Tuesday, July 22, 2014

13/40 in 40: Spilling My Purse

Number 13 in a list of 40 things I've learned in 40 years: Spill your purse.

The full sentence goes something like, "I'm just going to spill my purse on the table and let you sort through the contents." I simply do not have boundaries about who I am. At all. Ever. It's even worse now than when I was younger.

I am going to blunder through my life, and yours, and tell you everything. I'm not going to dump a bunch of opinions on you, and I don't like to debate religion, politics, or philosophy (although I can hold my own if you want to talk educational theory--just not funding). I'm not into using conversation as a weapon (unless you are prone to dying of boredom).

I just like to share who I am.

A lot.

I will talk about my religious journey. My travails as a parent. My attempts to live a good life, especially if they don't go particularly the way I want them. My frustrations with work, family, friends, neighbors. Good and bad stories. Things I want you to know. All the time.

I think, in the end, it comes down to this. If we all sit in a room together with our pocketbooks clutched to our sides, nervously sipping sweet tea and knowing deep down in our hearts that no one would be interested in who we are because we are so damaged, broken, vulnerable, dirty, weird, addicted, boring, frustrated, stuck, if we live life like that, we will never make connections with the other people in the room nervously sipping sweet tea and knowing deep down in their hearts the very same thing.

It's a ploy, in some ways. If I say "Guess what I did" and then tell a story about maggots in the diaper pail or my first apartment where we washed dishes in the bathtub or about how I took in another stray cat, one of three things will happen:

1. People will be so disgusted or put off by what I said that I won't have to spend a lot of time with them pretending to be someone else (I hate sweet tea, by the way)

2. Someone in that room will see herself in my story and realize we are kindred spirits even if I talk too much, and maybe she'll want to be my friend or maybe even share some sort of weird story about herself

3. Someone in the room will be so stunned by how stupid I am, or ridiculous my life is, that it will put his life in perspective and he won't feel so bad about his own broken vulnerability. He might not have a story to share, but by knowing me, will know that he could never be as ridiculous as I am and therefore, I'm safe to be around. Nothing he reveals will be so bad, even if it happens by mistake.

So yeah. I do ridiculous things. My friend Gretchen says I walk the edge most times, pushing the limits and boundaries around me. Speaking of boundaries, I'm an ENFJ and we are thankfully only about 2% of the population because we are emotionally exhausting with our lack of boundaries. But we are important. People need us because we make them feel good, one way or another. Or else they'll go sit in another drawing room with their sweet tea and gossip about us. And that might make them feel good, so there you have it. In the end, I can't give two shits about that sort of thing because I've already TOLD the story. To EVERYONE. Gossip away.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Ten on Tuesday: 10 things about my kitchen table


1. I bought it off Craigslist for $30.

2. It is a 50s era dinette table with a pink and red hash marked formica top and a metal band around the edge.

3. It has two leaves that fit into the sides, sliding in and out, not removable; one I keep out all the time to make the table large enough to use but not too large to move around, and the other one comes out at meal times only.

4. We sit at the table on science classroom stools--four of them I've purchased online but one I have from St. Pius V school back when I taught there. It of course is my favorite.

5. It rubs against the yellow wall behind it and leaves a mark. I have stopped caring.

6. It is never cleaned all the way off. It is often CLEAN, but it is always cluttered. Right now there are things on it that belong to a half a dozen people.

7. It has a drawer on one side that was, for a long time, the typical junk drawer with birthday candles and an odd washer or two. Now it is filled with beer bottle caps and a hammer. Times change. 

8. Sometimes it looks like this:

  9. Sometimes it looks like this:

10. And sometimes it looks like this:
Because I live at my kitchen table. And I love at my kitchen table. Everyone who comes into my home and learns about me and mine and becomes a part of the air space within these walls sits at my kitchen table and loves and lives there too. It is the most whole-hearted place in my house, perhaps in my life. It is where truths are told and confessions are made, where people are listened to and loved. Where food is shared and drinks are too, where things are honest and hard and beautiful and known. When you sit at my kitchen table you get to know me. I get to know you. This is not where I break up with people, this is not where I do business. This is where I mend fences with sliced tomatoes and laugh and cry over a bottle of something brown. This is where pretense falls and we get down to what is really wrong. This is where we start our days with coffee, this is where we end our days with "I love you, go to bed." This is where I am home.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

12/40 in 40: Let Someone Be You for a Change

12th in a series of 40 things I've learned in 40 years: Whatever you are to other people, let someone be that to you sometimes.

When I wrote my list of 40 things to write about over the course of the next few months, I wrote this one thinking of my mother-in-law. I am Mom. I spend a lot of my brain power and a lot of my time being Mom. I take care of these people and shuttle them around and listen to them and make sure they are well and care for them when they aren't. But when I was recovering from c-sections after Daisy, Fiona, and Billy, my mother-in-law did those things. Sometimes in the middle of life's busy cycles we will take a break and go down to Cairo, Illinois, and I will sleep. Just sleep. Let someone else cook and clean the bathroom and entertain folks and I just sleep. I let her do for me what I do for others.

But since I wrote the list I realized another role I have that is being filled by someone else. Zelda and Travis and their family are leaving our special little corner of the world. It is killing me. As most everyone who has ever met me knows, I moved about every two years, all over the country, and it gave me strengths and weaknesses both, but it also created in me a desperate need for stability. I have always been a Benedictine and I just didn't know it. I need to be still. I need to be here. And for 10 years Zelda and Travis have been part of the monastery on my block.

They are leaving. I am a wreck.

Gretchen had me over a couple weeks ago when it was pretty much finalized that they were heading out. We talked about a lot of things, but conversation kept coming back to Zelda and Travis. Mostly Zelda. Zelda is Gretchen's and my "third". We need her at the table because 3 people is the minimum to play a hand of mah jongg. We need her because the three of us know each other better than anyone else on the block knows any one of us. We are going to miss her terribly.

At one point, I think after my 5th glass of bourbon, she said she had told Zelda, "you go handle your kids, and I will handle Bridgett."

I bristled under the surface. I do not need to be handled.

And then I realized what Gretchen was doing, and what she continued to do over the course of the next few weeks and up to now. She was doing a little untrained counseling at her table.

Like I do all the time.

I am always sitting at my table with a cup of coffee or a glass of "something brown" or a plate of tomatoes or a tin of cookies and I am listening and reflecting. I learned how to do this slowly, starting with being an R.A. in college, through my time as a teacher and as a La Leche League leader, and really honing these skills of listening and being in the present moment with someone last summer, hell, over the course of the past year.

I listen to people. I am not Martha. I am Mary. I love to talk to people and listen to them and think about their troubles and I have come to realize I have a deep nonjudgmental compassion for folks in pain. I'm not trying to brag about that, trust me, because I am deeply flawed on the end where we talk about emotional boundaries. But when I'm at my best, I am good at letting people be, and being there with them.

And I realized that's what Gretchen was doing. I don't think she knows how much of this I do, since I don't do it with her or our mah jongg friends. But what I didn't realize is that I needed this, too. I needed someone else to pour and listen and reflect back to me. Not try to solve it, since in this case and in most cases there is no solving that can be done. Not trying to fix it. Just giving me some space and being in that space with me for just a short time.

We talked a long time. We talked again when I got back from Montana. We will talk again.

And I understand even more now why Troy keeps coming back to my table and slicing that tomato to share.

Monday, June 23, 2014

11/40 in 40: Love Anyway

11th in a series of 40 things I've learned in 40 years

I have not been guarded with my heart.

I should have, perhaps, I mean, I moved every two years and each time I left behind friendships and plans and hopes. I left people behind. A few I was able to keep up with, writing long letters to Marita or Robin or Carol. Most, however, drifted away.

Sometimes this is fine--proximity makes friendships easy. But sometimes it was really hard. Seriously hard. Sadly hard.

But in the new place,  I met folks and loved again. Every time I moved I fell in love with the people who became my friends.

And every time I left, it hurt.

Love anyway. Open your heart and love people and know it is going to hurt like crazy when it's over, when it changes. And love anyway.

I burn a bright fiery arrow every time.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

10/40 in 40: Practice

Tenth in a series of forty things I've learned in forty years

Practice something for a long time without giving up.

I started fooling around with my mother's sewing machine when I was 11. Bits of cloth scrap turned into miniature quilts for my dollhouse. None of them were pretty, but you have to remember that the theme of most of my imaginative play could have been entitled "Refugee". Or, on better days, "Gyspy Caravans". Most of the time my dolls were on their way somewhere else. Like I was, frankly. But I made them quilts.

I made a hot mess of a crazy quilt top when I was 12, out of all sorts of the wrong kinds of fabrics. I tied it with embroidery floss; my father the RN taught me a surgeon's knot which is what I still use on a tied coverlet. When I was in 8th grade I worked on it some more and added to it--you can't really do this, but I did.

I made several more embarrassing coverlets over the next five years, but I studied as well. I learned about seam allowance and grain of fabric. I put together a denim blanket my senior year of high school that I still own, breaking a half dozen sewing machine needles in the process and learning about how basic sewing machines worked.

In college I made my boyfriend Johnny a pretty red and green quilt that he gave back to me when we broke up the following summer. And I made my first quilt on commission, a baby blanket in pink and blue, Churn Dash. It was also the first quilt I quilted instead of tied with floss. I made another denim blanket, and a Buckeye Beauty for my roommate. I made lots of quilts and really reached past the basics during the four years in the dorm. I learned how amazing hand quilting could be and started perfecting my stitch.

I worked for a year part time at a fabric store and learned all about fabric. I learned I was allergic to jute, but that had nothing to do with quilting. I learned about cheap fabric and expensive fabric, weave and thread count and sizing. I learned lots of things, and I learned them so well I can't even tell you what they were, they are such a part of me now. I just know them.

After marrying Jake, I made a wholecloth (solid color, no piecing) quilt covered in Celtic Knots, for Carlos' girlfriend (it was a gift to him for him to give to her). I did a handpainted quilt from a still shot from the movie Metropolis. I made quilts for my siblings and inlaws and parents, about two a year over all because hand quilting takes me a long time. I quilt on the floor and watch reruns on TV.

I made a lot of quilts. I would learn a new method and make a quilt and be satisfied. I taught folks on my street basic running stitch by machine and put together baby quilts for new moms on our street. I started working with curves.

And then one day, making an ambo frontal for church to use on Pentecost, I took the plunge and machine quilted it--smaller than a baby quilt, so little risk. I was hooked. Suddenly my road block, hand quilting, was eliminated. I could churn out quilts, and one Christmas I did just that. Everyone got a quilt. Everyone.

I made quilts for church. I started a series of 12x12 inch blocks that were lectio divina--meditations on biblical passages. I inherited some of my aunt's fabric when she died and made a quilt for Leo (pictured above, Working Class Irish Chain) and another entitled Working Man's Irish Chain, for Troy.

I am not a good teacher for quilting, as opposed to middle school math. It's too much body knowledge on top of instinct in my head. I don't fret over color choices or plan out very much how I'm going to quilt something. I do this. I quilt.

When I was 12, I convinced my mother to purchase some yellow and purple ginghams and some solid lavender fabric. My plan was a broken dishes pattern I'd found in an old magazine my grandmother gave me. I brought it home and my father sighed, "Another project to go nowhere" he dismissed it.

He was right--I never even cut out the templates, moving on to other things that interest 12 year old girls. It was too pat, too put together, too rigid. I needed to explore and try it and delve in and make mistakes and try and try and try and practice. And I held those words in my heart a long time, each time I finished a quilt thinking to myself, there, another project finished. There.

Twenty nine years is a long time to do something. And it pays off. I'm a quilter.

Monday, June 16, 2014

9/40 in 40: Lose Yourself in the Conversation

9th in a series of 40 things I've learned in 40 years

This is an easy one I learned. I used to think I was an introvert, which, when I consider that standing here now it doesn't even make any sense. What I was wasn't an introvert, but rather a very lonely extrovert. I moved all the time and I had a terrible time making friends after a while. It was too hard. But now that I've lived in St. Louis for almost 21 years in a row (minus two summers going home to Houston where I continued my role of lonely extrovert), I realize that what I am is an extrovert who just wants to stand around and chat all the time. All the time.

Dinner can wait, my blog tagline says. There's important talk to be done. And much unimportant talk, too. Layer upon layer of shooting the breeze sitting on neighbors' porches is what creates a community. Chatting everyone up--fellow teachers (goodness I'm so lonely at school), girl scout moms, sisters, friends--is what I want to do all the time.

Every time I find myself saying, "now, what was that about/what was I talking about/but I digress" I have lost myself in my own conversation. This has been happening since I started going to sleepovers (I can monologue with the best of villains and I can be sticky in conversation. Dull). What is new has happened in the past few years. I lose myself in their talk. I start watching their eyes, their hands, still hearing the words but taking in more of what's going on than I used to. It's not always all about me in a conversation and I've learned to lose myself in the community and the love sitting there at my kitchen table or on the porch.

The best conversations I find myself for just a moment just a little bit detached from. Like I'm observing it from above, seeing something new and surprising, hearing words in a new way. Noticing that he's teared up or that her voice broke or that she smiles nervously or even just that he holds my gaze a moment longer than I would expect. God we are all so lonely and just for a moment, we are living and breathing in the same space and I take the human equivalent of a screenshot. I think the New Testament talks about Mary holding these things in her heart--I hold these conversations in mine.

My neighbor Zelda, when she and Travis invited a woman into their home for part of last summer, when at the same time we had invited Troy to stay, said that she essentially Martha from that same New Testament. She could feed everyone and keep the bathroom clean and do laundry and give space, share space. But (and I hope she doesn't mind my sharing it) she had a hard time being the Mary from that same story, sitting and listening and talking. She loves to sit and listen and talk, but she found that this wasn't her favorite part of sharing her home, it wasn't what she was best at. And it was a conversation about conversation that I found myself separated from, lost in, and just thinking to myself how wonderful it would be if all I had to do with Troy was sit at the table and eat tomatoes with him. If all we needed to get done today was talk and talk some more. How every conversation we had together--goodness, how lost I would get in conversation at that table. I found myself wanting to split the difference with Zelda--here, you cook and clean and feed us all and I will make it my summer job to get lost in beautiful hard intricate precious talk.

I love talking and listening. I'm getting better and knowing when to stop the former and pick up that ear of my heart, as St. Benedict would say. When to shoot the breeze, when to wait, when to listen, when to really hear.

Friday, May 30, 2014

8/40 in 40: They Aren't Coincidences

Number 8 in a series of 40 posts, what I've learned in 40 years

I sat on the stoop with a friend last night until about 12:30 in the morning. It was a conversation I needed to have. I needed to really talk to someone and she was the best gal for the job. But before we got down to what was really wrong, we talked about God. We both struggle with faith in our own unique ways. In the end, I told her, my life is full of too many coincidences not to believe in God.

"They're not coincidences," she said quietly.

"No, exactly. That's what I mean."

My pastor told me one time, something to the effect of, you can decide the world is random or you can decide those little moments are gifts from God. It hurts no one to believe it that way, even if you're wrong, so why wouldn't you?

Every heart shaped rock, every chance meeting out of context, every random bumper sticker (last summer I kept finding myself behind the same truck, again and again, with the words "God is not mad at you" on the back window. I decided to take it to heart). They're not coincidences. Please know that I'm not reading messages into the pattern in people's ties or the way they've brushed their hair, I'm not delusional, I'm just open to the possibility.

And I finally came to this. God has to work with the world as it is. We are God's hands in the world, but since we have free will, we don't always perform as we should. But nature, now that is just a blank canvas of coincidence waiting to be brought to the light. And not just nature, but traffic flow patterns and notions that pop into our heads and who buys which house on which block and who gets a job at which school and who winds up in the wrong town at the wrong time needing a brake job and a rental car and what song comes on the radio next. Forces beyond our eyes as well as essential forces of nature.

We can live our lives blind to them, of course, and no harm in that. But I've decided to live life looking for meaning.