alternative marry wealthy, settle down, have kids, send them to school, retire, then die. So far I can't complain."

According to plan. I live most of my life according to plan. When I was 18, I mapped out my life according to what seemed relatively unselfish, or at the very least, didn't seem to ask much. I'd meet the man I'd marry at 23. Date him for 3 years until our wedding at age 26. Have my first child at 29 and my second at 31. I'd then consider adopting up to 10 more.

I didn't really plan out what would happen past that; I just vaguely made out still shots of football games in the backyard of my Nebraskan summer home, shucking corn on the patio and listening to the chirps of crickets and cicadas on warm nights. Of making aluminum foil crowns with gumdrop gems and setting up treasure hunts around the house on rainy days. Of dancing in the kitchen with my husband while the kids napped. Of writing a story of growing up that would make Lake Minnetonka again as famous as Prince once made it in Purple Rain.

As I fell in love with God, I learned that MY life plan was no where near as wonderful as His. And for awhile, I encountered no obstacle in pursuing Him. God could take me anywhere, anytime. Send me to China, God! Make me single forever! I don't care! You can do anything!

Now at 25, my old plan has appeared again to fight for consideration, afraid that God has nothing indeed for me specifically, and that perhaps it would be better for me to reach into the back files and rexamine my earlier strategic life plan.

Argh. Can someone please tell me why I am so easily hung up on how things LOOK? I am annoying the hell out of myself. Do I really believe that life would be so much better if I could realize every single fantasy snapshot I've ever taken? And HOW would life be so much better? Because it would be easier? Richer? Safer? Happier? And is that what I want at the end of the day anyway?

After 80 years of life - if I'm lucky - I'll get to say I pursued happiness? Really? Is that really what I want?

No, that sits uneasy with me.

Here's what I want: an undivided heart. And when I reexamine MY plan in light of that, I realize that the two cannot mutually exist. I feel I'm sitting at my desk with this piece of paper in my hand, all its ideal dates and fruitless daydreams, wishing God would just come in and snatch it from me. Oh, but I have to pitch it myself.


Friday, November 25, 2005

hibernating dreams

i'm hosting an event tonight, an annual cocktail party, a traditional day-after-thanksgiving, drinks-are-on-us, organic-cocktail-themed, holiday soiree.

but i feel exhausted. i was at the airport again today, the third time in seven days. i don't mean to complain. the truth is i do have fabulous opportunities to travel, including an excursion to russia in the spring; i visit cities so often that i have a favorite spot to grab coffee in each; i rack up united miles that don't cost me a thing rather quickly; and i meet people i can't wait to see again.

still, perhaps it's the season that makes me a little homesick. or maybe it was the teaser of seeing my family for a mere 8 hours yesterday. it could be kenny g's christmas album in the stereo, lulling me to my imagination's well-dreamt idyllic home.

whatever it is, i am wishing to hibernate. wishing for everyone to make it safely to their destinations after leah's wedding tonight. wishing a blizzard would shut me inside a cozy cabin in the woods for a few days. wishing for a fireplace (oh! you have no idea. i promise that will be the first thing i look for in a house if i ever get to choose again) to sit next to with a good book and some coffee and a plate of cookies.

tis the season for dreaming, i suppose.

i'll raise my organic martini to that.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

dreaming in company

i woke up this morning, uneasy from a disturbing dream. it was only in the last few minutes of the dream that things got weird, and i wonder if it wasn't due to the morning light abruptly hitting my face, or the temperature in my sleeping bag becoming noticably warmer. regardless, it forced me awake, and got me off the couch to find my brother-in-law hard at work on an assignment due tomorrow for his class. his presence quickly rid me of my queasiness, and i felt i was able to discern what was reality in my dream and what wasn't.

i wasn't always able to do that. when i was very young, i remember having a dream about heaven and hell that took place on the two floors of my house. after having dreamnt that i walked down our staircase, through the kitchen and into the family room to find the devil twirl around in a chair, see me and start chasing after me till i ran up to the upstairs' bluish, hazy heaven, i sleptwalked (is that how you say it?) the entire dream again. it was terrifying.

i had that dream a few more times as a child. but i gradually understood that i had the choice not to walk downstairs - either in my dream or in reality - and that i could avoid the devil if i stayed upstairs.

dreams fascinate me. as an adult, i notice one recurring theme in my bad dreams. at some point, i'll end up in a hotel or someone else's house with someone i know well. and always, two men in letter jackets appear knocking boldly at the door. and they always want my friend. the men are too old to be wearing letter jackets; they're probably in their mid-20s. but as soon as they knock, my stomach drops. i make my friend stay far away, though she never feels nervous, but listens to my instructions anyhow. in the meantime, the boys are still knocking, their conversation and calls to my friend sounding like an invitation for a teenage night of fun and revelry, something light and free. but when i look through the peep hole, they can see me and their eyes look destructive ... it gives me the shivers just thinking about it.

anyway, all of this makes me thankful that i don't live alone. it's so much better to wake up near someone and get a reailty check. be near someone who loves you - a roommate, a brother-in-law, family - and think, phew. safe.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

allison vs. ann taylor

in june of this year, my friend allison wrote me an email that has long remained one of my favorite email rants. now, for those of you who know allison, you know she is not at all a frequent ranter, and yet, this note so perfectly captures this rarely seen side of her. it's too wonderful not to share at large.*

*i've asked permission, of course. so lest you think i'll post whatever you send to my inbox, please know that i'd refrain from such activity until we've spoken.

Why I Hate Ann Taylor
an essay by Allison

I've recently come to the conclusion that Ann Taylor has become my arch nemisis. I don't think I spelled "nemisis" correctly but I have to tell you I couldn't care less. Perhaps it's spelled "nemesis" or maybe even "nemamis". Either way, I'm moving on. I feel like a comic book character that goes through life feeling like a little girl who just got the last orange popsicle from the ice cream truck and then, every 18th page or so, she meets her enemy...Ann Taylor. It is at that moment that the normally docile heroine finds herself changing her friendly grin to a disgusted glare.

Why is it that of all the stores on the face of this earth, Ann Taylor has to be the one that carries clothes that fit me? Not only that, but some of them I even like and wouldn't rather, say, pluck my eyebrows down to nothing than put on my body. This is discouraging. I have scoured the racks of so many stores it makes my head spin to think about it. After all that time spent trying to pay less than a small fortune for a summer wardrobe, I find myself in the dressing room of Ann Taylor with more clothes than I know what to do with. This situation perplexes me. In fact, yesterday it had me in tears. I can't buy my clothes at a store that charges 35 dollars for a tank top. I think I have reached an impasse in the world of fashion and will be stuck wearing these same clothes for the rest of my life.

Since I don't have a blog, I felt it would be okay to share those thoughts with you :) It's obviously not a literary masterpiece but I'm limited to 15 minutes on a library computer. Not that I could produce a literary masterpiece without those limitations but you get the point. Seriously, i'm developing a love/hate relationship with a store. That's pathetic.


Allison, here's to tank tops at $5 a pop that actually fit. I love you.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

thank you, peaches and herb

About a month ago, I tuned into the archives of NPR's "This American Life," intrigued by the stories detailed under a particular episode entitled, "Reunited (And It Feels So Good)." The acts were enjoyable and worth a listen, but it's the Peaches & Herb song that lodged itself in my head and captured my attention that afternoon. Today, it's the comments from old friends on my last entry that have returned the infamous Herb Fame & Linda Greene to my mind's microphone.

I've heard it said that you keep in touch with the people you really care about. I hate that statement. For a couple reasons: 1) what a load of crap. and 2) it's usually expressed with an air of removal; that is, it essentially gives you permission to stop caring about people outside your "in" circle.

I find reuniting fascinating. I suppose that's appropriate since, in my job, I've helped plan and execute more than 40 reunions in the past 4 years . I've seen old friends embrace after 50 years of absence, high school acquaintances thoroughly judge each other at the 10-year, and married men and women finally admit old crushes at their 25th reunion. It's obvious why aging appeals so much to me. When I visit a class's milestone reunion on the night of their class-only party, I wonder how many minutes, or how many days following the reunion, or how many years longer it will take until one classmate can acknowledge of another that there's something valuable in that person.

Reuniting feels God-given to me. It's like He comes back to you with His hands on the shoulders of that person, and says, "Oh no, no. Mary, you didn't really SEE this person last time. You missed out. Come back and look closely again. I LOVE this person. Look. Look."

Sometimes, I think He arranges it so that I run into one particular old friend over and over and over again. I dread these moments. 'Great,' I moan. 'More small talk where I feel completely unacknowledged and unseen and unheard.' These are the first thoughts through my mind because I am embarrassingly self-obsessed.

I feel God smile when I write that. Bingo.

He asks me if I'm confident that He loves me just how I am. Moreover, He asks me if His acceptance alone is enough for me. I struggle to voice my yes to this second question, and nod my head instead. He smiles again.

And then he grows my heart and asks me to look again at that person.

It's always "look again" with Him.

And then, gratefully, I see differently.

I love God.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to continue my Model U.N. advising, a role the ambassador last night called "vital for the safety of our country."

Ugh. More on that later ... For now, I'm off to Colonial Williamsburg.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

hope and doing

last night, kat and i watched "born into brothels," an excellent documentary on the women and children of the red light district of calcutta (really, you should see it right away). i was struck by a comment one of the young girls made, her voice projected over an image of her cleaning pots with muddy water while her mother lipsticked and dressed herself in preparation for an evening of prostitution. life, she says, is sad and painful and it's best to learn to accept that.

i feel like the world is caught in a flurry of emotion. life is sad and painful. it's also beautiful and sweet. there is so much rottenness in the world, so much corruption, so much greed, so many hungry bellies, so many deceptions, so many unfulfilled needs. and there is so much hope, so much future, so much joy, so many committed to loving, so many committed to serving, so many committed to each other.

all these emotions were stirring inside me when i read through a few blogs this morning:

allan is thinking of africa, of his role (moreover, the church's role) there, and of his love of hurting people and a forgotten continent.

cory is thinking about truth and unity.

jenn is discussing God's justice and man's justice.

jennie is engaged (and congratulations again!).

jon just celebrated his 28th birthday.

laura recently reunited with a long time friend from china.

all of this looks like worship to me. can't you just feel god's heart celebrating with these people?

i mean, that's a lot to feel. i wish i could invite all these people into a room and we could talk about justice and love and mercy and strategy and vision-making and birthdays and relationships. and then we could unite together and LOVE people.

perhaps i am feeling particularly optimistic this morning. perhaps i've too simplified this. i don't care. because i am ready to be more hands on with my god. so here's what i'm gonna do:

1. i'm gonna watch my finances a heck of a lot more carefully. honestly, i do so love living in excess, but if i really aim to understand what it means to be living in light of eternity, then i want to stop trying to fulfill every freaking immediate right-now want i have.

2. i'm gonna aim to actually go to a developing nation. i just want to see what i'm not seeing. my american mind needs to be confronted with reality.

3. and i'm gonna continue to pray that i'll be a risk-taker. in fact, i'm gonna really commit myself to praying in general.

i like the way c.s. lewis writes, "what saves a man is to take a step. then another step."

honestly, my friends have made my heart so encouraged, so awake, as to make me run faster towards heaven, wishing to feel and serve and love alongside them. i think, by god's grace, we are capable of loving so much more than we know.

i cannot wait to see what the next 60 years of our lives will produce. really, i honestly cannot wait.

Monday, November 14, 2005

anything you can do ...

monday morning, 8:40 a.m. already went across the street to grab my almond latte (skim, lest i wish to feel the effects of lactose-ravaging on my intolerant body) and swapped weekend stories with my friend melissa. i'm now downloading a new cd to my itunes, sifting through the 50+ emails gathered at my work account over the weekend, and attempting to turn my attention to the week at hand.

i have a hundred things to do today. ok, not quite a hundred, but bear with me for the sake of the drama. it is 155 degrees in my office and my turtleneck sweater & warm beverage have joined to form a cohesive army against me, fueling my body with fire. more or less.

i'm not trying to complain. really. i'm trying to learn to be tough. jon asked me yesterday what i thought of going winter camping. sounds good to me, i thought. cold weather i can do. i did grow up in minnesota for crying out loud. still, i'm not sure if he thinks i'm tough enough to do it. he listed all the freezing cold, wet, bone-chilling conditions that contribute to making winter camping enjoyable for only the die-hardest of campers.

fine. i'll be honest. i'm not a die-hard camper. in fact, when jon's brother joel opened up a birthday present saturday to find a PocketRocket, the first thing that came to mind was that it was a flare you'd send up into the night sky if you were dying in the woods and wanted someone to find you (fyi, it's not).

the truth is, i've only been camping once. and i don't know if it qualifies as camping by anyone's standards. after my freshman year at college, a few of us went to wilmar, minnesota for a three-day music festival. we pitched a tent and i didn't wash my hair for 3 days. we ate hot dogs and s'mores. the next time i went camping, a few friends and i drove up to a site in door county, wisconsin, pitched a tent, spent the night and drove back the next morning.

and that's it. my camping history.

still, i see this as no reasonable excuse why i'm no good at winter camping. i know it's cold. okay, i don't know how cold it really is. but i'm a sink or swim kind of girl. either i can or i can't do it. and yes, yes, i know there are times when preparation is required. but honestly, throwing a backpack on and hiking into the woods is NOT the same as grabbing a scalpel and digging into someone's head. let's just be real here.

so i signed up online at REI so i can get discounts on stuff, ranging from super-heavy wool socks to (who am i kidding? do i really have any idea what else they sell?). but i'm committed to doing it. and i won't complain. besides, if i set winter-camping as a goal, i have a reasonable excuse to put on extra pounds this holiday season as part of my "preparation." winter layers, people. an extra handful of cookies comes much cheaper than some north face thermal tshirt. i'm just saying ...

Monday, November 07, 2005

injured bad

happy monday morning, all :)

a colleague stopped in this morning to show me this 45-second clip her son forwarded to her last night. i guarantee you'll watch it a few times.

so either google "injured bad" and select the first link on the list or just click here.


Friday, November 04, 2005

i [heart] spam

i'm finally cleaning out my inbox at work and had to post this spam note from a mr. liang jack:

Most likely communism can't be established. But impotency can be treated! Go on, give it a try. You'll sure enjoy it! Discreet, unmarked packaging.

for real. that rocks. who knew communism and impotency had such a symbiotic relationship?

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

office space

i'm a morning person. not right away, of course, but as soon as my feet hit the floor. and i'm good for about 3 hours (in conjunction with a strong cup of coffee).

at 1, i'm done.

what is it with businesses in america?

at what point did we decide that the siesta was worthless? does no one see that people just cannot mentally produce perfection for 8 hours straight? can we not see the nugget of truth in shows like "the office" or movies like "office space"?

this irks me to no end.

so here's my simple proposal, a recipe for productivity and peace, if you will:

1. for every hour of solid work, employees must take a 10 minute walk around the building.

2. lunches shall be taken outside whenever possible.

3. an open loggia shall be provided in every building for employees to have at least 30 minutes of fresh air per day.

4. long lunches and siestas will be strongly encouraged. napping rooms will be made available and a staff of massage therapists will be on call.

5. every employee will be asked to take a consecutive three-week vacation, in addition to 10 vacation days which can be taken anytime.

6. two days out of the year will be devoted to institutional retreats and company bonding. these two days do not include holiday parties.

7. human resources will include within their mission statement the "intent to better the quality of life of each of its employees" and will meet with employees annually to discuss career growth and analyze each employee's skills and interests. human resources will have a career counselor on staff.

i think that's all i have for now. man, everytime i think about this, i begin to dream of running my own company. and breathe some freedom into business in america.