Sunday, October 7, 2012

My Favorite Things: Part Four

Dear Helen, Dear John,

So many of the best and most important things in life are made up of small, seemingly insignificant moments. After my dad died, when my sister was off track at school, she would come and live with me. I arranged it beforehand with my professors so that she could come to class with me because at that time she was too young to be left alone. I packed a goody bag full of activities for her so she wouldn't be bored and as soon as class was over, I tried to take her somewhere fun. Sometimes I would take her to the zoo or a museum where one of my friends worked as a docent. Sometimes we walked along the beach. Some of our favorite memories happened in the car when I was driving us to and from campus. "One green light, agh-agh-agh," I would cackle dramatically, imitating the Count on Sesame Street. "Two green lights, agh-agh-agh," my sister would join me. Each green light we had in succession along the way became more and more exciting. "FOUR green lights!!!" we'd shriek in delight, "agh-agh-agh!" Or, if we were unlucky that day, we'd cackle and count the red ones.

Nowadays I pack a goody bag for myself to keep me occupied while my sister is in class or working on campus. This week I've sketched a stuffed zebra head and an Emperor Goose at the mini wildlife museum in the biology building while she was in genetics, listened to classical music while I studied the paintings in the art museum while she was studying communications, soaked up sunshine and calm in the gardens while she worked, wandered the library while she was in tutoring, visited the planetarium and went to a piano recital while she was in the testing center, and read through everything else. As we walk together between these things, we talk and listen and giggle and vent. She is the sister I prayed for. It took eleven years before I got her. I was pulled out of school to take care of my mom the last few months of her pregnancy so Em could get here safely. I helped take care of her when my mom was in the hospital after her birth and all along the way ever since so when she called and asked me to come live with her until some important things for her work out, of course I came. She, along with my other siblings, are some of my favorite things... er, people... you get the idea.

Here are a few more favorite moments:

The time when the toddler son of one of my friends asked to be allowed to walk me to my car so that he could open my door, let me in, and close it for me like his dad obviously does for his mom. I wasn't sure he was big enough or strong enough to manage it (he was still in diapers), but it meant a lot to him- and sure enough- he did it. I'll never forget how honored and respected it made me feel. It's a gift my sister's fiance also gives me each time he uh-uh-uh's me to remind me to wait for him to come get my door for me because his respect extends to both of us.

I love the moment when an orchestra tunes before playing. That moment is akin to the joy I feel when I get butterflies in my stomach when I'm on a swing, head thrown back with my eyes closed- it's really too glorious for words. It was my favorite part of being in a preparatory community orchestra- that moment of connection when we were all on the same note, coming together- the expectation, the energy, the delicious thrill. I miss it!

Getting lost in books, walks, and thoughts.

Catching people being kind to other people whether I know them or not.

Butterflies landing on me; wild bunnies coming close, snuffling their noses at me as we enjoy a grassy afternoon; Parisian birds hovering in the air in front of me begging because, like me, they enjoy a piece of strudel now and then.

The soft sweetness of puppies. The treasure it was to have had a dog in my life who knew things without my having to say them. A dog with a crooked smile, a crooked tail, who walked like John Wayne and loved us like nobody else.

Tasting different kinds of fruits and vegetables and cheese. Helen, I think much of that has to do with you. You made it seem like a grand adventure and an oh-so-chic thing to do. Every time I do it now, I feel a little more grown up in the exciting way knowing I was growing made me feel when I was a little girl. I get an endless kick out of it.

Sunsets and dusk when the world calms down. Nights when the moon shines just above my window and sneaks in, dispersing the dark in my life. 

The moment when learning and curiousity touch, sparking and jump-starting my brain back to life.

Marveling over how my hands can do and sense all the remarkable things that they do; how yarn can become shape and cloth; how movement of air creates worlds of sound in my ears through a drum when every other drum I know of ka-thunks and r-r-r-dumps.

I love the moments when I can take my time with things without someone watching over my shoulder. Whether it's swishing water and suds as I clean or savoring the smells and feels of cutting a melon, life is just better for me when I can take things slowly.

This week of celebrating some of my favorite things has done what the song that prompted it said it would: I don't feel so bad. In fact, overall I've had a happier week even having had to deal with some pretty rough stuff inside and out. It can be hard that life is a mix of good and bad, but it is a blessing too. It means that even in the worst of everything, there is good in there somewhere. I've experienced it often enough to know that it is true. Believing it is true is a whole nother challenge sometimes, but I know it's true. Knowing that helps me to see it. Seeing it and remembering it helps me to feel it. Feeling it helps me to believe it, and believing it helps me to live better. Living better helps open me up to life and to people and to opportunities I would otherwise decline or miss. It's a cycle towards happiness that can begin with incredibly little things- like celebrating stoplights both green and red.

One! favorite thing, agh-agh-agh. Two!! favorite things, agh-agh-agh.

Counting, counting, counting,


Monday, October 1, 2012

My Favorite Things: Part Three

Dear Helen, Dear John,

It's October 1st and day three of my week of celebrating some of my favorite things. October was a special month for my family growing up because it usually meant the first paycheck for my dad in several months and the time when we were finally able to get some new school clothes (even though school had been in session for awhile already). I loved school, so fall was a fun time for me.

Fall is still my favorite season. When I lived in Southern California as a young girl, fall was my favorite time to roller skate because it was a little cooler and the wind was especially crisp and fresh against my face then. I spent hours skating in circles at the end of our cul-de-sac, backwards and forwards as fast as I could go. Then, I'd imagine a song in my head and pretend I was an olympic ice skater, and adjust my speed and direction to the music I was enjoying in my mind accordingly.

Because I attended the schools where my dad taught almost until high school, I was used to hearing his favorite music as he drove us there and back in the car, so it is no surprise that the song that makes me most nostalgic for the happy parts of my childhood and those brilliant fall days is this one:

Which brings me to another song I loved in my childhood that I've sung to myself often as an adult when situations have been such that it's been easy to be discouraged:
It comes from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, a movie with a storyline that did not dismiss difficult feelings or diminish the hurt of being a misfit, but still ended on a high note. I could totally relate to the feeling of being a misfit, and this movie helped me deal with those feelings in productive ways.
I enjoyed stories with animals who spoke and had real feelings and dilemmas all the years I was growing up. Charlotte's Web, along with the Winnie the Pooh series by A. A. Milne, were some of my favorite books.
I enjoyed the Disney cartoon versions of Dumbo and The Ugly Duckling, but for years I was banned from watching them because babies taken or separated from their mamas made me almost hysterical as a little girl. I still cry a little watching The Ugly Duckling trying so hard to be accepted and to be loved by somebody, but it helps me to be kinder and more aware of the people who are hurting around me.
A few years ago my mom and I happened upon a musical snow globe with a mama and baby swan that looked like they swam right out of this movie. I keep it on my dresser and it is one of my favorite things.

I was also fond as a little girl of stories about little people, like The Borrowers, and I imagined myself into their world often. In fact, as an eight-year-old, I used to offer to give wagon rides to the neighborhood kids as I gave them tours of the neighborhood "where the little people lived."  Even a free wagon ride was not enough inducement for most of the neighborhood kids to come with me. After a tearful few minutes with my mom at home, she filled the wagon with my stuffed animals and I took them on tours to my favorite places instead. I think it was that experience really, more than any other, that taught me to be willing to do the things that were important to me alone if necessary. That has served me well often, as I tend to have different likes and dreams than most of the people I know, and it has helped me not to conform to peer pressure in order to fit in. I have a very wise mother to thank for that.

Something I've done lately that has been helping me to rekindle the brilliant imagination I had as a little girl has been working my way through Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards. When I was struggling to speak or write after the recent death of someone very dear to me, I found that I could manage my feelings better by drawing instead. The great thing about this book is that it doesn't just teach you how to draw, it helps teach you how to see. I noticed after sketching several of the exercises that I was starting to see pictures in clouds, and floor tiles, and the grain of the wood around me again- a favorite childhood pastime of mine that I have missed.

I started this post with skating today so I think I will end it with skating as well. It took me until I was in my thirties to pursue ice skating. It's kind of tricky mentally and emotionally to pursue a dream where the typical "deadline" for success and excellence is long passed; but one of the best things about childhood for me was always being able to see beyond current realities and impossibilities to what I really wanted out of life ahead. I love how I feel when I'm skating. It's a struggle to get my body to respond quickly and accurately to any activity I do some days, but it's never more satisfying for me when it happens, than when it happens while I'm on the ice. That childhood dream that I can't quite let go of, motivates me to exercise and keep trying even on days when showering is a major challenge for me. I want to be healthy- really, really healthy- but it is wanting to skate like this, in my favorite ice skating routine of all time, that actually gets me up and doing the squats, and the balances, and the stretches for a few minutes here and a few minutes there so that when I have the opportunities to ice skate, my muscles are present and raring to go- just waiting to be used and experienced with joy.

That joy in using my body beautifully and well, along with the ability to keep dreaming big dreams, are two of my favorite things.

Still very much the little girl you knew,