Saturday, August 24, 2019

REINVENTING MYSELF

Gretchen Rubin, in her book The Four Tendencies, discerns four different approaches to life through the lens of how we respond to expectations. The first category, to which she admits she belongs, is the Upholder, who responds to both outer and inner expectations.  The Questioner questions all expectations but will meet an expectation that makes sense to them. An Obliger will meet outer expectations, that come from someone else but struggles to meet self-imposed expectations like a New Year's Resolution. And the Rebel--ah, there's the real challenge--the Rebel resists all expectations from oneself as well as from anyone else.  Rebels are a puzzle to themselves as well as anyone else close to them; rebel children are like puzzles or problems to which there is no answer key.  Rebels love lawlessness, disruption, freedom and choice. One of Rubin's approaches to dealing with rebels is to appeal to their sense of self or who they see themselves to be. I was a bit perplexed by this since I am a Rebel, and I hate feeling hemmed in by an obligation, an appointment, or something I have to do.  In raising six children, I was constantly running up against requirements. I didn't mind doctor's appointments because I saw myself as the kind of mother who was dedicated to keeping her children healthy. But I hated almost 
every requirement about every school system our children were in. That might explain part of the reason why I homeschooled the last two.
When we got involved in World Wide Marriage Encounter, I reveled in the fact that it billed itself as a movement, not an organization and fought vigorously when someone attempted to create an organizational chart. It was a losing battle, but I refused to take part in it and let my husband, who loved charts, participate in whatever it is you do to create such a chart.
For years, I saw myself as disorganized and someone who couldn't write a talk for one of our Marriage Encounter Weekends without months of time to write. My husband came home one day when I had several hours to start a talk. He found me surrounded by crumpled up pieces of paper. When he asked me how much I had written, I burst into tears and said, "I'm still trying to write the first sentence." 
However, when we were in leadership and had to give an average of a talk every week, I learned that it was fine to write a crummy first draft, go back and improve it, and then give it (and it was ok for it not to be perfect as well). Over the 30 years we were involved in Marriage Encounter and other marriage and family ministries, we gave many talks and wrote many articles in addition to the writing I was doing on my own, my poetry and book reviews for the most part.
When I became involved in Beginning Experience, and we had a training weekend, we were asked to write a rough draft for the first talk we might give. We had about an hour, and I sat down with the outline and wrote.  When I was asked to read in what I wrote to the other team members, one of them said, "That's 8 minutes, which is how long it should be, and it sounds pretty good." The other trainees seemed to be surprised that I had managed to do that, but I reminded them that I had spent 30 years writing talks for Marriage Encounter so I had plenty of experience!
Each time I had a talk to write, I started doing it right away. I had read that Teddy Roosevelt started working on a speech the minute he was asked to give it, and I loved the idea of being like Teddy Roosevelt--as well as not having the pressure of doing things at the last minute. I realized I had started to see myself as someone who starts things early and finishes early.  When I had to revise the two talks I will be giving in October, I had them in two weeks before they were due. This is not a matter of meeting anyone's expectations because the facilitators still seem surprised that I can do this, but of realizing that I see myself as a different person, someone who easily writes talks even when they are emotionally challenging and sends them in to the facilitators who will critique them, which means they are not doing everything at the last minute either. Since I like to be helpful to friends, this is also part of my personality rather than meeting expectations.  At least, that's the way this rebel sees it, and it seems to be working, so I'm sticking by it!

Sunday, August 18, 2019

BREAKING OUT OF BOXES, CUBICLES, CYLINDERS, LISTS AND OTHER MANACLES

The coaching program I'm in began with listening to a series of podcasts on Productivity for Perfectionists, hosted by Deborah Hurwitz (productivityforperfectionists.com), and it continually offers techniques to sidestep or do an end run, tunnel under or spring over perfectionism which arises like a shape-shifting monster to distract, block, throw up a maze, suck down a rabbit hole or depress creatives who want to change the world, or at least the corner of it they live in or the imaginary universe they want to inhabit.
One of the things that has helped me get through many of the creative blocks I've encountered is setting a timer.  I've read about different amounts of time and different kinds of timers. My favorite is the tomato timer, which inspired Francesco Cirillo to invent the time management system called the Pomodoro Technique.  In this process, you work on a set task for 25 minutes, take a 5 minute break, and after 4 work sessions, take a 10 minute break. I've seen suggestions for longer work sessions (e.g. 90 minutes) and break periods (30 minutes), but the key idea is to follow a period of focused work with a break where you do something that gives you pleasure, relaxes you or rewards you in some way for being productive or doing something you know you should do but that sets up blocks in your mind about how difficult and/or unpleasant it will be.
If it's something that seems overwhelming, I will set a timer for 20 minutes. I did this when I was trying to submit a book proposal that required a four page questionnaire.  Not only that, but it seemed to assume an author who had worked professionally for years as it requested a Curriculum Vitae. I hadn't written one of those for years, and I still had a bitter taste in my mouth from that one.  A former professor wanted to suggest me for a Phi Beta Kappa award after our University formed a chapter.  When I had been at the University, I graduated first in my class, the first student ever to graduate with a 4.0 cumulative average, and would easily have been elected to the honor society but the college didn't have a chapter then. 
After college, I was accepted for Columbia University's Comparative Literature PhD program, but when I learned that they were heavily into deconstructionism and I was leaning into synthesis (I had no desire to count how many times Emily Dickinson used the image of the bee in her poetry), I instead applied to the MFA program but was rejected.  Caroline Gordon was then teaching at my University, and she told my professor friend, after he showed her some of my poetry, that I was fortunate they had rejected me because, she said, it would have ruined me.
Instead, I got married and began having our first three children, and as my oldest daughter told me yesterday, poured much of my creativity and energy into raising them. I set aside Monday afternoons for writing my poetry, got babysitters and joined several babysitting coops so that I had one day in which I could focus on something that was crucial to me beyond my children (although they climbed into my poems more than once)!  
When my husband and I had been married 7 years, we made a World Wide Marriage Encounter Weekend, and our whole world changed. Not only did we learn to communicate in a more profound way and fall in love more deeply, but our outlook on life, our Church, and our community entered a new dimension.  We were no longer closed in like survivalists, but oriented outwards seeing the beauty in the people that surrounded us and falling in love with them.  
We moved from the East Coast to California (where I had said I'd never go even on vacation), became a presenting team couple for WWME and took on roles in leadership, had three more children, and became involved in Celebrate Love Weekends on spirituality and sexuality, Language of Love Weekends, sharing the insights from Gary Chapman's book, The Five Love Languages, and Natural Family Planning. None of these were professional roles; we saw them all as part of our ministry to married couples and their families.
I had had many poems published and became the first woman and lay person to write book reviews for a priests' magazine, but earned very little money for either.  I suppose I didn't fit the box that the University thought I should be in to become a Phi Beta Kappa at that point.  I later told my two oldest daughters that I never lived through my children or their accomplishments, except when they both became Phi Beta Kappa at their University.
So when I was looking at the book proposal and pondering what to do about the resume/CV, I realized that because the book is about marriage, everything we did in World Wide Marriage Encounter and other marriage and family ministries is relevant as well as our children, sons-in-law and 22 grandchildren, all of whom are united in our big family "network." In addition, I had more publication credits than I had thought. I decided to do a different sort of resume that will reflect the marriage and family emphasis I've had throughout my life. My final comment was "It will probably be unique, but then so am I."
As if in confirmation, I had a vivid dream that night, something which has almost never happened since my husband died.
In the dream my husband was alive, and we were visiting the Archbishop who said he would write the foreword for my book (he is a friend of ours). We were all laughing and talking and having a good time, and I wasn't playing second fiddle to my husband as I used to do. (I never minded it because he knew so much more about whatever we were talking about.) When we left the place where we had been visiting the Archbishop, we were walking in sunshine and saying to each other that the Archbishop was in a really good place. When I woke up and thought about the dream, I took it as a good sign that he would get the foreword written soon, and in fact he did. He told me when he saw me two months later that when he started to write, the Holy Spirit just gave him the words in one fell swoop!
While I didn't get the book proposal done in one fell swoop, I finished it in three days, working in 20 minute increments.
My pomodoro has long since rung--in fact I set two different timers and they both rang--so I shall set this aside until tomorrow when I do a final revision, and hit publish! This time I remembered on Sunday, so I will do it now!

Monday, August 12, 2019

COMING ALIVE AGAIN

On the most recent Beginning Experience Weekend I was on, I had a profound encounter that opened a portal into a new dimension of being a widow. It will take more than one blogpost to trace that journey, but it began when the Team Priest came over to me before one of the talks and told me that he had given a World Wide Marriage Encounter Weekend a few weeks earlier, in a different county, and that one of the Team Couples had talked about the positive impact that my husband and I had made on their marriage. I was touched to think that more than six years after my husband died, we as a couple were still helping other couples to make their good marriages even better. The kindness of this priest as he told me helped me realize that he saw me not just as a widow now but that I had also been part of a Team fiercely dedicated to our ministry to the married.  It was similar to how I felt when our former associate pastor who had been at our parish when my husband was dying, was sent to another parish, and then came back as our new pastor. The pastor we had had in the interim knew me only as a widow and probably never met most of our children, whereas our newest pastor knew all our children and had seen most of our grandchildren, our son had served many Masses for him, and he had given my husband the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick a few days before he died. When he returned, I felt as if I were surrounded by a cloud of witnesses, as St. Paul would have said.
When the widow who is one of the lead Team Members for the Beginning Experience Weekend I will be doing in October, came by to pick up the notebook she had left at my house, and I mentioned what had happened and how it seemed as if my husband was alive again in that experience, she said she had had a similar occurrence when someone had come to her office and commented on her last name and it turned out that this woman had been taught public speaking by my friend's husband at her high school.  My daughters had gone to the same school, and after I asked what he had taught and when, I realized that they had also had him as their public speaking teacher. I remembered meeting him at the back to school nights. My daughters had always spoken highly of him and never had a fear of public speaking.  I remembered that he charged the students a nickel each time any of them said "um,"  and that it cured most students of that habit.  Suddenly, I could imagine my friend with her husband vividly, and as we talked about him, he seemed to come alive in our conversation, as my husband had done in my talk with the priest.  How beautiful it is know that our loved ones have touched others' lives; it is a bit like seeing their faces smiling,  shimmering behind a veil. We know they are there, and waiting for us in the radiance of infinite Love.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

AN INTENSE TRIP THROUGH TIME

 After I heard the news about my Aunt Cecilia's death, my daughter Elizabeth and her husband told me that Elizabeth would be happy to fly out to Missouri with me for Aunt Cecilia's funeral.  They didn't want to pressure me into going, since I am still terrified of flying, but wanted me to know that if I wanted to go, she would be able to go with me. (I still haven't been able to fly alone.) I was very grateful for the offer, and decided I would go.  
I had to cancel or reschedule a bunch of doctor's appointments and my horn lesson, buy train tickets to and from LA and book the hotel in LA for both of the nights I'd be there.  My son-in-law took care of booking the flights and the hotel in Hannibal where Elizabeth and I would stay.  My second daughter dropped me off at the train station, and Elizabeth picked me up in LA, we had some time together with her family, and then she took me to my hotel.  In the morning, we were off to St. Louis.
There was some turbulence on the way to St. Louis, and although I took my medication, there were still some white knuckle moments.  Elizabeth told me that their 7 year old daughter Cecilia (who is named for my aunt) was also afraid of turbulence, and that when they were going to Asia, Cecilia announced that she would pray that there wouldn't be any turbulence. Elizabeth said there was quite a bit of turbulence as they were heading into Tokyo, but when they landed, Cecilia calmly announced that she had prayed for no turbulence, and her prayers had been answered.  When Elizabeth told her that in fact there had been some turbulence, Cecilia seemed surprised.  However, all the way through the tunnel from the plane to the airport, Cecilia raised both hands in the air and shouted, "Praise the Lord!"  We are not really a charismatic family, but when we landed in St. Louis safely, I felt like doing the same thing, except that I was juggling my French horn and my purse and didn't feel quite as light hearted as my granddaughter had.
We stayed overnight in Hannibal, and early the next morning drove out to the little country church where my aunt had spent her entire adult life.  I have 39 first cousins, and I spent a good deal of time before the funeral trying to guess which cousin was which (I could almost always guess which family they were from). Elizabeth was already in the pew when I finally made it into church, and several relatives told me later they were pretty sure she was my daughter.  They were far more complimentary than one of my visits as a child to my grandparents' church where my mother had grown up. 
I was about 10, and some woman whom I didn't know came up and asked if I was her daughter. When I said yes, she said, "Oh, I knew you must be because you have the same profile!" I was extremely sensitive about my nose at that time, and I knew she was really saying that my nose was too big.  It took my father a year when I was sixteen of coming home every day and telling me how much he liked my nose before I gave up wanting a nose job. I was convinced he was just saying that to make me feel better, but it recently occurred to me that since he loved my mother, profile and all, he was probably telling the truth!
The funeral was a beautiful celebration of my aunt, who had been married over 50 years, raised and loved 10 children, wrote two regular newspaper columns for over 25 years, was active in her church and in prison ministry, and wrote a card or an encouraging note to someone every day.  Many of the people who were there said they still had something she had written to them decades before.  
Afterwards the church hall was the scene of a dinner (this is the country, so it was at noon) where I reconnected with another aunt and many of my cousins, one of whom I hadn't seen since I had babysat him a long time ago. There was laughter as well as tears, and it was good to be back with so much of our family.  We stayed with one of my aunt's daughters and her husband, who now live near St. Louis, the last night, and it was good to decompress with them, as being plunged into a maelstrom of cousins at a very emotional time was ultimately exhausting for this introvert.
The flight back was not as turbulent and when I finally got home, I was wrung out.
It took me three days to finish unpacking, and although it has been over a week, I still feel drained emotionally.  I'm glad I went, but there's no place like home.