Thursday, February 25, 2010

All Quiet on the Eastern Front

"A little less noise there! A little less noise!" --Peter Pan

I’m Catholic. I "do" Lent, the 40 days before Easter. I try to make some kind of little (generally microscopic) sacrifice so I can think more about God, life, the bigger picture, etc. Sort of a spiritual de-cluttering. At least in theory that’s what I do. The years of giving up snacks or chocolate are ancient history for me. I didn’t even entertain the idea of giving up coffee for more than the 20 seconds it took for me to envision Humanity v. Me Uncaffeinated. Scary stuff.

Life has lived me for too long. I’m ready to switch that paradigm around so that I’m the one living life. The noise and stress and mayhem that follow in my wake are what I’ve decided to give up for Lent this year. I am giving up NOISE.

I know there have been studies and confabs and such about how today people are so over-stimulated they’ve lost the ability to think critically and coherently and make intelligent decisions. Sound bytes and drama and texting and Youtube leave no room for thinking. People let life live them, instead of the other way around, often simply because the world is too much with them in the tv, radio, internet, cell phones, Blackberries, etc. Sight and sound clutter are so pervasive.

We’re just so connected and constantly ON, we don’t have room to think about what the heck we are even connected to, and why?

And lest this come off sounding like I’m on a holier than thou soap box, I did take time last night to show my sister the Muppet version of Bohemian Rhapsody on Youtube. So funny.

ANYWAY, I am looking for quiet reflection this Lent.

This should be easy. My three kids are in school all day. My spouse is a quiet guy. I’m not teaching right now, so I have roughly 7 hours each day where I am Utterly Alone. I should be a guru by now, with all the moments I have for meditation. Or I should be organizing my paper clips or performing some other Martha Stewart-esque Feats of Domesticity as I reflect on the Deep Meaning of Life.

Yeah…I should.

But I am seeing the truth of the old phrase, nature abhors a vacuum. Honestly, looking around the rugs in my house, nature apparently isn’t the only one who abhors a vacuum. My nature also apparently abhors silence. Quiet is hard to pin down. Normally I play music, shuffling through my Ipod, listening to YoYo Ma, then Little Shop of Horrors, then Evanescence, then Popple. I put the tv on just to have some background noise. I find myself singing, or tapping, or humming. Heck, I’ve even vacuumed, at least it makes some noise in my quiet house.

Quiet is hard. Noise is easy.

Quiet forces me to think, to face the things I’ve tried to sing show tunes over for the last several years. At some moments I am tempted to find thinking overrated. The quiet place is not without its mental perils.

In the quiet I realize just how noisy the INSIDE of my head is. I suppose that’s a good first step, but it’s not a pleasant realization.

I am seeing some positives to my attempts at quiet. I actually read a BOOK, an honest to goodness BOOK WITH PAGES the other day, one that opened my eyes to new ideas about how we perceive the world and how we are perceived (Double Take, by Kevin Connelly). I finally cracked open another book about prayer that some friends recommended. In the quiet I have enforced during my endless hours as chauffeur (oh, how I miss my radio!) I have noticed the farms and country roads along my tedious ride. I am seeing some benefit to quiet, as elusive as it may be.

And really, as soon as my children come through the door, sound returns to my home…not noise, not random decibels that clutter my mind, but actual sounds of kids who Have Important Things To Say, and Insist that Mom Listen. I’m finding if I’m quiet during the day, it’s much easier to hear my kids when they come home, to be the mom I signed on to be.

Granted, I’m one week into Lent. I have already rationalized my cheating on the noise front about 6 times (if I’m doing something for a charity, listening to music is Helpful, thus beneficial to the common good…sigh…I am as bad at this as I used to be when I’d avoid chocolate for 40 days). But I am determined to try to find that elusive silence, because I know in the quiet I can regain lost ground, conquer demons, and maybe think of things to write about here!

But now I have one more charity basket to wrap…shhh...

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Toe, then a Foot, & Maybe a Leg

Moving Right Along...

I hate cold water.

When I was a kid, my sister and I took swimming lessons each summer at the local pool. The lessons were always held in the morning, and somehow even in July in Jersey, the air was chilly. And if the air wasn't chilly, you could bet your bright green Speedo that the water would be COLD.

Normally my entry to the pool would be as slow and excruciating as possible. Clinging to the ladder, I would cautiously put one toe in the water, then slowly my whole foot, and then, if I could stand it, a leg. The other leg obviously had to follow...and then I would oh so painfully tippy toe through the water as it passed the small of my back (oh, the agony!) and finally I would go under, the cold flooding through the rest of my flailing anatomy like a shock.

Granted, during swimming lessons the teachers-- drowsy teens blinking in the inordinately early sunshine--the teachers never offered my slow and painful water entry as an option. We just had to jump in. The shock would happen all at once, and then I'd have to keep moving so I wouldn't turn into a kidsicle. I hated that.

Fast forward 26 years...and here I am, at the side of a pool again.

This time the pool is a blog. And I know that's silly, and melodramatic, but the feeling is kind of the same.

I've always dreamed of writing. Ok, I haven't just dreamed: I have written. People have given me dollars for words I've put on a page, so I suppose the dream did at some point cross from "I wanna" to "hey, I am!". But then life happened. I know, life happens to everyone. Excuses are easy, and I know EVERY easy excuse. As a writer I can get extra creative with excuses. It's a blessing and a curse.

My pursuit of writing was in its infant stages when life stopped just happening to me in its odd distractions of kids and motherhood and laundry and minutiae. The "I'll write when..." excuses all got swept off the table. LIFE HAPPENED. The cataclysm that flung me out of the writing pool is another story for another day, but suffice to say, things fell apart in such a way that I couldn't see the water for the mountains that needed to be scaled.

The landscape of my life is different now than it was in 2004 when I gave up the dream. I'm older, (it happens) and if I'm not any wiser I am at least determined to make sense out of the place I find myself in today. My children are older. My marriage is older. I am working at returning to work after a long hiatus. So much is different...but the pool is still there. And even though I hate cold water--and really, I STILL hate cold water--the lure of the pool is strong.

The purpose of my writing has changed in ways I'm still not sure of. But I know that I have to get in the pool, even if it's one toe at a time, before I can start swimming again.

To quote my favorite movie, I'm "movin' right along"...and I hope it does become a habit.