Rating System

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For your reading convenience, click here to view the official Rating System for Downright E-fenzive blog posts.

There will be occasional guest spots from my, uh, “other personalities”….

At least you’ve been warned…

Categories: Life

I Still Believe…..

December 14, 2012 1 comment

sure11-e1263490212475Dear Santa….

I’ve been contemplating this “naught and nice” thing. Well, the truth is, I’ve been both and that’s fairly typical for me.

The difference this year is that I’ve been catching myself in the act and when I do, I ask myself, “Is this what Santa would want me to do?”

This year I noticed that there are times when my socks are so dirty that I think you might have put coal in them but then I get real and take care of what’s actually making them dirty by washing the kitchen floor.

See, changing how we behave is not a huge thing. It’s a bunch of silly things that we keep overlooking. Washing the kitchen floor isn’t a big moral issue. It’s an act of love for the others around us whose socks will also get dirty and then there’s a whole family with dirty socks.

Turns out I do still believe in you, at least the part that sees me when I’m sleeping and knows when I’m awake, but especially when I’m awake when I should be asleep. Those are the times when I contemplate how I could be more like you, at least in spirit and not in judgment (I try to avoid milk and cookies these days but it’s okay if other people eat them). How I act is not always a reflection of who I am and I’m trying to bring those things into line a little better.

So, I think I’ve figured you out. If we want to know if Santa’s happy, look at our family’s socks, right?

Thanks for your help, Santa. I think I’ve got it from here.

Love, Ellen

Will Social Media Cause The Next World War?

October 1, 2012 2 comments

Or are we already fighting it and don’t even realize it?

After four years as a Facebook junkie, I’m moving into an introspective period about its value and how it has changed me and those in my life.

When I first joined, it was an oasis. Introvert that I am, I am not energized by physical interaction with people. I find conversation difficult because my head is always moving faster than the conversation and I have a hard time listening, which sort of defeats the purpose of verbal discourse. I often want to rewind the discussion to go back to an interesting point but by then we’ve moved on to talking about flowers and birds and cupcake recipes. Facebook allows me and others to address something that was said earlier so we can expand on it. This is like candy for me!

But on the shadow side, Facebook is a place for us to dispel our aggression on each other. As hard as we try to explain ourselves in civil terms, there is always someone (sometimes it’s me) who can’t stop their own train of thought long enough to hear what is really being said. Feelings get hurt, misunderstandings occur, and prejudices are inflamed; all the ingredients for a good feud.

Four years has allowed me to follow the arcs of growth for a number of people. Some who have been too shy to speak up in real life have found a forum for expression here and we have tapped into absolute gold mines of thought; the meek have inherited a whole new world. By the same token, those who have typically experienced great power in the physical realm have stumbled on an army of bully victims who now have at least a virtual shield against their wrath. No longer is the power one-sided. People across the globe are standing up and being heard and it is catching the bullies off guard.

What I have yet to get used to, though, is having to “listen” to the voices of the formerly powerful as they pull out their back-up arsenals of vitriol in an effort to regain their authority. The Bible gets tossed around like a hot potato and pictures of guns make a vain attempt to impersonate the real thing. Caustic humor is rampant as we try to impress our friends with our cleverness and end up stabbing others in the heart.

So my question is, will social media cause us to sharpen our blades or will it encourage us to lay down our weapons? Will those whose inclination it is to divide and conquer continue to feel further empowered by this anonymity or will they be healed by gentle encouragement to examine their thinking? Will we accept the responsibility not to just spew rhetoric and attempt to educate ourselves about what is true on a deeper level?

Bottom line, we know more about each other now than many of us ever wanted to. We’ve gone deeper and seen into the souls of people we thought we knew and in most cases found that we didn’t really know them at all, for better or worse.

Will social media cause, or will we use it to prevent, the next world war?

And So, We Begin Again….

July 16, 2012 3 comments

In the days unfolding after the birth of my first greatnephew, I am filled with thoughts of what this means….

Though I was nearly the youngest in my own family even among the extended generation, I was still one of the first to become an aunt. My first nephew was almost too heavy for me to lift even at less than 7 pounds. As several others followed after him they got progressively easier to carry.

Now, nearly 40 years after that firstborn, a new generation has begun in my family and as I look back over the travails that got us to this point I have some thoughts for the new parents of this sweet gift of renewal about how we went about surviving long enough to continue the family name in the person of my newborn greatnephew….

My 9-year-old self who was an aunt for the first time held the weight of a new life in my inexperienced hands, afraid that I would drop him. He wiggled and jiggled and did his best to escape my grasp. I put him down and to my surprise, he stopped struggling. There will be times all throughout your boy’s life when you will want to give up because you can’t control his movements and in those moments you will have to let him go with your arms even as you hold him tighter with your hearts. Don’t be afraid to release him gently to the world.

There may be others who follow him and they will all be different no matter how consistent you try to be. Who they become may be in absolute defiance of what you would have wanted for them, but trust that this is who they were meant to be regardless of outcome, and understand that no circumstance, no matter how painful, is without value. Someone else’s life story relies on the whole unfolding as it must.

For you as parents, though it may sound overly dramatic, this is your first step toward obsolescence. Instead of living for yourselves, you have now stepped aside and accepted that your lives are about supporting the greater good as it manifests through your child. Your dreams, through your children, must not be played out literally but rather as wisdom. You will need to put aside your own failures and personal tragedies in order to offer up a clean slate that still bears the chalk dust of those who have gone before but stands ready for this child to make his own mark.

Share with this boy all that you are, but know at the end of the day that the most important part of who you are right now is a parent. Be kind but be firm. Be wise but be willing to learn. Be amazed and delighted, and comfort him as he struggles to grow. And for yourselves, be renewed through all that he is.

Thank you for the reminder that all of us live on through those who follow and our stories become their heritage. Let us all remember what our lives mean to others as they pick and choose their way to their own legacy. May we all be the examples of survival and triumph they need to inspire them forward.

And most of all, may your sweet young family bring you more joy than you ever imagined it could…..

Categories: Good Stuff, Life

Where Did Those 30 Years Go?

June 20, 2012 5 comments

I was disappointed to learn that a favorite friend would not be attending our 30th year high school reunion this weekend.

A centerpiece of my growing up experience, his reason was: “I just don’t feel like I’ve grown over the past 10 years since our 20th.” I almost laughed but didn’t, knowing how often I have felt the same way in my adult life. I didn’t push him but reminded him that there is hardly one of us who feels that he or she has “made their mark” yet and that we never know when our presence will make a difference in someone else’s life.

I’ve gone to every reunion since we started having them. It’s a strange thing to do, introvert that I am, but for the same reason I used to go to the dances on Friday nights and sit up in a dark corner of the bleachers all alone, I’m afraid I’ll miss something if I’m not there.

But lots of people don’t go to their reunions, usually citing high school as the most miserable time of their life. I can relate. Though I had something to center my experiences around, a safe place, I realize that in my own misery, I didn’t notice much of what was going on around me, the things that made others’ days unbearable. All I know was that my own struggles made me pretty unpleasant to be around sometimes.

So I go to the reunions to atone for how I might have inadvertently hurt others, though when I tell them about the incidents I recall, they graciously act like they don’t remember. But I do, and those memories weigh me down. Having the opportunity to let them know that I was aware of them then does something to heal me, and them too, I hope.

If these 30 years have taught me anything, it’s that change is constant, people die without our noticing, and we will always have more growing to do no matter how many reunions we live to see.

I hope my friend will change his mind and join us at the last minute to engage in meaningless reminiscences and small talk, and maybe a few healing conversations. I know his presence would have great meaning for me….

Categories: Life

Heroes or Idiots?

June 12, 2012 4 comments

This morning I posted a video on Facebook that received mixed reviews.

It’s a fairly crude, mocking representation of soldiers doing what some soldiers do to blow off steam in a hot, barren area surrounded by other young people with huge guns and too much time on their hands, fueled by anxiety and Red Bull.

It made me remember back to when I thought to enlist in the military myself, but my dad, a WWII veteran, discouraged me from doing so. Though he was vague about his reasons as they applied to me, he just said that it might be an uncomfortable situation. Dad told many stories over the years about the heroes he’d served with who had sacrificed life an limb for their fellow countrymen. The image he created made me want to be one of those people.

But there is a reality most soldiers don’t talk about that is probably more accurate than the image of the strong, stoic Marine we see in recruiting advertisements. Maybe this is the stuff Dad was talking about.

When thousands of young people, mostly men, are thrown together thousands of miles from home, often with nothing to do and nowhere to go, a certain amount of “idiocy” is bound to occur. These are kids who just a year or two earlier were doing what teenagers do — hanging out with their buddies, driving fast, testing limits — so the fact that they are wearing uniforms and carrying ridiculously powerful weapons around does not mean that they have instantly gained maturity.

I have to wonder if the reason so many soldiers don’t talk about their experiences when they come home has to do not so much with the horrors of battle they’ve seen, but maybe with the struggle to grow up they’ve observed in the face of incredible pressure, realizing that many of them are still just teenaged boys inside. A good many of them have likely been pushed to participate in activities they knew were not acceptable, yet the camaraderie of being part of a group caused them to make decisions they might not otherwise have had to consider.

This year, the suicide rate among soldiers is averaging one per day. Serving one’s country in the military, once considered a rite of passage and an honor,  is causing many to collapse. The pressure of fighting a 10-year war that’s continued purpose is questionable, and coming home to an economy that is having trouble supporting their return is making re-entry into society too difficult for some.

I have no idea what the answer is. I don’t know what should be considered acceptable behavior in the military so that our kids don’t lose their marbles. More discipline?  Less?

All I know is that in an age where videos of every kind of behavior imaginable are available at our fingertips, I have to just SMH (shake my head) and RME (roll my eyes) at some of what I see and be grateful that the creative mind is still alive, regardless of my judgement about the art-worthiness of its output.

I guess, for me, it’s the heroism of the “idiots” who remind those around them that though the situation is deadly serious, moments of ridiculousness do as much to keep them all alive as the automatic weapons they are carrying.

When Lightning Fails to Strike

January 26, 2012 3 comments

A few times a week I spend about a half hour with a friend from my neighborhood.

Our relationship has been forged by a circumstance relating to her eyesight that requires me to help her out by giving her a ride to take her daughter to school. My friend’s field of vision is narrowing, sort of the reverse of macular degeneration, so her peripheral vision is slowly closing in and will eventually leave her blind. Fortunately, the rate of loss has been slower than initially expected but still leaves her unable to drive.

During these quick jaunts that make my aging car feel useful we manage to have some pretty deep philosophical discussions. She and I are about the same age, are living in similar circumstances, and have many of the same fears and worries.

What we’ve come to discover is that we are both waiting for lightning to strike, for that jolt that lights up our understanding of what we are supposed to do with our lives.

But life doesn’t work that way, does it?

From what I’ve experienced (and often choose to ignore) is that life is a constant flow of tiny sparks rather than grand flashes. In our every action is a barely discernible pinprick that gooses us a little, like sitting down on one of those electrified mats that keep pets off your couch. They’re not strong enough to cause pain, but they are definitely uncomfortable, forcing us to change our position out of avoidance.

Maybe that’s our problem. We’re only uncomfortable enough to seek to make ourselves less uncomfortable. We’re slightly frustrated by our lack of initiative but not outright pissed off. We turn up the car radio louder so we don’t hear that clunking sound in the engine that warns us that our world may soon be screeching to a halt.

But we keep on rolling, ignoring the signs. We rely on what we know about ourselves to keep us going. We are educated, aware, and know what we are capable of. My friend has an MSW degree and once worked with cancer patients, possibly one of the most difficult jobs a social worker can do. She is extremely capable but under-confident, having begun her career when she was too young to be fueled by wisdom. And then her vision began to close in.

When she started a family, her life as a stay-at-home mom accommodated her vision loss. I chose work that is satisfying but leaves me fairly isolated. We have both spent many years away from the outer stimulation that reminds us of where we fit in a world that seems to grow ever larger and more complex. The spark plug wires that used to connect our inspiration to our deeds are corroded and we’ve come to crave the force of lightning because we’ve lost connection to the steady current that used to keep us moving. Everybody else seems to have a newfangled computer-controlled engine now. Heck, my car still has a cassette-tape player.

So maybe ignition of our inspiration is not the problem at all. More likely, we’re afraid that we’ve been sitting in one place to long and don’t believe the fuel in our old tanks is any good or trust that the old car is up for the trip so we don’t dare leave the driveways of our minds lest we break down in the middle of our journey.

The smart thing to do would be to hook up a trickle charger and slowly let our batteries revive, change the oil and put in a new fuel filter, some fresh gas, and trust that the frame of the old car is still sturdy enough to carry us where we need to go. We could try jump-starting the system with huge shocks all we want, but with faulty wiring and sludgy internal combustion, no amount of lightning force can do anything but fry the battery. At our age, we need a gentler approach.

Ironically, maybe it’s the humility of age, wisdom, a little rust, and a narrowing field of vision that are exactly what we need to fix the problem and focus on the rest of the journey.

But a new car couldn’t hurt either….;)

Grace and the Art of Not Setting Goals

January 6, 2012 1 comment

I used to think there was something wrong with me.

I was, and still am, constitutionally incapable of setting a goal. My brain just doesn’t work that way.

So I felt bad about myself.

A lot.

All the time.

I would get so anxious knowing that even if I did set a goal, I would not achieve it, yet the world kept pushing me to “make a plan!”

As I look around me these days, I’m learning that maybe I wasn’t so crazy after all. The “plans” that people made for themselves seem to be falling apart. They thought that if they saved enough, invested enough, played by the rules enough, they could earn the grace they prayed for.

But grace doesn’t work that way.

OK, so I don’t know exactly HOW grace works, but I don’t think it’s something you are worthy of or not. It just IS.

Maybe it is grace that kept me healthy when I didn’t have insurance, or sustained me when I needed a job, or allows me to spend a peaceful half hour in the morning therapeutically massaging my aging dog, watching the sun rise on another day in our life together, not knowing if it will be our last but allowing us the peace to just enjoy the moment either way.

In the cacophony of our modern world when everyone wants to tell everyone else how to achieve their wildest dreams, I realize that my wildest dream is the one I wake up to every morning when I open my eyes and catch the jet stream that carries me up and away, like a starling in a murmuration….

No goals, no worries…. just flying….

Becoming…. The Chaos of Taking Flight

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