Out of Step

Perpetually looking inward,
pondering commitment,
considering risks, projecting
humiliation, shame; daring

to dream of a second chance,
room to grow, opportunities
to demonstrate value – well
guarded, precarious being.

I am floundering in a fishbowl,
crowded by co-conspirators
operating out of step, trying
to acclimatize, compulsively

examining decisions, under-
whelmed by undeniable
growth, compensating with
dark, emotional outpourings.

Need to prove self-worth is
unappealing, disregards
viable efforts, disallows
definitions of acceptance.

This inwards, backwards
outlook critiques harshly,
harbours shame, sees
fault in successes, I am

stuck in the past, static,
abandoned, anxiously
forgetting, hindered by
confinement, jumping

to conclusions; I need
objectivity, to redirect
stored misgivings and
eyes outward, perceive

kindness, communicate
misunderstandings, shake
off disbelief, consider merit
as reflected by old friends.

Need a Big Ass Truck

Shit needs to be managed,
so much stinking sewage
requiring a massive truck
with a fat-bellied-snake
hose blocking the road.

Repairs are underway,
requiring crews of men
with clipboards, and hard
hats, and big-assed pick-
ups blocking the road.

Such industry obstructs
my passage – none of it
relates to me, surely –
I travel this road with
singular focus – home.

Impatient, unwilling to
wait, I squeeze my pint-
sized ego past the block-
ades, risking disruption,
disrespecting caution.

I am, after all, entitled
to my own destination,
require rest and solace,
do not possess the energy
for other people’s agendas.

Am intimidated by brute
ability to roll up sleeves,
tackle any job no matter
how dirty, the balls it takes
to block the road at all.

I am polite society,
go with the flow, prefer
to remain anonymous,
blush at causing ripples,
shudder at inconsideration.

Relieved to arrive at my
humble abode, shed the
wheels, brush off road dust,
surrender to the harmony
of private sanctuary, startled

to find my pristine turf
littered with the leftovers
of past failures, a dumping
ground for undigested,
and rotting intentions.

My path is blocked by
the debris, obviously left
by some disgruntled ex-
wishing to violate my
perfection, an intruder.

Except I recognize the
pots, see my own hand
in cooking up the contents,
am forced to admit that
I am culpable, need to

own the shit that calls
for management, commit
to the repairs, roll up my
sleeves, and grow balls;
there is dirty work ahead.

Day 233 “The Tao of Giving”

My sister, Mae, is obsessed with yard sales and thrift shops, always looking for the buried treasure amongst other people’s discards.

“I found a beautiful bracelet for Mom,”  she’ll tell me.  “Really, you should see it! Would one of your girls like a purse.  I bet they could use it.  It’s really stylish and only fifty cents!”

Mae is sixty-three years-old and further removed from what is “stylish” than I am, but I don’t tell her so.  Instead, I graciously suggest that they likely have more purses than they know what to do with, being working girls and all.

Mae’s generosity is never without a catch, so recipient beware.  She is so persistent that caught in a weak moment I will relent and accept a gift on behalf of myself or others.  This immediately triggers a flurry of phone calls as to when I will come pick up the illustrious item – as many as six a day.   Once retrieved, she will never ever let you forget the gesture.

“Remember that owl plaque I gave you once?”  you said recently.  “Do you still have that?”

The object in question was a small wooden plaque with an owl engraved into it and some words of “wisdom”.  “I hung it in my first classroom,”  I tell her.  “I thought the message was appropriate there.

“Oh yeah, what did it say?”

I really can’t remember.

“I don’t have room for anything else,”  my Mom will complain, “but I can’t throw anything out because  she looks for it when she visits.”

Perhaps this is a good place to interject that my sister Mae is mentally ill, suffering from schizophrenia.  Giving is her way of connecting to the world.  I have never understood this relentless need of hers, and am equally stymied by the fact that she outright refuses to receive anything from anyone.

“Why would you give me that?  It’s too expensive,” she might say.  Birthday, Christmas, or just because gifts are handed back belligerently or quickly passed on to someone else.  She will not have the stain of taking on her hands.

What has caused this imbalance in Mae? I often wonder.  Yet, if I am honest, I too have never been totally comfortable with the whole giving and receiving concept.   Social etiquette is somehow lost in our family.

Children learn from the example set.   In our family, there was always something sinister lurking behind the act of giving.  Our father, for example, would lavish my mother with new, expensive clothing, but the fact that it usually occurred when she was at the end of her rope and threatening to leave him, was never lost on us.  I clearly remember questioning how he could afford it all at a time when Mom didn’t have enough household money to pay for the basics.  Father’s gifts were clearly a ploy to control her.  I swore never to fall into that trap.

Gifts from my mother similarly conveyed a message.  She would favour one child over another, and excuse it by saying that the child in question had greater need than the others.  Her logic was confusing, if not outright cruel.

Mae’s inability to escape the cycle of unhealthy giving is a symptom of the dysfunction we lived.  She cannot escape.

Escaping and experiencing something different is what I strive for.  Yet, years of guilt for not having given enough to my children, or embarrassment for having missed an opportunity to give to another when everyone else has risen to the occasion, continue to plague me.

“Unattached giving” is the lesson to learn according to today’s reflection in The Tao of Joy Every Day, by Derek Lin (my inspiration for this blog).  To give only what you can spare, and without expectation of return.

“Give a small amount every day…” Lin advises.

Now confined to home with illness, this challenge requires a real shift in perspective on my part.  What is giving?  What does it involve?  If I begin with the assumption that anyone, despite their present circumstances, is capable of giving, then I have to redefine what that means.

I cannot offer to take someone out for lunch, or even get out to buy them a card, so how can I still fulfill this task? What do I have to offer?

Gifts, I decide, come in many forms, and are defined as much by the joy that they bring, as they are by the value they hold for the person giving.  So what do I value right now?  Well, I value my energy (as it is limited), and I value my writing.   I am a good listener, and I will share whatever I can to brighten someone’s day, but I am constantly learning the importance of boundaries, so to give more than I have, energy-wise, has  immediate and devastating repercussions on my health.   Reaching out, if that is the gift I can give, has to be sparing, and I somehow have to learn that this is good enough.

Boy, this “Tao of giving” stuff is not as easy as it sounds, and I surely, have lots left to learn.

 

Risking Excellence

I am with my son’s friend, and we are headed to meet John downtown where he will be competing in a skateboard competition.  John is a very gifted skater and the odds are good that he will win, but he is nowhere to be found.  As time passes, I feel more and more anxious that something has happened to him, and begin to search in closets and corners, anticipating I am going to find him dead.  Suddenly, a car pulls up, dumps a body, and squeals away.  A crowd gathers, and as I make way through, I know it is John.  He is not dead, but severely beaten, enough to stop him from competing.

I wake up,  immediately afraid for my son, but once I am conscious enough to remember the focus of today’s writing, I realize the dream is about me.

I was eight-years-old when school officials began to pull me out of class and subject me to a series of tests.  “She is gifted,” they told my parents,” and we would like to accelerate her one grade and enroll her in a special class with her peers.  She will have to attend school across town, and transportation is not provided.”

My mother didn’t know what to think.  I was a girl, and according to her, girl’s who were smart did not do well in life. (Doing well, in my mother’s eyes, was being a stay-at-home mom with a husband who made a lot of money.)  My father supported the decision.

Gifted children often feel like an anomaly, and I was no exception.  I knew I didn’t fit in at the regular school, but I somehow always felt like they made a mistake with me and I didn’t belong in the gifted class either:  these kids were so smart and, well, geeky.  I didn’t think I fit the mold.  Academically, however, I thrived.  The self-contained classroom was far more engaging and intellectually stimulating.  I loved school!

After school was another matter.  While I was driven across town each morning, I had to take two city buses home each afternoon, arriving long after my old classmates had been dismissed for the day.  The bullies waited for me, and I soon became game for their taunting, and physical abuse.    When we moved out of town in the middle of grade eight, I was thrown in with the regular population and the rift was apparent.  A town thug was hired to beat me up one day after school.

I learned to hide my abilities, and refrained from competing with others.  I developed the expectation of being beaten, both literally and figuratively.

As I’ve mentioned before, John shares my introspective side – that part of me that doubts, questions, and turns things over and over.  The friend that accompanied me in the dream suffers from depression and delusions.  I have that side to myself also.  Combine the introspection with the inability to see beyond negative thinking and there is an expectation of futility:  why try?

John is a gifted skateboarder, and if the dream was real, I would encourage him to hire a bodyguard and go for it.  By objectifying the issue, is the dream telling me the same?  While you may have been beaten at times, you still hold the same bright potential, so don’t give up.  Just let go of the expectations.