Sunday, June 28, 2009

A dog year

This is the first anniversary of both this blog and my attempt to be more present in the moment. I don't exactly have any great accomplishments to note, so instead I will celebrate by sharing a few photos of my mentor Mr. James in action.

Or inaction, as the case may be. I've never had a dog that actually slept in a dog bed, but Mr. James does. If there's a person in a person-bed to curl up next to, he'll be there instead. Otherwise, the dog bed works. Good morning! First things first -- breakfast. Letting us know it's time for a walk.

First, scoring some breakfast the cat left behind. A moment of victory.
Then off for a tour of the neighborhood, where there's lots of stuff to sniff. I spoil the adventure by not letting him off the leash to chase the rabbits and squirrels. But things get better in August, when there are cicadas to catch and I'm not fast enough to intervene. Sometimes the bugs are still squawking as they go down. That's a happy moment for the dog. Less so for the cicada.

Then, back at home, cooling off. Dogs like this with smushed in snouts don't have much way to cool themselves off, but splaying himself on the floor for a few minutes seems to work.

Mmmmmm. Belly scratches from my Daddy are some of the best moments there are. And then back to sleep. It's been a good day.
Happy birthday, blog. And thanks, Mr. James, for making the concept of dog years a whole lot more fun.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Lesson from another MJ

The death of Michael Jackson offers all sorts of opportunities for reflection. Why creative genius always seems to come with mental and emotional instability... why an adoring public turns its angels into demons... how events like this seem to bring people together in surprising ways... now the nation's newsrooms must have been scrambling last night to put together retrospectives on such an unexpected occurrence... the price to be paid when heavy expectations are placed on such fragile shoulders....

I'll leave those topics to others. Instead, I'll focus on a personal lesson the events of the past 24 hours have inspired, as ubiquitous tv reports and YouTube links have reacquainted me with Michael Jackson's music.

This is stuff I haven't seen or heard, or even thought about, in years. I'd forgotten how much of it I liked. I'd also forgotten how jaw-dropping his music videos, and especially his 1983 performance at the Motown 25 celebration, were back then. I'm appreciating his work in a way I didn't bother to consider at the time, and refused to consider later, when the weirdness took over.

Too bad he's not here to know that.

Too bad as well he had to die before he could hear all the pundits trampling over each other to praise his talent for the tv cameras. To me, all the strangeness with plastic surgery and kiddie sleepovers suggest some great hole in his soul that might have been filled in some small way with the plaudits his death has elicited. Too late, too bad, so sad.

So where in all this MJ mania is a moment-living lesson worthy of my own little MJ, Mr. James?

It's a reminder to find what joy I can in what's around me... to appreciate the blessings I have but take for granted... and to say what I need to say to the people who matter to me while they're still around to hear it.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

What moment would you relive for eternity?

An essay in today's paper asks that provocative question.

It stems from a movie with a plot that turns on that question, as newcomers ascending to the Pearly Gates get to choose their best moment on earth to relive forever in heaven. The essayist reaches a sweet conclusion related to fatherhood -- it is Father's Day, after all -- but poses the question to his readers to consider as well.

That's a challenge I can't resist.

Some contenders on my list of relivable moments seem obvious, but ultimately don't make the cut. Memories of my wedding day are hazy -- I was so focused on not blowing the vows in public, I don't remember much else -- so not sure what I'd be getting myself into if that was my choice.

Giving birth was wondrous and life-changing both times. But it hurt. And anything that would have me spending all eternity in a hospital gown is a definite non-starter.

So the real contenders are more obscure.

Watching my daughter deliver an essay she'd written about brushing her cat's teeth for an 8th grade speech contest is one. Her speech was well-crafted and hilarious, and she delivered it with a poise I didn't realize she had. She earned a first-place trophy for it, and a spot on my "hey, that's my kid!!" favorite moments list.

Watching my fourth-grade son put his all into the softball-throw at the grade school track meet similarly stands out in my memory. He came in fifth, which was good enough to add one point to the team's track meet total. In track meets and other sporting events to come he'd bring home plenty of blue ribbons and trophies, but in that fifth-place success I saw his confidence begin to blossom. I'd be okay stuck in that moment for all time.

Most of my top 10 involve being part of something larger than me. Drinking a beer with coworkers backstage after a summer concert series we'd pulled off as a team. Singing Bach and Vivaldi in the alto section of community choirs with symphony orchestra accompaniment. Still singing in the alto section, but this time with my church choir in an abbey in the English village of Teweksbury, my and fellow choristers' voices echoing off ancient walls and mingling with the ghosts of those who had sung or spoken in that place over the course of 900 years.

These are vivid memories, flashes of personal awe and wonder. But I suspect they might dim in encore, and are best left as they are.

Which brings me to my choice: the evening of May 31, 1991. It was a graduation party I and other parents put together to celebrate the two dozen members of my daughter's 8th grade class completing elementary school. The kids in that class were extraordinarily close, and all but one of them had showed up, with parents and siblings, for pot-luck and Karaoke in a small outdoor ampitheater. The weather was perfect and the mood was convivial. The spirit of that evening alone would qualify it for my live-forever list.

But what puts it at the top is the way the evening closed. As the sun set we gathered up picnic remains and settled in to watch an hour-long commemorative class video produced by yours truly. The video had entailed hours (and hours and hours) of videotaping, marking time codes and editing in the waning days of analog technology. It was rough, but I was proud of it. The personality of every kid in the class came through, and it still stands today as a glimpse into the quirky perspective and promise of children on the threshhold of young adulthood.

We all - kids, parents, brothers and sisters - sat under the stars watching the video together. When it ended, we hugged and sniffled and hauled our lawn chairs back to our cars, knowing we had just shared a special experience we would treasure for years. We were nostalgic to realize what we and our kids were leaving behind, but eager to discover what might come next.

If I get to choose a moment to relive for all time, this is it.

So what about you?

Friday, June 19, 2009

Words to live (in the moment) by

Saw this bumper sticker on the window of a parked car while walking Mr. James this morning. It's just what I needed to see on this almost-longest day of the year:

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Midsummer lament

The time has come to admit that, despite the stellar example set by Mr. James every second of every day, when it comes to living more in the moment, I may be uneducable.

For proof, I need look no further than this week.

This is the week of the year's longest days. Every morning since Dec. 21, I've checked the sunrise and sunset times in the newspaper, seeking evidence of each new sliver of daylight. During those cold days, I leave for work and return home in the dark; I must take it on faith that the sun actually makes an appearance even if I can't see it from my office.

By my husband's birthday in late January, we've gained a half hour and are starting to gain speed. By my birthday six weeks later, it's another whole hour. By April, the light is literally at the end of the tunnel, everyone's mood improves and I eagerly anticipate the long days of June when light begins to break even as I leave for the gym at 5:30 a.m.

This is the week I've been waiting for, for six whole months.

So am I happy? Am I enjoying these glorious 14 hours and 55 minutes of daylight?

Of course not. I'm lamenting the downward slide that begins at the end of this week.

Mr. James suffers no such perverse thought processes. He might notice he gets longer walks when it's warm and light and fewer when it's cold and dark, but I doubt it. To him, every day is a new adventure, an opportunity to eat and sniff and demand a good belly-scratching. It's clearly a path to happiness for him and my loss that I can't seem to follow suit.

But I'll keep trying.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Talking point peril

I'm a news junkie. I'll take Washington Week in Review over American Idol any day. I wake up to NPR, I'll subscribe to the newspaper 'till the bitter end and can get lost for hours on news blogs and websites. News is something that actually does keep me in the moment. (And by "news," I mean real news, not the latest household theatrics of Jon & Kate +8.)

I've also worked in communications for 30+ years, so I understand the role of news in shaping the Zeitgeist. Using the public's interest in a hot news topic to advance a related point of view can be powerfully persuasive. I've done it myself, and counseled others to do likewise when it makes sense.

But this week I saw a misuse of this tactic that made me want to disavow all connection to communication expertise. It was a missive put forth suggesting that the slaying of a security guard at the Holocaust Museum exemplifies the need for labor legislation now being considered by Congress.

It seems that security staff at the museum had requested bullet-proof vests, and been denied. If the legislation now under consideration had already passed, reasoned the author of this argument, security staff would have formed a union which would have mandated vests be issued, thus sparing the guard's life.

I was, in a word, appalled, to see the facts of this tragedy take such a circuitous route from cause to effect and end up as fodder for the latest set of talking points.

I have no wish to debate here the merits of labor laws, nor whether protective vests for security guards are warranted. Seems like a reasonable idea, actually, although it appears the perpetrator in this case would have been just as happy to shoot up museum visitors, so unless distributed to all at the door it seems bullet-proof apparel would not have been an adequate solution. And to be fair, I have seen subsequent reports that more clear-headed supporters of the proposed legislation have rejected this particular argument, which gives me hope that rational conversation can prevail.

But I do suggest that these two data points -- proposed labor legislation, and the killing of a black security guard at a Holocaust museum by a previously convicted white supremacist anti-Semite -- are in no way related, and tawdry attempts to connect them via talking points to advance a political agenda are reprehensible.

I'm all for intelligent discussion of the political question. Put the pundits on Meet the Press and the op-ed pages of the nation's newspapers. Give them full opportunity to put forth reasoned arguments for their points of view and let the public consider the matter. But do so with the civility and intellectual honesty that the matter deserves.

And let the shooting, and the hatred that fueled it, exemplify what it really is: the face of evil.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Shiny new objects

We mammals must be wired to be drawn to the bright, the shiny, the wow or just plain new-and-improved.

Drop a crumb of coffee cake anywhere near Mr. James, and he'll abandon his beloved rawhide hoof in a heartbeat.

So prone are we to tear down old buildings and replace them with new ones that a whole set of historic preservation rules have been put in place to protect worthy relics, or at least delay the wrecking-ball's onset.

Old Jay Leno leaves, shiny Conan O'Brien steps in. Old "ER" closes down, shiny new reality show with wife-swapping cockroach-eaters debuts. Okay, maybe that's not the best example.

Even I, by any measure a boring old soul who's usually content with the tried and true -- married for 36 years, almost 30 of them lived in an 80-year-old house -- regard my shiny new kitchen with awe and wonder. Although in that case, no sane person would argue to save the hell-hole we gutted to make way for the new.

But is it always a good trade? Is "new" necessarily "improved"?

If the glint of a falling food particle causes Mr. James to turn away from a steak bone that gets picked up and disposed of in his absence, maybe not.

If my 80-year-old house were to burn to the ground and be replaced by a new one with insulated walls, an open floor plan, family room, finished basement, a second full bathroom and a walk-in closet... well, maybe. But I still think I'd miss the old crown moldings, arched doorways, original (albeit creaky) oak floors and stairs, gazillion windows and space arrangement that's inefficient, but cozy. Plus, I like my new kitchen in my old house just the way it is.

Toss the old husband for a new one? I'm not cougar material, and I really don't have the patience.

But sometimes it's not that easy to tell. Those bright new objects look fresh and enticing, and the trick is knowing whether the shine is real, or just pimped up for the cameras.

Once again, perhaps Mr. James has the answer. Three years ago, in a really bold (and, to be honest, I think witless) move, he bolted sans any identification from whoever cared for him. It's my guess he spied a passing rabbit -- to him, not just shiny, but positively luminescent -- saw an opening in a door or gate or fence and went for it. My son's girlfriend spotted him dodging cars in a busy city intersection and stopped to save him from certain squashing.

And here he is today, collared, tagged and microchipped, curled up and snoring in his little bed, well-fed, frequently walked and belly-scratched, and much, much loved.

So maybe it just all works out and isn't worth the angst. Just pick a path and move forward on it.