Friday, November 17, 2017
Is it Friday again already? Yes, which means it's time to join the Five Minute Friday linkup, where we write for five minutes on a given prompt. This week's word is EXCUSE.
I went to a salon this morning. The young staff member, whom I'd never met before, asked me what I did, so I told her I taught an online course in essay-writing at the university.
"Oh, I guess that's the way of the future," she said.
I told her that for many years the course had been offered by correspondence: I would walk to campus to pick up my papers, mark them by hand, and walk back to return them. But now, I said, everything is uploaded to the course website, so no student can use the excuse that they couldn't submit their essay because their dog ate it.
"No, a dog certainly can't eat a cyber paper," she laughed.
I had some fun looking up this cliche -- "The dog ate my essay" -- on Wikipedia. An early variation of this trope occurred in the early 1900's when a minister was filling in at a church in Wales. After the service, he tenatively asked the church clerk if the sermon had been all right -- and then he apologized that it might have been a little short because his dog had eaten part of the paper it was written on.
Apparently the clerk responded by asking whether that dog might have any puppies -- the implication being that their regular vicar might also benefit from having his sermons cut short (or rather, chewed short) by a dog!
It's always tempting to look around for an excuse when something has gone wrong. I suppose humans have been doing that ever since the dawn of time, when Adam blamed his disobedience on Eve and she blamed hers on the serpent.
Sometimes we make excuses to try to avoid facing the consequences that we know, deep down, we deserve.
Or we make excuses because it's just too painful to admit that we've failed.
One of my favourite quotes is from author Henry Cloud: "The truth is always your friend." It's such a simple (almost simplistic) statement, but I think it has a lot of hidden depth and maybe that's why I find myself pondering it so often.
If the truth is really my friend, then I should stop making excuses for myself ... for other people ... even for God ... and embrace the truth and what it has to teach me.
Wednesday, November 15, 2017
Today I'm linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy and sharing a few short reviews of what I've been reading.
I actually haven't done too much reading (of books, that is) these past few months: I've been having some trouble with my glasses, or more precisely my eyesight, which has made reading more of a chore than a pleasure at times. But what I've lacked in quantity, I've made up for in quality.
Reading People: How Seeing the World Through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything by Anne Bogel (nonfiction).
This book is by Modern Mrs. Darcy herself, Anne Bogel. In it, Bogel explores several of the most popular and influential personality-typing models, including the Five Love Languages, Highly Sensitive People, StrengthsFinder, Myers-Briggs, the Enneagram, and others.
Bogel writes in a warm, encouraging style. She explains each model in an unintimidating way, providing many personal examples that clarify and demystify the material. I was familiar with several of these systems already, but the "cognitive functions" of Myers-Briggs were new to me and at first glance seem very confusing. But Bogel explains them clearly and carefully, repeatedly stepping back to assure the reader, "Don't worry, you'll get this!"
My single caveat: the "girly" cover. It's beautiful -- but this book would be interesting and helpful to male readers as well as female, and the cover doesn't reflect that fact.
Otherwise, though, I just loved this highly informative and extremely well-written book and will likely be going back to reread some or all of it in future. If you're even a little bit interested in personality typing of any sort, you'll enjoy it.
(Note: I received an advance copy of this book from the author, but that has not influenced my review, nor was I asked to write one.)
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward (fiction).
This novel tells the story of Jojo, a teenage boy growing up in Mississippi. He looks up to his black grandfather, Pop, who tells Jojo stories about the time he spent in Parchman, a notorious state pentitentiary; and his dying grandmother, Mam. Jojo has a more complicated relationship with his mother, Leonie, a drug addict who is grieving her brother's death and struggling to be a good mother to Jojo and his baby sister; and with his white father, Michael, who is currently in jail in Parchman.
When Michael is released, Leonie takes her children on a road trip to pick him up. On the return journey they are accompanied by the ghost (whom only Jojo can see) of a boy Pap had befriended in prison many years earlier, who needs to hear the details about Pap's involvement in his death so that his soul can rest in peace.
Ward intertwines issues of race, spirituality, and family in a way that is both riveting and haunting. Her characters are flawed yet beautiful and admirable in their attempts to rise above circumstances they never asked for. I have never read anything quite like this book. Highly recommended.
Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone by Brene Brown (nonfiction).
I love Brene Brown's work and have read most of her previous books, including The Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, and Rising Strong. She returns to many of the same themes in her books -- shame, vulnerability, empathy, and courage -- continually layering on new insights.
In Braving the Wilderness, she addresses the current crisis of belonging in our society: how we tend to split up into camps (left-right, Republican-Democrat, NRA-gun control) out of a desire to fit in -- but often our sense of true belonging withers in the process. With examples from her own life and her research, she discusses how to speak both truthfully and civilly, how to have a strong back but a soft front, how to draw closer to strangers in times of joy and pain, and more. Brown asserts that when we are true to our deepest selves yet also recognize our deep connection to the rest of humanity, we can achieve true belonging, so that -- paradoxically -- we belong nowhere yet everywhere at the same time.
If you're tired of feeling you need to take sides all the time and don't know where you fit anymore, you'll probably appreciate the insights Brown offers.
I'd love to hear what you've been reading. Have you read any of Brene Brown's books? Are you into personality types? What's the latest good novel you read?
Friday, November 10, 2017
Today I'm linking up with the Five Minute Friday community, writing for five minutes on a given prompt. This week's word is SILENCE.
I love silence. I like to sit at my desk or in "my spot" on the living room couch and read, write, or just think, with no sound to interrupt my thoughts.
At times like that, silence feels like a cocoon of warmth, comfort, and peace.
But silence can also be harsh.
As a kid I felt the icy cold shoulder of silence when a much-older relative refused to speak to me for days because of a passing comment I'd made.
As an adult I felt the sting of the silent treatment when a person who meant a great deal to me walked past me without a word and chose their seat in the room in order to avoid being face to face with me.
In his book A Hidden Wholeness, Parker Palmer distinguishes between being silent "with" others and silent "at" others; the latter can occur "when we give someone 'the silent treatment' to convey our disdain." He asserts, "Silence of this sort destroys community and may even make us conspirators with evil."
We know words have the power to hurt or heal; so does silence.
It's true that sometimes we must decide (temporarily or permanently) not to communicate with someone if contact would be harmful or unhealthy for us, for them, or for someone else we care about or are responsible for.
But silence should never be a weapon. It should be a space where growth and healing can occur -- not a tool of anger and destruction.
Friday, October 27, 2017
Once again I'm linking up with Kate Motaung and the Five Minute Friday community, writing for five minutes on a given prompt. Today's word is OVERCOME.
I have found as the mom of children with a disability that progress often happens very slowly. In some cases, it seems like it will never happen. I look at something Jonathan is having difficulty with and think, "He has been struggling with this same issue for so long now. Will he ever overcome it? Does he even want to?"
There's one particular area (which I won't specify) that he has had a lot of challenge with. Even earlier this year, at 14 years of age, he just wasn't "getting it." We would remind him and try to explain why he needed to be doing something different, but nothing really changed. It didn't seem that important to him. And it wasn't something we could force him to do, at 14 or any other age.
But this summer, almost overnight, something clicked. He figured it out. He started trying the new method and having success; and when we praised and encouraged him, his motivation increased. It's like he was standing in front of a low wall, staring at it with trepidation, moving closer and then backing away ... and then just like that, he stepped over it. There's still more to be done to be really finished with the process -- but he overcame the obstacle.
Because of this, I think I will be less likely to be discouraged when the next goal seems far-off and unachievable. It's OK, whether you have a disability or not, to move at your own pace, and overcome your obstacles when you're ready.
photo Jeannie Prinsen 2014
Monday, October 23, 2017
I wrote this poem a few years ago. It's appropriate to the season, so I thought I'd share it here.
Mass for a fallen leaf
On the street I saw a yellow leaf that
a car had driven over, leaving a
tire print resembling a staff of music.
I looked around for someone to show it
to, but everyone was hurrying through
sheets of rain. I gave it my most solemn
attention for a moment. I could have
taken the leaf home and dried it between
the pages of a book, but I left it
at rest on the pavement. I saw this as
a minor act of love: I thought someone
else might see it, commiserate with its
flattened, tired condition, read the notes, and
take comfort – just as I did when I walked
off, humming its autumnal requiem.