Virtual mentors and finding your thing

Doesn't everyone dream of packing up and moving to Paris? (Raising my hand and nodding vigorously.) A few years ago Sharon Eubanks decided to do it.  Just like that she quit her job, sold her house, and moved to Paris to find her dreams. Live it vicariously with her in this TED talk where she talks about "slowing down the frantic pace of modern life to find creative energy, purposeful acts, and meaningful relationships." And she realizes in the process that you don't need Paris to get there:

"I'm on a train, it's early spring and I'm looking out the window and I see men and women out in fields and they're getting the ground ready to plant and they're trimming vines and they're getting ready for this great act of faith. They're going to plant. They're going to plant olives and they're going to put in grapes and they're going to have this harvest, which would be later on. As I look at them, I realize: I feel like that. I feel like I'm ready to do some great act of faith where I've kind of thawed out, I've kind of prepared the ground. I'm ready for it. But what is it? What is that thing? And as I thought about that conscious "I'm ready" all of the sudden--you know how the Salt Lake valley gets inversions...and then you wake up the next morning and it's just crystal clear?--it was like that. It was just crystal clear....And it didn't have to do with an exotic place. What it did have to do with was slowing down."

. . .

I have this mental list of virtual, long-distance life mentors. I draw inspiration from their examples and think of them as my pantheon of enlisted advisors, an imaginary council of women (mostly) and men who provide a wide range of inspiring examples to follow and motivation to proceed. Learning about their struggles and paths and processes helps me keep trudging along on mine. Maira Kalman, Madeleine L'Engle, Esther Peterson, Julia Child, Anne Lamott, Anna Quindlen, Catherine Thomas, Brene Brown, Louis Armstrong, Eugene England, Samantha Power, Lowell Bennion, Emma Lou Thayne, Madeleine Albright (the list goes on and on and of course includes people I know in real life, too) all have a seat at the table.

I think Sharon Eubanks might be the newest candidate. She has a really cool and meaningful job as the director of an international humanitarian organization, speaks articulately about my religion's doctrine regarding women, and just seems to be an all-around cool human. 

What about you? Who are your virtual life mentors?

You take the good, you take the bad . . .

Ice cream date with Maddie and Parker.

Ice cream date with Maddie and Parker.

This is the last week of summer for our family. The kids start back to school on Monday, and on Wednesday I'm helping Maddie drive her new-to-her car up to BYU. It's been a good summer in many ways -- but there has also been a good deal of heaviness. There have been hospital stays, and deaths, and bad news, and heartbreak all around us these past months, which makes me anxious and panicky. I know these sorrows have always circled, but normally I'm better at pretending they don't exist. The pretending bit gets hard when it's RIGHT IN YOUR FACE.

On the other side of the equation, there have been beautiful, joyful moments this summer. There has been midnight laughter from the kids upstairs, beautiful sunrises as we drive to Crossfit, the complete feeling of having Maddie home again. There have been fun dinners in The Heights, farmer's market breakfasts, that feeling of warmth as the gulf coast breeze washes over you when you step from the ultra air conditioning of the supermarket. Last night all of our kids (except Jordan, of course) piled on our bed and did their best to pick on one another. It was so annoying and so comforting -- all at the same time.

Maybe it comes with age -- this living with joy and sadness all intertwined. It seems that in my 20s I bull-dozed through life, knocking aside what I didn't like, greedily claiming those things I thought would make me happy. But now, as my babes leave the nest one by one, I'm more circumspect about my joy -- more careful to savor the everyday pieces of happy that come my way. And still, more prone to worry in the night that tragedy is lurking in every corner.

I have a sneaking suspicion that the schedule of the new school year will set me right. I do like extreme order. But also, a little good luck and peaceful vibes wouldn't hurt either. Here's to new beginnings, soft words of encouragement, and a year of kindness. Goodness knows we all need it.

Looking up

Hello! I'm waving to you from the wintry north, happily hunkered down with our little family in a cabin in the woods--which completely makes up for all the flight delays (including one particularly deflating 24-hour delay) on our journey here. And I ran into my brother Chris in the LA airport of all places! Neither of us knew the other was traveling that day...such a happy serendipity.

Anyway, here we are. We have been making the rounds--catching up with family, unpacking, stocking up, and doing holiday things. No Christmas tree yet, no decorations, and a significant amount of shopping still to be achieved. In the midst of that bustle, I was reminded of something I wrote a few years ago and decided to look it up and post it here, mostly to nudge myself to try to take a deep breath, relax the grip on the to-do lists, and enjoy it. 

Pieter Brueghel, The Census at Bethlehem

Pieter Brueghel, The Census at Bethlehem

See that woman in the middle?
The one alone
With the white hat and broom
Head down, sweeping
Or digging, maybe.
That has been me.
Focused on the depth of snow in front of me
And my need to dig out.

To the boisterous gathering over there
And to the snow-stuck wagon behind me,
Where my broom could be put to better use.
Unaware of the simple miracle
Of a young woman on a horse,
Almost hidden by winter clothing
And seeking a place,
The holy significance lost in favor of
Bristles and snow.

I’m putting down the broom
And looking up.
Join me?

. . .

It’s easy to get caught up in the “doingness” of the season. What are your traps that prevent you from experiencing what Christmas has to offer? Is there a certain work of art, literature, or music that is especially speaking to you this season?

Reading the yield signs

Since I've gone back to school--or back to dissertation, I guess--there's been this constant, nagging nudge that haunts me through the day: you should be reading something academic, should be writing, could be researching. While, sure, it's helpful to be motivated to work, I've noticed the constant internal preoccupation ends up robbing me of enjoying other good things in my life, including being present and attentive with my family. 

This week it feels like everything I see/read/think has been urging me to snap out of it already. To show up, slow down, and pay attention. 

photo origin unknown

photo origin unknown

There was that post On Slowness I read that referenced an art history professor who requires her students to look at a painting for three hours before writing about it. Despite initial grumbling, the students come away "repeatedly astonished by the potentials this process unlocked." She proposes that such deep attention and patience needs to be structured by teachers & professors (and, I would add, parents) since it's not cultivated "in the wild" anymore.   I loved that. And also: when was the last time I looked at something for three hours?

. . . 

A book I was reading ended with this quote: "I am done with great things and big plans, great institutions and big successes. I am for those tiny, invisible loving human forces that work from individual to individual, creeping through the crannies of the world like so many rootlets, or like the capillary oozing of water, yet which, if given time, will rend the hardest monuments of human pride" (William James) 

. . . 

Finally, the ever-fantastic Billy Collins just released a new book of poems and this one captures this well:


This morning as I walked along the lakeshore,
I fell in love with a wren
and later in the day with a mouse
the cat had dropped under the dining room table.

In the shadows of an autumn evening,
I fell for a seamstress
still at her machine in the tailor’s window,
and later for a bowl of broth,
steam rising like smoke from a naval battle.

This is the best kind of love, I thought,
without recompense, without gifts,
or unkind words, without suspicion,
or silence on the telephone.

The love of the chestnut,
the jazz cap and one hand on the wheel.

No lust, no slam of the door –
the love of the miniature orange tree,
the clean white shirt, the hot evening shower,
the highway that cuts across Florida.

No waiting, no huffiness, or rancor –
just a twinge every now and then

for the wren who had built her nest
on a low branch overhanging the water
and for the dead mouse,
still dressed in its light brown suit.

But my heart is always propped up
in a field on its tripod,
ready for the next arrow.

After I carried the mouse by the tail
to a pile of leaves in the woods,
I found myself standing at the bathroom sink
gazing down affectionately at the soap,

so patient and soluble,
so at home in its pale green soap dish.
I could feel myself falling again
as I felt its turning in my wet hands
and caught the scent of lavender and stone.

 - Billy Collins

Okay, universe. Aye-aye. Message received. (Of course, the irony is that I'm writing this as my kids get ready to head to bed and G just got home from a business I'll sign off now.)


A transcript of Billy Collins's recent conversation with Diane Rehm. 
 - A copy of Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems would make a great gift, by the way.
 - G and I went to the movie About Time last weekend. It's funny and sweet and sentimental (some might find it overly so but not me! bring on the sentiment!) and I came away inspired to relish & fall in love with the wonderfully mundane moments that make up our lives. The music was really good, too, so I made a playlist.   This song is especially lovely. And this one