Archive for November, 2007
In one of my former career chapters, I was on the road to becoming an academic scholar of media & cultural studies (particularly feminist media studies, which means studying images of women & gender on TV & film). One of several reasons I didn’t continue on that specific path was that I really couldn’t watch that much media and maintain my peace of mind. I also couldn’t really enjoy living in constant critic mode.
Now, I watch TV very selectively, and I do think my peace of mind is much better (for various reasons, but less media among them). Still, for all of my critical media studies and my current low-media intake, I’m not anti-TV — for us grown-ups at least. There is a lot of destructive, manipulative junk in the media and I can’t stomach much of it. And, yet, media still has incredible potential to make a powerful, positive impact.
I think Oprah has absolutely changed the world for the better with some of what that show has exposed and accomplished. I’m all for grown-up escapism with a heart (and witty reparte) in shows like Sex & the City. Although we no longer have cable, I can still say that PBS shows, History Channel documentaries, a well-written and -performed drama like Six Feet Under, the old Behind the Actor’s Studio, a classic Friends farce — shows that make us think or laugh or give us art have a place and value in my book.
And, tonight, I flipped on our 12-channel tube and tuned in to a show that really touched me, the 100th episode of ABC’s popular Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. I’ve only glimpsed this show once or twice before, but tonight I got sucked in with a storyline of a domestic violence-affected family. Cynics may call the show cheesy or maudlin, and I, too, can see problems with corporate sponsorship, product placement, neighborhood equity, commercial excess, etc.
But, still, the point of this show really is to help people — 100 families so far. Yes, it pulls our heartstrings by showing us families in tragic situations and giving them the instant gratification of an over-the-top new house in seven days. But, well, so what? (I’m into heartstrings.)
These are real families, with real tragedies (as far as producers can verify, I’m sure), and this show brings communities together to help them. Hundreds of people turn out and get to work hammering nails and laying tiles. The show’s message is basically to work together as community to keep families together (yes, while validating mainstream American consumer values). So, at least within the mainstream paradigm, for whatever its faults, I say this is still successful TV, and much better than the bulk of misled garbage on the air.
Yes, I had to chuckle tonight at the thought that this well-intentioned show stemmed from a less-than-lovely predecessor, the old Extreme Makeover, in which a person (usually a woman) was “made over” with extensive plastic surgery each episode. I could take my feminist media studies red pen to that show all day long through next Tuesday (ugh).
And, yet, somehow out of that train wreck of a show came this community-builder. This show that has helped families through loss of parents, mobility, and stability by giving them a home that works and assists them in keeping their lives together.
Tonight, the episode focused on a family whose tragedy came from a widowed mother of four being shot and killed by her abusive ex-boyfriend. The woman’s sister and her husband took in the four orphaned and traumatized kids, with three kids of their own and another on the way. Along with the home rebuild to give the new family of ten more space, the show sent a message that laws must be changed to protect women and children from abusers (and the mom/aunt had already worked to change those laws in Minnesota).
OK, so the twins’ Elmo room was problematic. The house was way overdone for my taste, and practically a commercial for corporate brands and consumer excess. But, overall, seeing this torn family get the literal space to help them heal — I really can’t be too cynical about what they did tonight.
I’m always going to be critical of media, and I’ll teach my daughter to do the same, but I think a true critic also must look for positives, what works, not just what doesn’t. And I believe the makers of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition have something to be proud of. They are producing relatively clean, heart-warming TV in a sea of polluted media waters. Nothing is perfect, but in my book success is not perfection or flawlessness, it is purpose, meaning, connection. Consumerism aside, I saw that tonight, and I felt it.
It’s rare now that I spend an evening in front of the television, and I’m glad for that. But I’m also glad I let go of my critic a bit and let myself into the life of this healing family and its community tonight.
This year, instead of shoveling things into our bodies and home for Thanksgiving, DH and I decided to do a Thanksgiving clean-out instead. As a teacher, he got this week off, and we are focusing every day on cleaning out, organizing and simplifying our lives. Taking out instead of taking in.
We graciously declined invitations to join other families’ dinner tables this year, thankful for them but knowing what we need. After a crazy month, we are actually quite excited to just breathe, and be, and have a truly simple, stress-free Thanksgiving.
We cook all the time (in fact, we basically never eat out at this point, with the food allergy dangers), so we decided that instead of cooking a huge meal Thursday, we’d go the other way. Our local natural market has a $25 made-to-order vegan holiday meal we ordered (complete with red lentil loaf, vegan mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, veggies and cranberry sauce — and their prepared foods are quite pure and delicious). All we do Thursday morning is pick it up for our holiday lunch (and many leftovers). (We, who cook every night, are not cooking on the cooking day of the year; it is kind of humorous. Of course, yes, I guess we are taking in!)
In our clean-out, we’re donating everything we don’t use to charity, DH’s school garage sale, and the local library. We’re slowly washing out everything in our still smoke-smelling house (from the wildfires). We’re giving our DD much-needed quiet time, as her system still seems to be battling allergies, stuffy nose and respiratory distress. We’ll take a walk on the beach Thanksgiving morning. We’ll take our vitamins.
We’ll also drive an hour and a half to see some of DH’s family on Friday, after the food fest is over and the L.A. freeways less crowded. We did that last year, too (although I still cooked a vegan holiday meal and various desserts), and it worked well.
This year, though, if things keep going as well as they have this weekend (when my mom was in town to babysit, so DH and I purged our home office) — we should be able to hit the road Friday with a thoroughly cleaned-out home, and with better-rested, not-overstuffed bodies.
We’ll still enjoy family time, celebrate, and feel happy and thankful. Just especially thankful for having less this year.
I was struck by this headline in the San Diego Union-Tribune the other day: Not Having “Enough of Everything.” The article is about evacuees of the recent wildfires reflecting on what they did and did not bring with them when they fled their homes.
Here are things various evacuees said they wished they had brought:
– More than a day’s worth of clothing, food and essentials
– Family photos
– Blueprints to the home (to have it replicated)
– A beloved book collection (for peace of mind)
When our family fled to Portland, a much chillier climate than San Diego, we realized quickly that we had forgotten one essential: socks! No, we don’t wear many socks here in SoCal. Luckily, those are easy (and not to expensive) to buy.
Still, since we left due to smoke, not really worried about our house burning, we packed nothing but a couple days worth of clothing and food, and threw in our passports at the last minute (you know that California/Oregon border patrol — haha).
If we had really planned to come back to nothing but a shell of our home, what would we have brought? Family photos, of course — that’s the one we all seem to know. And the practicalities (especially financial/insurance records).
But, what less obvious things would it have crushed me to lose?
– My writing (a lifetime of journals, essays, stories, scattered in various places)
– Old yearbooks, letters and cards (memories — and writing fodder for a certain book idea!)
– Quilts made by my recently departed aunt (surrogate grandma) and a necklace she left for my daughter
– Doll bed made by my grandfather for me, that my daughter now plays with
– Japanese heirlooms from my husband’s late grandparents
– My favorite boots, which I’ve had for years
Yes, “enough” really was, and is, my family. But as the crisis passes, I think many San Diegans are looking around our intact homes and also appreciating certain “things” that bring us comfort. Could we live without these things? Yes. But are they things that bring us joy? Yes, too.
Most of my things — minus the boots, perhaps — are still about people. I would still have the memories of those people if the things were lost. But, I like the things, it feels good to see them in my home, and a house wouldn’t quite seem my home without them.
On second thought, my boots, and my writing — those things are actually about a person: me. They make me feel like myself, too, despite whatever else is going on. And that is not unimportant.
As with everything, it is a fine balance. To say things have no value is, for me, not quite true. Still, the things that have value to me are not about monetary value, but more internal — connection, identity, comfort.
That seems to be what other San Diegans — who did lose their homes — are also pondering, and longing for, this week, according to the aforementioned article. The piece also recommends we know the things we would take, in case we need to flee again. Something to think about.
What things would you bring? What things have meaning to you?
One day last spring, I typed “writer mama” into GoodSearch (a great do-good alternative to the typical search engines, BTW) and up came the world of Christina Katz. I’m still not quite sure why I GoodSearch-ed that term, but I am quite sure I was meant to connect with Christina, the original Writer Mama (or at least the most savvy, as she claimed the title first!), who lives and works in the lovely state of Oregon.
I read Christina’s great first book from Writer’s Digest Books, Writer Mama: How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids and took her excellent online class, Platform-Building for Writers, from which this very blog was born. (She’s now hard at work on her top-secret next book for Writer’s Digest Books.)
Along with teaching hundreds of students through her Writers on the Rise site, book-writing, and publishing two zines, Christina has written over two hundred articles for magazines, newspapers, and online publications and has appeared on Good Morning America. She’s also a wife to a teacher-husband (woohoo!) and mother to one daughter (double woohoo!). In short, she is an example and a mentor to writer mamas everywhere (including me).
It is my great fortune that Christina invited me to be a new columnist for her zine, Writer Mama. (And she announced this yesterday on her very popular blog, so exciting!) I couldn’t be more thrilled about writing this column, which starts in January, and the topic she chose for me is more than perfect. (More details to come!)
Of course, it is only fitting that I asked the original writer mama to participate in a Four-Question Interview here at Having Enough. Her answers are insightful and telling of who she is, and why she is so successful at what she does (in short, because she loves it — at length, check out how her snappy mind works…).
1) What does “having enough” mean to you?
Today, it means that I have “enough” work on my plate and I have to say “No” or “Not now” to folks I hate to disappoint. But I think moms, and especially moms who write are challenged to prioritize all the time. And every once in awhile we realize that our “open door policies” need to be revisited.
2) What do you think about the concept of “having it all” in our culture?
I think that we already have enough. We are blessed to live in the most amazing country in the world with all of the freedoms and pleasures that come with that privilege. I can say “No” because I don’t need more, more, more. I have enough. I am enough. You are enough. And enough is enough. 😉
3) How do you define success?
Heeding my inner calling and growth gaged by my instincts, not external measurements.
4) Can you describe a defining moment in your life when you had to choose between “having enough” or pushing for more? (And how did it turn out for you?)
Hmm. This is an interesting question because I am really a “Yes, please, I’ll have some more” kind of person. So I guess I don’t see it as black and white. I see it as there are times when more is appropriate” and there are times when enough is enough. I think the key word here is “pushing.”
The definition of pushing implies will. Will can be fine in the sense of being strong-willed or knowing your own will. But will becomes a problem when it’s “self will run riot,” as they say in twelve step programs.
In other words, when will is out of control, that’s a problem. Be we mustn’t be too quick to judge.
What I notice is that most women, including myself, are afraid to ask for more. And so we don’t. And then we feel crummy. And perhaps this makes us more willful. Powerlessness is not a good feeling.
I’d say that the solution is to expect more and ask for more with realistic and reasonable expectations. And be sure that the more that you are working on is actually meaningful to you personally.
Nature is wired for more. So it’s not unnatural. There is the sowing and the reaping. Also there is so much more than meets the eye going on in this world. These are perennial truths. So I think we need to be careful not to wage war against “more.”
More is essentially good. Except when it’s already enough.
Thanks, Christina! Readers, what are your thoughts on “more”?
Does who we are, and how successful we are, manifest more in the everyday, mundane actions we take or in the crises, the big and defining moments? Probably some of each, of course, but those defining moments almost seem like the surprise test days in a semester of studied-for quizzes. Everything comes to a head and our constitution is put on the line.
Last night was a defining moment for me. Placing my first-ever 911 call, for my food-allergic toddler going into anaphylaxis in our kitchen. Watching her face swell beyond recognition in just moments. Needing to decide to shoot her up with epinephrine. Having to stay calm and soothing for her, and not let my panic show.
She is OK, thank goodness, and I think I passed the test. Witness the fact that she actually sang and laughed with me on the way to the hospital even though I could barely see her eyes for the swelling. It helped that my husband was a rock, and has experienced anaphylaxis himself so he could talk me through the steps.
I lost it this morning when she awoke and her face and eyes were still swollen (I thought she’d look normal today), but I left the room for that and let Dad do the good-mornings. I stuck by our commitment to not rehash the crisis in front of her today (but for a few veiled and spelled words to grandma and a close friend), and just talked to her directly as she instigated and as felt appropriate. I grew closer to my husband through the scare, not farther apart. Not too bad for a defining moment surprise test.
Of course, I didn’t score 100%. I didn’t wait long enough betwen her bites of a new food, I didn’t have perfect calm, I took her to the little grocery while I was still feeling raw and she still looked not herself, and didn’t deal with that perfectly. But, oh well. I’m trying to learn from my mistakes in the process, not dwell on them.
It’s funny, because the everydayness of living with a food-allergic child had caused a sliver of doubt in my mind. Was it really as bad as we thought? Was she able to eat more than we were giving her? Then the defining moment redefined, revalidated the everyday. Sticking to what we know, following through with the healthiest options, trusting our gut, not worrying about what uninformed others say or think, focusing always on what is utmost important. Our everyday has been right for our family, and this defining moment reminded me.
I’m so tired as to be delirious, so I will close on this: Defining moments are our surprise tests. The everyday is our effort grade. Both work together to create our reality, to form our vision of success.
And I am so thankful tonight.
As a writer, I feel successful when I work on project I think contributes something meaningful to the world — and get paid for it! Thus, I was more than thrilled this summer to be asked to do some independent story editing for numerous chapters of the Harper Collins book, The Daring Book for Girls by Andrea Buchanan and Miriam Peskowitz.
The project was intense and oh-so-fun, and now the book is out — with 600,000 pre-sold! (No, I don’t get royalties!)
I’m having a blast watching the book take off, and the authors talk about girls in such positive ways in the media. Knowing I played a little part in a big project — and a book I really think gives girls, and portrays girls with, the respect they deserve and information they can use — feels really good. Even if I didn’t work on it, I would love this book.
Now, not to be greedy, but if the universe could please send more of these kinds of projects my way, that would be lovely.
When I was a child, I was a tad dramatic. I mean, I acted in plays and all that, but it was really just an extension of my dramatic nature. My parents called me “Miss Sunshine and Smiles” and then I’d have a crying meltdown every afternoon.
I remember, around puberty, crying in my room about something or other and sobbing, “I want to go home!” Really, I was home. In our house in California, with my family. We had moved from back East a few years earlier, but I wasn’t crying for Maryland. I was crying for someplace where I felt like I fit in. Where I felt like I had people supporting me. Where things felt right.
Of course, during puberty, that was nearly impossible.
In my twenties, I also searched for “home.” I lived on the East Coast, West Coast, and in the Midwest. I still wanted to know where I fit. I was brought up on two coasts, with two religions, and many interests. I wasn’t this or that, here or there. I returned to California in my late 20’s, realizing that California is home for me. Or at least I’ve made it home. Now I’ve made a family and a life here. I cherish the ocean and the weather, the great produce, the familiarity.
Last week, when we had to leave our home, leave California, the concept of home came into question for me again. Truth be told, our house is beyond our means. Whose isn’t here? Coastal California is insanely expensive. And Southern California is more conservative than we’d choose, and faster-paced than we’d like. It would be nice to have a real yard for kids to play in. And, suddenly, the San Diego area seems a bit of a foolhardy place for an asthmatic with an allergic child to settle, as these fires seem to get worse and more frequent as years pass.
So, as we traveled, voluntary evacuees, we began to rethink home, the home we figured we’d stay in for many years. Would we ever leave here? What if we had to leave? Is there another place we could be happy?
We had a lovely time in slower-paced Oregon, with extended family, enjoying the sites and fall colors and liberal, literary people, seeing the homes with yards that can be had for half the price of homes here. Hmmmm, we thought. Would we really reconsider staying in San Diego?
Then, last night, we returned. Home. Our little townhouse, in our coastal San Diego town, with smoke lingering faintly in the air, and homemade soup and cookies from our neighbor waiting for us on our kitchen table. My daughter’s cantaloupe-colored room, our bright kitchen, our pictures on the walls and books on the shelves, the ocean three miles west. The weather is warm, the sun shining. The people at the natural food store welcomed us back by name. We have friends here.
People we know no longer have a house to call home. Our community is shook. But, we are back, in our imperfect but lovely house and our imperfect but lovely community. It sure feels good — right — to be home.
In the coming weeks, months, and years, we will probably continue to talk about what “home” means to us. Anyplace we settle ourselves has its benefits and drawbacks. Which do we choose? For now, we have chosen to be here, and today it sure feels just perfect. I can’t stop smiling as I settle back into our house.
The gift of this tragedy for me is that we’ve now faced the possibility of losing this house, be it by fire or finances. And that truly felt like nothing compared to the possibility of losing one another. We love this house, but when we fled last Tuesday, all we kept saying was that we were glad to be together.
It’s been said many times before, but it rings so true to me right now: Home is not a place, it is a feeling. A feeling I longed for as a dramatic, angst-filled tween. A feeling I am so thankful to have now. To feel at home is one of the greatest successes in this life. To have a home, a house that stands when others fall, is a gift not to be taken lightly.
Today I am thankful for my home, to be here, to be with my family. In the future, I know home will be here or there, wherever we make it, God-willing, together.