Self

Frosty Morning


The air was crisp against my face, the ground crunched with ice underfoot. I looked up at the dawn brightening sky, attempting to determine why this morning was lovely when others had merely been cold. It was certainly not the task which occupied my hands. Pulling a garbage can to the curb is arguably the least-lovely of possible tasks. The sky had no explanations for me, just a broad expanse, pink tinged at the edges. The difference then, must be in me if the sky, cold, and ice were unchanged from days prior. This morning I carried with me a soul ready to appreciate and see the beauty when other mornings I focused on my steps and task. Work focus is so often necessary in a world where productivity is survival. Yet the tiny pause in appreciation of the frosty sky did not impede the completion of a mundane task. It elevated it. And I returned to warmth and light a little better for knowing the frost.

Stepping Outside My Bubble (Sort of)

When I was a teenager headed off to college. I was firmly of the opinion that I didn’t want to raise kids inside the Utah “Mormon Bubble.” I had Utah-raised cousins, and my California-raised self saw patterns in their thinking and attitudes that I felt indicated they were out of touch with reality. Because life is not always what we plan when we are 18, I’ve spent my entire parenting life raising kids in Utah. I did what I could to broaden their perspectives, but my kids are totally bubble raised.

Except, so are everyone else’s. That’s the thing I did not realize at 18. I’d grown up in my own bubble. I lived in a town where a significant portion of the kids where children of parents who worked at a National Laboratory. These parents were gung ho on education and demanded opportunities from the school system. There was a series of honors classes at the school, and there was a group of us who took all of them. It created a bubble of “honors kids” who pretty much had the same people in their classes from elementary school all the way through high school. We all shaped each other. And we were shaped by the teachers, and the town, and a dozen other factors we shared. All of this combined to create a sense of “this is how the world works and how we should view it.” I could clearly see the ways that my cousins participated in their cultural bubble. My own cultural bubble was invisible to me.

This weekend I’m back in my home town. I’m sleeping in the bedroom that was mine when I was a teenager and then was my Grandma’s, and now is guest space. All evidence of my residence is erased, but my Grandma’s existence is still evidenced by the wall decor and furniture that remains in the room. In this space I am definitely outside my usual life. I’ve stepped out of my usual way of living and I’ve stepped into patterns that are familiar-but-not-really-mine. I went for a walk in a park where I used to run cross country races with a woman I’ve not seen since we both graduated high school. Talking with her helped me see and remember the bubble I grew up in. Thinking about our conversation helped me pause and identify the bubbles I live in now.

My life is venn diagram of bubbles. I suspect many lives are. Yes I have a Utah Mormon bubble that consists of a neighborhood of fellow church goers who function as a small town inside the larger city. I also have a speculative fiction writer bubble which exists in my online spaces and at the conventions I attend. I know there are other bubbles: political, familial, etc, however these first two bubbles were the ones that became visible to me as I talked with a friend who shared neither one.

The thing about bubbles is that they are necessary. Human brains can’t hold all possibilities equally all the time. We have to decide what we think is acceptable and what we think is wrong. We have to find ways to spend time with people who share those attitudes and allow us to relax into them. We have to develop a sense of “I fit in” and “this is normal” Maslow’s hierarchy of needs teaches us this. We need to belong. We need periods where we can rest and be comfortable, because if we’re never able to rest that does things to our brains which are often expressed as anxiety, depression, and loneliness. Of course the risk of cultural bubbles is that the walls are reflective. It is sometimes hard to see outside them. And when we do sometimes we get baffled and angry at the lives and choices of others. Their choices make sense in their bubble (which we can’t see) but not in ours.

This is why it is good for me to step outside my usual bubbles. It is good for me to remember that the world is full of ways of being human that are different from my well-worn and familiar paths. This is particularly useful to me right now, since I’m taking specific steps to reduce anxiety in my life. I’m changing my physical spaces to disrupt some of my habitual patterns. I’m trying to bring in new ways of thinking about my life. Traveling outside my bubble gives me new perspectives and a reinvigorated desire to make changes, to shift my bubbles and expand them. I can take that desire and perspective home with me to view my habits and patterns in new ways.

Haiku and the Lives We Choose for Ourselves

Haiku is a poetic form with very strict rules about the structure of the poem. It is not the only poetic form with rules, but the very specific restraints on number of syllables per line and the ways that the lines must interact with each other produce a particular sort of beauty which can’t be achieved without those constraints. The defined limits of the form create the beauty of it. Because of these structural demands, some things can’t be said in haiku and some things can only be said in haiku.

My chosen religious tradition is one with strict rules and constraints. It asks me to not do some things and to go out of my way to do others. I’ve had friends baffled by some of the constraints that I live with. I’ve had periods of my life where some of it felt confining and others where the constraints provided safety for me in an otherwise hazardous experience, like the harness of a climber which can be simultaneously uncomfortable and life saving. I’m aware that the harness that cradles and supports me might cut off circulation and do harm to someone who is built differently.

I said “my chosen religious tradition” because even though I was born into this tradition and raised inside it, I have since chosen it for myself. I continue to make that choice regularly. I choose the structures and requirements of this form for my life, while being aware that my choice blocks me off from many things I see bringing joy to others. I am also aware of the joys that are only available to me because of the structures I dwell inside. And I know that some people born to these same structures must exit them in order to expand into the people they are. Other people must find their way into these structures to become who they might be.

The world would be a poorer place if the only poetry available were haiku. The world would be made poorer if all people were required to live the same life structures and traditions. God knows all of his children and will help us find the forms we need in order to become what we must be.

Traveling to Europe

Day after tomorrow my calendar has an appointment named “flight to Paris.” I’m not actually going to stay in Paris long, just touch down long enough to clear customs and get on another plane. Yet part of my brain sings “I’m going to Paris.”

I first dreamed of a trip to Europe when I was sixteen years old. I’d heard of some summer-long teen ambassador program which pitched itself as a hugely educational connection between teens from other countries. I dragged my dad with me to a meeting, where he worried about supervision and I was discouraged by the hefty price tag. Life intervened, I didn’t have the resources to come up with that money, so I didn’t go. (Though I did get to do a week-long school trip to Washington DC a year later for a much smaller price tag and supervised by people who were familiar to us.)

I next made plans to go to Europe as a sophomore in college. There were semester abroad programs. I researched and intended to take out a loan to go. Ultimately I chose fiscal responsibility over an exciting trip. Which turned out to be a good thing because shortly after that I met Howard. We got engaged during the semester I would have been gone.

My third moment when Europe seemed possible was brief. Howard and I were discussing plans for our honeymoon. He pointed out that he had enough money for us to pick Europe if we wanted. Except I knew that money needed to carry through the rest of my schooling. It was the fund we planned to use to allow Howard to pursue a creative career instead of being tied to a job. We chose the long-haul dream over the fantastic trip. We picked the dream of family and stability over travel. At the moment of that decision, I knew I might be giving up Europe forever. I knew that we wanted kids and that having kids limited travel options. I knew that my life was changing, but I chose to set aside the idea of seeing Europe.

Fast forward twenty three years from those decisions made so long ago that they might as well have been made by another person. I don’t regret them. Yet somehow the musician I married turned into a cartoonist. And this small podcast he was invited to join got bigger than anyone expected. And then the podcast started hosting retreats and paying for instructors to come. And then one of those retreats was planned as a cruise tour of the Baltic sea. So instead of me making Europe happen out of determination and force of will, it has come to me of it’s own accord. And it has come in a way that I can afford without jeopardizing and of my longer-term, more-important dreams.

I get to fly to Paris, then Hamburg. I get to shuttle to Kiel where I’ll board a ship that stops in Copenhagen (Denmark), Stockholm (Sweden), Tallinn (Estonia), and St. Petersburg (Russia). Then I fly home, touching down briefly to change planes in Amsterdam. At the end of ten days I’ll have added seven countries to the “places I’ve been” list. I’ll get to see their art, hear their languages, and tour both a viking ship and a Russian cold war submarine. I’m going to fill my head with new experiences, and then I get to return home to all my favorite dreams.

Excited isn’t quit the right word for how I feel about this trip. I’m too calm inside for “excited.” I feel anticipation, peace, curiosity, anxiety, and happiness. I get to go with the flow of a trip with scheduled travel and guided tours. For ten days I don’t have to be in charge of everything, I get to be a passenger. I get to make choices based on my feelings of the moment instead of the requirements of my responsibilities. And I get to be on a ship. I’m surprised at how much I long to be on a ship again.

Tomorrow is the day of last minute preparations, Wednesday I depart.

Attending Jason Chaffetz Town Hall Meeting

Last night I drove through rush hour traffic for forty minutes so that I could attend the town hall meeting of my representative Jason Chaffetz. I’d never been to a town hall meeting before. I’ve been content to let others manage government while I just handled my life. Unfortunately enough political things have been scaring me that I feel obligated to be more informed and more participatory in my government. I thought I would sit in the meeting, listen to him answer questions and see if his answers changed my negative opinion of him.

The other reason I decided to attend was that I’ve been expressing more political opinions online. I’ve been retweeting things, and asking people to become more aware, educated, and active in their representative government. If I want avoid hypocrisy, I have to be willing to do more than just tweet from the comfort of my couch. I composed this sentiment into a tweet, which I sent out while putting gas in my car for the trip:

Sandra Tayler ‏@SandraTayler
Democracy was not designed for personal convenience. It requires sacrifice or it goes away.

My first clue that the evening would not go as I had pictured was when I arrived at the location (35 minutes early) and realized that at least half the cars jamming up the street were going the same place that I was going. I could see four parking lots, they were all full. I managed to get the last curb space available off to the side of one parking lot. I had to back into the space and park a little closer to the car behind me than I usually would. As we both got out of our cars I asked “Am I too close? Will you be able to get out.” He answered “No you’re fine. It’s important for lots of people to be here.” That small interaction set the tone for all my interactions the rest of the evening. Calm purpose and camaraderie were the mood.

I walked up some stairs and was directed by a very polite police officer toward the front of the school building, where there was a crowd. I walked up just in time to hear the bullhorn announcement that all the seats were full and they wouldn’t be letting anyone else into the building. “You’re welcome to stay, please keep this sidewalk path clear for safety reasons.” And the crowd did. I have to compliment the local police and sheriff’s department. They are not used to handling this sort of event. They had to be nervous and stressed, but every officer I spoke to was courteous and efficient.

I didn’t feel disappointed about not getting into the building, though I’d pictured attending a meeting, not standing outside in a protest. I stood next to people I’d never met before and chatted. All of them were local. Everyone I spoke to lived in Chaffetz’s district. Some had traveled three hours or more to attend (the district is geographically large and includes some of Utah’s most iconic national parks and wildernesses.) Most of the people had never participated in a protest or a town hall before. They were there for reasons similar to mine, they’d realized that they needed to be involved because the stakes are high in American politics right now. America is changing, waking up, redefining itself. From where we are now, there are some terrible possible futures. The people in the crowd with me were there because they know it will take group effort to steer something as large as a country toward the better futures.

I spoke to people in pink hats and wearing LGBT pins. I spoke to Mormons and atheists. I talked to people who were passionate about wilderness, who wanted to see Trump’s conflicts of interest investigated, and who opposed the strict immigration stance that Chaffetz favors. I saw people with protest signs on opposite sides of the same wilderness issue who were talking politely together. I assume that some of the crowd was also there because they support Chaffetz positions, but I didn’t meet any of them. One guy near me had the livestream of the meeting running on his phone. He held it next to his ear and loudly repeated the things that were being said. It was the only chance that people in the outside crowd had of listening to the meeting.

It was strange being in a protest crowd. Mostly I stood still and talked to people who were nearby. Often we’d pause to try to make out what chant had begun close to the building and was rippling through the crowd toward us. It wasn’t always easy to figure out what the words were. Other times the crowd would erupt into cheers or Boos and we’d turn to each other trying to figure out what was causing the cheer or boo. Sometimes we figured it out. Other times we didn’t.

The moment that really defined the protest for me came after I’d been standing in the dark for about forty minutes. The sun had gone down and the building had only a few lights that where completely inadequate to provide light for the crowd. Suddenly it was as light as if someone had remembered where the light switch was an turned it on. I looked up and realized that a large portion of the crowd was holding up their cellphones in flashlight mode. I’m a short person and I wasn’t able to get a really good angle on the crowd, but I tried. The picture does not do the experience justice.

Sandra Tayler ‏@SandraTayler
We’ve been standing in the dark, when everyone holds up their little cell phone light the whole area is illuminated.

Sandra Tayler ‏@SandraTayler
Each light by itself is small, but together the world is bright. Shine on good people.

From everything I’ve heard, Jason Chaffetz did not have a pleasant experience inside the building. He got chanted at, booed, and asked questions that he tried not to answer. I was told by someone in the crowd that Chaffetz had put out a call for “the real majority” to show up to his town hall. I don’t think he was expecting what he got.

As the crowd thinned out, the positive feeling thinned a bit too. The people who lingered were the ones who were angrier. Everyone was still standing politely where we’d been asked to stand, but I could tell it was time for me to go home. The point had been made. Staying longer would just add to the cold in my bones. (I’d dressed for attending a meeting indoors, not for standing outside in a chilly wind.) Most of the crowd felt the “time to go” impulse at about the same time I did. I listened to groups of people as they walked to their cars. They were all talking about what they would do next: write letters, make calls, attend more marches, run for office. This wasn’t a feel-good protest where people vent their feelings and go back to their lives. Most of the crowd seemed to understand that ongoing effort is necessary.

So here I am today, writing one woman’s account of her experience at a Town Hall meeting turned protest. I hope that anyone who takes time to read this post will also take time to contact your representatives. Learn about the issues and then tell your representatives how they should represent you on those issues. If we have more people respectfully discussing their opposing viewpoints, we have a chance to pull our country back from the chasm of divisiveness and hatred which threatens to swallow us whole.

New Year Ahead

new-year-aheadI watched Jaws a couple of days ago. I haven’t seen it in years. There were moments when it really had me tense and other moments where I could see exactly how fake the mechanical shark looked. The scene that sticks in my mind is the one with all the people splashing and playing in the water while the music plays its ominous theme. The new year feels a bit like that to me. From this moment I have no way to know if I’m going to get a pair of kids with a shark fin that scared me for no reason, or if there will be blood and guts in the water. I don’t like feeling this way about the coming year.

Instead of focusing on the ominous feeling, I’m instead going to focus on other things. Another story that I read over the holidays was How the Grinch Stole Christmas. I’ve written about this story before, but this year the thing which struck me was the moment when the Grinch’s heart grew three sizes. Before the growth the Grinch could not empathize. He could not love Christmas or the people who loved it. Then his heart grew and suddenly he did love all of the things which had been irritating before.

In order to make the world better, I have to start by expanding my own capacity to love and to enjoy. That starts with paying attention to the people immediately around me. In my neighborhood, my congregation, my kids’ schools. I need to notice who is vulnerable in the places where I spend my days. I must think about what I can do to befriend them, help them feel safe and welcomed. This will be difficult for me because in my day to day life I tend to avoid talking to people unless it is necessary. It takes extra effort for me to chat with a grocery store checker. I need to be willing to be uncomfortable. I need to be willing to speak up and to make phone calls. I need to ignore my financial stresses and make donations to good causes anyway. I need to sacrifice pieces of my day to reach out to others. I need to put people before my schedule. I have to be willing to turn my day upside down to defend others if the system turns against them or they have a bad break. This is the boots-on-the-ground work of changing society.

The fastest way to get a song out of my head is to consciously replace it with a different song, one I won’t mind listening to on repeat. So when I contemplate the new year and I begin to hear the ominous Jaws theme, I will instead sing the tune sung by the Whos down in Whoville, and I will grow my heart however many sizes is necessary to take on 2017.

On the Writing I Haven’t Been Doing

“And how is your writing coming?” my friend asked after we’d spent half an hour talking about various business things having to do with the publishing industry and Schlock Mercenary. I had to answer “not doing much lately.”

My neighbor came to my door with chocolates. “My mother said that I should give these to that lady who wrote the blog.” I thanked my neighbor, honored to be included in their tradition again.

The message came in on Facebook. “I’ve read your picture books and one short story, have you written any other science fiction?” I answered that I used to, and it used to be available via places A,B,C, but all those places have vanished off the internet. These days my stories mostly live on my hard drive, except for the few I’ve posted to Patreon.

I was reading The Starlit Wood, an anthology of fairy tale retellings. It is one of the few books where I’ve felt like the authors really captured the feel of folklore rather than using the plot of folklore and adding twists or set dressing. There is a place for (and a power in) both types of retelling, but I love it when a story understands that the core of a fairy tale is in what it says to and about the people who tell the story. Fairy tales and folklore are how we tell each other what we’re afraid of, what things are acceptable, what things are punished, and who we are as people. When I closed the book, my brain said “I want to write some stories like that.” and it began thinking through what folklore and traditions I might pull from.

The title of a picture book showed up in my brain while I was on a road trip. Lines and plot sketches soon followed. A second picture book resurfaced in my memory, reminding me it is waiting to be written. A third idea from long ago came back to me and said “maybe I’m a picture book.” That makes three.

Essays sit, partially written on the desktop of my computer. Some are only notes for things I might want to write. Some are barely concepts. I would like to collect a book of essays grouped by thematic topic rather than year of writing. But the project feels daunting and hard to justify.

And then there is the middle grade novel, drafted and awaiting editing. It feels dusty. I can’t see the bright things about it that drew me to write it in the first place. It is possible that if I picked it up, I could blow the dust away and turn it into something compelling. Right now I’m letting it sit because I don’t need another thing pinging around in my brain.

My mind turns over the possibilities for running another picture book Kickstarter. If I got the three books written, I could contract with a couple of artists. Maybe I could get them funded. Hold on to Your Horses was not a huge success out of the gate, but it is a little engine that could. It continues to creep out into the world, finding new children and parents who need it. Strength of Wild Horses goes hand in hand with it. They’ve done well enough that I can consider sinking additional effort and funds into more picture books. Maybe. My desire needs to be strong enough that I’m willing to dig another financial and energy hole which will only be filled gradually. My accountant brain runs numbers, factoring in the fact that if the accountant doesn’t allow the creative some leeway, then we all plunge into depression.

First we have to finish Planet Mercenary. That is the show stopper in most of my imagined possibilities. I have obligations there. Until I ship packages to five thousand backers, I can’t do the final accounting to see whether we even have the funds for me to do more projects. I am both excited about and exhausted by the Planet Mercenary project. Sometimes those feelings come in rotation, other times they co-exist.

Then there is the guilt that I’ve been running a Patreon for a couple of years, and I’m not at all certain I’ve honored that gift of patronage. They are supporting my writing, and I’ve done so little of it. I ponder closing it down.

I end each day with a long list of things I meant to do. I can think back through the hours and know that few of them were wasted. There just weren’t enough of them. Or there wasn’t enough energy to make use of them all. Sometimes my lists are so discouraging to me that I ignore the master list on my phone and instead make a secondary list on paper. Forget my grand plan of productivity, what do I really need to get done on that day. I end the day with items not crossed off on the paper list. Some of this is just the fact of December. This is the month of extra shipping, extra customer support, extra promotional efforts. It is also a month of extra trips to stores and extra financial calculations to figure out if we can afford the gifts which would be most useful or joyful. We eschew most concerts and parties, yet we still find our days filled up.

All of the considerations swirl about in my head, but I have to come back to the realization that three times in the past week I’ve had people spontaneously come to me to inquire after some aspect of my writing. That’s three witnesses telling me writing should get a larger share of my attention. I believe in the power of witness, particularly when there are two, or three, or more of them. The stories themselves are lifting their heads and asking “Is it time for me?” I’d like to clear out, make space, and say yes.

Things I’m Thinking About Because of the News

I’ve been thinking about this article on How Not to Say the Wrong Thing. The concept is simple, if someone is closer to a tragedy or source of emotional pain than you are, you should not vent your feelings in their direction. Instead you should do your venting and emotional sorting to someone who is further away than you. It is a good concept and works very well with personal situations.

The trouble comes when there is an emotional event of National or International proportions. We’ve had a barrage of these recently: mass shooting in Orlando, bomb in Iraq, bomb in Saudi Arabia, bomb in Turkey, Brexit, the deaths of black men by the hand of police officers, and now the shooting of police officers in Dallas. I’m sure I’ve missed something. When an event of this proportion hits, it is hard to tell who among our acquaintances is closer to the epicenter of damage. This means anyone who vents on the internet is likely to accidentally dump inward on someone who is also hurting. I watched the wife of a police officer be wounded by the mother of a black son and vice versa. They both needed to be able to sort their feelings, speak their fears, but ended up making each other more upset.

I am also thinking about this article on What it Really Means to Hold Space for Someone. It describes what it means to hold space open for someone else to grieve and process emotions. It also taps into the Dump Out Comfort In paradigm in a description of how people who are holding space for others also need someone to hold space for them.

I don’t know how to hold space for everyone who is injured in a giant event. I don’t think a single person can. I do think it is possible for me to read the angry words of a friend and try to reserve my judgement and anger. I can learn to recognize that the opinions expressed in the grip of strong emotion are going to be more radical and extreme than the person would usually allow. If the person is allowed space, they are more able to talk themselves down from the extreme. If they are forced to defend their statement, they’re more likely to become entrenched in it.

I’m worn out from the tumult and from all the emotions I’ve felt at each wave of news. Reading my social media streams is a storm of emotions battering away at any calm I try to maintain. In contrast, the world outside my computer is unchanged. My flowers are growing, I have packages to ship, I have the minor crises associated with mental health to manage. My neighborhood is not the scene of any of the tragedies. Reconciling it all is complex, I’m not certain how I will sort it. I just know that hasty action will not make things better. I shall strive to be like the Ents in Lord of the Rings (which I’ve been re-watching), slow and considered in the way that they approach the world, but decisive and unstoppable once action is decided upon. I have lots of feelings, I need to match them with actions that will make the world better.

Thoughts on Conflict

I recently found myself in conversation with a person with whom I could not agree. The conversation ended more with final statements than an accord. I’ve given much thought to it over several days because one of the aspects of my anxiety is that I will re-play, re-script, review any contentious conversation for several days after it happens. I am not able to be done with a conversation and walk away. It chases after me and interferes with my ability to think about anything else. A contentious conversation impedes my ability to work for as much as a week. Sometimes, years later, the memory of contention will suddenly drop into the middle of my mind along with a stab of adrenaline as my body is momentarily convinced that the unavoidable outcome of this contention is doom, or death, or failure.

The person to whom I was talking does not have any of these anxiety issues. Because he does not, and because of some innate rigidity of belief, he was incapable of understanding where I was coming from. He felt like he should be able to say whatever he wanted to say and if other people didn’t like it, they could just walk away unaffected. He can do this and assumes that all humans have that capability. I know, to my bones, that sometimes words chase people down and haunt them. Words are sharp implements that can cut people if they’re used carelessly. Both of our beliefs feel irrefutable because they come directly from our own experiences.

Sadly, I’ve come to realize that when the source of conflict is between the fundamental beliefs of one person and another, the conflict can’t really be resolved other than by agreeing to disagree. Sometimes it means the people simply can’t be around each other without hurting each other constantly. We all have issues on which we can’t bend without becoming something other than what we are. We all have places where we are rigid. The tricky part is that the core of a conflict is not always apparent. It is usually wrapped up in some tangential event. Sometimes a conflict is a problem of word choice muddling a fundamental agreement. Those can be sorted by definition of terms and ongoing conversation. Occasionally conflict results in an expansion of mind in both parties, but this requires both parties to be willing to be vulnerable instead of defensive.

In all cases I find that my most useful response to conflict is to take a step backward and consider “what is really the conflict here?” Because I’ve had fights over cheese which were actually about disrespect and loneliness. In each case I have to figure out why I am so upset, which helps me to see why the other person might be as well. Because I know that my brain lies to me, I have to consider that my reaction might have more to do with brain chemistry than the conversation. I had to walk away from a conversation with Howard last week because he was talking about furniture and my brain was interpreting his every word as evidence of my failure as a human being. So I stopped him and walked away, which was frustrating for him. I had to go off by myself and detach furniture choices from my sense of self worth. In that pause I was able to recognize the emotional hole which was affecting me that day. Then we started the conversation fresh and talked about the hole I’d found. There were apologies, plans for keeping holes filled, and we were able to discuss furniture without emotional baggage. Classic example of fundamental agreement being clouded by emotions and words.

Once I can see the core conflict, I have to evaluate whether it actually needs to be resolved at all. This week’s conversation was with a person I don’t have to interact with much. I can just interact less without impacting my life. There are some other ongoing conflicts I’m juggling with people where I greatly value the relationships. My son and I have some very different beliefs about how he can succeed at being an adult. We’ve developed a neutral ground and a vocabulary where I can continue to advocate for my view and he advocates for his. Sometimes we get angry, but both of us value our relationship more than we value being right. When things get too angry we back off and focus on the parts of our lives where we are in complete agreement.

People are complicated. We all carry around heads full of unexamined opinions. We’re formed by our genetics and our upbringing. We’re further shaped by the communities where we spend our time and by how those communities treat us. None of it is fair. Some people have to struggle more than others. Everyone struggles with something. And we’re all a bit myopic because, while experience can teach us how to see some other points of view, no one has enough experience to see all points of view. This means that we will disappoint each other and hurt each other. There will be times when we can’t comprehend another person’s decisions because they are working from entirely different premises for how life functions. It also means that the world is full of people from whom we can learn. We are constantly surrounded with the opportunity for empathy and expanded vision. It is wonderful, heartbreaking, exhausting. It is why curling up under the covers and never coming out again sounds so attractive for folks like me who have panic attacks when we think we’ve disappointed someone.

Conflict is inevitable. That made me sad and scared for a long time. I didn’t want conflict. Ever. Then I got older and realized that the times when I really expanded and became bigger, stronger, more than I was before, all came from conflict. Conflict with another human being is an opportunity for both of the people to grow. I try to remember that when I find myself in the middle of a conflict I did not want.

Graduation

I can tell from the photos on Facebook that high school graduation happened last night. My son’s peers, the kids he grew up with, smile at me from under square shaped hats while wearing shiny gowns. I’ve wondered how I would feel when this happened. I wondered if it would hurt. Dropping out was a success for my son. Passing the GED was a success. It was the way we needed to take control of his path, and reduce the pressure that was crushing all of us. The decision was right, but it was also a permanent marker of the differences of my son. When we kept him with his grouped peers, those differences were less visible. Or maybe I was more able to fool myself.

Looking at the graduation photos doesn’t hurt in the ways I thought it might. There is some hurt, but it is mixed in with a half dozen other emotions. I’m happy for my friends and their children, for my son’s friends. They are rejoicing and they should be. I wonder if they recognize that the diploma really is an achievement. I know that when I graduated from high school it felt like a participation certificate. Somehow I hadn’t internalized the fact that there are more ways to not get a diploma than there are to get one. I see this far more clearly after I helped my child choose not to get a high school diploma. I still feel guilt about that, a creeping fear that if I’d been better at parenting then my son could have stayed grouped with his friends. So that hurts when I look at the graduation photos.

All the emotions are stronger because earlier this week I was quite forcibly reminded that my son’s path to self-sufficient adulthood is going to be non-standard. While my friends are launching their children, or letting go while the kids fly free, I’m staring down at least three more years of long slow learning. Much of that learning will be in the shape of “Okay try it your way.” When everything in me screams that the way won’t work. Of course, having a high school diploma wouldn’t have changed how the next three years are going to go. All it would have done would be to add massive pressure and delay some of the necessary learning. It was the right choice. I just wish I could stop arguing with myself about it in my head.

Over time I win the arguments, achieve an internal peace on the matter. Until I see the graduation photos. I’m glad people post the photos. It is right that they celebrate their milestones. I’m glad that all the photos have flocks of comments “Wow, she’s so grown up!” “Congratulations!” “I can’t believe he’ll be headed for college.” The comments are evidence of the networks of people who collaborated over the years in helping this child become an adult. Facebook allows that network to participate. I am part of that network. I click Like and perhaps add a comment of my own. Then I move my mouse and click “hide this post.” No need for me to face my emotions over and over as new comments keep floating the image back to the top of my news feed.

In a few days or a week I’ll have found quiet in my head again. I’ll be able to feel (as well as know) that everyone has their own path and that all journeys are valid. We’ve had triumph already and more triumphs are coming, even if they don’t look much like triumph from the outside.