simplyjan

A Simple Look at a Not-So-Simple Life

Archive for the category “Observations”

But It’s a Fact!

I was cooking breakfast Saturday morning when Gus came downstairs saying, “You’d be proud of me, Mom! Ever since I woke up about all I’ve been doing is reading my library books that we got yesterday, especially the dinosaur one. I’ve learned lots of facts.”

“Lots of facts? Well, good. Tell me one.”

He scrunched up his face, deep in thought, then said, “The first dinosaur bones were found by a Japanese pilot who was bombing Pearl Harbor.”

dinosaurs

What??!!

“How on earth did a pilot on a bombing mission find a dinosaur bone?” I asked.

“I guess he was taking a break.”

“Gus, the first dinosaur bone was not found by a Japanese pilot taking a break from bombing Pearl Harbor. I don’t know who found the first bone, but I know that isn’t what happened.”

“But it’s a fact!!”

I made him go upstairs to get his dinosaur book. When he came back to the kitchen with his Ultimate Dino-Pedia published by National Geographic, I asked him to find his facts and read them to me. It turns out that there were two of them.

1) “The first bones found of Spinosaurus were blown up in a German museum during World War II.” (p. 87)

2) Like the first fossils of Spinosaurus, the first bones found of Carcharodontosaurus were accidentally blown up by British bombers in World War II.” (p. 79)

Let me pause here to say that Gus has always seen the world through a very different lens from most of the rest of us. Part of that is probably due to his ADHD. Part of that is just Gus. His brain is always on fast forward. It reaches out and grabs details and facts as they go whizzing by, only there is no guarantee that the details and facts grabbed are anywhere closely related. Regardless, he takes what he has and pieces them together in ways that seem to make sense to him, but not necessarily to anyone else. Sometimes I work hard to try to recreate what bits of information he has gathered – from surrounding stimulus, from recent lessons at school, from his obsession with all things military and Star Wars, from whatever just played on the radio – to see if I can figure out how he comes to some of his conclusions.

For example, I am guessing that these are the details he grabbed when he was reading his book: “first bones found” plus “World War II” plus “bombers.” I happen to know that he is obsessed with Pearl Harbor. As far as his current thinking goes, Pearl Harbor pretty much is World War II. Pearl Harbor also means Japanese pilots. Thus, the first dinosaur bones were found by Japanese pilots bombing Pearl Harbor in World War II. And since you probably can’t find bones on the ground while flying a bomber, they must have found them while taking a break. I’m sure they were tired from all that bombing. So see? It makes perfect sense (in Gus-land), and that makes it a fact.

It is exhausting sometimes to try to follow my son’s reasoning in conversations. If I’m feeling energetic and curious, I treat it like going on a scavenger hunt. How many clues can I figure out? How many treasures can I find? If I’m tired, distracted, or if I’m trying to do other things while having the conversation, I’ll admit to tuning out and responding a lot with “Uh-huh” and “If you say so.” (No, I’m not up for the Mother of the Year Award. How did you guess?)

All of this is making me reconsider how all of us get our “facts” about the things we encounter. Goodness knows, the “facts” are flying all over the news media during this election season. Republicans line up on one side and swear that their “facts” are 100% true and infallible while Democrats line up on the other side swearing the opposite.

I watch in horror and fascination (kind of like rubbernecking at a bad accident on the highway) as the Republican candidates tear each other apart with “facts” about each other’s personal and political histories. They take little snippets from speeches made by their opponents in the past, then use them out of context to prove how horrible of a candidate that person is. “They said those things, really! You just heard it with your own ears. It’s a fact!” I look ahead to the day when there is just one candidate left standing and wonder how the party as a whole will re-spin those “facts” so that they are no longer so damaging that they derail their candidate in the Presidential election in November.

Sandra Fluke, a law student at Georgetown University, attempted to speak from a woman’s perspective about women’s reproductive rights before the House Oversight and Government Reform hearing on religious liberty and the birth control rule. Rush Limbaugh responded by calling her a slut and a prostitute. After all, if she wants birth control to be covered by insurance, then that must mean she wants to be paid to have sex. And if you are paid to have sex, that makes you a slut and a prostitute. That’s a fact, right?

What is a fact, anyway? When I was growing up, a fact was indisputable, provable, a common ground from which to work. Now the word is a joke. Facts have become words used to manipulate others into doing what, from your perspective, is the “right” thing. The candidates seeking the Republican nomination aren’t the least bit interested in the facts. They want votes and the power – at whatever cost. Rush Limbaugh isn’t the least bit interested in the facts of Sandra Fluke’s personal or professional life. He sees a strong, outspoken woman and wants to intimidate her and others like her into silence. Damn the facts. Give me what I want.

My son is processing the world in the best way he knows how. He isn’t being lazy or malicious in coming up with these outlandish-sounding “facts” about dinosaur bones and Japanese fighter pilots. At the moment those words came out of his mouth, he believed them to be true. They made sense to him. I explained to him what the sentences really said, and he grinned a little sheepishly and said, “Oh. I get it now.”

I wish that every case of “fact” abuse was this innocent – that no one was really being lazy or malicious when they misrepresent truth. I wish it could always be so easy to clear up misunderstood and misstated facts. I wish all it took was examining each other’s perspectives and seeking to understand what informs our thinking and our opinions. I wish that all of us could be better at grinning sheepishly and accepting correction when we’re wrong with an easy, “Oh. I get it now.” Unfortunately, that’s just not the case.

And that’s a fact.

fact

Journals

“Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, please throw my journals in the lake.”

journals

I went rambling in my antique trunk the other night. It’s the first time I have done this since moving to Charleston 2 1/2 years ago. I’d forgotten about all the treasures I’d carefully wrapped and stored away inside: pictures, cards, letters, knick-knacks, kids’ drawings, diplomas, and journals.

Yes, journals – about a dozen of them spanning the years between 1987 and 2007. Some of them are cheap notebooks. Others are nicer journals. Only a few of them are filled from cover to cover. I love notebooks and journals. Even though most of my writing is done on a computer keyboard these days, I still buy them frequently – all shapes, sizes, and colors; some plain and some fancy. It’s like I believe that if I can just find the right journal the words will naturally flow out of me to fill it. Apparently I’ve yet to find the right journal.

It was an emotional experience to read through these old journals. I tend to write a lot when I’m hurt or confused. It’s my way of figuring out what I think and how I feel. Much of what is in these journals was written during times of personal turbulence and confusion, with a few happy stories and memories scattered in between the angst. I scanned quickly over pages written by me, the bewildered young wife who couldn’t figure out why her husband rejected her. I found a letter I wrote to Anna on the night before I was scheduled to go to the hospital to have my labor induced. I found the photocopied pages of one of my journals that my ex-husband made without telling me. I remember how I felt when I accidentally stumbled across them hidden in the back of a drawer. I couldn’t have felt any more angry or betrayed if he had taken covert pictures of me naked and printed them out. I read over pages written by me, the angry and now defiant young wife who was done with that marriage. I read pages written by me, the dreamer – literally – who faithfully recorded the most vivid, bizarre dreams that visited me often during that tumultuous period. I read pages written by me, the teacher/called to be preacher/wannabe writer, searching for a way to be the me I wanted to be. I read pages written by me, in love again, hurt again, alone again, yet always somehow hopeful that one day things would work out.

As I read my old journals, I wanted so much to be able to talk back to the younger me, to tell her things that the older, more experienced me now knows. I wanted to comfort her. I wanted to shake her and tell her not to put up with the crap she put up with for far too long. I wanted to show her all the ways she was strong back then, even though all she could see at the time was her weakness and her alone-ness. I wanted to tell her to write not just when she is sad, but also when she is happy. I wanted to tell her to always listen to her dreams, for more often than not they are filled with the kind of wisdom we can only receive when our guard is down in sleep. I wanted to tell her that it’s okay to be a bitch sometimes, and that she doesn’t have to feel guilty about going after what she wants, and that the people who really matter in this life will love her even if she decides to go her own way and do her own thing rather than always being compliant. (They wouldn’t always like it, mind you, but they would always love her.) When she was upset about being written up for being insubordinate at work, I wanted to shout, “Hell yes, girl! It’s about time you stood up! And don’t you dare change a thing!” I wanted to thank her for writing down her story because her story does indeed matter.

After a couple of hours of reading, I tucked my journals away in the drawer by my bed – their new home that will make it easier for me to access them. As I closed the drawer it dawned on me that perhaps my older, more experienced self should listen to her own pep talks a little more often.

Like a Kid

You know what I think is so neat about kids, especially the younger ones? They love life and get excited about everything. Every single day is an adventure. Every new or unexpected experience is like a gift. They don’t know what to expect or even what could be, so they are rarely disappointed. Whoever is with them is their favorite playmate. Whatever toy is in their hand is their favorite toy. Their favorite memory is right now.

The older we get, the more we know. The more we know the more we expect. The more we expect, the more often we get disappointed. The more we know about what’s “out there” beyond our reach, the less satisfied we are with what’s “right here” in front of our faces.

My kids and I had a great July 4th. We were with friends. We had ocean and sand, two pools and a lazy river. The temperature was not too hot and there was a great breeze all day. None of the four of us sunburned. People-watching was at its best. Fireworks on the beach – a wild combination of professional fireworks and everybody else’s – were chaotically beautiful. Road travel, although very late going home, was uneventful. I couldn’t have asked for more.

Only I could have. I didn’t get everything I wanted for the 4th. I didn’t do everything I wanted to do or see everybody I wanted to see. In the middle of all the fun, there was an abiding sense of longing for what wasn’t happening. It made for a bittersweet kind of day.

Sometimes I wish I was a kid again.

What I Learned From The Voice

I sheepishly confess to getting hooked by yet another reality show: The Voice. I started watching it because I was intrigued by the idea of the blind audition. Each potential contestant came out on stage and sang for the judges as the judges sat with their backs turned. No peeking! If the judges liked what they heard, they could turn around. Turning around was a commitment on the part of the judges that they were willing to take that singer on as part of their team. These singers were initially judged on their voices alone. Imagine that!

I found myself drawn back to the show week after week because it was such a positive show. Unlike so many of the other reality/talent shows, this show seemed built on providing positive feedback and training instead of snarky criticism. True, there was a lot of teasing between the coaches, but it was good-natured and fun.

Another reason I was drawn back again and again was the level of talent. Even in the early rounds of the show several of the contestants, most of whom could never get a nod from the recording industry previously, sounded better than many of the well-known singing artists’ studio produced recordings. And they were singing live!

I think the right singer won. Javier has an amazing voice, and besides that, he seems to be such a good family man – so proud his little girls. I expect the other three finalists will soon have recording contracts of their own. We haven’t heard the last of them.

There are a few things that I learned from The Voice:

1) Our voice, our essence, does indeed stand apart from appearance. While media generally tries to persuade us otherwise, you don’t have to have a pretty face or a skinny body to be a person of value or talent. We all have a voice and we’ve all been given some specific outlet to share our voice with the world.

2) You don’t have to be snarky to be entertaining. Camaraderie goes a long way. Praise and constructive criticism provides much better motivation than tearing a person down. And as for the fun? Well, that’s just fun!

3) Every person has his/her own unique style and voice. While we should never change who we are to fit in with others, sometimes we do need to make accommodations when it comes time to work together. When singing a duet, or working with a partner, we really do need to blend.

4) Sometimes our styles and voices are so different that maybe it’s best that we work toward the same goal – but apart. I have to say that I wasn’t fond of the performances of the four coaches together – Blake Shelton, Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green, and Adam Levine. Each one is awesome in his/her own way, but blending country, pop, hip hop, and rock styles and voices into a single performance? Well, it just doesn’t work very well.

Find your voice. Find your outlet. Find your coaches, your encouragers, your partners, and see what amazing things you can accomplish together. Oh, and don’t forget – have fun!

Quote of the Day

The price one pays for pursuing any profession or calling is an intimate knowledge of its ugly side.
– James Baldwin

Another Easter, and . . .

Some things never go away.

Not Necessarily the Answer

Forgive my ranting. I just needed to get this out of my system!

Okay single friends out there – don’t you get sick and tired of people suggesting – sometimes subtly and sometimes directly – that your life would be better/easier/more fulfilling/filled with more opportunities/healthier for your kids (if you have any) if you were married? You know, I’m quite aware of the special challenges that my special family brings. I know all about the juggling act between work and home. I know what it feels like to be the odd (wo)man out at more couple-oriented events. I know these things – really!

However, because of my own past experiences I also know what it is like to have to cater to a spouse the same way I do to my children. I know what it’s like to have my self-esteem and confidence shot through the shredder every single day. I know what it is like to be embarrassed to have friends and/or family over to my house. I know what it is like to constantly have to intervene between my daughter and her father because of his lack of patience and understanding. I know what it is like to wonder how much money will be in the checking account at any given time and what new ‘toy’ might have taken the place of the grocery budget. I know what it is like to get knots in my stomach when I drive in the driveway of my own home, wondering what mood will greet me when I walk in the door.

Marriages, when they are good, are among the greatest blessings of life. Unfortunately, not every marriage falls into that category. In fact, it seems that a pitiful few do. But believe me, well-meaning folks out there who would like to solve my life’s challenges with a man, being single – even a single parent – is a much better, much healthier state of life than being in a bad marriage. So unless you know a particular man whose personality would compliment mine, who would encourage me in my life’s vocation, who would love my children as if they were his own, who would partner with me in every aspect of life – please keep your ill-formed opinion to yourself!

Okay. I feel a little better now.

I’m In!

At the Everything Must Change Tour last weekend in Charlotte, I encountered a most unusual place – a prayer room called 24/7 located in a renovated warehouse called Area 15. What a holy place! What an unusual place!

I wish I had taken my digital camera with me – how did I manage to forget that?? All I had was my camera phone. When you walk in from the street, the first thing you notice is the wall inside:

As I took the time to read more carefully the words and phrases chalked artfully on the black wall, I found one set of blocks that says it all:

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