Tuesday, July 31, 2012

...are you as tired of snarkasm as I am?

His tweet read, "Is it just me or are people getting snarkier on Twitter?" So it would seem. In fact, snarkiness is rampant everywhere.
I sound like my grandmother but whatever happened to "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything"? Or "a soft answer turneth away wrath"? 

The synonyms for snarky are legion: critical, cutting, testy, irritable, crotchety, snappish, snide, irascible.  Taken from the verb snark "to snort", we can thank the Germans, North Frisians and the Swedes for this over-used and, even worse, over-exercised word. It is related to snit, as in "I may have a snit if the snarky comments don't cease." I know that I am a word wonk but allow me to present one more interesting derivation. The British verb nark means to annoy or to nose around and the noun nark means, yep, police informer. I now know the source of the word attributed to an a number of people in college. 

The subject of civility -  which seems sadly absent in our culture - keeps surfacing in my thoughts. The word means much more than good manners. Years ago Scott Peck's book, The Return to Civility, addressed the role of civility in personal relationships and society.  He wrote, "Our illness is incivility, the morally destructive patterns of self-absorption, callousness, manipulativeness, and materialism."  He tells the story of a man on an airplane who strikes up a conversation with another passenger and decides that this might be a great business opportunity. He gets up, goes to the loo, checks the man's credit rating in his copy of Dun & Bradstreet, then returns to his seat with a drink for his "new best friend". Peck points out that the captive flyer, who is treated as a friend on the surface, is, in truth, being used for personal gain. The greedy man was polite but insincere. 

Peck says that narcissism - where a person treats others as things to be used - is the basis of incivility.  Conversely civility considers the feelings of other. A civil person isn't a cupcake: one may be both courteous and forceful. If I allow my child, for instance, to treat me with disrespect because I want them to "love" me, I am behaving in a narcissistic manner. My needs/feelings are more important than the proper boundaries that a child needs to learn to be a healthy, functioning member of society. Just so you know, Patrick and Adrienne, I was being extremely civil when I put you in timeout. Love in action.  

Feeling snarky? I think most of us probably do from time to time. But I know how much I've disliked being on the receiving end. Words, like sticks and stones, hurt. Even, perhaps especially, those that destroy trust: sweet phrases disguised as caring thoughts that are less sweet and caring than manipulative. Perhaps it's time to pull out a couple of time-honored adages: the truest test of character is a well-scarred tongue, bitten rather than stirred to action and silence is golden. Thanks to my friend, Nancy, who recently pointed me to a book by Barbara Brown Taylor, Altars in the World. I had read other books by Ms. Brown but had missed this one. I love the following excerpt from a chapter about community:

What we have most in common is not religion but humanity...
The point is to see the person standing right in front of me
who has no substitute
who can never be replaced
whose heart holds things for which there is no language
whose life is an unsolved mystery.
The moment I turn that person into a character in my own story, the encounter is over. I have stopped being a human being and have become a fiction writer instead.

...the assignment is to get over yourself. The assignment is to love the God you did not make up with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind, and the second is like unto it: to love the neighbor you also did not make up as if that person were your own strange and particular self. Do this, and the doing will teach you everything you need to know. Do this, and you will live.

Here's to life, my friends, not just survival. 
And to "win-win”. 
We are all neighbors on this good earth. 
There is room at the table for everyone. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

...on the other side of the hedge

Let's be honest, we're nothing without our dreams. 
Our dreams are what we are.
They're not pie in the sky. They are real. 
They motivate us, encourage us, 
and nurture us toward a better tomorrow. 
Our hopes are as important to our health and well-being as our blood. 
Without hope we merely wait to die.
Cap'n Fatty Goodlander

On afternoon walks, I sometimes pass the hedge in this photo. Tall and deep, squared off with precision, the green wall reminds me of a favorite childhood book, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. The main character, Mary, born in India to wealthy English parents, neither of whom wanted her, is sent to Yorkshire, England to live with a widowed uncle after a cholera epidemic in India kills everyone in Mary's household except the nine-year-old girl. A sullen child, she is banished to two rooms in the huge house. When she learns about her late aunt who grew roses in a secluded garden, Mary begins to heal, emotionally and physically. She is fascinated by the secret garden and mystified by strange cries in the house which no one else claims to hear. One day, while exploring the grounds,  she finds a key to the abandoned garden. Later she discovers the source of the cries. As the discoveries - within and without - mount, healing transforms one character after another.

My fascination with Yorkshire began with The Secret Garden. This large historic English county is home to cities and market towns, to rolling hills crisscrossed by stone walls and fields of sheep and cattle. Home to the moors that feature prominently in Burnett's book as well as those of the Bronte sisters who lived in Yorkshire along with many well-known poets and writers. Home to Carole, my ether friend, of whom I am thinking this morning.

Between the hedges, University of Georgia fans know, is where the battle is fought. Lush green boxwoods line both sides of the school's famous athletic field. One wit described the large stadium: "When you're near it, you'll hear it. On game day it becomes the state's third largest city." Football in our southland is legend. We turn out to tailgate with friends before the teams take the field. For sixty minutes - plus time-outs and commercial delays - twenty-two men (at a time) fight it out. Armed with strategy, directed by coaches, patrolled by referees, the players square off and the plan unfolds...or disintegrates. In full view of thousands - or millions, if televised - one team claims victory and partisan fans celebrate, or mourn, much as if they had played the game themselves.

Most days, however, I can be found outside the hedges without a clearly defined game plan and a paucity of coaches and cheerleaders. In the quiet, though, filled with dreams of what might be on the other side, I'm open to visions and ideas and notions that transcend my imagination. A holy place where the moment intersects a reality I cannot see.  Anne Lamott's words come to mind: "I have a lot of faith. But I am also afraid a lot, and have no real certainty about anything. I remember something...that the opposite of faith is not doubt,  but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns. I do not understand the mystery of grace, only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us."

Whatever is on the other side of the hedge can bring a healing. I rest on this. Perhaps not with this thought. But I rest on it and claim it. In Burnett's book, inside the old gated wall lay an untended wilderness which Mary began to tend. The garden grew her just as surely as she revived it. Others came into the circle. Carole, we both stand beside hedges, separated by thousands of miles. But we have been brought into the fold, my Yorkshire sister.  Burnett is speaking: "Much more surprising things can happen to any one who, when a disagreeable or discouraged thought comes into his mind, just has the sense to remember in time and push it out by putting in a agreeable determinedly courageous one. Two things cannot be in one place. 'Where you tend a rose, my lad, a thistle cannot grow'."

Sending love and light, hope and dreams, Carole...and this promise:

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:8-9

Monday, July 9, 2012

...i have to get a hair cut

If truth is beauty, then how come no one has their hair done in the library?
Lily Tomlin

It’s official. I’ve had more hairstyles than Hillary Clinton. Like the Secretary of State, I feel that I am a woman of substance. Some of my haircuts over the years, however, qualify as substance abuse. When we visited Bill’s mom last month, Miss Jean said nothing the night we arrived, not a peep to anyone. Until I leaned over to kiss her. She stared up from her pillow, looked directly into my eyes and said, “What have you done with your hair?” Perhaps Alzheimer’s has transported her to her hairdressing years. More likely, she can still recognize an over-grown mess. I told her that I needed her help to which she promptly replied, “Yes, you do.” Work done, she closed her eyes, whether to sleep or avoid the sight, I’m not sure. 
Before I continue, let me say that I have known many fabulous, talented stylists. Socially. True stylists prefer clients who make regular appointments and understand words like “lowlights” and “undercutting”. I’ve tried to improve my hair style communication. Really, I have. I take pictures with me.  Alas, whatever technique I try, I have, more frequently than not, ended up with some variation of a mullet. Odds are, my last words will be “What am I going to do with my hair?”
I’ve now hit my bottom, tonsorially speaking. “My name is Celeste and I am a drop-in.” Lest you snort, riddle me this: have any of you ever gone to the same hairdresser for years who suddenly announces, “We’re renovating the salon. You won’t recognize the place when you come back.”?  Well, have you? I thought so. You know as well as I do what you find when you return. The spa-like decor is mind-boggling. An anorexic receptionist named Christelle who has an attitude and a perpetually bored expression now sits at a sleek desk in the new reception area. But what you REALLY won’t recognize is your bill. Decimal places have shifted. Don't get me wrong. I'd love a spa experience. As a matter of fact, I think I'll save for one. Today, though, I need a trim. Just a scooch off the sides and ends, please. 

Trust me, you can’t be too careful. I know a lady back home who went to one of those up-graded salons that serves an assortment of wine and cheese. They liberally and frequently refilled her glass of chardonnay and offered her additional “hair and skin refinements”. After considerable libation, she consented. To the whole kit and kaboodle. Ms. Bored-to-her-Pedi’d Toenails at the front desk handed the blonde, bouffant and waxed woman a bill for $700 plus. Last I heard, she was crying in a neighbor’s kitchen. 
In my dreams, I’m the prosecutor.  “Did my client ask you, Mr. Jean [pronounced "zhaun"], for chic new wallpaper? Say that again. The first row couldn’t hear you." I stare into his defiant eyes. "And did she fuss about her old smock with the pink and green kitten print and three broken snaps? Answer the question, please." He shifts in the chair.  "Did she complain about pour-it-yourself coffee in Dixie cups? What was that? You say you can’t remember? Well, she does. In fact, Mr. Zhaun,” I turn to the the jurors, “she remembers when you were Johnny." Gasps fill the courtroom. The judge raises an eyebrow when I add, "In polo shirts and khakis, not those designer jeans with the white tee tucked in the center front.”  The jury - five of whom cancel standing appointments on the spot - awards the plaintiff a handsome sum. Then I wake up.
I moved across the country after I had found a miracle worker to replace the ones who quit to open restaurants or have babies. She worked within driving distance. Didn't have an attitude but provided plenty of Diet Coke, coffee and Hershey Kisses. I looked at pictures of her children and showed her photos of my granddaughter while we talked about recipes. A visit was one part great cut, one part reunion. I’m not deterred. I’ve met a fabulous stylist since I relocated to the west coast. Master cutter. Lovely person.  Sadly, she lives quite a distance from the bay but the three hour drive looks better by the day. To mangle the words of Thomas Edison, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 cutters that didn’t work out.” In the meantime, I take comfort in my hat fetish. And Jackie O shades.

Ciara, sweetheart, listen to Cece, the hair/hat thing

I'll send sunglasses.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

...when two or more come together

Time to think

One of my favorite writers, Annie Dillard, said, "In college I learned how to learn from other people. As far as I was concerned, writing in college didn't consist of what little Annie had to say, but what Wallace Stevens had to say. I didn't come to college to think my own thoughts. I came to learn what had been thought."

"To learn what had been thought." Wish I had said that, along with everything else Ms. Dillard has written. Dip into Pilgrim at Tinker Creek or Teaching a Stone to Talk. Or soak up her brief but excellent essays in A Writer's LIfe. 

The rest of life is a joint venture: the application of this knowledge and the development of personal, critical-thinking skills. We stand at the corner of  "I came to learn what had been thought" and "I think".  Nexus-ville.  Defined as "a connection, where multiple elements meet", nexus (not to be confused with the hair product with the extra "x") is derived from the Latin word for "binding". According to the Wiki, nexxum was a debt bondage contract in the early Roman Republic. The debtor pledged his person as collateral should he default on his loan. In the South, we say "owed his soul to the company store". Nexus was the person in bondage. 

You and I are bound to one another, for better or for worse. I choose to think for the better.  Nothing is original but derivation/distillation is the work of a lifetime, best done in tandem. My friend, Mary, retired last week after thirty-three years with a large corporation. The ranking female member of management, she sent two memos, one written in 1980, the other in 2012. The final sentence of the first reads "my conclusion was that it was not possible to do a comparative study of the career path of women in [insert corporate name - almost any would do in 1980] because as yet women had not had a career path."

The 2012 memo written was reflective: "I began to understand that change would be an evolution, not a revolution.  I was determined not to be a militant who would make men uncomfortable, but an example of a competent woman who would help them become more open to women in their own organization. I realized that part of the problem with becoming more comfortable was they were never around women at work. I convinced my colleagues that from now on, our goal should be to have at least one woman attend [heretofore, all-Our male function]."

It doesn't stop here...and nor will Mary. She will simply be out of uniform. That rarest of creatures, a person who began and ended a career with one company, on her last morning at work, Mary spoke with the son of the man who was on watch in her early career. The son shared that his father was outraged that Mary (and all women) were turned away from a managment event at an all-male club. This occurrance coupled with her reason-based response led to passage of an amendment to include women. She never knew this before her last day. Her email ended "This is an odd bookend to my career. The day begins with laughter through tears."

Think on this: A woman who has traveled the world, packing respect for all, went to work for a company, grew herself and others,  and stayed the course for thirty years never knew the full reach of her efforts.  The vital red "and" covers the years between start and finish, years spent not simply marking time but practicing the nexus of humility, perserverence, discipline, laughter and tears.  These ingredients - shaken and stirred - brew a heady mix.

Our mutual friend, Marie, wrote to Mary:  "Your genuine interest in and enjoyment of all flavors of individuals has served you and your fellow female employees well." [Note from me: insert "males, too".] "Opening doors and keeping them open is an art. Leading a velvet revolution is a challenge and an honor. Job well, done, Mary. Job well done!"

I am grateful for and indebted to those whose shoulders - and words - lift.  (See "nexus", last sentence, paragraph three.) The years have shown me that good can trump the hard/sad/bad/evil parts if I remember that my needs and wants are not the center of the  universe, known and unknown. Should I forget my name, my left sock, my phone number, help me to remember this.  

As for those who didn't [appear to] lift, thank you, too. I love the lyrics of "For Good" from Wicked. Glinda the Good Witch and Elphaba the Bad  Witch, friends since their days at Shiz University ("Dear Old Shiz"), embrace and sing this duet of love and forgivenss prior to the scene where Dorothy dumps a bucket of water on Elphaba. Enjoy.

Nexus, y'all.


Think of someone who has lifted you

and say "thank you." 

If they are alive, email or write.

If not, send a message to the heavens.

Either way, pay it forward.