During a time in my life when I felt the depth of my ignorance had no bottom , I interned at NASA. I was paralyzed with intimidation. Someone there told me the definition of expert is to know more about it than anyone else in the room. I cling to that when I am drowning in my inability and it moves me forward
I ate the book like a lit match eats gasoline.-The Russian American School of Tomorrow
I’d been meaning to go have a talk with this local college professor and last week I finally went to his office and did it. His office was lined with books. I went over to read the spines.
“I knew you’d look at the books!” he said.
“You don’t have any novels,” I said.
“Yes I do!” and he found one for me to borrow.
This very thing, this Weekly Wonder, started 4 years ago in July. It has a predecessor, The Wonderblog, which had its 12th anniversary last month. I was pretty excited to hit the ten-year mark, and at that time I went and re-read the whole thing.
I learned that the two biggest inspirations for my Wonderblog posts are conversations and books. I write and I am a reader.
I haven’t talked about books as much in this Weekly Wonder. I know why. This Weekly Wonder goes out into the world. It is me come calling to your space, your inbox. My Wonderblog is my own space. And in my space I can read whatever I want.
I’m shy to tell everyone what I’ve been reading lately. Will I be judged? Can I survive the assumptions people will make?
I wrote before about how I switched from the literary canon to reading fantasy books. At the time I couldn’t take one more beautifully written suicide contemplation. I was going to find a guaranteed hero triumphant, and fantasy has provided that reliably and with more beautiful prose than I anticipated.
And yet, I would feel ashamed to have those books on my shelves. I know a lot of genre fiction readers are pleased to be private as they read in public spaces. 50 Shades of Gray attained its popularity because the female audience could read it on their devices and not be caught.
And I feel alone in my fantasy adventures. I know not everyone understands what a dragon has to tell us.
My professor friend did not give me a dragon book. He gave me a literary novel: An Unfinished Life by Mark Spragg.
I read it. I liked it. In fact, I couldn’t put it down until I finished An Unfinished Life. It made me cry in spots.
I couldn’t be sure what would happen in this one. See, fiction has rules. In my fantasy books, I am promised an epic and a hero. In mystery books they promise that the mystery will be solved. Literary fiction–yes, that’s a genre, too–doesn’t promise anything. I couldn’t be sure that the people were going to behave in a certain way. I didn’t know at the beginning that we were all going to come out okay.
Another friend told me: she will not read a novel if she cannot finish it in one day. She is profoundly uncomfortable not knowing how things will turn out.
I love swimming around living in a different story than my own. Until she shared with me, I hadn’t thought about how much faith that takes. We trust our books to carry us through, and give us some different scenery when we don’t want to look at our own. The best books give us a new perspective on our lives when we are done with them.
It takes faith, readers.
She had us wear blankets drink over our shoulders as ball gowns
“we have to go to the ball so we can find a prince and get a baby. You have to marry a prince to get a baby”
She rated my shoes and found the least comfortable ones for me to wear as ballgown shoes
“Veronica why don’t we go into the forest and look for a baby there? Sometimes people leave babies in the forest .”
“Mommy you have to go to the ball ”
Chris Daley is trying to finish his soup
” daddy you have to be the prince and mArry us so we can have a baby”
” I can only marry one of you”
She does not see this as a problem “ok my turn first ”
“Good idea I’m going to take my slippers off”
Last Friday I got to speak at career day for Bright Elementary. Their principal is a friend, and I got to be part of it for the second year now.
During my elementary school years, the word career was never mentioned. That was a long time ago and my career has been on my mind very much since then.
Right before I became a mom (a career-changing move to be sure) I looked around and decided on a specialty. I sat for a 4-hour test to get certified as a project management professional during my third trimester.
So often I’d seen the corporations I worked at lose their focus. For years I’d worked on global telecommunications systems that got lost in the moment to stumble and miss the long view. The field of project management had all the answers sorted out in bullet points and flow charts.
At last! A solution to this constant problem. With this new certification and all the evidence behind it, I knew I’d be back from maternity leave to take on the world.
Fast forward to career day at Bright Elementary.
I really wanted to tell these kids about my career, and let them know the things I wished I’d known–the things that would help them as they made their choices for the future. The night before I sat down and prepared what I’d say. How could I describe my career in a way that would make any kind of sense for them? My career was not even making sense to me.
I had just been laid off. A soothing-voiced HR person had met with me the day before to take my badge and go over the paperwork that said my job was done and never to return. Making my notes to give these kids career advice, I decided to focus on the positive.
Careers are like that. It was not age-appropriate to talk about all the ways it doesn’t work out and all the ways you have to swim against the current to get what you need.
Friday morning I gave my talks. Speaking back to back, for three half-hour presentations I told these children about what I do.
What I tried to do.
What I hoped to do again.
“How many of you have projects here at school?”
They easily told me: “Over there. See? A self-portrait.”
“Yes! Exactly! A project has three criteria:
1. It ends; it has a deadline
2. It is one-of-a-kind unique
3. It is progressively elaborated.
That’s true of building a new hospital and it’s true of doing a self-portrait. Let me explain. Your assignment was due at a certain time, wasn’t it?”
“At the end of class.”
“That’s right! And you couldn’t just copy the guy next to you. You had to make your own. So it was unique.
Progressively elaborated is my favorite. It means you have to figure out the details over time.”
There were listening.
“Progress means to move forward. See, at the beginning when you sat down to draw your self-portrait you didn’t know what it was going to turn out like. Would it have arms? Would you color the background?
You didn’t know. You had to decide as you went along until by the time it was due you finished it all and decided what it should have. And then it was done.”
And my career day presentations were done. Not bad, I think.
I carried the PMBOK book back. It is an impressive book. All of us who study it recognize its greatness and how little it resembled action in reality.
Sure, if we followed all the knowledge it contains everything would work out so beautifully. And we never can, quite.
When I started to learn about project management I wanted things to work out beautifully. The books seemed to say that they could, if only. My frustrations kept hitting the short sightedness of the right now and the emergencies.
It is in my nature to look beyond the moment. There should be a point to it. There should be a target that we are aiming at over time. That is the guiding map of the project plan. And it is hard to achieve.
It’s hard to keep your eyes looking past the horizon. Still, I agree with Browning: “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?”
The meta-story. Call it heaven. Call it whatever you like. We have to have a concept of a something to reach for. My principal friend is shining at light past the horizon for her students. The bigger story is that this job I just lost is not my focus. I’m reaching for the big picture.
I can almost touch it.
Intentions…Desires and attraction…Truth
I am flopping around in my lack of tension since being laid off from my job.. I realize that I have been allowing myself to be limited by what I THINK is possible.
I am in this beautiful oasis right now of not-fear, not-worry…possibility is boundless
My imagination is looking for a foothold. I want to stretch. I feel as though I shall need to practice without pressure..practice imagining what i hope for
I suppose I can start there.
Imagine…it’s easy if you try
Getting a LOT of vitamin irony right now. So…I might very much enjoy a frackit bucket of BenNJerry’s to celebrate and assuage my new lay off…
seems an appropriate thing to when one is celebrasorrowing (ooh…i just made a word!)
but here comes the irony
My recent ‘cleanse’ has left me unwilling to eat dairy and very suspicious of sugar
Goddamit. I guess I’ll have to go be PRODUCTIVE or something
all this health is gonna kill me
I heard preachers say it so often growing up: There is a God-shaped hole in everyone’s heart. God needs to come into your heart and fill the hole.
How presumptious and nonsensical. What shape would God be, anyway? and this heart business had me confused. If our heart or soul is without substance, how could it have a hole in it?
One of my family’s favorite movies “It’s a Wonderful Life” describes a different sort of hole. George Bailey gets a chance to see how the world would be different if he were never born. A hole in the world that no one but him could see, since all the people he’d been kind to didn’t know the difference.
I’ve been learning a few things. This year I’ve been concentrating on not stressing out, and it turns out the best advice on this includes being grounded.
A year ago, I would have stressed out just hearing that phrase. “Being grounded? What does that mean?” I would have felt like throwing that advice against the wall for being useless.
See? I said I needed to learn to not stress out. As I began to try and practice the lessons I was given it turns out that being grounded is extremely practical. One book said to focus on breathing: lower my shoulders and act as if every breath I took was my best friend.
Hmm. I tried that. I love my friends. I practiced loving this breath with all the abandon and acceptance and pleasure my good friends give me.
Oh. Yeah. I could do that.
And as I did, my body–which was so frustrating for so many ways!!!–took a different shape. Yes, my shoulders dropped intentionally. And my legs and my hands and my back assumed a different pose as I lay down my worries and focussed on loving my breath.
The hole in the physical world that I filled had changed shape. And not just shape, it had changed–what?
In the absence of George Bailey, Bedford Falls becomes Pottersville because the evil Mr. Potter ran unchecked. That wasn’t a hole, it was a different way of being. The whole world had a different tone because of George Bailey’s existence of lack thereof.
That was a movie, and a resonant one. My life is not the movies.
And still, my body and who I am makes a…the opposite of a hole. It is a substance and a force in the fabric of the universe.
Lately there has been little video lectures on the internet telling us to “look up!” “unplug!”
I know that feeling. My whole body and my whole existence gets narrowed down to my headphones and a three-inch screen.
That’s not filling my own hole very well. My body takes up space. My body is the one that give kisses and hugs to my family. My body is the one that aches when I stare too long at that screen.
I have to make room for my body as well as my mind. Whether there is a God-shaped hole in it, I have a heart. It’s a heart that loves and yearns.
It’s a heart that beats. A very practical heart. One that carries oxygen around.
Remember my best friend, my next breath?
It’s important. It’s the next thing on my to do list. The first thing.
I want to remember what I am. I am not merely gray matter. I am all kinds of matter. This stuff that I am matters.
How else would I be missed?
The last two Sundays I’ve sat in an adult Sunday school class discussing danah boyd’s book It’s complicated: The social lives of networked teens. Two teenagers were helping lead the discussion, and I was proud of their fresh-faced leadership skills.
And as the questions about personas and privacy were flying I felt sad. These young men and women who rely so heavily on the Internet to connect to the world outside know that they are being exploited.
I love the Internet. I love computers. I’m an early “networked teen” since my life revolved around the screen and keyboard for social connection since I was 17.
It’s a prettier Internet than it used to be when I started with green letters on a black screen. Yet the hearts of the users are very jaded. They know in their bones the truth of the saying “If you are not the one buying you are the one being sold.”
What a world! What a choice! To communicate with old friends and make new ones, you have to sell yourself. That’s what high-tech brings? That is the price?
A smooth-edged pill: what you need can also destroy you.
For the last several weeks, culminating in this past weekend, I have been working on making a shelving system in my house. My house is from 1950. I adore how old this house is. I love to imagine, with the help of the Internet, who lived here when it was new and what they did. Where they worked (probably in the aircraft industry) and what roads they droved (the nearest freeway wasn’t built in 1950).
I love to fix it up in the same style as the time period it came from. I chose linoleum for the bathroom floor because it was of the period. Vinyl flooring was available starting in 1947, but I wanted to have an old-fashioned mid-century modern house.
And Yes, I have done a lot of the work to make it my version of THAT version of lovely.
One of the architectural features of mid-century modern houses is the ‘built-in.’ The house designers–I don’t say architects because a lot of them weren’t–like to make the shelves and storage areas part of the house. How wonderful! All the cubbies and places to put things as part of the structure. I love it!
My house has a lot of closets in the hall, but we don’t have built-ins. I would love to have some.
But you know what counts for a bookshelf these days?
Those Swedish people have taken the convenience and design of homes to a sharp edge that inspires awe. I love to walk through their stores and admire the clever little ways to maximize space and put a room together. It’s a triumph of design. These people are geniuses.
And yet when I think of bringing one of these pieces into my home I hesitate.
antiseptic. Too angled. Too many of exactly the same thing.
I just finished reading The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson. It is a dystopian (of course) sci fi story that paints a world that is completely dominated by technology. Paper is smart by virtue of nanotechnology and writes itself. Of course the poor have access to this technology in the form of matter replicators to get food and other necessaries. Only the rich have access to unique items. And even more valuable are the REAL items. Things hand made from wood or metal, food actually grown in earth.
As I planned out my shelving system I thought about these options. I thought about the Maker movement.
We are not as advanced in the Matter Replicator area as Stephenson’s novel. And yet, we do have the ability to make and distribute a LOT of stuff. Just like ikea.
Why would you ever need to but anything else? For a quite reasonable price, I could have a lovely bookshelf. And yet…
Walter Benjamin says that a work of art cannot exist separately from its place in history. Where it has been is inseparable: “The authenticity of a thing is the essence of all that is transmissible from its beginning ranging from its substantive duration to its testimony of the history with it has experienced.”
That’s a mouthful. What it means to me is that my house, as a thing of beauty, has is authenticity or its personality from where it has been and who has been with it.
Who screwed that screw into place in my house 64 years ago? Who painted that door?
Some of the doors I painted in the last few years. My hands made this house beautiful. And a lot of hands have made this house and made it beautiful over the years.
SO. Ikea bookshelves. Yes, someone had the idea of that bookcase. But no hands made it. It reeks of machine. My house has a patina–a social life or history of its own.
I am unwilling to introduce a new history-less object into this house.
And yet I need a place to put my stuff.
Back to the Makers. The maker movement is about doing it yourself. Using ones’ own hands and time to create things. In a way, it’s kinda stupid.
Why on earth should I make a cake from scratch? It’s easier and cheaper to use a mix. Or just buy the silly thing. It’s easier!
Why would I take a bookshelf that is already uniformly painted white and repaint it by hand?
None of it makes sense.
Except that lopsided and possibly lumpy cake had my hands involved and my heart.
Ikea bookshelves would clash with my old house. My house with layers upon layers of hand-painted surfaces. How could these hyper mechanized bookcases fit in?
If I used my hands and put paint on them, that’s how. My imperfect human hands, and the drips of paint that match the drips of paint all over my house.
It is my way of fighting back against the machine. I know I’m being sold. I know that all the parts of my life are on loan from some mega corporate or political machine that cares very little for me until they find a way to monetize or leverage my life.
But it’s still my life. And it’s my hands that make it.
I cleaned the bathroom today. Sometimes, when the house is a total wreck, I take ONE ROOM, even the smallest and get that on order. It helps to feel like I got the one thing done.
So I was cleaning the bathroom. Veronica noticed. “What are you doing Mommy?”
“Can I clean too?”
“Ok. Here take this cloth and clean off the sink.”
She set to work and I started cleaning the tub.
“Mommy, this is hard. it’s very dirty.”
“Yes it is. That’s why we have to clean it.”
She kept at it and declared herself done.
“What else can I clean?:
“Clean the front of the sink too.”
And so it continued. We cleaned all of the bathroom, and even got on our hands and knees together to mop the floor.
She really was a super star. Several of her cleaning jobs I didn’t even have to do over at all! FAR better than I expected.
“You are a good helper, Bunny. You did a really good job.”
“Can we clean the bathroom again, Mommy?”
Capital idea! “Yes we can.”
“Will you draw a toilet on the calendar to show it?”
She has a month calendar in her room, and for special holidays or events, we will draw a picture to represent it and give her something to look forward to. A drawing of a present to show an upcoming birthday party is a common one.
She liked cleaning the bathroom together so much, she wants to look forward to it on the calendar?
“Yes, I will.”