Monthly Archives: August 2012

Mine

Mine (possessive pronoun): used to refer to a thing or things belonging to or associated with the speaker.

I’ve been thinking a lot today about the concept of ownership. What’s “mine.”

We learn the word “mine” early, usually as part and parcel of that beautiful phase of life known as “the terrible twos.” Hopefully we grow out of being that stubborn and demanding. But what makes something really mine?

With things, it seems pretty straightforward: “This pencil is mine.” But why is it mine? Because someone gave it to me? Because I exchanged money with someone to acquire it? In the world of Harry Potter, the goblins believe that when someone pays them for an object they crafted, the buyer merely “possesses” the object until their death, and then ownership reverts back to the goblin who made it. Or, for example, in our universe, the vast majority of songwriters write “their” songs, but through a contract, it’s likely the recording company that “owns” the rights. In my life, usually getting something as a gift or paying money for something is enough to make it mine—to do with what I like, until I lose it or tire of it and give ownership of it to someone else. “Ours” becomes a little more complicated, but as we grew up, we learned how to share, or at least that sharing is a good thing. And yet I know a man, the sole breadwinner for his family, who truly believes that because he paid for the house, the vehicle(s), the furniture, the clothes, etc. with his income from his job, that those things all actually belong to him, because he paid for them. The rest of the family may be using them, but in all actuality, all those things really belong to him. Mine.

With the people in normal, everyday life, “mine” is usually more of the “associated with the speaker” part. To pertly clarify that “no, my husband is the cute one over there.” But I think that in relationships it’s tempting to have the feeling of ownership creep in where it shouldn’t. Women do this. Men do this. We do it to feel secure. Or to feel power. Or maybe we feel just a little bit entitled. And there are a lot of traditions where it’s just perfectly normal to consider a wife or a child as the property of the family patriarch. Mine.

In one of my favorite parts of one of my favorite books (Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow, which I just re-read for the umpteenth time), Anne, a woman in her sixties, tells a younger man about her marriage:

“Lemme tell ya something sweetface. I have been married at least four times, to four different men… They’ve all been named George Edwards but, believe me, the man who is waiting for me down the hall is a whole different animal from the boy I married, back before there was dirt… People change. Cultures change. Empires rise and fall. Shit. Geology changes! Every ten years or so, George and I have faced the fact that we have changed and we’ve had to decide if it makes sense to create a marriage between these two new people. Which is why vows are such a tricky business… Always and forever! Those aren’t human words, Jim. Not even stones are always and forever.”

I love this passage for so many reasons. And Anne’s character is one of my favorite “fictional” women ever—fictional in definition, but so wise, so real. She talks about choosing her husband again and again. Not about merely holding him to a legal contract, but repeatedly choosing him, who he is, in a new light, even as they both change. Sure, George is “her” husband, but through partnership and choice, not ownership. In what I’ve seen of the world, it feels like relationships start going south the moment when those two things get confused.

Mine.

I wonder, if it had a choice, would my pencil choose me?

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Categories: On the Page | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Haiku Tuesdays: Precipice

Yes, it’s that time again. Time to take five minutes out of your day to smile, create, and enjoy.

For those of you just joining us, Haiku Tuesdays (explained more here) is a small, fun workout for your spontaneity muscles.

For those of you who posted last week—thank you! They were delicious and nutritious.

Today’s random word from my trusty, rusty pocket dictionary… Precipice: a steep cliff.
Post your seventeen syllables here!

Down in my abyss
Not stuff of dark nightmares but
Soft, fuzzy monsters

Categories: Haiku Tuesdays | Tags: , | 8 Comments

The Sound of Ducks Bouncing on Whoopie Cushions

I am learning to be quiet. Well, I’m working on learning to be quiet. Actually I’m trying to slow down enough to work on learning to be quiet.

Let’s start this again.

Through a string of interesting connections and coincidences (if you believe in coincidences), the small tower of books that lives on our coffee table lately has been constructed out of a fair number of books by and about Quakers (The Society of Friends) and Buddhists—seemingly two completely different spiritual journeys which, on further glance, have much more in common than I would have ever guessed.

Up until a few months ago, I knew practically nothing about either of those paths—which is always fun for me, to start learning about something pretty much from scratch, with no real understanding or strongly-held convictions. It’s great, because when you start from ground zero, your ego really has nothing to lose, so you’re just open to learning. And one of the enticing things I’ve found in both of these spiritual paths is their deep belief that, aside from anything else, spending time learning to be quiet is crucial to understanding both yourself and the world around you—which are inextricably interconnected.

Now, I’m really great at being silent–not making any noise. I can read and/or write for hours, probably days, if left to my own devices. Throw out the phone, tv, even music, for a period of time. No big deal.

But I’m finding that being quiet is so much more than simply not making any audible noise. Slowing down, I find it’s recognizing the cacophony of all of the reverberating things in my head—the conversations, the thoughts, the memories, the anticipations, the songs stuck in my brain that can repeat long after my iPod runs out of batteries. It’s not quiet inside. And so, slowly, I’m testing the waters of making time to be truly quiet, to make space to just exist for awhile. To let all the flashing lights and party favors whirring around in my head take a break.

And so I found myself this morning making some space to be quiet. But the world is not a completely quiet place. Even mostly still, clocks tick, fans whir, air-conditioners (God bless air-conditioners, it’s hot today) whoosh on and off—these all lie in the background noise which I never normally slow down enough to notice.

And then, of course, there are the birds.

I don’t know what kind of birds they were this morning, but the first few chirps were lovely and wonderful, and then the squawkers came in, loudly and with gusto. And my mind instantly, desperately wanted to figure out what was going on outside. The sounds they were making were almost wet—like there were geese sloshing around outside wearing galoshes half filled with water. Squelch. Squelch. Quack. No, my mind said, not galoshes. That’s ridiculous. And then, out of nowhere, my mind formed this calculated and expert analysis:

Yes, they were indeed ducks. Ducks bouncing on whoopie cushions.

I nearly lost it. My shoulders started shaking, I was laughing so hard. Silently. And then I managed to pull myself back just short of snorting out loud. I did not completely manage to get rid of the mammoth grin on my face. After awhile, I just decided to let that stay.

Anyway, for all intents and purposes, I heartily recommend exploring the world of silence. It is a surprising little universe we have in there, in our heads.

If you’re curious, here are some of the things I’ve been reading lately, none of which really have specific instructions on encountering ducks or whoopie cushions, but are intriguing, nonetheless:
Buddha, by Karen Armstrong (a religious scholar with the combined talents of exploring religious beliefs respectfully while not being preachy or excruciatingly dull)
The Barn at the End of the World: The Apprenticeship of a Quaker Buddhist Shepherd, by Mary Rose O’Reilly (a book of small notebook extracts, fun even if you only just like sheep)
The Active Life, by Parker Palmer (on finding a balance between being a monk and an activist living in the real world)
A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward An Undivided Life, by Parker Palmer (on being yourself, including how your soul is like a wild animal and how you can keep from scaring it away)

Just some food for thought. Have a good journey, whichever path you’re on. With or without ducks.

 

Categories: On the Page | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Haiku Tuesdays: Welcome

Welcome to Haiku Tuesdays, in which we test the slightly murky waters of creativity and possible group participation.

Every now and then I like to carry around a pocket dictionary, pick a word at random and write about the first thing that comes to mind. It’s a fun little exercise for my spontaneity muscles, which don’t always get much of a workout. There’s no great effort at profundity, no hard and fast rules, just a fun splutter of words, somewhat akin to Jackson Pollock somewhat-strategically chucking paint at a canvas to see what the colors look like.

And so, in the spirit of somewhat-strategically chucking words on a page, I thought it might be fun to throw the exercise out here, both for my own practice and to see if anyone else is up for joining in. For the sake of brevity, it occurred to me that haikus might be a nice loose framework to play with. There are lots of nuances and symbolism and imagery in more formal, traditional haiku, which you can read all about here, but for the sake of fun, let’s just go with hitting seventeen syllables in a 5x7x5 line structure.

Here’s the game:
• I’ll pick a word out of my magic word book and throw my own little entry up.
• You take my word, or any other word you happen to like, and post your own little entry up.

No overthinking, please. Use this for a 5-minute brain break from something else in your day. Smile. Write. Enjoy.
And remember, always check the box that says, “Yes, thanks, I like fun.”

And so, little magic dictionary, here we go. Today’s word is… chauffeur.

Driving endlessly
Night blurs hues of reds and greens
Near misses with squirrels

Happy haiku everybody!

Categories: Haiku Tuesdays | Tags: , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Sleepovers (and other misnomers)

A friend of mine mentioned that her daughter had a sleepover at a friend’s house, and of course that brought up the fact that sleep is actually one of the least likely things to occur at a sleepover.

We decided that sleepovers are actually a clinical condition much better referred to as RSD: Recreational Sleep Deprivation.

Sleep: it’s a noun, it’s a verb, it’s a great way to spend a Saturday morning if you can’t watch cartoons. But like all sorts of other words, it hasn’t limited itself to its original meaning, which made me think of other “sleep” words that don’t have much to do with the primary dictionary definition:

• to sleep with someone: euphemism
• to sleep with the fishes: something hopefully completely different from the above
• to let sleeping dogs lie: worst case scenario, this ends up with you and the fishes, leading into
• the big sleep: do not pass go, do not collect $200.

Happy weekend, everyone. Enjoy the lovely summer days. And if you can, catch some zzzs and pull them into a hammock for a good afternoon nap.

Categories: In the Lexicon | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

The Legal Age for Reading

It’s not what you think.

Back in May, New York Times columnist Joel Stein published a small tidbit called “Adults Should Read Adult Books,” saying that adults should read to learn, to appreciate material written for adults, by adults. He equated adults reading books written for younger audiences to playing three hours of Donkey Kong.

I’m not going to go into why this is fairly ridiculous. Well, okay, just a little bit:
1) Imagine missing out on Alice in Wonderland. You’re over 18? Too bad for you.
2) Romance novels qualify as fiction written by adults for adults.
3) Narnia. Harry Potter. Ender Wiggin. Lemony Snicket. A Wrinkle in Time.

So he’s saying that after someone reaches voting age, they shouldn’t ever go back and read those again unless they’re reading them to children?

To be fair, in spirit, I understand what he’s saying–we as adults should still be hungry for reading books that challenge us intellectually, emotionally, spiritually. That use words we might have to look up. That present us with situations prompting healthy, serious discussions with adult friends. That said, I will probably still never even attempt to read Proust, even with its reputation of literary magnificence. But I will still keep working through classics from time to time and keep an eye out for new modern marvels.

But I won’t put some backwards age limit on what to read, and so in the spirit of joyful rebellion, here are the results of a reader survey recently published by NPR: 100 Best-Ever Teen Novels. I read through the list and there are so many wonderful books in there, books that I would love to read again, characters I’d love to spend another few hours with. And the ones that I wasn’t familiar with? I just added a bunch of them to my library list, and look forward to curling up with some great new stories.

Some people’s kids. Hope they’re reading these. While they still can.

Categories: On the Page | Tags: , | 3 Comments

Hiatus (Or, No Thanks, I Don’t Like Fun)

I got an Evite invitation a couple of months ago for a friend’s party. The creative hosts had made up their own reply headings, and the section for informing them that you were unfortunately going to have to decline their lovely soiree was titled, “No Thanks, I Don’t Like Fun.”

This made me feel both delighted and deflated–the former, because I loved their ingenuity, and the latter, because I actually couldn’t go. Thankfully, it was because I had equally fun plans, but still, there’s something about checking a box that says, “No Thanks, I Don’t Like Fun” that just isn’t, well, fun. I have been thinking about this ever since.

I grew up on a farm. Farm kids are born busy, and develop impressive work ethics, if they don’t choke and run away to join the circus (where they will find they were deluded, for circus life also requires an impressive work ethic). But there is always something to be done. And something after that. And something after that. And you learn not to sit down much. And if you sit down, chances are you may very well be told to stand up again and go do something else. Farm life has many pleasures, to be sure, but there is always lots to do.

Don’t get me wrong. An impressive work ethic is a wonderful thing. But if you internalize it too much, you find yourself trained to always look for that something “more” to do and conditioned to feel guilty every time you sit down to do something unquantifiably productive. This is sad, and probably also a little unhealthy. There will always be more to do. Something more to organize. Something else to clean. It will never end. And that’s not bad–taking care of life and helping the people who count on you is important. But all work and no play, as they say… and isn’t there some expert somewhere who says that dirt is healthy and builds character?

And so. Here I go, picking up from almost four months ago, an unintended hiatus. Four months of unintentionally checking the, “No Thanks, I Don’t Like Fun” button when it comes to writing and imagining and pondering books and words and shoes and ships and sealing wax, etc. And there are books to talk about—the last four months have not been without books. (We are discussing a hiatus after all, not a death sentence.)

I think I will make myself a sign to hang somewhere that I will see every day that says, “Yes, Thanks, I Like Fun.”

You can make one too. Take a picture of it. Post it up for everyone to see.

Categories: Uncategorized | 3 Comments

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