J.U.L.Y. (Just Unlimited Love, Y’all)

I love the month of July more than any other month of the year. I love it more than the month of my birth and more than the big holiday months. I love it for the fabulous Great Lakes summer weather and boating under crisp blue skies. I love it for the rewards of vacation and relaxing without guilt. I love it for the simple joys of longer days and time with my family and driving around with the top down on my convertible. But the reason I love it more than any other month is simple.

No sports on tv.

Now, I hear what you’re saying. What about baseball and tennis and soccer and golf? Yes, all of those sports are actively on the tv during July. They just aren’t on my tv. To understand what I’m saying, you have to go back in time. Take a journey with me to my early years.

Growing up my house was — at best — ambivalent to sports. We didn’t watch them on tv and we didn’t throw balls around in the backyard. I ran track, but that was it. Occasionally my dad would flip past a Tiger’s game or college football, but he was equally content to listen on the radio or check a box score the next day. I only remember two times when we went to a venue to watch a sports event in person; sports never caused plans to be broken or got in the way of any other activity.

When I met my husband, it was a shock to my system. The first fall that we were dating, I was surprised that it was against protocol to do anything but watch college football on Saturday. We might miss “no meaning” games, but not his team. For his team, we watched and I learned to hope they would win. In later years when his team played against my team I started a tradition of having something to do for three hours and checking the score before I returned. I learned there were similar restrictions on NFL weekends and certainly for bowl games.

I adjusted, mentally noting that 20 weeks a year were out of bounds.

Then, at some point in our early married years I started to notice that NHL hockey was on tv more and more. An occasional game stretched to whenever something better wasn’t on (and if you ask him, there is never anything better on than hockey). Eventually it got to every regular season game of his team, 80 games or 3-4 per week from September to April. The playoffs stretch into June. Together, football and hockey occupy my life from August through June.

Which leaves us with July.

Sure there are other sports, but they don’t matter. I’ve never been asked why someone chose to get married on a day when a major golf tournament is scheduled. I’ve never had to take an alternative date to a concert because it was the Wimbleton finals. I’ve never been asked to check the score of one baseball game while watching another one in person. Only football and hockey require careful navigation.

But there’s no navigating in July.

There are only a couple more days in July. I’ve seen mentions of preseason football and the rookies are hanging out in hockey camps trying to get slots. Summer isn’t quite over, but my summer is almost done. It’s time to turn off my cooking shows, download the 2016-17 schedules and get ready for the daily check of scores. My month of relief is coming to an end.

And that will make it all the sweeter next year.

Life Happens

I woke up at 3:30am this morning to catch a 6:45am flight. I’m not a freak, so I struggled a bit to get up and get going, especially because I knew it was going to be a rough day. Traveling all morning and then an afternoon of meetings and presentations three time zones away would mean a long day, no matter how you look at it. So, when I got the text in the car to the airport that my flight was delayed I knew that it wasn’t good. My connection would be blown and I’d be standing in lines trying to put Humpty back together again.

Oh well, life happens.

After I had successfully rebooked my ticket and navigated security I decided to grab breakfast. I found a quiet table in a restaurant near a power outlet and ordered. I popped over to my bags and got my electronics out and as I was plugging in my chargers I heard a voice over my shoulder, “I’m behind you, sweetie.”

I thanked the waitress for the heads up; if I had backed into her it could have gotten wet and sticky for both of us. And because it was empty in the restaurant, I took the time to tell her about the last time I had found myself on the receiving end of a full diet pop. 

I was having lunch at the university where I worked and a young student waitress got unbalanced and spilled an entire glass of diet pop down my back. It was exceptionally cold and soaked my sweater and my pants. The young woman was mortified — who wouldn’t be? I could see her spiraling downward and somehow in that moment I only knew one thing: how I responded was important. She was a student and for all I knew she had an exam after her shift, a critical exam in a class that mattered.

I smiled, looked her right in the eye and said, “I’m fine, don’t worry. It happens.”

To be honest, it had never happened to me before and I am hopeful that it won’t ever happen again. It was the soggiest lunch I’ve ever had, as I sat there finishing my meal. But I continued to smile, carrying on pleasantly with my lunch companion as if I wasn’t soaked, sticky and miserable. I tried not to think about it. I repeated the magic words several more times every time she stopped by to check on us, “Don’t worry, it happens.” 

Once we had paid I walked back to my office, told my team what had happened and went home and changed.

After I shared the story with Mindy, she opened up with her own story of a waitress who had spilled an iced tea on a woman’s coat. Unfortunately, the customer response in that situation was much different. She had called the waitress names and refused to accept any apology (including purchase of a new coat by the waitress). When Mindy shared it, I could tell the story was well-traveled, the kind of cautionary tale that coworkers tell the newbies and chat about when work is light.

Hearing it, I wondered for the first time if that young waitress tells our story. Did it impact her beyond that day? She’s in her mid to late 20’s now, out in the world somewhere likely doing something other than waitressing. Maybe it was a moment easily forgotten, or maybe a random kindness one shift in the spring semester is something she remembers.

Gosh I hope so.

Life happens. The good and the bad and everything in between. A delayed flight, a spilled drink, it’s just part of the complex spinning of the world that I can’t control. All I can control is my response and I try to respond to bumps with grace and empathy. I don’t want to sit in an airport for an extra couple of hours, I don’t want to rush frantically after I land to get to a presentation for 400 people. But, I will. And who knows, something awesome may come out of it.

I’ve already got a new blog post.

Beautiful Moments

Earlier this month, I listened to a podcast on Radiolab that blew my mind. Called Memory and Forgetting, it highlighted a woman whose photographic memory allowed her to see every single day of her life in crystal clarity, just like watching a DVD. I imagined being able to go back to my own days that mattered and see them clearly, not wrapped in a fuzzy emotional fog. To be able to drill down and point and say, “That was the moment that I loved. That was when I was hurt. That was when I got better.” I envisioned putting my best memories in the fridge under cellophane so I could pull them out for seconds whenever the urge struck.

Unfortunately, my memory is more like a trash compactor, stuff goes in and an unrecognizable blob comes out.

I was reminded this weekend how shoddy my memory is. I was back with my friends from middle school and it was a weekend of “Really? I don’t remember that.” In fact, for years I have believed that this group of friends came together in seventh grade, and I learned instead that it was eighth grade. If I can’t get big things like that right, little details like whose house we slept over at that time or whose car we were driving that road trip don’t have a chance.

But after spending 20 hours talking non-stop to a group of women I haven’t seen in 25 years, I suddenly realized it didn’t matter that I couldn’t remember the events clearly. As we reminsced about our past, talked about our present and dreamed about our future, we started up where we left off, just like we were kids again. And, as we brought up old wounds that needed to be bandaged and shared old stories that had inconsistent details I realized precision and accuracy wouldn’t help.

In fact, it might have hurt.

I came to the conclusion that longevity of relationships is less about memories and more about moments. It’s not about the  watching the crystal clarity of a DVD, but remembering how those moments made you feel, how those people made you feel. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t remember it was eighth grade, not seventh. Or that none of us could remember how many slumber parties we had shared or who was at which one. It only mattered that we had shared some of our hardest growing years with each other — that we had a shared experience. And, sure there had been real moments of pain, times when we had let each other down, hurt each other or been less than we wanted to be. But with 25 years between us and those moments, it was easy to leave those memories behind. After all, why let them infect the here and now? Each of those memories was fleeting and built on the fragile egos and misunderstandings of teenagers.

It was the moments that mattered.

In the end, I wasn’t jealous of the woman with the amazing memory. I wouldn’t want to lose the ability to move beyond the unintended slights or the micro-aggressions. There are everyday failures that need to be left behind with shoddy memories so that relationships can thrive, so that we can focus on the long narrative and not the paragraph. You need to know in your heart that even though you had a reason to be angry or hurt or let down that you can say, years later, “It doesn’t matter now.”

Because life’s too short to say no to a beautiful moment.

Talk Less, Smile More

When rap was first popular I didn’t really get into it. I was more of a sappy love song/top 100 kind of gal mixed with a bit of heavy metal from my pool hall nights and some folk from my girl power days. Looking back the rural white suburban kid I was just wasn’t ready to understand the power of rap lyrics — they were too far from my experience. Over the years I have spent a lot of time wondering if I could like (even love) rap under the right circumstances.

The answer is yes, absolutely yes. I don’t like to jump on any bandwagon but I just can’t help it with Hamilton, the musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda. It turns out that historical rap is my gateway drug.

If I hadn’t elected to be an English major I could have easily picked history. I love learning about the long arc of human experience and knowing that nothing is truly new. History is big, but at the base it is made up of people, people living their lives alone and in groups. So, even though I couldn’t pull off better than a B+ in any college-level history class (too many facts to memorize), I registered for one a year any way. I left the facts in the textbooks, what I brought with me were the big questions and answers.

Like why Aaron Burr would demand a duel from Alexander Hamilton, two members of the same political party who had known, respected and worked with each other for years?

Miranda does such a great job setting forth that big question that I’ve had four lines on a loop in my head since I started listening to the soundtrack.

Talk less, smile more

Don’t let them know what you’re against or what you’re for

You wanna get ahead?

Fools that run their mouths off wind up dead.

The stanza, coming in the early part of the musical, sets the stage for how two men with such similar politics could become lifelong rivals. Hamilton lived out loud, speaking and writing at length about his politics and opinions worrying little about the ramifications. Burr lived in privacy, choosing to keep his life and politics close and using his winning personality to gain influence.

As I’ve been singing those words over and over again, it struck me that I’m neither a Hamilton nor a Burr. Hamilton would certainly feel like I worry too much about how I express something and what the impact on those around me will be. Burr would certainly feel like I share too much and give too much ammunition to my enemies.  I’ve got a little bit of both Hamilton and Burr in me; I’m a Talk More / Smile More woman.

At various points in my life, I’ve worried about that. I’ve been counseled to be a bit more like Burr — closing myself off and protecting myself from those who would harm me. But, I don’t really know how to live that way. Instead, I decided to lean in and write a blog that is unapologetically like Hamilton, who wrote voraciously and likely would have enjoyed the idea of direct communication of ideas with anyone who would listen. But, Hamilton also notoriously wrote an open letter to the editor about his marital infidelity, giving his wife no warning and letting her face the brunt of the impact alone. I couldn’t do that. My story is my own, other people get shared only with their permission.

Talk more, smile more might not be a catchy slogan for a musical or a political campaign, but I like it.

Perhaps Miranda’s characters are not as archetypal as the story would suggest. None of us really are. But the historical truth is that they met each other on a field with pistols drawn because of some fundamental difference of opinion or character. They believed that the differences couldn’t be resolved without violence. I see a lot of that now, people believing that we can’t resolve differences of opinion or character without violence. It makes me sad. I cry every time I listen to the song as Hamilton dies, “The World Was Wide Enough.” We don’t need to create the false choices — us or them, you or me. Hamilton and Burr were on the same side and still they found a way to be on the opposite sides of a field at dawn. Our country lost two great minds, one to death and one to villainy. What a waste.

So, let’s talk more and smile more; instead of a duel, let’s have a picnic.

Find a Happy Place

There’s a scene in Finding Nemo that I harkened back to this week. Nemo and the fish in the aquarium in P. Sherman’s office are anxiously waiting for Darla to arrive, knowing that when she does it is game over for Nemo. When Darla comes she rushes to the tank and begins tapping on the glass, trying to get the attention of the starfish clinging there. Peach, the starfish, loses her grip a tentacle at a time repeating over and over, “Find a happy place, find a happy place.”

Whenever I am holding on by the barest of threads I think of Peach.

Most of the time I’m focused on mental grounding. I take a deep breath and consider the many things in my life that make me happy: my family, my friendships and my contributions. I recall a handful of my best memories, the ones that I have watched so many times that research would say they aren’t even real anymore, just a revisionist glimpse of history. Sitting in the middle of the crazy I find a way to reboot my brain to thankfulness.

But sometimes, a couple of times a year, I actually go to a happy place. One of the places that are unique in their quiet and lack of expectations. A place where showering is optional, where I can sit without interruption for minutes or hours or a day. Where waking up in the morning is based on the rising of the sun or the lapping of water on the side of the boat, not on an alarm.

I love those places. And as I sit in one of them now, sipping a beverage and reflecting, I find myself wondering if being middle-aged has helped me find it. Is a happy place an idea reserved for people of a certain age? Or, was I just slow to grasp it?

I don’t recall feeling the need for this as a child. In fact I remember that sitting still in one place (especially a familiar place) with no expectations or plans was boring. Really, really boring. That point of view is validated by my own children who have perfected the refrain, “We’re doing that again?” Complete with the nasally whine any parent would recognize.

As a young adult, I sought adventure. I wanted to see the world and understand my place in it. I couldn’t catalog new experiences fast enough, throwing myself into whatever activities I could. Pack up the car, jump on a plane, take any work travel assignment. When I couldn’t study abroad in my MBA program, or when I saw someone else do something cool that I couldn’t do, I felt regret and envy. Like I was missing out on something, some wonderful experience that I would never get to have.

I can’t know yet how I will feel later in life, as I look back on more and look forward to less. I see people who are resigned to aging and sit quietly waiting for the end, unable to enjoy the happiness a life well-lived has earned them. I see people frantic to squeeze in one more adventure, whether or not their physical bodies are able. I see people who isolate themselves and people who surround themselves. I see fewer people in their happy place than one would expect, given all of us are desperately trying to get there.

And maybe that is why I enjoy the quiet of my happy place. Maybe it is because I am aware, in this moment, of the gift I have. I can just sit here on a porch swing in the early morning sun, listening to the sprinkler water my mother-in-laws beautiful garden. I can hear a power saw and a hammer in the distance, two separate projects underway that are not mine. I can watch as a squirrel, cheeky fellow, pops right up on the fence and looks at me, demanding that I interrupt my writing and take his picture.

So, I did.

I’m glad that I’ve found my happy places — this swing, the back of my sailboat and my deck. I appreciate them for what they are: an oasis of rejuvenation and recharge in a world of crazy expectations and an always on life. It took me years to understand the need and to name them; it took me even longer to claim their value.

Now that I have, I hope that I don’t forget.