Rough Draft

First thoughts. Scribble. Napkin notes. Stoplight scrawl. Jot and go, revise later.

I grow tired of being my own rough draft. At almost 73 shouldn’t I be pristine, polished, more than blurb? Not.

Every day is a do-over. Every day is a lesson learned. Words come out that bang against a sensibility known yet not really understood. More words choked back, lost in weakened courage. Ideals buried by a moment’s pragmatism. Beliefs constantly challenged by what actually looks like reality. Memories swallowed for fear of tarnishing the memory of loved ones.

If I kept a daily journal, it could be devastating showing me exactly how rough the draft, how little gets any polish. Maybe that is why I have about a zillion attempts at journaling and zero successes. Kind of like yoga–looks simple, stretches hard.

When I was a kid and into young adult, I did the recommended Catholic daily examination of conscience so I could really get a handle on that catalog of sins, chart my progress. So odd what passed for sin: skipped morning prayers, inattention at Mass, a stray thought, a question better left unasked.

Maybe this rough draft thing is carry-over, a way to catalog all the failures-to-communicate with self. Maybe it really is the gift of do-over, trying again to live it right. Reminds me of a nonsense from long ago: The hurrier I go, the behinder I get.”

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Marathon Guilt (ccr)

Blair Lewis, PA  wrote a book called HAPPINESS, The Real Medicine and How It Works. This is a pick-up-open-and-read kind of book, as well as a start to finish study.

Recently, I seem to be spending evening hours doing crosswords as much as I am doing book time, snatching paragraphs rather than enjoying chapters.    Reading requires focus on language, concepts and connections.  Crosswords require turning some connections upside down.

Mr. Lewis’ book is a haunt, his writing  a crossword turning my lifetime connections upside down.

My friend, Patti, once wrote, “Life is not a sprint but a marathon…”.

Mr. Lewis wrote, “Self-transformation is not a sprint:  it is a marathon.  To finish the race, you are going to have to find and organize all of your memories of success and survival.”

Patti’s thought is a ‘keep on keeping on’ kind of statement… even when life feels like  pushing down instead of forward, a one step at a time, handling what is there… kind of thought.

To Mr. Lewis, this is a ‘build on the best’ kind of statement.  He writes about the destructiveness of our thoughts focused on failures.  He writes about transforming the self by training the mind to see strengths and successes.

My lifelong religious training was a training in the guilt of sin.  From that original snake mess-up to weekly confessions of forgotten prayers, I  trained in sin.  That is so odd.

I have written about the Beatitudes and the Prayer of Francis.  To me, these are the basis of a spiritual look at life.  These two pieces of ‘prayer’ do not do sin.  Rather, they do strength and success.

One last comment lest a new Gentle Reader surmise that I am finding opportunities to disrespect my religious training and education.  Not so.

My Catholic education was amazing from elementary school through part of  college.  Dedicated priests and nuns , often brilliant, were some of the most generous and kind people it has been my privilege to know.   However, the institutional message was a message of sin even to the point of Jesus’ death because of my sins so many years before I  committed them.

Isn’t that putting in the fix, a finish line that precedes the starting gate?  Sprint or marathon won’t matter in the end if the guilt comes prior to the act.

Rings On My Finger

I am a chronologically old woman, 7 decades measured and counting. Growing up in a nurturing protected neighborhood, that mythical village, my siblings and I shared the blessing of never having quite enough, of always being required to try harder.

Political correctness came long  years later and our discipline included the occasional ‘good spanking’ to teach a lesson.   The culture of that time believed in ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’, especially in questions of attitude.  Mom and Dad struggled as the country climbed from the depression, giving us the best that was theirs to give.

We received our early formal education and training from women of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth.    Jesuits and Benedictines handled a large part of our college educations.  Discipline and humility held up the foundation.

Two marriages to two good men gave my life balance, reality checks and the richness of ‘for better and for worse’.   Each marriage extended my  family and I am grateful for what I have learned from each member of that very large group.

Marriage gave me the most precious gifts of my life–my five children.  Each of them fills me with awe and appreciation.  Their gifts are strong and enduring.  Life situations have not always treated them gently, but they handle what happens and they move through it.

My education provided me with a paycheck for doing what I would liked to have been able to do for free.  Teaching was a 28 year ‘fire-in-the-belly’ that never banked.

Through my time from childhood to crone I have often been overwhelmed by the generosity of  friends, colleagues, neighbors and acquaintances.   These past four months are powerful life lessons in the blessings of enduring support.

And now?  Now I am Grandma/Nana.  No one could be more blessed by the lives of the five grandchildren who gave me my new titles.  With my wedding band, I wear a five stone mother’s ring given to me about 30 years ago.  Next to those two rings,  I wear a five stone grandmother’s ring that I gave to myself 18 years ago.

Rings on my finger, blessing of my life.

In The Shadow Of The Steeple (ccr)

“If you had been born and raised Catholic, you would not write the things you do.  You would understand.”  Words from a person recently joining Gentle Readers and bridling at certain blogs perceived as anti-Catholic.

In The Shadow Of The Steeple appeared in January, 2008.  It is a rerun in the interest of disclosure.  I intend to follow this with reruns of other blogs that are Catholic Church Related.

There is a huge chasm between being anti-something and being pro-reform.

In The Shadow of the Steeple

Shadow is a twin, a shaded place of respite and comfort as well as a shroud eclipsing what needs to be seen. The steeple of St. Peter’s represents an amazing heritage of doctrine and tradition, giving shelter and shadow to religion, family and community.

Most specific memories get boxed and stored because emotions are always stronger than detail.  I would have said that I did not have specific memories of grade school, but snippets are there.

After dinner to dark kick-the can in the alley, digging a foxhole in the backyard, reading on Mert’s screened porch, baby sitting for 25 cents an hour, Sunday night radio on the living room floor, seven for dinner almost every night of the week, chocolate pudding for dessert, bacon on Sunday, Dad’s famous cracker soup when the budget required….Snippets of a wonderful childhood.

Long sleeved blue serge uniforms, suffocating in the spring and early autumn…
Esterbrook pens, Script ink, coupons for Grapette pop after helping the teacher clean the classroom…Absolute silence as the class lined the hall waiting for a scheduled turn in the restroom…
The privilege of giving up recess to sell candy in Sister Mary Lawrence’s fourth grade classroom…
Suffocating green corduroy slacks and weskit designed to protect modesty while playing basketball…
Getting caught wearing pink Tangee lipstick to a basketball game…
The excitement of a school year spent in a small basement space when numbers overcame the available classrooms…
Crying over the story of a young saint martyred for refusing to surrender a host to his tormentors…
Tiny paper desk mangers waiting for a ‘good deed’ piece of straw as part of Christmas preparation…
Believing–totally believing–in being Catholic…
Praying as if an answer would come…
Confessing to ease the original guilt I never understood…
The sound of snow when Susan and I did the winter walk to 6:00 Mass each morning…
Longing to play basketball without embarrassing myself as Mary Jo finessed every part of the game…
Daring the first peek at my report card, needing grades somewhere close to the standard set by Jack…
Overwhelmed by the importance of responsibility when walking with Bobby to school or to the store. “Take care of him”, was Mom’s standard.
The anticipation of recess on the girls’ side of the playground…a space with few trees and pocked asphalt. Our jump ropes and a handful of jacks the only equipment…
Rare occasions of newspaper wrapped lunch carried to school…
Terror in the stomach when Msgr. McKenna looked at me for the spelling of ‘transubstantiation’…
Awe remembering Sister Mary Regis handling 51 eighth graders with few discipline issues…
Thursday night devotions perfumed by incense and followed by a cherry coke at the Confectionary…
Wondering why a young priest rarely called on a girl for the answer to questions from the catechism…
The deliberate disobedience of stashing our winter slacks under bushes on the way to school…
Retrieving them stiff with cold on the way home…
Shame when I did not always defend the three ‘special needs’ kids in our class…
The choir nun telling me to stand on the back row and move my lips…
Having Mom and Dad discover that I charged candy bars for my friends at McCarty’s mom and pop…
Hating the hand-me-down blue winter coat worn my seventh grade winter…
Loving the off-white coat that Mom sewed the next winter…
Wondering if I actually fit into any group and praying that I did…
Embarrassment at making cheer leader only because few others bothered to try out…
Consuming pride when a teacher wrote a positive comment on my paper…
Guilt at my lack of humility and failure to thank God for the work that earned the comment…
Absolutely loving school…

Snippets that, from this distance of over 60 years, have the richness of warm chocolate swirled with cream.

I am intensely grateful for my education at St. Peter’s Parish and the Catholic community surrounding every part of those years. And that comforting vapor called time has given me the gift of acceptance for the chasm between some of the teaching and the reality of my life experience.

Wrath of Kahn/Star Ship ‘Enterprise’ (ccr)

For the first time in my experience on word.press, the “New Post” took forever to load.  It might have been one of those Guardian Angels tugging on the cyber connection with the intention of saving me from myself.  Good try.

But no cigar.

If you, Gentle Reader, were/are a Star Trek fan you have seen Ricardo Montablan spew wrath all over that Star Ship.  He was one mean puppy and his wrath came close to scuttling the bridge.  So get that picture of Ricardo vs. Captain Picard.  Feel the drama.  Sense the anger.

Now get out that math thing that takes numbers to a power of max.  That approaches my anger.

Someone just made a huge mistake.  In an attempt to insult something I had said and done, “You are just like your mother” was spat at me.  ( Spat is a strange  word, but I think spat is the past tense of what a snake does with venom.)

My mother had steel and grit.  She was quiet and slow to anger accepting that life had lumps.  Get those lumps out, open them up, clean the mess and move on…a ‘mom’ kind of thing.

She cleaned, sewed school uniforms,  ironed, cooked, canned, gardened, did the laundry on a wringer washer with tubs for rinsing.  The ‘dryer’ was a long rope stretched across the back yard.   And she had a full-time job in a law office.  After that  full day as office manager, she came home to run a household, raise five children and be a wonderful wife to my dad.  Dad always came first.

For a time, Mom took both her parents into the home, caring for them until her health could no longer handle the burden.

Mom nursed Daddy through his final cancer from the beginning surgery, through radiation, the feeding tubes and to that final gut wrenching  good-bye.  Grit and steel.

Granted, she was no easy task-mistress, but she loved us and worked with Dad to provide a few nice clothes, a Catholic education, nutritious food and gifts for birthdays and Christmas.  (If you read Lent Revisited you know that Easter Baskets happened, too.)

Mom did not gush, but she welcomed friends to our home.  At those  times when Mom was too tired to visit with our friends, she still smiled as she went about whatever task needed doing.

If being like my mother is an insult, then I stand tall and proud in that insult.  I will wear it with intense pride.

And I fear that I will be very slow to forgive the intention to insult.  Wonder what Mom would say about that?

Confessions of a Reader

When Catholic school rules governed most of my actions and reactions, I read any and all books page by page, cover to cover, never skimming, never skipping.  (Obviously this was a most excellent approach and I applaud the nuns who instilled the ‘rule’.)

For years, a notebook and pencil were on my lap awaiting  the  unknown word scribbled into my vocabulary.  That rule took me through high school and college.  I even aced lots of those Reader’s Digest Vocab Tests thanks to the good Sisters.

Experimented with a  reading-history notebook, recording each author, title and opinion.  That lasted less than one spiral notebook.  Seemed a bit of a warped vanity and could become a storage problem.

Now to the hushed part of my confession.  When life got busy and I had to ‘schedule’ my reading time I developed a strategy certain to bring gasps from the true bibliophile.  If the first one or two chapters did not have me hooked, I skipped to the last chapter.  If the ending justified the means to get there (reading all the stuff in between), I read it all.  If the ending were ho-hum or Oh NO!, the book closed.

It isn’t a question of time now.  It is a question of wanting only the cream and my brand of cream.  There are months when I start and quickly stop 5, 10, maybe more books before I find the one that sucks me right into the beautiful use of language, authentic characters, validation and understanding or a believable story.  There are times when I pick from my do-over shelf…books I love and read over and over.

And that shelf brings me to a thought about two of my favorite authors, Frank McCourt (RIP) and Cormac McCarthy.  Both men write from some of the darkest places in human journey.  Mr. McCourt’s darkness twinkles with the loveliest of humor despite the ‘ashes’.  Mr. McCarthy covers different ground.  Both men write of love, family and hope.

Before viewing the movie, The Road, read the book.  The love between man and son will wrench your heart.  Trust, hope and faith that something better is ‘out there’ underlies the horror.   The best and the worst of us is on that road.  Mr. McCarthy’s book takes the breath, fills the eyes and sometimes requires  distance.   Why not give Cormac McCarthy first call on your reaction to The Road?

Pushing The Envelope (ccr)

A reminder to you, Gentle Reader.
I ramble better than I edit. This probably qualifies as a ramble.

An NPR guest had a connection with the creative end of film. Late to tune in and an early-out listener, I missed his name. Wish I could give him name credit for some amazing thoughts…like how much he loves his wife, how amazed he is that she is there when he comes home, and what incredible kids they have. Surely, that isn’t an envelope in need of a push? Sounds like a valentine to me.

Earlier he talked about how the media can push the envelope and eventually change how society sees itself. The acceptance of human differences was a specific case. By placing ‘different’ folks into normal setting, the difference can dissolve and slips right into the normal. Definitely two sides to that coin.

One anecdote focused on George Carlin and his famous Seven Words. When Mr. Carlin’s mother faced a group of elementary school nuns who had taught her son, Mrs. Carlin reacted with embarrassment to the “Words” routine. It was the Catholic nuns who gave George the thumbs-up, saying he was forcing us to face our hypocrisy. Same coin?

Facing hypocrisy isn’t easy. One’s own double standards are both wise and prudent while the doubles that differ are surely hypocritical, right? No. Not right, not even close.
Judging is perilous and always flawed…always. But it is my opinion that we are far better advised to error on the side of acceptance of our differences and celebrating our full human selves.