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Archive for August, 2011

In the Genes

                 A pooled din of voices filled the room which was jammed with shoppers eagerly scanning the display tables. As a vendor, I was pleased to see the crowd. Unlike most of the attendees, I was present only because my husband needed help operating his table. Basically, I was a disinterested party. (My concerns were the bottom line and a happy spouse.)  Fragments of individual conversations danced on my ears. I strained to lock onto one at a time imitating Jane Goodall—except I was observing numismatists instead of chimpanzees.

            Collectors are an intriguing breed who delight in nuance and detail. The adventure of discovery is buttressed by their fascination with detail. This ensures that every potential incarnation of the item can be tracked—and more importantly, acquired. The slightest variation justifies the purchase of additional material. Much of their pleasure derives from the prospecting and great satisfaction accrues from the haggling process as well. A perfect transaction leaves both buyer and seller convinced that a bargain was struck

            True collectors thrill at the chance to display their treasure, preening like proud mothers cradling their newborns. Hyperbole abounds as owners extol the unique features of each specimen. The knowledgeable appreciation of an informed audience brings resonant joy to the lucky owner. All that stuff which collectors accumulate is bundled with facts that provide context. History comes to life, assembled from a mosaic of painstakingly acquired information. Connection to a significant event or important person is highlighted. (And often improves both appreciation and price.) The sense of community is an intangible benefit equally valuable as the collection itself. This tribe has its own language, culture, heroes and Holy Grail.

            Skeptical spouses sit on the side-lines unconvinced by the charm of the newest purchase and chagrined by the expense. Reassurances that “It’s a good investment,” soften the irritation—a hair.

            Ultimately, collectors are a separate sub-species. You either have the gene or you don’t. I decided that I don’t.

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11:30 p.m., tick, tick, tick

    I cast my creative net this afternoon looking for a prompt to corral into a provocative thought. Using my birthday digits, 2-13-50 as a pattern, I selected the second book from the stack of unread volumes that crowded my desk. Flipping to the thirteenth chapter, I noted the 50th word:  11:30 p.m. and considered how this number could inspire meaning for me.

     The analog clock allows the passage of time to become visible as its hands trace their circular course. Time traverses an elastic journey, sometimes racing in spinning blurs, other times dragging like a kid on the way to the dentist, every step an effort of will. 11:30 p.m. casts a variety of shadows varying with the angle from which I view it.

     Health—I’ve had brushes with serious illness and experienced the visceral wake-up call that time is too valuable to be wasted. For over 40 years it provided a benchmark by which I assayed “Big Stuff” or “Small Stuff,” and decided if things were worth sweating.  Yet only recently have I renewed my commitment to maintain my body with dedication, resolve and yes, sweat.

     Relationships—I’m struck by the sense of seasons in friendships. Bonds forged through common experience, life-saving compassion or spirit-fueling joy link friends through time. Some pulse with vitality for a lifetime; others quicken for an interval and become warm memories of grace and support no less meaningful for their brevity. Like a clay sculpture, I am shaped by every relationship.

     As a parent, 11:30 p.m. highlights that the training phase is completed. Whatever I could teach, they have learned—or consciously discarded.  My children are 26 and 24. I now serve as consultant, cheer-leader, willing resource and occasionally as devil’s advocate.

     Dreams—One year ago, I heard the ticking of the clock preparing to toll my 61st birthday. I admitted that the only obstacle which prevented my dreams of writing a book was my willingness to commit to it 100% and make it happen. With courage in my pocket and a heart racing at mach speed I marched onto the path of my life as writer. The universe rewarded my resolve and Palm City Word Weavers leapt off the pages of the Stuart News into my day-planner. I’ve added “writer” to the many hats I wear and vibrate with the vitality of pursuing a dream. This community of “Writers helping writers” nurtures and encourages my efforts. Friendship has been the serendipitous bonus gratefully received.

Tick, tick, tick, in what way does 11:30 p.m. deliver meaning into your lap?

Storm Shadows

            Amidst the scarifying tone of the current reporting on Hurricane Irene’s approach, my nether regions clutch uncomfortably and dredge unpleasant memories from the 2004 hurricane season. In one three week span hurricanes Frances and Jeanne walloped our area; both came ashore at Sewall’s Point, their official landing spots located only three miles apart. Hunkered inside our “safe space,” protected by storm shutters and a well-built house, the dissonant symphony of destruction magnified our fear. As if Velcro-ed to my hip, Heidi and Toto, our two normally vocal terriers, snuggled against me in terrified silence. They ate and drank nothing and appeared grateful for the diapers I provided as a precaution. At least they cooperated as I struggled to adjust the Pampers. (Think about it; it isn’t easy to accommodate a fluffy tail without defeating the purpose of the diaper in the first place.)

            What Frances left unscathed, Jeanne finished off. Our screen enclosure was peeled apart accompanied by eerie, screeching complaints as the wind disassembled it as easily as a tot knocks apart wooden blocks. Heavy cement tiles popped off our roof like corn in a hot air popper.Along with thousands of others, we became the proud owners of a blue plastic tarp and sported this architectural eyesore for many months. The first contractor we hired absconded with a large deposit; before we could hire a replacement, litigation had to be settled. Eventually, we did get our refund and a competent, reliable company installed an attractive Key West-style metal roof. Far more important than the esthetic impression, is the hurricane survivability that they guaranteed. If the storm does pass through, our roof will be put to the test and we’ll learn whether the storm-worthiness promise is worth the paper on which it is written.

            We’ve lived in Florida for 24 hurricane seasons and have coped pretty well. The 2004 season is the only one in which we had catastrophic damage. In other years we lost trees and sweated without electricity for a couple of weeks. Toilets could be flushed with water hauled from our pool and we used solar shower bags to create “hot” water for bathing. Gas grills are wonderful for cooking and we were able to become acquainted with stars that under normal circumstances are impossible to see due to ambient urban light.

            Some good did follow the storm. Neighbors checked on one another and shared supplies. Families spent lots of “quality” time together. Okay, so maybe not all of it was “quality” or fun, but it was endurable and we learned to pull together. In the aftermath of the storm, my 84 year-old mother commented drily that “She had never wanted to go camping and was less than thrilled with this “baptism by fire.” We discovered things about ourselves and our possessions. Valuable had an entirely new definition. While stuff is enjoyable and can ease day to day living, all of it is replaceable, family and friends are not. They are the treasures of our lives.

Measuring Success

 

            Since I persuaded my spouse that it would be wise for us to exercise at the gym each day— for two hours— nearly a month has passed. Well okay, twenty-three days if you want to nit-pick. Yesterday my husband crowed that he’d already dropped 14 pounds, then he had the audacity to ask what the scales reported as my progress. To humor him, I promptly stepped onto the Healthometer full of confidence. The scale gave a satisfying flicker of red electronic digits and finally came to rest.

            I stared at the read out. My smug smile disappeared; I was ticked off and shocked into silence. My spouse roared—well perhaps it wasn’t a roar but it certainly did give him altogether too much pleasure as we both studied the luminous digits. The evil red-eyed machine flashed a weight gain of 1 pound. Numbers don’t lie. There it was in liquid crystal reality: he’d lost fourteen pounds and I had gained one. “How the heck is that possible?” I protested with self-righteous indignation.

            My husband bravely offered an observation, “You have been hungrier than usual when we get back from the gym.”

            I wanted to be able to deny his comments; unfortunately they were true and I had the digital read out to prove it. Exercising had awakened a ravenous appetite. Previously my interest in food was casual; I ate to live and focused on small portions of a healthy well-balanced menu. However, after our forays to the gym our kitchen became the stage for satisfying a hunger that was a replay of our adolescent son’s as he erupted into a 6’6” young man. I plowed through a platter of carrot sticks and fresh fruit with the speed of army ants stripping a carcass to the bones.

            Our personal trainer reassures me that it’s a normal response as I build up muscle and increase bone density, both of which are desirable for a petite female over 60. But let’s face it; no woman likes to see the scale creep up, even by just a single pound. Toned muscles and stronger bones rank high on my list of pluses, so I am placing my trust in her expertise. I’ll use the tape measure instead of the scale to track my progress. I can tell from the way my clothes are fitting that metric will bring a smile to my face and reinforce my commitment to a healthy life-style.

Confessions of an Addict …

      Okay so I’ve decided to come out of the closet. No, no. no, not that closet, the other one where book-obsessed readers lurk, cloaking their habit in solitude. For me, reading is comfort, inspiration, therapy and adventure. That it allows me to avoid tedious chores and boring programs on TV is a delightful bonus.

     Now that I am actively pursuing my writing dreams, the numerous hours I spend indulging my reading appetite transforms my guilty pleasure into an honorable endeavor. Professional research is essential to my success. An understanding of the current publishing market, a familiarity with the authors who are finding an audience, a well-honed skill set of grammar and the techniques of plot, character and pacing all demand prodigious amounts of comparative reading. Amazon.com is probably going to name me as one of their 10 best—customers, that is.

            My husband’s ill-timed requests for dinner can be sloughed off, good-naturedly and with the bonus of a clear conscience because—here’s the thrill of it—I’m “working.” Yep, buzz off, Bucko, I’m chest deep in a good read and can’t be disturbed by such mundane interruptions as cooking or laundry. This is genius at work and creativity operates on its own time clock.

            I’d have more credibility, if I had some monetary proof to wave—an indication that somebody values my tales enough to put out some cash. A paycheck would provide tangible evidence that my writing is viable. So far, my efforts have been personally rewarding but financially they’re dead in the water. My loyal hubby’s perspective sums it up tersely: “Face it. You’ve got an allergy to a paycheck, Darlin’.

            I admit to being hooked by that feel-good glow that comes from doing things from passion or service. There’s no boss ordering me to complete a task that’s meaningful solely because I’m on the payroll and that’s the assignment. This privileged stance is a benefit provided by said spouse who for forty years has been the provider willing to tether himself to a job and the demands that it required.

            I sweetly remind him that he’s not the only retiree in the house. I’ve surrendered my membership in the super mom-wife club and have committed to a new identity, that of author in residence. Fortunately, I’ve got one uber-fan, and it’s the one that means the most: my husband, who consistently titles himself with a dollop of humor my “sainted spouse.”

            St. George and I continue to believe that success as a writer will come. Of course, our vision of how that will look is pretty divergent. I’d be satisfied with a book in hand; he’d be ecstatic if it included some financial boon as well. I should look on Amazon to see if they have a good book on that topic …

 

 

On Becoming a Family

Families created through adoption struggle to be accepted as “just as good as” biologically created families. The absence of a genetic link does not lessen the depth of affection or the intensity of the commitment; they love and care about one another regardless of how they came together. Adoptive families find joy and happiness, solace and security and life-long attachments. But equivalence does not translate into “the same as” because all adoptions begin in loss.

Adoptive parents lose the fantasy of a biological child which they would have created as a loving couple, pooling their genes and continuing the family lineage forward through time. Eventually, they move from wanting to achieve pregnancy to wanting to be parents and choose adoption as the method.

For the adoptee, it is the loss of his biological connection and of the security of being loved and raised by the adults who created them. It is not a small matter to come to grips with rejection by one’s biological parents. Adoptees may come to understand it intellectually and even accept it as the best of several difficult options, but the emotional insult is primal and spirals throughout their lives. Recognizing and mourning this loss co-exists with cherishing their adoptive families; they do not compete with one another.

Loss, rejection and the ensuing feelings of not-good-enough spawn a gremlin that can consume and destroy if it is not managed with compassion and understanding. The impact of a stressful pre-natal environment alters neurology and can affect the sequence of healthy brain development. This often requires remediation or educated interventions. Because of echoing loss issues many of the typical strategies advocated in parenting programs are counter-productive for adoptive families. Time Out for instance can have devastating effects as it replays the abandonment scenario and serves to weaken attachment—not a good thing in any parent/child relationship

 For many generations society expected adoptees to transition effortlessly from one family tree to another without recognizing the effort and cost this grafting required. Our culture expected that adoptees be “grateful” and deny the genuine losses they experienced in order to gain their new, loving “forever” family.

As an adoption coach, I strive to bridge this divide with compassion for all members of the adoption triad and operate with understanding and respect for the individuals. Adoption absolutely can be a successful, loving relationships braided with compassion, joy and truth and and supported with strategies that acknowledge the unique circumstances of adoption.

The Sixties

      The pages of my Life Book have been riffling by with amazing speed. Not quite over the Medicare divide, I am gathering speed and well on the approach. How did all those years slip through my fingers so quickly? Yesterday I walked the campus of Boston University, scurried to classes, explored ideas and plunged into political protest. It was the late sixties, after all. The atmosphere was intellectually stimulating and romance was in first blush. Youth glowed in my face and inspired visions of “Making a Difference.”

      Now when I look in the mirror I am startled to view the face of a senior. A graduate of the school of life has replaced the naive ingénue. Still, I feel physically robust and have recently launched two new careers —as an adoption coach and as a writer—both of which are passion-fueled and energizing. Cancer was defeated and left in the dust forty-six years ago. In May we marked our 40th wedding anniversary with a memorable trip to Peru.

      But recently, our trips have been less memorable and the destination far more mundane— the gym. The two hours spent stretching, heaving and hauling heavy exercise machines while working up a very unladylike sweat are the most important minutes of each day. Ill health plagues many relatives and dear friends and some have already succumbed to mortality. (I get the message, God; I’m not taking my good fortune for granted.) Dylan Thomas wrote “Do not go gentle into that good night” and so, I drive to the gym and nurture my greatest blessing: good health.

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