Every day, I encounter a new challenge to the idea that things can and should be open and real.

Be it social, political, or personal, serious or trivial -- every time, I ponder the implications.

I hope you'll join me in the conversation!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The 80th Anniversary of the Birth of the Father

A few years ago, an associate of mine took off work to go hiking into the woods on the 100th anniversary of his father’s birth. He said since his father had passed away, he had taken to spending each birthday thereafter by himself in a peaceful, meditative environment, thinking about his dad and his dad’s life.

I was touched by this simple act of honoring a parent. I also was moved by the sincerity of the gesture, and of the completely un-modern spiritual commune with the memory of someone so important. I think most of us tend to take our parents for granted; even when we love them and talk to them often, do we really appreciate them as people, as individuals who had lives long before we were born and who – though they may make us think otherwise – often have lives long after we are born that are separate and apart from their identities as parents?

June 24 is my father’s 80th birthday. I am so blessed to say he is still living here on Earth, interacting with me and my family on a daily basis, enriching and encouraging us constantly. I cannot begin to imagine my life without him. The beautiful thing is I’m not sure I ever will have life without him. He is such a part of who I am, and because of his positive influence, such a part of so many people and institutions. I see him being a father figure to people who are not biologically his children, and offering opportunity to those who will never even meet him through his support of his beloved alma mater. One of his signature phrases is, “Never resist a generous impulse.”

Thank you, Dad, for always being yourself. You are a wonderful person, a stalwart friend, a judicious mentor, a loving husband and a patient father and grandfather. I love you for all that you are, and will always look forward to celebrating the anniversary of your birth. The world is a better place for you coming here, and I love you.

Monday, June 22, 2009

How You Look, How You Feel

For whatever reasons, I’ve never had big problems with how I look. I’m like everyone else in that some days there are some things I’d like to change, but overall my appearance has never troubled me greatly.

What has troubled me on and off for years, and lately more on, is how I feel.

I decided yesterday to take the challenge of a blogger on A Better West Virginia and to use social media to help inspire myself and to keep me accountable for making some meaningful change in how I feel through a new focus on fitness. http://marketinggenius.blogspot.com/2009/06/fitter-west-virginia.html

Not long ago there was a television campaign by the Church of the Latter Day Saints; it featured images of people in a community, all of whom looked pulled together and well. But through the magic of television the ad was able to show the people’s insides as well as their outsides. Some people were dealing depression, some domestic violence, some alcohol abuse, some profound grief, some chronic pain, some eating disorders. All of these struggles were invisible, but were wreaking havoc on quality of life.

I have not felt particularly great since having a baby, and by that I mean physically great. My heart is full, and I am so thrilled to have my daughter in my life. But the way my physical life has changed is starting to effect my psychological life as well. I won’t go into the details, but let’s just say this kid is trying to kill me and some days might be gaining ground on that goal. I’m really ready to stop waiting for this to “get better” on its own and to start doing something to make it better.

I’m not sure yet exactly how this is going to go, but part of it is to stop living in my own head all the time and start putting it out there, what needs to change and documenting progress.

For some strange reason, I think I feel better already.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Fly Away Home

I was born in Charleston, West Virginia, over four decades ago. Before I was fourteen years old, I had been to Bermuda, Quebec, Denmark, Paris, Switzerland, and Germany. I attended college in North Carolina, and before I graduated I had back-packed Germany, Scotland, and England. I worked on Capitol Hill my first year out of college, and lived and worked in the international university community of Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill for 10 years before making a conscious choice to move back to West Virginia.

Simply put, I’m a big fan of West Virginians getting out before they lock it in.

I’ve puzzled for several years since my return over the hungry – yea, desperate – plea from some contingencies here to create an environment that children don’t leave. “If we only did this…….if we only changed that……if we had a…………then our kids wouldn’t have to leave home.” This is one of the most misguided philosophies I’ve ever encountered on two fronts.

First, kids are supposed to leave home. When you reduce it down to its barest elements, the whole purpose and goal of parenting is to raise a baby to a level of maturity where he or she can take care of themselves in their developing social, physical, intellectual, and spiritual spheres. To suggest that there is something unnatural or undesirable about leaving the nest is a bit smothering and insecure. One of the best things that can happen to a young person is to explore the world on their own terms. Whether you grow up in West Virginia or Tuscany, you need to deliberately depart the confines of your small, childlike world, and put yourself in the environment of newness, diversity, challenge, and change.

Second, from an economic development standpoint, we need less a climate of existing jobs than a climate of innovation to draw the people our state needs to blossom in 2009; and yet we still have a strong dialogue here that centers on former West Virginians coming “home” to fill job vacancies that await them. The people I have in mind that will come to make their lives in our state are looking for opportunity to build, create, and innovate. I am interested in the minds that seek an environment that supports new business creation, not simply seats for warm bodies.

I propose we give the clutching after our offspring a rest. Let’s stop worrying about getting former West Virginians back, and start strategizing about creating a place where smart, motivated people who have grown through diverse life experiences want to work and play. With all due respect to those of us who grew up here, our birth certificate does not automatically make us part of West Virginia’s bright future. What will make us part of that future is our willingness to engage the world; to embrace new people and cultural elements from outside our borders; and to stop asking for jobs and start making them.

Oh yes. And our willingness to kiss our children on the cheek and wish them well on their own journey to whatever place – maybe ultimately here – that creates a sense of place for them and their best lives.

This post was composed for "A Better West Virginia Challenge," http://www.abetterwestvirginia.com/2009/06/16/a-better-west-virginia-challenge-identifying-obstacles-and-solutions/

Monday, June 15, 2009

These Are My Confessions

Every now and then I just really like something in spite of my better angels. I have some strange thing with Usher’s song, “Confessions (parts I and II).” I’m not a big Usher fan, but every time I hear “Confessions” I have to listen to it to get to the hook, which is so damn catchy I can’t stand it. Then I walk around all day singing it in my head.

The problem is I hate the guy in the song.

The whole song is utterly bizarre and the guy is the kind of person who just makes you want to whack him in the head with a heavy fish – or worse. He’s running around on his current girlfriend with his old girlfriend (does that technically mean he has two current girlfriends?). This is not endearing, but also is not what makes it especially heinous. Some version of this is the mainstay of an estimated 25% of popular music. (For the female version, nothing beats TLC’s “Creep,” which again, while I’m opposed to the behavior, damn it’s hard to stop singing. But I digress.)

What makes me want to whack him with the fish is his extreme ego, and his complete cluelessness about what his “confessions” are worth and how anyone could reasonably be expected to react to him. For example, check out this series of brilliant thoughts:

Everytime I was in L.A. I was with my ex-girlfriend
Everytime you called I told you,"Baby I'm workin." (No!)
I was out doin my dirt (Oh!)
Wasn't thinkin' 'bout you gettin' hurt
Brace yourself It ain't good
But it would be even worse if you heard this from somebody else (oh no)

(Blogger’s edit note: Would it? I think not.)

Now this gon' be the hardest thing I think I ever had to do
Got me talkin' to myself askin' how I'm gon' tell you
'bout that chick on part 1 I told ya'll I was creepin' with
Said she's 3 months pregnant and she's keepin' it
The first thing that came to mind was you
Second thing was how do I know if it's mine and is it true
Third thing was me wishin' that I never did what I did
How I ain't ready for no kid and bye bye to our relationship

Oh for God’s sake. I’ll spare you the rest but you get the idea. He goes on to talk about “being a man” and telling “the woman he loves” that he is “having a baby by a woman (he) hardly even knows.” So let’s summarize, young man. You deliberately misled your girlfriend for an extended period of time; you disregarded the impact of what you were doing until it affected YOU; you suggest the other woman is promiscuous; you’ve been getting it on without birth control with no intention of parenting; and you are all freaked out that your girlfriend is going to break up with you.

Yes. Yes she is, you idiot. And after that she’s invited to my place for a champagne toast. The girl you're ditching with the baby can come too.

Confessing – no matter what the situation -- isn’t something that makes you honourable. It’s something that unchains you from your own guilt or fear of discovery. But to expect to be revered or respected for confession on something like this story or perhaps any other issue hardly seems realistic. I think when you decide to confess something, it’s best to eradicate all notions that the person receiving the information is going to give you a gold star. You are deciding to end the suspense while waiting for a bad reaction, not to get rid of the bad reaction itself. By the time you have something to confess, you're pretty much already screwed.

So please, please..........no more self-love and expectation of reward for confession. It doesn’t make us a “man” or a “woman.” It just unburdens us. What happens after that is out of our hands.

Tattoo Denouement

Thank you so much to those of you who chimed in and advised on the tattoo revelation process. You deserve to know how it went, so here goes……….

It was totally uneventful.

I had a few drinks, then when my dad was inside I told my mom. She said, “Really? Can I see it? Wow, that’s cool. Did it hurt?” Unbelievable.

Then I asked her if I should tell dad. She looked ponderous. I took that to mean maybe not. So I didn’t tell him, and if she wants to tell him I can’t stop her. Lord almighty, the weight is lifted! Free at last!

The whole thing has been rather hilarious, with the drama of Poe’s “The Telltale Heart” hanging over my head for two years.

Confession is good for the soul. I’m considering it as a theme for the blog this week. Think about freeing yourself from something this summer. I can highly recommend it.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Charging the Waves

We are at the beach in North Carolina this week with extended family, and I just had to share what happened yesterday evening with the baby.

Her dad and I took her down to the water’s edge at low tide just before dinner. She was wearing a t-shirt and overalls to protect her from the sun and insect bites, but the light and the tide and the temperature was all so perfect we decided this was the moment to embrace the ocean for the first time.

Now we’ve all seen different children’s reactions to their first (or 51st) encounter with the sand, salt water, and waves. Some kids just plain don’t like it, and I can’t blame them. They are tiny, and all the forces around them are huge and potentially quite overwhelming; so it was anyone’s guess how our little elf would feel about it all.

Her dad lowered her bare feet to the wet sand. We held our breath. Suddenly we say her “pigglety toes” spread and grab the wetness with a surprisingly strong-looking grasp. She looked down for a few seconds, and dropped to her hands and knees, and then just starting crawling……..out to sea.

No fear, no worries, nothing but direction and excitement and a smile. The low tide kept rolling up, and she kept going. She reached to the side, popped a shell in her mouth, and kept going.
Her father and I are delighted. I’m not sure anything could have done more for our sense of being on the right track with this little one than her warm-hearted embrace of the ocean, and her confidence in where she was as a good place. Naturally, we have to watch this…..she has no idea what danger she could encounter. But I don’t want her to start life with that mindset. There is plenty of time to learn how to analyze risk.

For now, she’s charging the waves, and I think it bodes well.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Body by Experience

An associate, shall we say, recently commented on the fellows roofing the house next door. “Heavens they are attractive (edited for family viewing). There is just something about a physique cut from hard work versus cut from the gym.”

Amen and pass the sledge hammer. I live with someone who earned his muscles this way. He almost never hits the gym, but he does everything, and I mean everything, himself. Need firewood? He goes into the woods, chops down a tree, and carries it back up the hillside over his shoulders. Need 6 tons of gravel spread in the driveway and around back? He carves out the rest of the day. From carrying a king sized mattress on his head to planting trees and driving stakes, he uses his body day in and day out to build our life for the better. I actually have to be careful when I comment on heavy objects like landscape boulders as we drive along. “Do you want it? I’ll go pick it up right now.”

I honestly don’t know if a person actually looks any different when they work out this way, but when you know it, it just feels different. It reminds me of the lessons of Good Will Hunting. It’s one thing to be able to quote a sonnet, another to generate one from your heart because you are in love. One thing to know what the Sistine Chapel ceiling looks like from a textbook, quite another to know what the chapel smells like the first time you set foot inside. I could quote birth-to-three neuroscience chapter and verse, but when my daughter was born it went from theory to religion.

A toast to experience. Drink deep.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Wonderful to Look At, Delightful to Hold

But if you break it, we mark it sold. Yes, today was the first time my child broke something in a store. Against my better judgment I let her play with a bottle of nail polish in the shopping cart. I’ve learned that as a parent you take calculated risks all the time simply in order to get through the day.

I have to hand it to her, she made a pretty grand mess from a simple drop. The color was “Pat on the Black,” and the square glass bottle never even bounced. There was an enormous crack, and then the white tile floor looked like the world’s biggest beetle had been crushed under foot, oozing thick midnight blood in coagulating puddles.

I went back down the aisle and got a new bottle. At the checkout counter I mentioned to the young man that he should ring me up for two of that item, due to the debacle in aisle five. He stared at me. “What do you mean?” I explained again that my child had broken what I originally intended to buy, and therefore I would be paying for both the broken item and the one I was taking with me.

After processing my apparently bizarre behavior, he thanked me over and over again for “being so honest.” I said you’re welcome, but the mess is right there, I think you know what happened. “Yes, but we don’t fingerprint. You didn’t have to admit it.”

I do understand what he was saying. When it happened, it even ran through my head to not even acknowledge it. The item was overpriced to begin with, and it’s easy to feel like the world owes you a “gimme” when you are trying to function with a toddler in tow.

But I don’t want a gimme. I want people to admit it when they cause damage, and I want them to make it right as best they can. It has to start with the little things.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Tattoo and The Beach

So here it comes….the family beach vacation and a week spent hiding my tattoo. What is wrong with me? I mean really.

Two years ago I got this absolutely rockin’ tattoo. I even wrote a short essay about it during a Davidson College alumni weekend modeled after the NPR “This I Believe” series. Here is an excerpt from that essay:

“I needed permanent representation of bringing my heart and mind to peace with nearly ten consecutive, tumultuous years involving (illness), professional struggle, marital crisis, and infertility. Enough was enough, and my soul hungered for a ritual to mark my moving forward. When the voice of the universe whispered repeatedly the answer was a Eurasian practice of permanent decorative skin marking from Neolithic times, I was stunned. I expected something more like a new sports car.”

As much as I adore this new part of me, I cringe at the idea of sharing it with people I think will judge me. I’m an adult two times over and I still can’t be my full self with my own parents. I have a cousin half my age who floats in the same general familial goo I grew up in who proudly sports her tatt and even had her wedding dress cut to show it off last month. She and I recently reconnected after well over 10 years of no contact, and I’m wondering if there is a higher opportunity there. Maybe she is my bridge to “coming out” with my art. I’m thinking about sending my full “This I Believe” essay to the folks before beach week.

I may need to just bite the bullet and ‘fess up and move on. I’m not really in the mood for hiding anymore. Any thoughts and advice are more than welcome. I’ll post how it goes soon.
(For the record, if you are looking for the real deal in a great tattoo artist and shop, find Robert Ashburn at http://www.liquiddragontattoo.com/.)