Your Choices Are . . .

This is going to sound ridiculously simple, but I’ve been working on a theory for attitude management. For real.

I’m a strong personality with a multitude of ideas on most topics. (You can relate, right? I see you smiling! Or are you smiling because you know me and you know it’s true? Well, either way … ) These are good qualities that can also cause me a lot of stress. Once I figured out why, managing my emotions became a lot easier.

What I realized was that I have a tendency to believe I have more choices in any given situation than I truly have.

Most of the time, these are my choices:

Most of the time, I can’t change the circumstances or the people. I can only change my attitude toward these things/people and so my choices are suddenly limited to two: go through it with a bad attitude or go through it with a good attitude.

My stress comes when I spend time plotting my escape or how I’m going to re-imagine the system or what an improvement it would be if I was in charge. And yet most of the time, these are not genuine options, and so I spend time fretting or fuming for no positive gain.

Sometimes you CAN change a situation, so maybe you should, but most of the time, we fuss about things we can’t change.

Analyze the situation. This might include asking questions such as: Who is in charge? Is it worth my time to object or disagree? Would my objections likely bring any change to the situation? If getting out meant missing out, would it be worth it?

Now, how many choices do you REALLY have? If you realize it is something you have to do  – maybe it’s a decision passed down at work or a sick loved one or a poorly planned family vacation – then you know you have to find some way to get through it.

Look at the visual examples above.

Make your choice.

What specific examples come to mind where this would be useful?

The Product

Last week I was tempted to be jealous of another blogger when she announced her recent representation by a well-known literary agent. After admitting this to my husband, he asked, “How did she get noticed?”

We were riding together to work in our new-to-us van. It’s a red Honda: practically my dream car (and that is not sarcasm).

I didn’t want to answer the question but I did anyway. “She has a good idea. Writes well. And she submitted a great book proposal apparently.”

He turned back to the pavement in front of us and wisely said no more. Here the road curves around a big lake where six storybook swans make their home. I know what he’s saying because I say it to him all the time: The artist has to provide a product.

After settling my computer and purse in my office, I gather my books and walk across the parking lot and into the building that houses my classroom. The sun is warm and the breeze blows with the promise of perspective.

I greet my students, a tiny band of five who have just wrestled through C. S. Lewis’ classic The Screwtape Letters. Most of them had to fight for every sentence – looking up new vocabulary words and untangling the backward advice of demon to demon. It was both an academic and a spiritual challenge. Today they submit their own creative works: a set of new letters from Screwtape to the underling assigned to the writer’s own life. Most of them are eager.

One student is empty-handed.

I acknowledge her frustration. It’s been an emotional week. The assignment required technical and spiritual precision. But I can’t accept a late paper.

“Could you get me something by the end of the day? 4:30 in my office?”

She thinks so.

After we hash out the politics behind some of Lewis’ writing and unearth the language clues buried in the text concerning our lead character’s final moments, I close the class and we walk out the door together but in different directions.

Later, I receive that paper before I click my door locked that afternoon, and it has me wondering:

I probably need someone to require the same thing from me.

 

I did it this afternoon for myself with this blog post. I’ll start tomorrow with something else.

 

 

 

 

 

And Then My Heart Was Broken

I’ve been going on and on about how sports are great and how much I love them.

And then this weekend sports broke my heart.

Yes, it was partly mostly about my Mizzou Tigers being upset in the first round of the NCAA tournament. I was stunned. Three weeks of my March schedule had been built around the games I would watch this team win and suddenly that schedule opened wide. It was terrible. I watched Twitter accounts for each of the  players I’ve grown to “know” during this fantastic season hoping to see them tweet something that proved they were okay. Jesse laughs at me because I call them “Bubba” or “Baby” during games, the same names I use for him.

So it was about my Tigers first, but then it was about Duke and Purdue and every team that lost. Because, you know, when you play a game of basketball only one team can win! Grown men crying. Coaches worried about the security of their jobs. Parents with grief stricken faces wondering what they will say when their son emerges from the locker room knowing he’s played the last game of his career. No one wants to be the loser in these games. By the end of the weekend I could barely stand to watch any of it.

And then it was about how ugly we can become in the middle of it all. I felt genuinely sad after our loss. It reminded me not to make jokes about Kansas losing (because they will eventually, right?) Why would I want any other fan to feel what I felt that day week? It seems like too many of us are willing to put our sports affiliation in front of common kindness and consideration. (Don’t even get me started on how we treat the officials of these games.) For sure we forget way too easily that the guys on the other side of the court are people too. People with mothers and dreams and adversities overcome. Why is it okay to forget that? Why is it acceptable to be mean to each other as long as we’re talking about our respective sports teams?

Unfortunately, all of this means that sports remains a nearly perfect analogy for life. Winners and losers. Sportsmanship and nastiness. Perspective and passion. Pure motives and mixed. I just happened to be on the losing end this week and therefore noticed the brokenness all around me. I’ve been the winner, too. (Oh, Baylor.) It was nice living there.

March – I tweeted – I prefer your madness when it happens to someone else’s team.

So I guess what I’m saying is that if you are on the winning team today remember that you might find yourself two points short next time. What will you need then? How will you want to be treated?

I want to live that way today.

 

PS – I’m not really that upset about our loss. Well, I am, but I don’t need to be watched carefully or anything. I just thought the situation was a great analogy. Seriously, Kansas fans, I don’t hate you and I forgive you for hating me.

 

More On Sports

Last week Jesse played his last basketball game as a 5th grader. In a gym where I also played as a 5th grader. He lost. They gave him a medal anyway – for losing two games. For most of the night I was embarrassed.

But not because of Jesse. No way. Not because of him.

We had taken with us Marc and Ruth, our friends from Brazil. Two of the most inspiring people I know. They operate a children’s program in Fortaleza, Brazil, that provides education, safe play, and good nutrition to children in some of Brazil’s poorest favelas. Marc and Ruth are some of our favorite people in the world; I can’t imagine ever being embarrassed by them.

I certainly wasn’t embarrassed by the facilities. Even though that gym has been around for as long as I can remember and sort of shows its age, it is a sign of rural America fighting for viability. The elementary school has long moved out of town for consolidation, but the gym still hosts a 5th and 6th grade basketball tournament every year. It’s a niche market, but they know how to work it.

And besides, our friends were right at home in a simple gym without a fancy rubber coated floor or padded seats.

Nope, none of that bothered me. Jesse was his usual competitive but polite self. The gym represented the struggles and small triumphs of a rural economy trying to hold it together. I was proud of those things.

But I was embarrassed by a number of the adults in that gym. The parents and even a coach or two. When we first arrived, my girls sat in front of a woman yelling and screaming for her slightly chubby 5th grader to grab that rebound so loudly it was blowing the girls’ hair straight out in front of their shock-wide eyes. As Ada would relate later, this upset mom was overheard telling the ref to “go to where-the-Devil-lives.” Thanks for that, lady.

It didn’t get much better after our game started. I always cringe at this kind of behavior. Even the kind of yelling that parents think is being helpful often seems like too much to me. In my non-professional opinion, a kid learns a sport better when they have the opportunity to get their own feel for it. They need to learn to trust their instincts and the training of their coaches, not the sound of their mother in the stands shouting for them to JUST SHOOT! Sure, I’m guilty. Even that night I wondered what my spiritual friends would think of me yelling out, “Go, White!” or “Defense, Eagles!” (Cheerleaders die hard, okay?)

Once we all returned to the van for the 30 minute drive home through narrow, dark country roads, I wondered what our international friends would make of our basketball experience. Would they be appalled by our pushy attitudes toward our 10 year olds? Would they be surprised by our willingness to spend time and money on a meaningless game? Would they be shocked by the way we yell and stomp our feet and fuss?

No. Marc’s comment went more like this, “It’s so nice that you have something like this you can all do together. It’s so good for parents to be involved in their kids’ lives. This is something our kids in Brazil just don’t have. It’s a blessing, really.”

I’ll try to remember those words next time I’m embarrassed by a parent who takes things a little more seriously than I think is optimal for his child’s emotional development. I’ll try to be grateful that he’s there. Being there counts for a lot. Probably more than I can imagine.

 

Thank You, Sportswriters!

I think I’ve told you this before that I first became interested in sports when the copy of Sports Illustrated for my dad’s office was mistakenly delivered to our house. Sports journalists have amazing powers. I never thought I could care about a baseball prospect in Texas, but SI writers could make anyone interesting. So it started with stories and then translated into my real life.

It didn’t take long for me to figure out that where there were sports there were usually boys. Boys were interesting. The funny thing is that I didn’t stay as faithful to any of those particular boys as I stayed to our shared loved for the Mizzou Tigers. (And that’s all the information you’re going to get about that for this post!)

I eventually got married (to a non-Tiger fan) and my tolerance for watching sports has played heavily into our successful run of nearly 12 years of marriage. Case in point: This weekend Dan and I sat down for the evening and he said, “I taped a new episode of that drama you like, or we could catch the end of whatever game is on ESPN.”

“Basketball sounds good.”

“I love you so much!”

Now with our son, Jesse, playing on his own teams and watching televised sports with us, the usefulness of those first Sports Illustrated magazines in my life cannot be overestimated!

Confession: On Sunday Jesse and I watched way too many hours of basketball related TV. Second confession: It was totally worth it, even when (combined with the curse of Daylight Savings Time) we both had trouble settling down to sleep!

March is my favorite for several reasons: my birthday (on the 27th), the arrival of Spring, and the NCAA Basketball Tournament. Sunday Jesse and I watched the Selection Show and began our descent into the time-consumer that is called Bracketology. We mourned and rejoiced over the placement of our favorite teams. We listened to a couple of hours of analysis. We clicked and clicked to fill out our brackets online, knowing that what seems so obvious now will be obliterated by this time next week. We even watched a documentary on the great Duke teams from 91 and 92 (“Coach K was coaching back then?!”). Basically, we breathed in basketball all afternoon and most of the evening.

And we have three more weeks of this! Sing it with me now, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!”

Thanks, Rick Reilly!

 

 

Why I Didn’t Like THE HUNGER GAMES

(Alternative Title: What Reading Teaches Me About What I Should Write)

And let me preface this post. I didn’t like reading The Hunger Games, but I did enjoy the story. I’ll explain later.

You’ve read the Ira Glass quote about how aspiring writers are often frustrated because their taste for good writing is usually better than what they can actually produce in their early efforts? Yeah, I feel that a lot.

And I’m also learning a lot about what I want to write based on what I like to read.

I recently succumbed to peer pressure and borrowed a copy of The Hunger Games. I almost put it down after the first chapter. Why? When so many other respectable adults I know had been literally captivated by this book? Two reasons: The first person present-tense perspective and the unpredictable, unrealistic setting.

I’m not a fan of the YA narrator. I don’t mind first person; my beloved Jane Eyre is in first person in places. But when combined with the present tense, it makes me feel, as a reader, that my understanding of the story is severely limited. No sense of objective perspective, no sense of communal understanding. I feel sort of trapped in that person’s head. Katniss is a lovably flawed character, but I kept wishing I could get outside of her and have a long look around for myself.

I also don’t love reading about a world that hasn’t ever really existed unless that world abides by a set of fixed rules. For example, I’m not totally against fantasy (read: Narnia or Rings), but I need that world to seem reliable. In Panem, especially in the games, the rules are random. It seems a little like cheating. Need to kill someone? Let the Gamemakers create a “natural” disaster. Need to save the main characters? Let the Gamemakers make a new rule. Too easy.

I actually became quite engaged in the story and enjoyed the last half of the book. But I realized I’m not interested in reading the rest of the series. Dan is reading and keeping me up to date with the characters. I do care about Katniss and Peeta. I just want a third-person narrator with a sense of the rules of my world to tell me the story! : )

All of this got me thinking about what I want to write. While reading the early pages of The Hunger Games, I felt like I could hear the Gone With The Wind on my shelves crying out for me to pick her up instead. And I wanted to and I wondered why. That’s what made me think about the differences.

So why does it matter? Well, I keep thinking about the old advice that a writer should write what she likes to read. By reading more lately I think I’ve learned a bit more about what I want to write. Besides real-life stories (nonfiction and memoir), I like to learn something when I read fiction. I want the world to be real (either historical or modern or with rules that make sense to me) and to teach me about the culture or social rules of that world. And I want to feel like my perspective on the world of the story is broad and at least a little objective. I need to see a bigger picture than one character can provide. I mean, I’m stuck with a singular perspective my own life story and I fight against it all the time. When I read, I want more.

Does your writing and reading line up like that? Can you NOT finish a book? Will you write what you like to read?

And, just to save my reputation, I am looking forward to The Hunger Games movie. In fact, I saw a full-size cardboard cutout of Peeta in the mall last night and squealed a little. There. That makes me cool again, right?

To My Little Women:

On International Women’s Day 2012

This week I watched you all open your hearts a little wider. Our friends from all over the world came to visit, as they do every year during our church’s Missions Conference, and you welcomed them joyfully. You tried every food you were offered, shook hands with strangers, and carefully selected handmade treasures from around the world to line your own shelves.

Even before this week, you’ve been so faithful to try the Lenten experiment with us. You’ve given up favorite foods and helped me learn how to make rice and beans. Joyfully! You are the best the world has to offer.

Sometimes I’d like to put parental controls on your world the same way I put them on your television. I’d like you to only see lovely, pure, and true. But that isn’t the way it goes, and so I’m learning to trust you into bigger hands than my own. This helps me, remembering that the love of God can find you just the way it found me. Just the way it found anyone who wraps themselves in its protective yet empowering strength.

Anyway, you already know the world is imperfect. But you make the best of it. In your games you kill off your parents right away and then find ways to employ yourselves (even as “teenagers”) and raise your rowdy children, all while wearing tutus and princess costumes. In other games you turn the staircase into an orphanage and line the babies up, each step a crib, and then sing lullabyes to them as they drift off to sleep under your watchful eyes. I wish every orphan had this opportunity to grow under your care. I have few doubts that someday at least a few of them will.

Today I thought I might introduce you to some great women. I considered finally writing down some of the stories in my own heart of your long legacy of faith. Your mothers, great and grand, have lived lives worthy of celebration; there is so much you could learn from their stories of horseback rides for new opportunities and the years of passing out love along with public school lunches. I also considered writing down the stories of some great international women that I’ve read about, strong women fighting injustice even while living under its oppression. Even international women that I know, bowing low over open fires to feed the hungry or standing tall inside school room gates to educate learners, have stories that should be told.

And I’m probably going to write them someday.

But today I think I’ll just celebrate you, my little international women. I’ll celebrate your hearts of love and joy and passion. I’ll celebrate your resourcefulness and your creativity. Because of who you are, I imagine someday the stories will be about you!

Love,

Mama