Wednesday, August 31, 2005

People and Stars

People are made of stardust.

Looking at stars
makes me feel whole.

Looking at people
makes me feel

I have something missing.

—me strauss Letting me be

Déjà Vu—Done This Before

“It’s déjà vu all over again,” Yogi Berra.

Whatever happened to
déjà vu? At one time it happened to everyone I knew.

I remember. We'd sit on the ugly green carpet at Micky and Pete’s, discussing theatrical things, listening to music, or improving a scene, and someone would say, “I’m having a déjà vu.” It would happen in front of the group. It was a commonplace thing.

Micky would put on
Crosby, Stills, and Nash, their best album named Déjà Vu. The discussion would change. Every face would be unraveling the puzzle of a déjà vu. We'd discuss our experience—our déjà vu legends. We’d use them to prove our psychic connection, our extreme self-awareness, our cosmic perception. We'd trade our stories like badges of honor. But CSN has quit singing, and it's been long since I've heard someone say, “I’m having a déjà vu.” Has it got a new name that I haven’t heard?

I'm having a déjà vu. It’s been a long time, and I’m not sure what to do.

Actually, I’m not even sure I should mutter the words déjà vu. The term may have gone underground. It may be claimed as merely in the mind of the present-tense-challenged. I don’t need to be having some new-found disorder, or sent to a Déjà Vu Betty Ford Clinic. I don’t want to be marked as an old dinosaur or as some deflated hippie drug freak.

That wouldn’t be good, that labeling part. Labels stick to everything.

My children’s book work would fall apart. The
Three Little Pigs wouldn’t get to the city. My novel, set in the character’s mind, would dissolve to a mushy soap opera. The harm to my son’s reputation at Georgetown U would leave him looking for work. Inevitably any label applied would make it to some public forum. Rich relatives would show their displeasure by writing us out of the will. Our home would be taken. My husband and I would be bickering for food on the street.

Villains would see our misery and misread it incomprehensibly. They would call it a U.S. action to injure their leader, and trouble would escalate exponentially. The media would vie for rights to the story. This chain of destruction would trace back to me—for saying déjà vu a little too loudly—not that I intended to.

Unless other people still have a déjà vu now and then. . . .

I'm having a déjà vu. It’s been a long time, and I’m not sure what to do.

I just know I’ve done this exact thing before. I've been at this exact laptop before. I've written for this exact blog before. I just know it. I’m having a déjà vu.

Whatever happened to déjà vu? At one time it happened to everyone I knew. . .

—me strauss Letting me be

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Why I Write

I feel things.

I imagine things.

I wonder about things.

Sometimes I write pure feelings.

Sometimes I write because I feel lonely.

Sometimes I make up stories around what I'm feeling.

Sometimes I write because I want to tell someone something.

Sometimes I write because I need to express what I'm feeling or thinking.

Sometimes I write because I want to find out what I’m thinking or feeling.

—me strauss Letting me be

Almost Perfectly, Exactly On Time

I’m the kind of person who doesn’t like to be too early. I like to be almost perfectly, exactly on time. Two, three minutes before, that’s me. Anything more feels just wrong. I’m happy to be early if you need me to be. I just can’t be early for me. I’ll go to incredible extremes, doing the math in my head, figuring out how long it takes to do each detail of my routine to know when I should leave to arrive two or three minute before I need to be on the scene.

Yesterday I did the reconnaissance and plotted the plan for an appointment today at 8. I had done the math three times over, using the Everyday Math I learned in school. I planned my apparel, my mode of transport, my route. every detail down to the slighted degree to fly right in my window of opportunity. I left room for a bad wind or two, or a walk if I got there early. This morning I breezed out of bed, got ready, got going. I strolled into the appointed hotel at exactly 7:56. Yes. Challenge set. Challenge met.

Upon my arrival, I located an appropriate space to put things back in place after the cab ride downtown. I came out with everything as it should be. I walked to the desk and asked for René, the person I’d meet. The young woman started to ring the room; then said, “Wait. You know, I think I saw her in the club. Let’s check.” But René had left the club it seemed.

Now I was no longer perfectly on time but then, neither was she.

The young lady pointed me toward a house phone which she dialed and handed to me. It rang right through to voice mail. The mystery grew wider. What had happened to this person I was to meet?

I had read a book once on how to make yourself miserable. I remembered 61 ways that the problem was me. If I had been early this wouldn’t have happened. A rolling sign screamed that message as it ran through my mind.

Thank goodness the young lady suggested that we check the restaurant. She led the way. I followed like a three-year who’d lost her mother at the mall. She found René, sitting with two others at a table by the window over there to the left. René came over to greet me. I introduced myself.

“Hi, I’m Liz,” I said. She looked at me with surprise.

“I’m René,” she said looking at me.

“We were going to meet at 8 today.”

She said, “Oh nobody sane has meetings this early. I meant 8 for dinner tonight. I can't change what I'm doing right now, but I'm going to buy you a fabulous dinner tonight! You pick the restaurant” We shared a delightful minute of verbal volleyball.

There I was more than two minutes early. I hate being more than two minutes early. It’s wrong—just wrong.
We promised to meet when we were supposed to. I got in a cab and headed back home. Now I have to do the math all over again. When I got home, I reread Rene's email. It said 8 p.m. plain as day.

Now I also need to find a way to explain how I could be 12 hours early
—when I like to be almost perfectly, exactly on time.
—me strauss Letting me be

Monday, August 29, 2005

Questions of Conflict

Marlene said, “There is no act of mercy that does not gift both parties.”

When I am in a conflict, I often find myself wanting to help the other side. It’s wrong for the other side, and it’s wrong for me. Is this a natural instinct to help those who are hurting? Is it self-preservation deceiving me? Maybe it’s just a benevolent distraction.

At what point does my forgiveness give people permission not to consider me?
—me strauss Letting me be

Unringing the Internet

Speak as if everything you say one day will be published in permanent marker.

I was virtually talking—talking in virtual reality. I sat in my living room, yet I was in a room filled with some exceptionally intelligent and hospitable people. We were talking casually, comfortably, unselfconsciously, as quickly as our fingers could get the words across the keys.

In another time it might have been a gathering in a hotel or a small condominium meeting. Subjects wove their way into and out of discussions. Questions were asked and sometimes answered. Jokes were cracked. Some fell flat. Strokes were given. Others were wished for. People were complimented. People were teased. People interrupted and talked over each other in the way talking people do. Someone even used the word sucks.

It could be that it was a better time virtually than had we literally been in one room. Layers of preparation and complication were blissfully erased. I didn’t dress up or make sure that I looked just right. I had no commute, nor did I need to find a parking place. I didn’t worry about people looking at me. I listened with my eyes to the words on the screen and was not once distracted by body language or the sigh I wasn’t supposed to hear. It was content without subtext—no extra information to process.

What a relief on my overactive radar. No bodies sat before me to complicate the messages. No extra worries were floating through the air. Gone was the excessive chatter and rushing about that comes from nervous humans trying to fill the silences. Gone was the need to look each other in the eye. Every smiley face had to be taken at its smiley face value. Each of us sat safely cocooned in our safe little space, yet we had the illusion of being together.

How simple it was for one lady to give out her email address. I could see her reaching into her purse to get a pen and paper to write it down for the one she was giving to. Did she mean to share it with the twenty or so other strangers in the room? Did she wonder when she “got home” whether the folks she had met might not have been who they pretended to be? Has she even considered that yet?

Questions of that nature were once reserved for occasions of misbehavior or making a wrong turn in an unknown part of a big city.

What exactly happened to our typed words when we returned to our three-dimensional reality? For the first time, I find myself interested in the minutes of a meeting. I’m thinking it’s too easy to pour information onto my computer screen. I know I’ll be listening more than speaking at the next meeting.

Mistakes in the virtual world become recorded history . . . the proverbial bell you can’t unring.

I’m still trying to find my way around this unreal reality.

—me strauss Letting me be

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Scribbles: Snow White Never Kissed

Disney Spinned the Snow White Story

In Woodward and Bernstein style deep-cover reporting, our super sleuth 65th Crayon has uncovered story that will shake your childhood.

“Disney rewrote the Brothers Grimm,” The 65th Crayon reports. “That’s a fact. The stories that most Americans know and love are traditions of 20th Century Disney movies not 19th Century literature.”

“More sensitive folks may want to stop reading here,” the Crayon advised. “This is not content for the faint of spirit.” He offered this list of Disney changes to the original story:

In the original story the Prince did not kiss Snow White to wake her after she ate the apple. The poisoned apple, stuck in her throat, came loose when her coffin was being transported.

No dwarves befriended Snow White. Some short people did work in a local mine.

Since there were no dwarves, the stepmother did not die while trying to kill them. What really happened was that after their wedding, Snow and the Prince found that the stepmother was the evil one. The Prince sentenced her to death by dancing shoes—she had dance in red hot shoes until she fell down dead.

“I’m delighted to hear that,” said a prudish school librarian. “I’ll be able to put the fairy tale back in the school library. We had banned the book for blatant sexuality. No one had actually read it, of course, because everyone knew the story.”

Folks at were unavailable for comment.

Actor Rob Lowe, remembered for a campy 1989 Oscar routine, featuring Snow White, which caused some Disney consternation, also was unavailable but was said by a friend of a friend of a waiter’s friend to be overheard as commenting, “I knew there was something dicey about that Snow White thing.”

“The news has been spun more than we knew,” said the out-of-the-box, 65th Crayon. “What will it be next? That Lassie was a boy?”

The 65th Crayon sends a special thanks to Yuna's Village - A Daily Slice of Life for including his last report on her site last week and encourages all to stop by her site to meet the colorful people who hang out there. He'll be stopping by to visit the villagers soon and bringing treats.

Along with this report, The 65th Crayon sent the following links:

A site that compares the Disney movies to the original fairy tales
Mouse Planet

Grimms’ Snow White and Rose Red Story
Grimms's Fairy Tales

Last Week's Report

The 65th Crayon affirms that all crayons in these reports are fictitious and any resemblance to real crayons is coincidental. The guy who writes this stuff doesn't exist, thereby proving the existence of a figment of your imagination.

—me strauss Letting me be

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Cognac and Conversation

Sometimes you recognize a lifelong friend in a sentence or two.

It was at a small publisher’s meeting.

He was a Brit with his top button buttoned. I was an American with a lot of personality. We were on the Durango Silverton Railroad. We were side-by-side facing out in an open air car, just down from the guy with the hooded peregrine falcon. He stood at the rail smoking one of those skinny European cigars. I sat up on the back of the seats.

The air held a chill, but I’d been cold before. The forest seemed at peace with things, and my soul agreed. The up-close Colorado mountains were a respite from the pages of print still burned on my mind’s eye. The trees were calling to the kid in me.

“Doesn’t this look like a great place to play hide-and-seek?” I asked, and so the conversation started.

He was well-traveled and in love with trains. I was alive and had been on a few in the days when American trains still had names.

I asked him what he liked best about Americans. He said it was our sense of irony. He said his country wasn’t known for theirs. We talked on and off . . . about Americans . . . about Brits . . . about publishing. Our eyes never really left the view. A separate, but intimate conversation. Just our style, now I know.

Later that night was a party. By then friendship was inevitable. There was no rush, no urgency, just the conversation and silence of longtime companions. A mucky-muck, who joined the conversation for a time, commented that he had never seen two people drink more cognac and stay more sober. Life is possibilities when two brains are engaged in mindful things.

When the party collapsed, my buttoned-up friend and I adjourned to the rustic lobby. A pair of large, lovely leather chairs about six feet across from each other allowed him to sit as a Brit and me to hang my legs over the arm.

“I have a decision to make,” he said.

“It's not my business what it’s about, but there’s a want-to answer and a should-do answer. Right?” I blurted too quickly. I mentally kicked myself, wondering where the writer-introvert goes when I need her?

“Exactly,” he said. “So what would you do?” His answer recharged my confidence. I started to breathe again. He didn’t stand a chance. I was off.

“I need more information. If you did the want-to, would anyone die?”

“No.” he smiled.

“Would your wife, your daughters, your friends, anyone be hurt in any way?”


“Everyone would eat?”


“End of story. Where’s the decision?”

He smiled again.

The conversation wrapped up about 30 minutes later, and gent that he was, he escorted me to the golf cart that delivered us to our rooms. As the cart wound down the path, we saw a star shoot across the Colorado night sky. . . .

I went into my room that night 16 years ago this week. He never said what his decision was about. I never asked.

He’s still a buttoned-up Brit. I ’m still an American with personality. We’ve had plenty of cognac and conversation since then.

We never did play hide-and-seek.
—me strauss Letting me be

Friday, August 26, 2005

Trusting and Believing

“Trust nobody,” my dad would say. “Not your enemies—especially not your friends.”

“But Dad,” I would answer, “that would mean I shouldn’t trust you.”

And he would say, “Yes, that’s right. Trust nobody.”

My father wanted only one thing—that I should be happy. The feeling was totally mutual. People say that in his eyes, the sun rose and set on my head. I answer that he hung the moon. I’m not sure how he created such a magical relationship, but he did. Despite his advice, I trusted him implicitly.

My dad left home at age 12. It was 1919. He knew the hardest sides of the world. When he said, “trust nobody,” he knew what he was talking about. It was one of a litany of lessons he shared daily. I saw the signs of those lessons written on his hands, his back, and his face, but not in his eyes, never his eyes. His eyes only spoke hope and joy.

My father loved me unconditionally. Despite his own advice, he trusted me too. He offered his wisdom for my own. His life lessons became my legacy. Yet in between his words, he let me know that turning away from bad things was turning away from life itself.

My dad used to say, “The reason to trust your friends even less is that they get closer to you than your enemies do.” Every now and then, there is a test to see whether I was paying attention.

Last night a friend broke a trust with me.

It so blindsided me. I guess I didn’t think that it could happen to me, not this late in my life. It made for a long night of thinking and looking at the sky. Yet in the end, I landed in the same place I always do. I realized that the believer I am can’t stop trusting everyone because I cannot trust one. To give up my trust would be to give up part of me. My soul would wither from losing connection to my own humanity. Many have held my trust faithfully. I choose for them. I choose for me.

I think of my father’s barrel chest, where I used to lay my head when the world got too big, too mean for a little girl. I listen for his heartbeats that whispered, “I love you, I love you,” and I hear them in my head. I see them in my husband’s eyes. I know them in the words I put on the page. As each second passes, I feel the proof that I have risked and won, because I am still the believer, the one who won’t give up on the world.

Thank you, Dad, for trusting the believer in me.
—me strauss Letting me be

Head On Crash with Humility

It was fast approaching 9 a.m. on the Fifth of July. I was 19 years and two days old, changing clothes in the backseat of a Plymouth Fury. My friends Nicki and Mary Ellen were in the front. We were still 30 miles from work. A flat tire had set back our little adventure—altogether we had spent 15 hours driving, to spend 2 hours at a party. I made it to work 15 minutes late, running on pure adrenaline, and sorely disappointed that no one believed where we’d been.

The weather had promised rain, but delivered a bait-and switch, turning the day into a 94 degree mass of humidity—the kind you can touch it in the air. I had bet on the rain and a drop in temperature. I wore a long-sleeved cowboy shirt, boots, and heavy denim jeans. I was wrong and paying for it in the pressing heat.

My job was Art Director at a Day Camp for Kids with Handicaps. Really it was a refuge for waifs and strays. We had kids with behavior problems, kids with Down’s Syndrome, kids with birth defects, kids who could learn very basic tasks, and young adults still in diapers who had never spoken beyond a grunt. Thinking of who they were, who I was, and the current circumstances, I planned a quiet day for all of us. I hadn’t yet learned that I’m not in charge of such things.

Dana, a 16-year-old girl with Down’s Syndrome and a stutter, decided she would be my helper. Fair-haired Dana stood about 5’1” and weighed nearly 160 pounds. She had the shiny personality mix of a cheerful, hard worker and a phenomenally affectionate puppy. She was most happy when she was hugging or hanging onto someone to express her good feelings. Dana's abundance of affection in the summer heat could cause an Art Director to pass out from lack of oxygen, especially if the Art Director already suffered from lack of sleep.

Since such was the case, I went for some creative problem solving. My growing-up name was long and musical. If I could get Dana to focus on learning to say my name without a stutter, I might get some room to breathe. It sounded like a plan to me.

We sat on a picnic table under the trees. Dana sat unbearably close to me. We talked about words, about how names are the most important words that we know.

“Dana and Maribeth,” she said. I smiled to think she got there first.

“Do you know my last name?” I asked. She shook her head, leaning a bit to look at me.

“It’s Monterastelli. That’s a long word. Don’t you think?” Dana moved a little, curious to see what would be next.

“It’s Italian,” I said. "I don’t suppose you know what it means?” Again she shook her head, but her eyes were bright with anticipation. This child was alive, no doubt about it.

“I didn’t either for a long time,” I said. “but I do now. It means star of the mountain.”

The idea of speaking Italian and the image of the star on the mountain are enough to catch any kid’s attention. It sure enough gets mine. So in no time at all I taught her how to say Monterastelli. She practiced. Dana moved over so that she could draw a picture of a star on a moutain while she practiced. I had space. That was 11:00 a.m.

When she finished drawing, she moved back next to me, and I spent the next four hours hearing:
“Mar-i-beth-Mon-ter-a-stelli.-Mar-i-beth-Mon-ter-a-stelli.-Mar-i-beth-Mon-ter-a-stelli.-Mar-i-beth-Mon-ter-a-stelli. . . .”

Wasn’t I clever? It was 94 degrees with 99 percent humidity. And now I had a cheerful, hammer in my head beat-ing-out-my-name, and an affectionate child, who had a good 40 pounds on me, hanging on my arm relentlessly.

Around 3:30 when the air turned to steam, I needed her to let go of me.

“Dana,” I said barely breathing. “Do you KNOW what you’ve been doing
ALL DAY?” I asked, speaking slowly, clearly, emphatically.

“Loving you?” she said innocently.


What had I been thinking?

It was a head-on crash with humility.
—me strauss Letting me be

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Just Do It

Don't just try to do it.
Do it. Then it will be done.

If I visualize myself having fun
doing something that I don't want to do,
suddenly the idea of getting started
doesn't seem like such a big deal.

Sometimes procrastination is just the child in me
mad that I won't play. Yet when I make up games,
they often look a lot like my work.

I don't know how much something has been nagging at me until I do it, and the nagging has gone.
—me strauss Letting me be

No One Can Help Me Write

We stayed home last New Year’s Eve, as we do most holidays of the sort. We chose a quiet celebration without the company of amateurs. My husband turned on a rerun of an interview with Hunter S. Thompson. . . .

It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. That someone says something so profound. So true. That it’s your own truth. Even though you’ve never put the words together, you’ve known their meaning deeply for what seems all of your life. I can’t tell you anything about the interview with Mr. Thompson, except one question and his answer.

The interviewer, who sat off camera, asked the reporter/writer which he thought was easier writing or researching. Thompson, sitting on the back porch in what was his work area and speaking in a writer’s frugality with words, said without hesitation, “Researching is much easier, because no one can help you write.”

I’ve spent years working with young writers. I could coach them. I could say what wasn’t working. I could make suggestions on how to approach the problem. But at the end of the day, I couldn’t help them write. I had to stand back and watch them struggle.

A writer is a batter standing at home plate waiting for the pitch, a tennis player waiting for serve to come over the net. A coach can watch and report, but the coach can’t hit the ball. Comments marked in whatever color I choose are meaningless if a writer can’t interpret or internalize them. I can suggest technique, but I can’t teach heart. I can’t fix the writing. If I do, I become the writer.

It takes heart, soul, intuition, understanding, and flexibility to be a writer. It takes practice, persistence, and patience. It takes years. It takes an artistic ability to blend structure with expression in the way a composer brings notes together to move people to feeling. It takes years. Writing is hearing the music of the language and the nuance of how words come together to make meaning. Writing is talent teamed with trial and error. Writing is more than putting words on paper. It is experience and problem solving. It takes years to make a writer.

I wonder at how we have the same experience with so many things, yet we reach a faulty conclusion about writing. We drew in school, yet few of us say we are artists. We played ball, yet few of us say we are athletes. We did mathematics, yet few of us say we are mathematicians. Still so many of us say we are writers.

It’s no wonder that I am so aware of my differences.

I know that no one can help me write.
—me strauss Letting me be

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

OZ of the Internet

I want to see the OZ of the Internet.

I could take The 65th Crayon, and we could go together to see him, sort of like Dorothy and Toto. We could use L. Frank Baum’s stories to serve as our guide—with a few edits and updates, of course. We’d have to find a couple of pals, and I’d have to decide what I wanted for myself.

I’d leave out the witches and Munchkins, I think. I haven’t heard about witches or Munchkins on the web. I haven’t heard of Tin Men, Scarecrows, or Cowardly Lions here either. I’d better consult Adsense and put out a call—someone knows whether any of these have been at the local blogs.

At the first meeting with OZ the Magnificent, I would ask for the Killer App—a defragmenting utility for my brain. Imagine the bliss. I could relax after writing all day. The program would reset my brain files into neat, little rows—no empty spaces between them. I would be human at the end of my day. I’d answer questions with grace, not my usual “WHAT?!!!!!!”

Stories always have three wishes—the most popular OZ tale had brain, heart, and courage. I have the other two covered, in case The Crayon and I face the Great OZ alone. The second audience would go something like this:

“Dear OZ,” I would say ever so sweetly. “Could you please introduce me to the famous Miss Snark, the literary agent? I’d like to meet her and know her name, please. She’d get a chance to show off her heart, and I could get a Snarky critique. At the least, Oh Great OZ, Miss Snark would see the little snarkling in me. ”

In audience three, I’d plead for the courage to get Larry Page, Terry Semel, and Steve Ballmer to sit down with me. I’d pull out my PowerPoint with this proposition: Real people do real work to feed real families. Then with my new courage, I’d tell them to play well together and remind them of how easily they might ruin things for everybody.

Three missions accomplished, The Crayon and I would say our tearful farewells and start on our way home. All would go well, but for that attack of the bots and spiders. Thank goodness we know mirror writing and verse.

Eventually we'd skip into the WBA, singing “There’s no blog like home.”

. . . and thanking the web gods for letting us be.

—me strauss Letting me be

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

A Way with Words

My son didn’t talk much as a preschooler, not in the usual way at least. He was a saturation learner, busily gathering information from everywhere, from the air. Highly perceptive, he couldn’t help but be highly self-conscious and painfully shy. So words weren’t his preferred method of communication. A look, an action, a tearful tantrum came more easily than a simple, “I love you.” When he did say something though, he had a magical way with words.

On nights that it was my turn to tuck the fair-haired toddler into bed, conversation about his day would finish in split finer than hair. Desperate for a way to extend our time, I would move my attention from the head on the pillow to converse with the feet at the end of the bed. His feet, I had found, were the favored hide-out for his sly and reclusive extrovert gene.

“So feet,” I might say. “How was your day?”

“Fi-ine,” they would chime, moving together. The face on the pillow slowly growing a grin.

“What did you do on this fine day?”

“We played with the letters, and spelled prescription. We walked to the store with Dad.” He was living proof that painfully smart could live side-by-side with painfully shy.

I would tell the feet about my day and how I felt about it. Then we would play a hand and foot game that had made itself up over time as such mother-son things do. When it was time to settle down, I’d usually check back in to make sure that feelings were still going okay.

“So how are your feelings today, feet?”

One evening, this question got the most gregarious feet in response. They were more than just moving their imaginary heads. They were jumping and jiggling. They were trying to crawl up my arms. The little guy on the pillow was giggling along with them.

“Lot’s of smiles today,” the feet reported.

“Whoa! That’s so cool. Where did you get all of those smiles?”

The answering voice came from the little boy on the pillow.
“They come from inside my tummy, when I’m with someone I love, “ he said.

Like I told you, he had a way with words.

He still does.
—me strauss Letting me be

Australian Web Think for ME

You can’t have an A without a B.*

I need to learn how to think Australian.

I was educated in some rigorous American schools. I got all of the left-brain things American schools teach and caught a couple of the right-brain things too. School was about teachers and textbooks. Every teacher had a textbook, and every textbook had a table of contents, an outline really. Outlines were key to the curriculum. They were also what formed my thinking.

Seventh and eighth grade raised outlines to be gods. We spent hours building new outlines in their image and diagramming sentences in tribute. Few Americans that grew up during that time can hear the proclamation about an A and a B without knowing that it refers to outlining. It was as if every junior high English teacher attended secret meetings, and this sentence was their password.

Apparently the gods smiled upon me, because I became a textbook publisher. Which meant that I built tables of contents for a living. I wrote them, worried about them, revised and edited them—all the while hearing myself repeating to young editors why they could not have an A without a B. For years I worked with textbook publishers in other countries developing outlines for products that we would build together. The world made sense to me. Every A had a B, until I got to Australia.

In Australia, young children are not raised on the food of the outline gods. They don’t use textbooks in elementary schools. Australian teachers teach from books of their own choosing. They do not have math books, science books, and reading books. What they have are books. Teachers used children’s information books and storybooks to teach kids to read, do math, and explore science. However, few books for young children have the detailed tables of contents that are the hallmark of an American textbook.

Over the years that I worked with my Australian friends, it became clear that they—educational publishers like myself—aren’t nearly so obsessed with high structure as we, Americans, are. They didn’t get the aforementioned A without a B mandate branded on their brains. They know what it means but when I ask about it, they give me the “she’s asking one of those questions again” shrugs that I get often enough to recognize.

Does this A without a B really thing make a difference? You bet it does. It’s not a right or wrong difference, "It's a "Hey, there’s another way to think about this” kind of difference.

Australians organize nonfiction in ways that Americans and Brits would never hold still for. They have no problem publishing nonfiction books without chapters because they are unwilling to give up a wealth of detail that refused to be hoved neatly into boxes. They didn’t start at age 8 carrying around textbooks arranged in outline form. They weren’t taught to think in the top down linear chunks of outlines. They seem more comfortable in exploring tangents, tracking back through nested ifs, and linking ideas in more than one direction simultaneously. They speak of “dipping in and out of books;” as much as reading them completely.

Which is not to say we don’t do these things, only that it’s not our heritage. So I’ve been thinking that if I could learn Australian think, I could lighten up on my need to impose order on the Internet. I need drastic measures—a hurricane to blow the old thoughts out of this brain..

I catch myself believing that I live down the street from the Writers Blog Alliance, which is in the same neighborhood as So I Blog and just around the corner from Nedfulthings. In my mind Technorati and Google are downtown. I find myself wondering who lives on the east side of town. Before I can stop myself,
I hear myself answer PubSub. I’m only catching on to the power of links and yet I describe them as the currency of the internet. My need to find an analogy in my known world is great.

Still I wonder how many ways my experience with books, where I am flexible and fluent, must be tripping me up on the web? It has to affect how I view things, how I interact, how I organize territory in my mind. What am I not seeing because my basic paradigm is too concrete and linear?

I just know that with more Australians around, the urge to name and label things wouldn’t be so great. A louder chorus of “ No worries,” and the noise of the random thinking might quiet some. We could have a cultural exchange—people going both ways, sharing information. I’ve been looking for a reason to go back . This could be it—a wish on my boomerang necklace to be in Sydney learning to think Australian.

Hey—Americans already think I’m weird, what have I got to lose? boomerang necklace to be in Sydney learning to think Australian.

Hey, Americans already find my thinking weird, what have I got to lose?

I do know enough not to stand under the koalas.

By the way, the reason you can’t have an A without a B is because you can’t break something into one part. Teachers sometimes forget to explain that.
—me strauss Letting me be

Monday, August 22, 2005

Warbird Doesn’t Like Me

It was a Friday afternoon in a past life, as they say. It was long before anyone had heard of Y2K or 9/11. I was working late. She was part of a catty little clique where I worked. She came into my office, sat herself down, and offered some minor pleasantries—always her style. Then she dropped her cloaking device and hit me head-on like a Romulan Warbird.

“We’ve been talking about you, and we’ve decided that we don’t like you talking about people when they’re not in the room, . . . in particular, we don’t like you talking about Marilyn.” She proceeded to use a good twenty minutes describing everything that was wrong with me as a person, which included a sidebar on why no person on the planet could possibly stand to work with me. I should have seen it coming when I heard that lovely phrase, “It’s probably none of our business, but . . .”

That evening I lived the word stunned. As I sat facing rapid fire, I literally had to restart my brain. I couldn’t process the information. My thinking kept looping around the same question in total amazement. Did she really hear what she had just said? It was a full-out admission that she had been doing exactly what she was shooting me for. In my neighborhood that wasn't fair. Add to that the fact that she was the one—the only one—with whom I had discussed Marilyn, as an editor.

My brain was misfiring. The opening narration from The Outer Limits was being read by Rod Serling as Salvadore Dali painted the scene in my office somewhere in the far reaches of my mind.

This female sitting across from me was an editor. What had she done with the facts? The only plausible answer was: she had no use for the facts. She had been passive-aggressive since I’d arrived at the company, thinking that my job should have been hers. So I don’t suppose that she was predisposed to caring about the facts anyway. I let her say her piece. It was brutal. I went home.

My natural response is to fix things. I looked for ways to resolve this. Every solution that presented itself had me giving up ground. I didn’t want her friendship, but I didn’t need to be bullied again either. It was a miserable weekend. It took self-respect to go to work that Monday.

Wish I’d been wiser then. I wouldn’t have wasted a weekend trying to fix the unfixable. I know now that even if I’d saved Warbird’s life, I’d still be that awful person who’d somehow done a good thing. That's how those things work.

Every now and then I hear about Warbird and occasionally bump into her at conferences. I always stop to talk, and she always seems nervous. I like to think that I’ve changed over time, maybe she will too. Then again, maybe she won’t. She’s still at the old company—in a job she got while I was still there.

Me? I'm long gone from there.

I’ve fixed my overwhelming need to fix things that I can’t fix. I now have a great deal of time and brain space for doing things that are a lot more fun. I’ve also quit flinching when other Warbirds come around. So I suspect they’ve quit thinking it might be fun to torment me. Fascinating how these things reinforce each other.

I've gotten comfortable with the fact that some folks plain aren’t going to like me. Some will have genuine reasons. Reasons I gave them. Others, like Warbird, will make up reasons. Both will see the bad things they’re looking for when they look at me.

Of course it would work that way. My friends have genuine and sweet, imaginary reasons why they like me. They see the good things they’re looking for when they look at me.

Now that I think about it, it’s a good thing that people like Warbird don’t like me.

What would it say about me and my friends if they did?
—me strauss Letting me be

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Scribbles: PBJ Sandwiches

This Just In from The 65th Crayon:

Most people are surprised to find out that the way they make a PBJ isn't the only way. In fact, the person sitting next to you at lunch everyday probably thinks you do it wrong. According an informal 65th Crayon survey, you are likely to find as many as five different ways to assemble peanut butter, some form of jelly, and two pieces of bread.

“Ask the question next time you’re with a group of friends,” The 65th Crayon suggests. “The conversation will last far longer than you expect.” The super sleuth crayon says that most people can't imagine that anyone could conceive of building a PBJ any way other than the way that they were taught as a child.

“That's JUST WRONG,” one woman vehemently responded, when told that some people put the peanut butter and jelly on the same slice of bread.

“NO WAY,” said an earnest young man, who learned from his mother never to put peanut butter on one slice and jelly on the other.

“Isn't that just like people,” said the out-of-the-box, 65th Crayon, “To assume that everyone thinks like they do.”

Along with this report, The 65th Crayon sent the following links:

Grilled Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches
The F.U.N. Place Recipe Box Archives
A timeline starting in 3000 B.C. at the Smuckers Company site
The History of Peanut Butter and Jelly

—me strauss Letting me be

A Wonder-Full Life

In college we used to say, “All babies are born stoned; then the world beats it out of them.” We were probably just paraphrasing our music. Pink Floyd said it metaphorically, “All in all, it’s just another brick in the wall.”

My standard operating system was developed at home and refined at school. Don’t run in the house. Use your indoor voice. Do your work before you play. Color inside the lines. Sit up straight. Be polite. Each basic command was entered in my head. If I do these things, I will operate properly. If I do not, I will crash in the time-out corner. Not that we had a time-out corner back then.

But hey, I also learned about family, and fairy tales, and heroes, and angels, and creativity, and planets, and fairness, and inventors, and imagination, and artists, and poetry, and ideals, and so many awe-inspiring and wonder-full things. These concepts captured my soul. They are my hidden system files—my read-only, undeletable files. They underpin my world view.

I’m bombarded daily with data that challenges that view. But she’s supposed to be your friend. Data. He had that information. I gave it to him. Data. You’re too tall. You intimidate people. Data. There have been more bombings in London. Data. Why not come up to my place and see my etchings? Data miner. Still data. That’s all it is—data. I don’t have unlimited memory, so unnecessary negative data doesn’t get saved—period.

It took me a while to figure out that last part. For a while, I tied myself in knots, trying to decide whether I was a fool. . . . I can see that as a species we do some despicable things. What if the world is the awful place that keeps presenting itself to me? Bits and bytes of negative data chipped away at my world view and therefore at me. My
Winnie-the-Pooh self was caught quoting Eeyore. “Pathetic, that’s what it is. Pathetic.”

But try as I might, I couldn’t—still can’t—give up on the world. I still believe in family, and fairy tales, and heroes, and angels, and creativity, and planets, and fairness, and inventors, and imagination, and artists, and poetry, and ideals, and so many awe-inspiring and wonder-full things. They were written on my soul as a child. I can’t delete them, lucky for me. I might have wanted to once, but not now, not again, not ever.

Duncan says that the world needs incurable idealists like us. He says we balance out the hardcore cynics. It has to do with joy, and hope, and possibility.

I like the thought of providing balance. So I hold tight to my world view, even though I know that people can do despicable things. I don’t want despicable people choosing my world for me.
My world needs people who believe in it as much as I need people who believe in me.

It’s a wonder-full life being Winnie-the-Pooh. It comes with an awe-inspiring view.
—me strauss Letting me be

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Knowing and Believing

What the mind yearns for most
is not to know,

but to believe.
Gustav Holst, about his musical
composition, Neptune, The Mystic

What the soul yearns for most
is not to believe,
but to know.

Yesterday I saw someone have an epiphany.

He gave himself permission to know what he knows.
He deleted data that was making him get in his own way.
He became every word that means
I am glad I got to see that. It was a nice reminder.

—me strauss Letting me be

Friday, August 19, 2005

The 65th Crayon Is Out There

The 65th Crayon is out of the box. Well, of course, he’s out of the box. That’s why he’s the 65th Crayon—only 64 come in the box. You might have spotted him earlier on the blog. His picture ran with a post I wrote titled, “Doing It Right.”

He’s a bit of a rebel that one, full of joie de vivre. Usually he hangs around my desk, pestering me to have fun, reminding me of all of the opportunities we have to play. But this week I have had some work to do. So, he’s gone exploring on his own. He left in such a hurry; he forgot his sunglasses.

He said he was heading off in the direction of Technorati. But that doesn’t mean much. He’s such a curious sort that he’s likely to get distracted by a thousand things on the way. He could end up at BoingBoing or talking to Clive at GoneAway before he ever makes it to Technorati. It’ll be interesting to see just where he goes.

I’d tell you to keep an eye out for him, but there’s no point. You wouldn’t notice him right next to you, Being the 65th crayon, he can change color to match his environment. He’s like a crayon super spy.

The 65th Crayon—he’s my hero and my alter ego rolled into one.

—me strauss Letting me be

I Am Definitely Alive

When Dawn rides the train, she gives her brain permission to go exploring. That sounds so relaxing.

My brain goes exploring all of the time. It doesn’t think it needs permission.

The thought of sitting back while my brain goes exploring—at least during daylight hours—is not an option for me. I spend my days wondering how to catch up with what’s happening on the information highway in my head. Like a curious three-year-old, my brain wants to be continuously engaged. I try to keep it occupied with worthwhile endeavors, but sometimes it plain wears me out. We take a nap.

Me give my brain permission? Not a chance. During daylight my brain has a mind of its own. It thinks what it wants.

It’s a rollercoaster, but I get a lot done. Multitasking is nothing when the brain is going at 80 miles an hour in first gear. I’m thinking of the next sixteen things I’m going to do while I pour my first cup of coffee. Some folks might call this “rattle and chase” stress. It’s the stress of a rodeo rider, of young love, of a champion off on a quest. It’s the perfect stress of taking on the world heart wide open, brain engaged. I call it life at full speed. It takes a certain amount of breathing, focus, and energy, but never too much—well, not usually too much.

And when the stars come out, the rewards are sweet. The carnival shuts down for the day. My brain cells are ready to quiet themselves and rest easy in my head. Okay so some days they’re flat out wasted from having thought themselves into a fizzle. Either way, my entire body gets a break, a chance to rest gently in the presence of the world. I don’t necessarily quit working, but the pace is slower, the lights are lower, and the sense of time expands to take in the whole universe.

Some nights, like tonight, I reintroduce my brain to my heart. All of me just kind of hangs out together and reacquaints itself with the quieter, introverted side of me. Grand ideas—peace, joy, and beauty—fill my thoughts. Now it’s no big deal to relax, waiting for morning to take in a sunrise or daydreaming under the night sky. It’s hard not to feel alive when you’re looking at the night sky. Imagine we’re made of stardust and you can’t help but feel good about the world.

I suppose it would be more relaxing, more efficient, if I could spread my energy more evenly over a day. Then again, I’ve never used either word to describe what it means to feel alive.

I am definitely alive.
—me strauss Letting me be

Thursday, August 18, 2005

I Am a Song

I am a song.
I am a song that topped the charts, all the stations
every venue, every nation. Famous singers still choose to cover me.
You know my name, even if you can’t sing my tune.

I toured the world via airwaves and MTV.
I employed an entourage, the coolest band was playing me,
wild guitars, a different drummer; kids dancing,
romancing, blasting through the summer.

I am a song that topped the charts, all the stations.
I am the tune that stuck in your head when you least expected
and still shows up occasionally to remind you of something—
some THING.
I wound down. turned old school, uncool, ancient,
but my melody never left you because I am a song.

Then suddenly,
I am a curiosity.

VH-1 is wondering
where have I been?
They’re content hungry.
They need to feed the TV.

I’m a golden classic.
Exclusive elevators play me.
soft guitars, hardly any
drum track in the mix.
My teeth are gone.
I am still a song that topped the charts, all the stations,
every venue, every nation. Famous singers still choose to cover me.

What remains is how you listen. I am only the song.
me strauss 8/18/05

Thank you to "for the lonely" at (
for her poem “Rock and Roll never forgets,” which inspired this poem.
—me strauss Letting me be

The 80/20 Rule of Imagination

They say that everything breaks down to the 80/20 rule—that in any endeavor 80 percent of the load is carried by 20 percent of the structure. For example, 80 percent of the regular readers of this blog are 20 percent of the total number of people who visit. I've been noticing that the 80/20 Rule of Imagination has reversed itself since I was a kid.

In the olden days when I was short, the world was a really big place. We didn’t have so much information, but we had plenty of imagination. You could say that everything we did was based on 80% imagination and 20% information.

We imagined cell phones. The cell phones we imagined had features that today’s cell phones can’t touch: They were free; everybody had one; you didn’t need to remember numbers—simply saying “ring, ring, ring” would get the party you wanted every time. They were independent of telephone companies. We didn’t have to interrupt anything to answer a call. There was no voice mail. Returning calls was out of the question. In fact, phones just disappeared when we hung up, and they appeared again when we needed them. We were in charge of them.

We imagined cars that could take us anywhere. According to our rules if we wanted they could, and often did, fly us to other planets. Or suddenly with a trick of the light, we were aliens on our own planet, and cars were machines that ate people—you could actually see the eaten people inside the cars. It was amazing. We would steal our way on the trail of the master garage, looking for the car in charge, waiting for the moment we could bravely say the immortal words, “Take me to your leader.” On other days, cars became fodder for the latest game show. We’d pick colors and take our places in front of someone’s house to see who could by force of will get ten cars of their color to drive past first. No organization, no prizes, just our imaginations and the information from kid conversations.

Now I’ve got a world of information inside this little laptop. Try as I might to have it otherwise, my life is easily 80% information and 20% imagination. That 20% imagination is taken up with practical uses: wondering why a site isn’t loading; imagining the person who put together this blog; or trying to solve a structure problem in my writing. Occasionally I’ll indulge myself by wondering what percent of their time the people at Technorati spend not talking about the web, but even that wondering is about information.

The 80/20 rule has become 80% information, 20% imagination for me.

I hardly ever take my imagination out on the creativity autobahn to see what it can do, at least not in public. Probably just as well to keep it private, more often than not, it confuses people when I get imaginative. Still my goal is to switch that 80/20 rule back to the way it used to be.

Play will be the work of my life again. Imagine that.

—me strauss Letting me be

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Wondering about Bullies

Whenever I picture a bully, a male bully, I picture a kid from a movie. All that ever comes to mind is a stereotype bully from storybooks and such. He is merely a concept to me. I have never met a male bully.

Whenever I picture a female bully, however, real faces come to mind, real experiences are recalled, and real recoveries are revisited. They are not concepts. They are people who redirected their fear at me.

From the time I was a child until this very day, the only bullies were females, girls like me.

I wonder why the only bullies I've suffered are female.
Is it because I am female?
Is it because I am a certain kind of female?
Is it because I grew up with only brothers in a neighborhood of boys?
Is a simple fact of numbers? Are there more female bullies than male?

Maybe the boys have been beating up all along.

Maybe I just haven't taken them seriously.
—me strauss Letting me be

Doing It Right


Making love,
Making money,
Making friends,
Making changes,

Exploring the wonders of life,
Exploring the wonders of others,
Exploring the wonders of yourself,
Exploring the wonders of the world.

Whatever it is . . . Wherever I am . . .

If I'm not having fun, I'm not doing it right.
—me strauss Letting me be

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Different Drummers

I walk to the beat of a different drummer. The world keeps telling me so. The people I meet don't know where to put me. They don't trust where I might go. So I have trouble trusting the world. The differences get between us. If I didn’t hear a different drummer, I wouldn’t have trouble relating to the world. Yet, it’s the only cadence I have and with it comes my creativity—even the world values that in me. How can the world and I both disdain and value something at the same time?

No wonder the world looks at me with distrust. I’ve just said I agree with them. I must somehow hold myself up to the world saying so. Even these thoughts feel revealing, yet unimportant.

We have too many names that mean different.
People have ruined perfectly good words such as special
by using them that way. I know. I’ve used some of them.
Made up a few myself—not all of them so forgiving.
Why do we have to figure out how we are different,
before we figure out how we are the same?
—me strauss Letting me be

I Call a “Do Over”

Who decided there aren’t any “do overs”?

I was talking to Rob in the neighborhood bar. He”s a happy-go-lucky, young guy, always ready with a clever remark, great at a game of verbal volleyball. Guess you could say I like talking to Rob. He’s clever.

This night he seemed only slightly less energetic. The difference was nearly imperceptible, but it was there. So I asked about his day, and he answered with the this and that of things that had gone a bit wrong. I said the day sounded like a perfect candidate for a “do over.” He said that he didn’t believe in “do overs.” I was stunned. How could a young, good-looking, happy-go-lucky guy like Rob not believe in “do overs”? He had to be teasing. He had to be pulling both of my legs and the legs of the chair I was sitting on.

Thinking perhaps he was an only child, who came from perhaps a deprived childhood, I carefully explained the concept of a “do over.” I made sure that he understood that as long as all of the people involved agreed, a “do over” was fair game on almost every event. He wasn’t buying. His life had not room for such things.

“Say you forget your car keys,” I offered. “There’s a perfect opportunity. You call a ‘do over,’ go back to your apartment, get your car keys, and start again. No harm done.”

“No,” he answered patiently, as if I were a small child, not someone a full six inches taller than he. “That would be a ‘do again.’”

“Ah,” I smiled. “but it doesn’t have to be. The only person who has to agree with you is you,” I pointed out. “You can allow yourself a brand-new chance to get it right the first time. You can think of the other first time as practice. Imagine how it would change your perspective on your whole day.”

“Nope.” he said. “I’d never agree to that.”

The conversation went on that way for an hour or so. I pulled out my best and most charming arguments. They were fended off with his best and most patient smiles. I made no headway. This young man, who loved to play verbal volleyball, had put away all childish toys on this subject. He was not to be persuaded. In Rob’s world view, all “do overs” belonged in the minds of small children with fragile egos, not in the brains of practical, happy-go-lucky young men, who have real jobs at real museums as real photographers.

Either that, or he was playing with me. And he won. I don’t mind losing at verbal volleyball. But I really mind not knowing for sure whether I did.

I’m calling a “do over” on that conversation with Rob. I need to let him know.

He’ll probably say we can “do it again.”

Boys. They can be so disagreeable sometimes.
—me strauss, letting me be

Monday, August 15, 2005

Entry: Happiness

We invest so much effort, chasing something we call happiness. I think that peace of mind, something to look forward to, and enough emotional room to be generous add up to close heaven for me. . . . As I look back, my moments of highest "happiness" were moments when I wasn't thinking about how I was feeling at all.

It is true.

You can be so overjoyed
that you cry.

It is also true.

You can be so despairing
that you laugh.

I don't remember the feeling of happy,
but I'll never forget the feeling of joy.
—me strauss Letting me be

Random Thinker No More

"You talk like a fire hose let loose on the floor," he said, and he had just met me.

"Ah, you've noticed that I'm a random thinker." I said, attempting to make light of his remark. Then I saw myself as a random thinker, but the fire hose was more than I'd pictured.

In the world of people who discuss things in person, I tend to make huge leaps of content, endowing my friends with prior knowledge they may not have. When time and friends don't mind, I'll explore a tangent (or twenty) to see where it takes the conversation. Yet like a child going off into the woods, I drop bread crumbs as I go, so I can find my way back to the topic we left. It's embarrassing to get lost in the woods, knowing you left a perfectly fine conversation behind.

Today, I've been reading the web without a net. I just jumped into uncharted cyberspace. I pushed off from those beautiful, easy-to-read sites that sing with well-written prose as if I were swimming. Now I'm forced to reassess my definition of random thinker and in essence, my definition of myself. It had never crossed my leapfrogging little-kid's mind that random thinker might literally mean random thinker. Yet after randomly reading the Internet, my eyes hurt, and my brain feels mushy from trying to connect two thoughts sitting side by side in the same paragraph.

Suppose that the old Richard Guindon cartoon, "Writing is nature's way of letting you know how sloppy your thinking is." is true. Then the random thinking that runs rampant in run-on sentences and running rosters across the web is an anal-retentive, eighth-grade English teacher's idea of Dante's inferno in need of a good mopping. It makes me giggle to think I'll soon be seeing commercials for a neurological syndrome called RRRTS--Reaction to Reading Random Thinking Syndrome. On second thought, eewwwww, maybe I've got it.

Linear and sequential are starting to look strangely interesting to me. Concrete thinking sounds like a comfort.
I'm starting to think I don't mind being called a fire hose.

A fire hose has purpose, direction, and focus, even when it's loose on the floor.
——me strauss Letting me be

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Admiration? I Don't Know

Sometimes I get in my own way.

Most people would say I’m an extrovert. I like to talk about ideas. I like to share my work. When it comes to work or ideas, I’m a grandmother talking about her grandkids. I’m terrific at presentations but then, I’m holding the microphone. It’s easy to control the conversation when you’re the guy with the microphone.

I like people looking at my work, but I don’t like them looking at me. There is a difference, and I literally feel it. I am too aware. My brain works overtime on what they might be thinking--not that it shares that information with me. When I sense someone trying to see the real me, brain alarms go off, and chemicals start adjusting. Fight or flight? Ignore it or act cool under fire? If I care about who’s looking, the response is almost instantaneous. Poof! Some of the best of me--the softer, sweeter side of m--disappears with that puff of smoke.

It doesn’t happen often. You’d have to know me well to catch it. But that doesn’t matter because I know it happens. I’m left feeling self-conscious and unable to act naturally. I get knocked totally off balance. I compensate. I rattle and move the focus to the clever things I say and do. I go immediately into entertainer mod--a noisier, faster-talking version of me--while still trying to figure out how to pull myself together. I think of it as Social Anxiety Self-Conscious Entertainment Disorder because I begin to make everything into a show.

“Excuse me, Ladies and Gentlemen, if you might allow me a few moments alone. I promise to use them to find the rest of me. I will bring back a less erratic, sane person for your conversational pleasure. I’m sure you would prefer to spend time with someone who could carry on a conversation that actually makes sense.” Though my humor always goes over well, I feel like a fool, and some people choose to agree. Still getting out the entertainer is one way to admit my self-conscious situation and turn it around.

I tell myself that I should just quit looking at people who are looking at me. Lead shoes seem a more reliable solution. They would ground me and protect me from shooting myself in the foot in this way. My answers are too extreme for what the world expects to see.

I want to get out of my way, so that the world can see the soft side of me.

Luke pointed out ever so gently that I, of all people, should know that not everyone is looking to judge me. He suggested that some might be looking in admiration. I could answer in all honesty that it hadn’t occurred to me.

I’ve been thinking on what Luke said for a couple of months now. Admiration? I don’t know. Still I’ve stopped flinching when people look at me, and Monday night a guy yelled, “You’re hot!” out his car window at me.

Maybe I’ll put a hold on the lead shoes.
—me strauss Letting me be

The World Turning

Why do I answer every question—before it's been asked?

I respond too quickly. I try too hard. When will I find the centeredness—the right kind of confidence—to sit back quietly, to wait patiently?

When will I let go of this unconscious thinking that the world needs me . . . to answer the question? . . . to take the blame? . . . to be responsible? . . . to organize things?

The world turns just fine without me. It always has, and it always will. The world does not need me.

Maybe I need the world to need me.

Maybe that's one question I should be answering.
—me strauss Letting me be

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Life Lessons

Life is rediscovering things
that I already know.
The times that I have messed up most,
I was looking in the wrong direction.
Life is learning
the same lesson

over and over again.
I can't seem to comprehend
that the way the world works
is the way the world works.
Life isn't rocket science.
Life is about
paying attention.
—me strauss Letting me be


When I realized that

what I think
of myself

is what matters,
I began to build
a foundation
of concrete
where there
had been
only sand.
—me strauss Letting me be

A Kick in the Head

The timing would feel like a random reaching out of a kind of karma-skew. The event would feel like a kick in the head.

Whenever I would start to feel secure, the world would come along and smack me down firmly. It was not at times when I was wildly self-involved or over the top with ego. Then I deserve a wake up call. Bring on the proverbial kick in the head to say, "Hey you! Pay attention. THIS planet revolves around the SUN, not YOU."
That would make sense to me.

I'm thinking of times when I feel contentment, those rare moments when my skin seems to fit just right. The world looks beautiful, and people seem to be the best species God could have created. I let down my guard and start to enjoy being alive. That's when someone looks for something to misunderstand, when out of nowhere I'm told I’m a despicable human being, or I find out that something I did, which was fine when I was less happy with life, was now hideously, offensively, and appallingly inconsiderate.

I used to buy into to it, particularly when the response came from a group. I could never figure out the reasoning behind it, but I would take on the blame just as I take on lif--completely and with my whole heart. I'd go about trying to fix myself, knowing it I'd be a better person for the effort.

Curiosity and self-preservation led me to keep on the look out. Like an overgrown puppy in a china shop, I didn't want to break anything else. I started to notice the pattern. It took years of living before I was convinced that the trigger to this sort of event was an expression of joy on my par--sometimes the feeling of joy. Still ever ready to take the blame, I thought it must be something about how I express my happiness that is just wrong. I must be bringing this on myself.

Of course, I also got gun shy about trusting my own good feelings. It didn't feel like that was how it's supposed to be. On the other hand, a good kick in the head, doesn't feel like that is how it's supposed to be either.

Finally I got to an age where I gained a little sense. I quit taking the blame for everything on the planet. My skin seemed to fit just fine most of the time. I realized that I was a best judge of my behavior, and most importantly, that I was cheating myself if I didn't enjoy--note to self: see the big word joy inside that verb--every second of contentment this planet has to offer. I quit flinching at my own happiness. I went back to thinking that the world is beautiful and that people are the best species God ever created. I still take a kick in the head now and then, but I've changed my response to "Hey, what were you thinking? Why would you want to kick me?"

Luke says that it probably won't make me feel better, but this sort of thing happens to everyone. He says that some folks just can't stand to see anyone happy. He's wrong on one point. It does make me feel better. It'
s nice to know that it's not about me.

Some things are easier if you know you're not alone.

As for folks who can’t stand to see me happy--they are welcome to their misery.

—me strauss

Friday, August 12, 2005

Preparing for a Negative

After doing some physical chores, Janine said, "I know I'm going to hurt tomorrow." Sure enough, the next day she did.

The comment is innocuous enough. I say things like that all of the time. Still I wonder if thinking about hurting had anything to do with the pain that Janine actually felt the next day. If she hadn't thought about hurting would she have had less pain or maybe none at all? I'm constantly predicting and preparing for negative things I think will happen. I wonder whether I prepare myself into making bad things happen or turn bad things into worse ones.

Preparing for something bad seems like a negative thing to do. How could it not be negative thing to do? Focusing on negatives has got to release fight or flight chemicals in my brain. It's a straight out argument for how it could make the negative even more negative.Thinking I'm going to get a migraine could be just the nudge my brain needs to let loose with a nerve storm that lays me out flat. It makes sense that worrying about the pain is likely to make it worse.

I've seen a friend become so well prepared for a negative, that he caused it to happen by the defensive posture he took. I've sat through hours of description of what he will do when someone tells him no, only to have the answer be yes. The only audience who saw the glory of his well-prepared argument was me. I lived the night of negativity. It wasn't fun.

I do it too. I suspect we all do. I think about what if and how I'll respond when. Though I don't worry daily about nuclear war, it's only because I have friends who do it for me. Why do we do these negative things? We do them because negatives do happen, and it's naive to live unprepared for them. It would be foolish not to prepare for a hurricane. I would be a fool not to save for a calamity. Preparing for some negatives is self-preservation. Though it gets my brain chemicals going, it also means that I'm alive and alert.

It seems a good idea though, that I should know what I'm preparing for and whether it's worth the investment.

Janine probably wouldn't think to say, "I know I'm going to feel great tomorrow." I wouldn't say it either.

I don't need to prepare for a positive. Positive things don't hurt.
—me strauss Letting me be

Thursday, August 11, 2005

"Once Upon a Time" Surprises

Once upon a time, surprise was the currency of life.

When I was small, short, and shy, surprises were things of magic and mystery. They often came in boxes gift-wrapped with ribbons, or they involved a blindfold and a walk to something more exciting. The word itself, surprise, filled the mouth and the mind. It conjured thoughts of adventures and dreams coming true, and in my young world, surprises usually lived up to that reputation. It's not hard to make a 6-year-old's dreams come true.

Play is the work of six-year-olds. Surprise is the currency. Surprise was among the first words I heard, said, read, and wrote. I wasn't unusual. Parents and teachers know the power of surprises.

Surprise! Surprise? surprise

I type the word three ways and stare at it. The images, the memories change with how it is written. My feelings about surprises change with them. I think that I've discovered how to mark the time that I was still a child--when I thought all surprises were good. In a child's lexicon, all surprise is pleasing to the highest order. I look at the list and add one more item.

No surprises.

I survey the list again. I've recorded the evolution of my experience of surprises. As I grew taller, surprises grew smaller. As I got older, surprises became fewer and less enchanting. As I got wiser, surprises became the stuff of childhood. The surprises hadn't changed. I had.

My childish expectations were too grand for my grown-up dreams. I still have adventures and dreams, but they don't come in gift-wrapped boxes with ribbons. I chase them down. All of my happily ever afters are my own doing. So are my turns down the wrong road. Not every surprise is fun.

I still get sweet surprises, but surprise is no longer the currency of my life.

Now surprise is the wildflowers that grow alongside my road.

—me strauss Letting me be