Friday, February 27, 2009

Alley Oop!

It’s time to really blog. Actually, with Love in Condition Yellow coming out this May, it’s actually past time. I’m late. So I’m going to start. ANY MINUTE NOW. I am on the very BRINK of blogging. I am putting my toe over the edge. I am doing what skiers do before sliding over the lip of a cornice into a steep chute. I am taking off my skis, venturing toward the edge and whacking my ski pole over, to see if the edge will hold or crack.

Thwack. Thwack.

It’s just that… that… I’m not sure what will happen. Even though my writing group has given me no less than THREE MILLION good ideas on what to blog about, something is stopping me. One expert blogger said, “It’s simple. You blog three times a week. Monday about your marriage and family, Wednesday about politics, and Friday about the process of writing and publishing a book.

Sounds great. In theory.

Here’s all I think about lately: my son’s teacher, the fact that she hurt his feelings on a Thursday back in late January when she questioned the proportions in a drawing of his father. The next day, when I phoned the school office to ask for an appointment, I learned she’d gotten rear-ended on the freeway. I squelched my decidedly unchristian feeling of relief, when I heard she would be out for at least four weeks. This week I heard she will be back, definitely, in two weeks. And while I am glad to hear she is doing better, I am TERRIFIED. Because this means I am going to have to follow through on the appointment and talk to her. What if she gets angry and hostile? What if she can’t see my son the way I do? What if I have to transfer him to a new class? What if I have to take him out of school, start a letter-writing campaign, give speeches in front of the School Board? I’m looking over the edge, What if it’s icy? What if people don’t like my blog? What if people don’t like my book? What if people don’t like ME?

So you stand there while the wind comes up the ridge in swirls and you yell something to your buddy, “are you going?” and he nods and yells “just about” in a garble and takes a turn at Thwack, Thwack. This is supposedly checking for avalanche but really it’s just a cool way to stall. To be honest, I feel a confidence and freedom on skis that I have never felt stating an unpopular opinion to another person. The fear at the edge of a cornice is not nearly the shaky gut-sick feeling I have imagining telling someone something that might make them angry.

Maybe that’s why I married a police officer/soldier with whom I hardly agree about anything. So I can practice. Also because I love the way he is not afraid of interpersonal conflict, the way he stands up and says, “STOP! Or you’re going to have to deal with ME.”

Through our marriage, I’ve come to see that it’s not differences that are the problem but rather, the way we express them. We don’t have to agree. We both just need to be heard. I got a neat email today from Kidpower, about communicating with integrity, about overcoming the tendency to speak badly to other people about the person you are in conflict with, instead of confronting the problem directly. So I’m not the only one who finds this difficult! My husband is kind overall about my fears, but occasionally gets frustrated. “Troop!“ he steamed today, “That meeting’s going to be fine. And if it’s not, we’ll handle it. For godsakes, wrap your shit tight!

Another way to say, “Wrap your shit tight!” might be the way Ambrose Redmoon put it, "Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear."

I have a memory that sparkles around the edges: a bluebird day, sunny skies, fresh dusting of snow. My friend Ethan and I tucked off the Alpine Bowl chair, stayed high along the ridge, and hiked up the knoll to where we could drop into Keyhole. Two young men were standing at the edge just below us, skis off, thwack thwacking. I’d seen the conditions when I traversed the ridge, and everything looked perfect to me. I saw the beautiful run I was going to have, pictured it in my mind. And I didn’t even take my skis off. I didn’t even stop. I just launched right over.

When Ethan caught up, I pulsed with calm exhilaration. “What about the landing?” he asked. “Weren’t you worried you’d miss that first turn and hit the rock?” I told him what for that split second I had understood: that I could make a conscious choice to look toward the possibilities, instead of toward my fears.

I talked to the principal on the phone today, and she is arranging the meeting. Here’s to embracing it as an opportunity. Who knows, maybe the book thing will go well too. Maybe I can even blog. Two, even three times a week. So no more thwacking. I’m walking back to my skis and clicking in. I’m giving the thumbs-up sign to my buddy as I re-arrange my goggles. Deep breath, the snow is perfect wind-blown, a push and a half-skate to get some momentum, and here I go, flying over the edge.

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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Inauguration Blues and Reds

I was delighted to be asked to post at the blog of my publisher, Beacon Press, on Inauguration Day. I promise to post some photos below, from my trip to Ohio in October to volunteer for the Obama campaign, the dancing at the Inauguration Party, and if he lets me, my husband looking glum...

I'm curious to hear your ideas about overcoming differences, political or otherwise, in our important relationships, and how Obama inspires you or not. Enjoy!

The following is reprinted from Beacon Broadside. The original can be found here.

To go to my main website home page, click here.

Celebrating the Inaugural in a Bipartisan Marriage

At various points during Election Day I briefly let myself think that Obama might actually win. If he did, I was going to do something BIG. I was going to run naked down the street with an American flag streaming behind me. I was going to dance (clothed) with throngs of people— all shades of brown and black and white. I was going to kiss random strangers. But at some point in my imaginings, about when the tears started to form in my eyes, I always stopped myself, not sure it was time yet to let all the frustrations of the past eight years, the voicelessness, the demonization, all these bottled emotions come gushing out. Not yet. Not until it was sure.

I knew my husband would not share in the festivities. He is no Obamaniac. The way I feel about Obama, he feels about mmm... Ronald Reagan, maybe, or better yet Theodore Roosevelt, whom he refers to simply as “T.R.” I have become accustomed, in my bipartisan marriage, to not sharing the same perspective on electoral politics. But still, my husband encouraged me to go to Ohio in October because he knew it was important to me to volunteer for Obama in a battleground state. On Election Day he humored me by taking my photo at the voting booth, my grinning face next to the big check mark by Barack Obama/ Joe Biden.

But around 6 pm, as Ohio was declared for Obama and I opened my front door and whooped like a banshee, my husband seemed annoyed by my joy. He chided our seven-year-old son and three-year old daughter who were taking my revelry as a sign it might be a good time to start leaping off our furniture. My husband’s reproach was almost churlish, which is very unlike him. After putting our daughter to bed, my husband did the same, at his usual time of 7:30 pm, before the victor was even announced. He gets up at 3:15 am to start his shift as a sergeant of police in nearby Oakland. He is also a West Point graduate and a colonel in the Army Reserves. He returned from Iraq this past May after fifteen months separation from our family. Politically, he is what I call “a Republican like the Republicans used to be:” fiscally conservative, small government, pro-defense. For a while my husband supported John McCain. But McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin completely disillusioned him.

At eight o’clock, when CNBC announced Obama had won, I opened the front door and whooped again. There were some other whoops but no one running, naked or otherwise, on our street. I proposed my mom, my son, and I drive to the nearest Obama office to find some strangers to kiss. But my mom insisted we watch the acceptance speech first. My son consented to doing a crazy dance with me on the couch. Unfortunately, after the speech, my son began exhibiting the classic signs of being up way past his bedtime: verbal jabs at his mother. I don’t like Obama anymore! Enough about Obama!

Once my son was asleep in bed, I didn’t know what to do. I suddenly felt dog-tired, and besides, I had no one to go with. My mom was already in her jammies. My sleeping children might wake up and need me. My husband needed to rest. I stood in the kitchen and felt the moment slip out of my grasp.

Thousands of people danced in the Berkeley streets just a short drive away from my house. I missed it. There will never be another Election night like the one when Barack Obama got elected. I cried, telling my husband this a week or so later, as we stopped to rest during a walk along the San Francisco Bay. I missed it. I got left out. I asked why he hadn’t recognized how important the occasion was for me, and helped me to take part in it. We do this for each other: I go to the police promotions and the Army ceremonies; he to the book readings. I asked him, didn’t he understand how important the election was for me?

He said he was sorry. He had known how important it was to me, but he hadn’t been just tired. He said the election was really hard on him. He felt disappointed, deflated, lonely. He said, “The kind of guys I usually admire... in this election, they just turned out so lame.” Talk about feeling left out. I took his hand, and suddenly I didn’t care so much about missing the party. The party isn’t always where I think it is. Sometimes it’s just between me and my son, doing a silly dance on the couch. Or sitting with my husband, watching a tiny Vietnamese fisherman expertly casting his line into the Bay, and hearing what it’s like for one Republican at this historic moment in time.

For me, this is the hope for unity that Obama represents, that we might reach out individually, and as a country, to listen to those who are different from us. I don’t think we realize as a society how powerful being heard is, how it softens the differences between us, and builds a foundation upon which solutions can be constructed. We all so much want to be heard. Some of us want to be heard so much, we write memoirs, for goodness sake.

I’m having a little party on Inauguration Day after school lets out. The guests will be other parents and their small children. I will play over and over the countdown in Grant Park to the CNN announcement of the Obama victory. Then we can re-enact the hugging and the kissing and the dancing in the streets that I missed. My husband will work on the streets of Oakland, and when he gets home, we will sit quietly together and tell each other what it was like.

To go to my main website home page, click here.