Tuesday, February 24, 2015

When Plan B Fails

I know about parenting books. I've referred to them for things like teething, temperatures, and tantrums.

Looking back, now that Maggie is in high school, I believe those were the easy times. The really big things that happen in the teen years are not so neatly covered. There's no easy way through these disappointments or resentments or misunderstandings. These are life's bitter-pill lessons.

I long for the years when it was just me, a baby, a thermometer, and chapter three.

Maggie came home last night, discouraged by a faculty decision. She was devastated because she'd followed her father's advice: Always have a Plan B. She'd presented the teacher with her Plan A. If that didn't work, she handed him her Plan B. He said he understood.

The next day he handed her Plan C.

She wondered how it collapsed and why the teacher would get it wrong. She was so certain she had all her ducks in a row before the meeting.

There isn't a book on the face of the earth with the right answer.

It was up to me, armed with a cup of coffee, to help her corral those honking ducks. So I reminded her of the adage that the journey is more important than the destination. But the journey is the hard part, I told her.

You thought you were headed to India with the right map in hand, only to realize you'd ended up in Peru. After wailing and whining, all you can do is settle down and recalibrate.

Whatever happened, you have to make another decision. Stay put and make the best of it? Return home? Get another map? Resent the person who sold you the wrong map?

No one ever knows. No one. Especially the people who are convinced they know precisely what you should do.

Sometimes those unexpected detours turn out to be the best thing. While you're puzzled under a Peruvian shade tree, hopeless and alone, the carriage of a lifetime can stop and offer a free ride. Getting sidetracked can be a blessing.

How do you know? You don't. Blessings always come disguised as something else--something that wasn't intended, something that's a last resort, something that's impossible.

Still, mistakes can work magic.

Ultimately, you have to believe in yourself. You have to be brave, even if it requires pretending. Courageous folks learn to find the way, step by step, map or no map. By flashlight or full moon or candle, there's a passage through the dark. Even if it means crawling on your hands and knees.

Decide. You have to know at the end of the day that you tried like crazy to organize those wing-flapping ducks. And even if they're still zigzagging ahead of you, at least they're running for the horizon.

And the horizon, the place of promise, belongs to no map. It defies paper. It is the clear, vertical space ahead that only your eyes can define, that is colored your particular blue. The horizon is different for everyone.

Even for ducks.

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Friday, February 6, 2015

Saved by Nancy Pearl

Be honest.

It's February, and those ferocious New Year's Resolutions have crashed.

You haven't lost 12 pounds, exercised for 30 minutes daily or cleaned the closets. Me either.

Change-worthy improvement, however, is still possible. I realized this at Starbuck's. If you stand there long enough, you'll find wisdom.

On the cup sleeves beside me were Oprah's sentiments:

Your life is big. Keep reaching.
Live from the heart of yourself. Seek to be whole, not perfect.
Know what sparks the light in you. Then use that light to illuminate the world.
You are here not to shrink down to less, but to blossom into more of who you are. 

I tried to imagine my big life. Write a novel? Visit The Orkney Islands? Learn to tap dance? All of the above? Do I start today or can I wait for better weather?

I've been down that embrace imperfection road. I get sidetracked every time. I'm the one straightening street signs and picking up litter in the ditch while everyone else dances barefoot in the rain.

Illuminate the world? It's a little late for me to become Mother Teresa. Could I just say kind things each day to a dozen random strangers? Would that count?

I'm all for blossoming, but more of me might not be the best thing in all circles. From my previous post, you'll understand that Trader Joe's might be reluctant to receive more Karenness.

Don't get me wrong. Oprah's concepts rise like chai-infused steam from my hopeful better self. If I were on a slow boat to China with no obligations or distractions, those would all be fine truths to seek. As it is, I only fret myself into paralysis over these big-picture goals.

By this point in the year, I need a quick fix.

Again, Starbuck's holds a cut-to-the-chase solution. In their "The Way I See It" series, legendary Nancy Pearl, Seattle librarian and author of the Book Lust collectionoffers productive, guilt-reducing wisdom on cup #169:

Life's too short to read a book you don't love. At age 50 or younger, give a book 50 pages to see if you like it. Over 50, subtract your age from 100 and that's the number of pages to read before you bail on a book you're not enjoying. And when you turn 100, you get to judge book by its cover!

There's a life-changing strategy you and I can manage if you're a reader, too. Having felt duty-bound since childhood to finish every book I start, I'm thrilled to have a smart woman let me off the hook. She assures us that libraries don't record who finishes a book, nor do they award a Reading Bravely Though Bored Badge.

Go ahead. You're allowed. If you need to practice, deliberately check out a library book that you know isn't YOU. Follow her recipe and BAIL. Notice that she didn't use FAIL.

Maybe that's how you'll blossom this year.

(The closets can wait.)

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