Wednesday, September 16, 2020

LJs Free Online Shopping

A few weeks ago I started adding the phrase, "with Corona on top" when talking about hard things. Anything challenging--- sickness, unemployment, divorce, depression-- are all so much harder "with Corona on top." It was meant to be kind of funny, a nod to how much we endure, a testament to our collective resilience.  And then the fires came and I stopped using that phrase. I had no words for this new experience. "__________ with Corona and unbreathable air on top" wasn't funny or clever. It was just painful.

So, like I do when I am at a loss for how I feel, I wrote. I imagined becoming like an enormous stand-alone bellows, pulling in all my strength and patience, tapping my reserves, harnessing it all, and then infusing that strength and patience into my little world, revitalizing myself and my family. And it worked. I felt better, more stable, like I could, even though I thought I couldn't, ride this new topping in my life. I wouldn't fall into the hole of despair. I would keep on going. 

But despite best laid plans, into despair I did indeed fall. On Friday my friend Jamie and I had made a plan to take our daughters hiking. It was the last day before school started full-time and we wanted to get into nature and reconnect with ourselves and each other. And, since we can't be inside together, these outdoor excursions are one of the important ways we can facilitate social time for our kids. But the smoke was too bad and we couldn't hike. And we couldn't hunker down in one of our houses and watch a movie. We abandoned the idea of spending the day together and I sat in my boat of despair, moaning and whining all morning long. 

Then we got the idea to meet at the Goodwill Bins. This is the thing my daughter Lucia will always say yes to, even if it means going with her weird mother. So we met at the bins, spent a socially distanced hour, then returned home where we double-washed all our clothes. That night we had a Zoom fashion show where we tried on all of our items. We laughed and laughed.  I was surprised by how spontaneously the day turned from miserable to magnificent.

Each time Lucia and I go to the Bins the agreement is that we will unload some of the clothes in our closets to make room for these new treasures. I have a lot of treasures and it didn't feel right to just send them back to Goodwill so I came up with the idea of creating an online platform to offer these items to my friends (and their friends) for free. Lucia set me up an Instagram account. Jamie quickly and enthusiastically joined the project and LJsfreeonlineshopping was born. I spent hours over the weekend in my little basement office posting items and funny descriptions. I made special LJs labels and packaged each "sold" item. Then I delivered the items to friends who'd claimed these treasures. 

One definition of resilience is "the ability to recover readily from illness, depression, adversity, or the like; buoyancy." These days of quarantine, social distancing, radically changed daily habits and patterns topped with imminent threat to our environment and to so many lives in our region, have charged us all with the task of digging deeper, finding ways to be okay in the midst of all of it. We are being called to be SUPER RESILIENT.

At the beginning of that Friday when Jamie and I recognized that we couldn't go hiking and we couldn't watch a movie together, I was in despair. I was angry and bitter and resentful. I let myself go there.  But some little part of me knew that I couldn't stay there. I had to find a crack of light in that dark box. And I did. I see this happening all around me, everyday. People are figuring this out, each in their own way.  And, with each experience of one of us finding a glimmer of light, even just a little bit, even for a moment, our collective resilience is being fortified. When you are in the despair, as we all are sometimes, it's okay to let yourself be there. You're not alone and you won't be there forever.  

Monday, September 7, 2020

Like a Big Old Tree


Conflict sucks. It's scary to have a different opinion, to feel alone and insecure, to worry about sounding stupid. I wonder how people like Ruth Bader Ginsburg manage. Ginsburg is in a perpetual state of contemplating dissenting opinions. At the end of the contemplation, she must make her one true judgement. She has to be sure. I envy the confidence, clarity and certainty that is required of people like Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Lisa Damour, the author of two life-saving books on female adolescent development, says that we can teach our girls about conflict by explaining that, generally, there are three types of conflict management-- the bulldozers, the doormats, and the doormats with spikes. Damour says that, like most humans, girls are not great at conflict. Most people avoid conflict because we worry about being too vulnerable or being judged or standing out. So instead of rooting down and finding solid ground before entering into conflict, we tend to unconsciously fall into one or more of those three categories. 

What we want to strive for instead, says Damour, is to be more like pillars. A pillar stands up for herself without stepping on anyone else (bulldozer), lying down and avoiding the conflict (doormat) or through passive-aggressive techniques (doormat with spikes). In my own conflict self-analysis, I have deduced that I manage conflict using all three of those dysfunctional techniques with different people, in different situations.

But I want to be a pillar. I want to stand tall without sublimating my needs, causing destruction or playing games. I get what Damour is saying about the pillar, but in my mind, I think of the pillar as more of a big old tree; I envision an ancient, weathered Oak tree on a well-travelled city street. Children climb on it, windstorms ravage it, birds and squirrels build their homes in it, lightning might even strike it. But the tree, deeply rooted in the earth, stands tall, enduring the weather and the traffic, the animal life and the humanity. Over years and decades and centuries the tree might shift, settling at an angle from an earthquake or a tornado. The tree might loose a few big branches, but the grounding is always there. I think of Ruth Bader Ginsburg as this magnificent tree. She's been at it for a long time, fielding the elements as they come, in the face of it all, still standing up for the truth without bulldozing, lying down or using dirty tricks.

The other day my friend Molly told me the story of her neighbor clandestinely chopping down a grand old tree. The tree, an exceptional tree, as it is called in tree-lover's vernacular, enveloped a large corner of Molly's yard. She loved that tree. It was part of her home, part of her family. As the neighbors cut down the tree, Molly cried. When she described her experience watching the unconscious destruction of this tree, I could feel her agony. Though there was no bulldozer, there might as well have been. To not honor that tree, to negate the hundred-plus years of hard work and enduring presence of that tree, is to step all over it. Now, where that exceptional tree used to stand, shading and protecting Molly's yard with familiar loving branches, there is a big empty space.

It takes time, nourishment, sunlight, love and respect to grow into an exceptional tree. And it takes experience, insight and patience to become a pillar in the face of conflict. The destruction of the tree that bordered Molly's yard feels emblematic of the culture of conflict in our country right now. Instead of being trees--big, exceptional, firmly routed trees standing side by side, enduring the different elements as they come-- the polarized political sides are chopping each other down, leaving big empty spaces instead of creating a beautiful growing forest. 

Conflict, whether between teenage girls or political parties, can be looked at the same way. Wherever there are two different brains there will be two different opinions. It's not difference that is the problem, it's the absence of pillars (or trees). That big tree in Molly's yard was strong. It endured decades of external conflict from the weather and disease and animals, but she stayed alive, firmly rooted in her role as a tree. That tree would still be a tree if someone hadn't bulldozed her down. Had the neighbors made a different choice, there might even be a sapling growing beside her. 

I wonder if it's possible to work towards this-- towards creating a forest of trees (or pillars).  As we continue to evolve, hopefully into a more kind and gentle humanity, I dream of this possibility. It seems like a fantasy, that two drastically different opinions could stand side by side, like a Douglas Fir and Big Leaf Maple; that conflict could result in a reaction other than a bulldozer, a doormat or a doormat with spikes. But I have to believe that it's possible. I want it for myself. I want it for my teenage daughter. And I want it for the world.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Hope Lives in Our Memories

A few nights ago Nancy and I were sitting on our porch. We were looking down the hill at the lake and in the far distance, past the I-90 bridge, we could see the peaks of Mount Baker. I was sitting on our comfy outdoor couch and our view was beautiful and expansive, but I felt out of body, uncomfortable. I told Nancy that I feel, almost all the time, like I am on a long plane ride in a very uncomfortable middle seat. If I move I can feel comfortable, but the feeling lasts only for a moment and then I'm back in the squished, contorted position, unable to recline, unable to relax. For brief moments I can find peace and joy and relief, but before too long I go back to despair and worry and longing.

Before this pandemic I worried, but not constantly. Though I might not have been able to recognize it, I felt a general sense of peace. This feeling of imminent fear, of hyper-vigilance that I have now, was not with me all the time. I could recline. I could relax. I wasn't waiting for an unexpected surge or siege to hit at any moment. The very acknowledgment of this loss of peace fills me with grief. I don't want this feeling, this interminable cramped plane trip feeling. 

As I contemplated the feeling of emotional discomfort that I (and so many people I know) am experiencing right now, I became aware of my very black and white thinking with regard to this pandemic-- if the pandemic is over I will be comfortable; if the pandemic is here I will be in distress. I have no frame of reference for a reality such as we are living in right now.  

There are places in the world where the daily struggle is so much more profound than I could ever imagine. Thinking about this helps me. This perpetual dis-ease so many of us are experiencing right now is not new for millions of people. People in war-torn countries or extreme poverty or exploitive or abusive situations experience this feeling every day. What do they do? They find ways to get through it, one day at a time. They live with the struggle because they have to. Right now we are riding a wave that we, as individuals cannot stop. I cannot change the course of this pandemic. No matter how hard I work, I cannot change it. This helplessness is where my greatest discomfort lives. 

I began to think about other times in my life that I've been uncomfortable or in distress. Recently I was on a very long, arduous hike. The way up was exhausting and scary and the way down was jarring and practically wrecked my knees. At the end of that hike I was so happy! The struggle was over and I could sit in the car and drink long gulps of water. I could sink into a feeling of accomplishment and relief. There would be no more hiking that day and I could rest.

Or when I gave birth and was in labor for close to two days. When my midwife forbade me from getting horizontal and made me walk the stairs and the streets to get the baby moving. When she had me doing triangle pose to open my hips at the thirty-sixth hour of my endless labor. At the end of it all Lucia was born. The struggle was over and I was filled with lightness and joy.

But this pandemic is long and it is universal. It's not about me climbing a mountain or moving through the stages of childbirth. It's about billions of people working together to contain this virus. It's about leaders supporting communities and businesses and people to have enough food and housing and money to do the right thing. The little drops in the bucket that I add to the cause-- wearing a mask, social distancing, limiting contacts, not flying, even my work as a contact tracer-- feel meaningless in the face of this vastly expansive virus. So I sit in the middle ground, helpless, comfortable and safe for moments on my porch, but filled with fear and doubt when I think about the hugeness of this pandemic for even two minutes.

This is uncomfortable. This is insane. I want out. I want off this plane. But I don't get to choose that option. None of us does. So what is the answer? What is my answer? I once heard someone say, "hope lives in our memories." I've found this to be true. I think about what I know from the much smaller struggles in my life. When I look back at these painful, uncomfortable times to recall what got me through, here's what I remember: I had faith that the experience (the mountain, the labor, the breakup....) would end eventually;  I trusted my own strength and ability to endure the pain and discomfort. Remembering connects me to my resilience and gives me hope that this pandemic won't last forever. We really will get off this plane one day.

Friday, August 7, 2020

A World of Service

I regularly walk along a narrow path next to Lake Washington. It is a well-traveled path for both runners and walkers. With Coronavirus there is an unspoken agreement among most of us to step off of the path when walking towards an oncoming walker or runner. Usually there is some eye-contact and one person steps up the hill so there is the requisite six-feet of space. 

A few weeks ago I was walking with my earbuds in. I was talking to my friend Jenna and I was on a very narrow stretch of path when I heard a loud "GOOOO!" at the back of my head. It was a woman running, fast, shouting at me to get out of her way. I was shocked, jolted, and afraid. I decompressed with Jenna who'd heard the woman's insane yelling but the experience stuck with me. The unnecessary act of aggression revisited me several times like a flashback.

Then last week I was walking my dog on Lake Washington Boulevard, a popularly traveled street that is now temporarily closed to cars. There are tons of bikers, walkers, skaters, scooters and strollers on Lake Washington Boulevard these days; it feels like some kind of exotic boardwalk and I love it. On this particular day a little boy was riding his bike onto Lake Washington Boulevard from a side street when a super speedy bike racer was approaching this boy's entrance point. The speed biker had to move out of the boy's path, reducing his speed quite a bit. As the speed biker passed the boy, he yelled, "MORON!" 

"What the hell?!!!" I thought to myself and impulsively yelled to the boy, "You're not a moron. He's a moron?" I didn't want that poor kid to think that there was anything normal about what that grown man-baby had done. 

These experiences are so upsetting because they are micro-reminders of the selfishness and individualistic nature that has pervaded our nation. We need a complete overhaul, some way to step back and reinvest in community, in collective consciousness and kindness. As I contemplate the absence of goodness in my city and country, I am also preparing to send my fifteen-year-old back to school--to a system that will be thrown together online, a system that may or may not teach the kids anything, to a system that I fear will suck the passion for learning right out of their spongey, curious brains.

What if, instead of throwing our kids into a pieced together online system that sets everyone up for failure--kids, teachers, administrators and parents-- we did something totally different? What if we deemed the 2020-21 school year "The Year of Service?" It could be like Roosevelt's New Deal-- we'd enlist all of our kids, from elementary through college in service projects. Instead of going through the motions of learning something half-way, we would, as a society, teach all of our students the value of community,  contribution, and service.

The elementary school kids could write letters to isolated elderly people and plant community gardens. The middle and high school kids could clean the streets and pull invasive species from our parks, work at the food banks, tutor younger kids and build tiny houses. Kids of driving age could deliver meals to people and shuttle supplies to different projects. College-aged kids could help with all of that and take this project to the next level--documenting it, analyzing data, writing reports. Teachers would be the coordinators of the projects. Parents with time could assist. And at the end of the school year everyone will have learned something new. Everyone will have had the experience of helping, contributing, being a part of something amazing. Doesn't that sound better than a year of half-assing school?

I know it's just a fantasy, but what if we could make it happen? If you share this dream, if you want to make it happen too, spread the word. Share the idea. Let's do something different. Let's bring back kindness and community. Let's teach it in school and see what happens.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Looking Inward

Parenting a teenager in the time of Coronavirus is a constant exercise in getting your ass kicked. Like most teenagers, my daughter Lucia wants to be free, liberated from my clutches, but the quarantine and social distancing parameters make that hard. I can feel her need for space all the time. I'm forever trying to find ways to engage positively. Last week I read the idea of making a papier mâché piñata Coronavirus cell in the New York Times. I thought this would be a fun activity to do together and broached the idea yesterday morning.

"Hey, Lu," I chirped as she emerged from her basement bedroom, "do you want to do a project with me today?"
"Unnhhhh," she moaned, "What is it?"
"A Coronavirus piñata!" I replied with the enthusiasm my little brother used to have about going to Chucky Cheese.
"Sure," she said, placating me, but within a few minutes she'd made plans with a friend to ride bikes to the pier.

I went ahead and set up my piñata supplies on the picnic table in our sunny front yard. To make the virus I would need three full coats of papier mâché, and time for each of the coats to fully dry between coats. I was grateful for the sunny day and the coats dried in about an hour. Between coats I gardened, folded laundry and hand-painted twist ties with red paint that I would apply once the virus was fully dried and spray painted.

My idea was to fill my Coronavirus piñata with goodies and bash the shit out of it. I've recently taken a temporary job as a contact tracer for COVID-19 and I'm all too aware of how the numbers in our city and country are soaring. Making the piñata occupied my energy creatively and the activity served the purpose of giving me something concrete to start and finish. I've noticed in this time of great unknowns, starting and completing a singular task is hugely satisfying and calming. While I couldn't put my daughter in a bubble and protect her from this pandemic-infested world, I could focus my energy on making a piñata instead of worrying. The time spent making the piñata gave me the sense, albeit fleeting, that I had some control over something.

Our lawn sits above the sidewalk and I can see down to Lake Washington from our yard. I spent the day watching people parking and carrying rafts, paddle boards, kayaks and inner tubes down to the water. I saw and heard throngs of people enjoying the sun and the water.

We're struggling to bash this coronavirus. In this country of free will and infinite choices we are having a hard time being uncomfortable, limiting ourselves to the degree that we need to to quell this beast. As I sat on the picnic bench dipping newspaper strips into flour-water-glue, worrying about my own daughter getting enough social distance on the pier she was sunbathing at, I worried too about the people racing down to crowd the beaches. Many wore masks but many didn't.

What do we do? It's not just the teens that are struggling, resisting the imperative to limit our contact with others. It's counterintuitive in the summer, the precious three months of our year when Northwesterners can roam freely without a rain jacket. We're all experiencing a loss and that's painful. We don't have good tools for moving through grief and loss. But we're all in it right now and there's nothing wrong with any of us. This is just the way it is right now.  I don't have the answer for moving through this grief and loss,  but I know what's worked for me.

In my grief I've had to turn inwards, to ask myself what will nourish me. I've had to find a new way to engage myself. One week it was making masks. Another was taking an online course. Another was job hunting. One week was creating an outside space where we could invite people over to socialize. Yesterday was making a Coronavirus piñata.There's always writing, taking long walks, writing letters and spending time with my family. I remember in my mid-twenties when my dad died, I was in a swirl of grief and I didn't know how to settle. I was closer to Lucia's age; I didn't have the inclination  to look inward. I was focused on what I'd lost, what wasn't there anymore and I was seeking, trying to find connection outside. I'm a quarter of a century older now and I've learned how to look inward from my grief.

When Lucia got home from the pier, we ate a delicious dinner together on our little outside patio. Nancy had made a smorgasbord of summer delights and it felt like a regular summer night. We talked about our days and enjoyed the last moments of the sun. Later on in the evening Lucia and I had a mini-battle about my strictness and my worry.  She wants more freedom and I'm trying to create a bubble. It's easy for me to look inwards because I'm fifty. If I were fifteen I'd be doing exactly what she's doing, trying to bust out. We're both evolving, limping along as we figure out how to navigate adolescence in the time of Coronavirus. I know there will be lots of bumps in the road and lots of beautiful moments too. I can't wait to bust the Coronavirus together. I'm pretty sure that will be fun for both of us.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Fifty Ways that We Love Jenna.

Last night six of my best friends and I (the Posse) celebrated my friend Jenna turning fifty. She's the baby, the last to turn fifty. Because this friend group is wildly creative and super nerdy, we decided to write Jenna a special song to the tune of Paul Simon's "Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover." Our version would be "Fifty Ways that We Love Jenna." The song was a total collaboration, each of us weighing in on the content and the rhymes. Kate and Amy, probably the most creative of the group, took the lead on choreography and the musical arrangement.

Since we'd only been able to meet as a group on Zoom, we met an hour before Jenna arrived to rehearse the song and dance a few times in person. Molly, our host, also incredibly creative, had arranged her backyard with seven decorated chairs in a circle, exactly six-feet apart. Jenna's chair was decorated as a throne at the center of it all. It was so great to see everyone. Our normal social interactions have been severely curbed by Coronavirus. Some people I see once every two weeks, some once every six weeks or two months. When we first arrived and started rehearsing there was a lot of energy. With such a short time to fine tune the song and dance we were highly focused and engaged. Even though we all wore masks to practice, the laughter was there. We could all see the twinkles in each other's eyes.

We ate take-out burgers in our chairs and drank canned wine so no one had to cross-pollinate. As we sat in our circle, I found myself feeling awkward, like a teenager at a party with people way cooler than me; a party I wasn't sure I should be at. I felt irritated and there were moments I just wanted to be home, back in my cave. I was aware of how rusty my social skills had become. I couldn't find a groove, an ease. After dinner everyone but Jenna got up to perform our surprise song. Amy turned on the karaoke background music and we all took our places. We did our song, solos and all, and we rocked our dance moves. Jenna loved it. And then we did it again so Jenna could video it on her phone. I felt so happy, so free, so connected. Even at our six-feet-apart spacing for the performance, it actually felt like we were all holding hands or linking arms. I could feel each of them so completely.

At the end of the song we sat back down in our respective chairs and the helium slowly seeped out of my happy balloon. I was back in the awkward. I love these friends so much. They are, as the millennials might say, "everything," but as we sat in our socially distanced circle, I couldn't feel them the way I had when we were singing and dancing. I wanted to feel that energy. When it faded, a melancholy took over and I just wanted to go back to my hibernation.

When I got home at 8:30pm I put my pajamas on. I checked in with my family and curled into bed to read. I felt sad. And happy. My sad came from a longing for those days of leaning into a friend on the couch and talking about something crazy that happened at work or the big hug you give one of your best friends when they turn FIFTY! And happy because I'd had a taste of that goodness, even without leaning or hugging. The singing and dancing, the collective energy that came from creating the song for Jenna and then performing it was such a profound reminder of what it used to feel like to be that connected.

I'm not a super touchy-feely person and I haven't missed hugging as much as a lot of people, but last night activated a visceral reaction. The contrast of the joy I felt one in moment with the longing I felt in the next was intense. I crave connection with these women I love so much. I don't know how long this six-feet apart, don't hug, don't lean, don't touch will last, but I know that even for me it's taking a toll. Dancing and singing and completely nerding out with my posse served as a temporary antidote to the weight of this longing. I'm so grateful for that experience and I'll hold onto the image of that night for a long time. Happy Birthday Jenna.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Trump the Coyote

There have been a flurry of daytime coyote sitings in my neighborhood. I've seen them at 8am and 2pm, and neighbors have reported them all over the place, at all times of the day. I'm terrified of the coyotes, not for me, but for my little 21-pound dog Freckles who walks almost exclusively off leash. Freckles is small and chubby and slow. He would be an easy target for one of the hungry neighborhood coyotes. I used to be mainly worried about night walks on the dimly lit streets around my house, but these days I'm worried about Freckles at all hours.

The coyotes are wild. They've always been in Seward Park, and neighborhood folks know to be careful with smaller dogs in the forest during certain seasons, but this sidewalk coyote fear is new. It feels directly related to the imminent threat we are living under with an insane president. Despite a serious pandemic, the president, and many local leaders in our country, are advocating for behaviors that are literally killing people. 

The other morning as I walked down to the lake, a coyote crossed in front of me on an arterial to Lake Washington Boulevard. She was sauntering, comfortable in the broad daylight, on a widely human-trafficked sidewalk. I had a moment of fear but then settled when I remembered that Freckles was safe in our house. But that moment of fear, that threat, felt so familiar. I experienced a surge of adrenaline and my heart started pounding. I felt briefly disoriented, not sure what to do with the coyote so close. As I neared the coyote she had made her way across the street and disappeared into the overgrowth in a derelict lot. I continued on my walk and though the coyote was gone my heart was still racing.

That feeling I had with the coyote was like a burst, a momentary amplification of what I've felt every day for months. As I watch Donald Trump misinform people and encourage dangerous behavior, driving our country into destruction, I vacillate from incredulous to petrified. He is like a coyote on the loose, unchecked, sneaky and predatory. Coyotes are said to represent tricksters, but they also represent a revealing of the truth behind illusion and chaos. 

The progression of COVID-19 is the truth behind Trump's trickery and lies. His made-up stories are becoming less and less believable in the face of this pernicious virus. Behind his smoke and mirrors is the truth, that people continue to spread the virus, that people are dying from it. The neighborhood coyote sitings have helped me to make sense of my fear of Donald Trump, to put it into a larger equation. The coyote is a symbol of our times, a symbol of the truth. The fear we feel is real and, if we use it well, it can be our guide to the other side. My fear of the coyote eating Freckles reminds me to keep him close and mind his wanderings. My fear of the virus (and Trump's negligence) keeps me vigilant about wearing a mask and maintaining social distance. 

The coyotes are just doing their job, finding food for themselves and their pups. I am growing used to their presence in my neighborhood. But Trump is a bad coyote, a bad man, who's not doing his job. And I will never get used to him.

LJs Free Online Shopping

A few weeks ago I started adding the phrase, "with Corona on top" when talking about hard things. Anything challenging--- sickness...