Category Archives: Life

Take time to listen to the tales…

cowboy hatI’m an East Coast girl. I’m always on the go and always somewhat in a hurry. Even when I am not actually in a hurry, I have this looming feeling that I SHOULD be in a hurry. Get the information and go; do the task and move on; Go Go GO!

You can imagine that sitting still and listening is not always a strength of mine. When I am in the mood to get to know someone, I can sit with them for hours, but if I am in GO mode, I often feel like a tightly wound spring that needs to release and move onto the next thing.

This fact became especially apparent to me the other day. I was scheduled to have coffee with an older gentleman about a project we are working on together. When we planned the meeting he told me, “Let’s meet at 4 p.m. I’ll be wearing a cowboy hat, so you can recognize me; either straw or felt, depending on the weather.” I probably should have known at that moment that this meeting might be different from what I was planning. I thought we would meet, get a hot beverage, I’d get some answers to the questions on my list, and get home.

I arrived at the coffee shop before him, got my drink (a chai latte), and prepared my notebook and pen. When he arrived, I realized he was definitely not in GO mode and that, yes, he definitely must have envisioned the afternoon going a bit differently than I. He moseyed in, wandered to our table, and immediately started discussing the options the coffee bar had added to the menu recently. Then he told me a story (the first of many) about his experiences back east when he lived in Massachusetts.  Eventually, I managed to direct the conversation to the project we will be working on together. But nearly every question I asked was answered in a roundabout way with a story or two that were indirectly (or not at all) related to the topic we were discussing.

I found myself getting warm and frustrated. The time was ticking away and there were (what felt like) a million other things I could or needed to be doing rather than spending all this time on his stories. However, as I sat there, watching his mouth move yet hearing little because my own thoughts were swirling around in my head, I realized he just wanted an audience for his stories.  He meant no ill, but only to share a few of the treasures he has collected on his life journey.

Our lives are that; a collection of memories and stories. Good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant, our stories make up who we are and as we age, I imagine we have fewer and fewer people with whom to share these pieces of ourselves.

So, sitting there, I took a deep breath and started to try to listen because I realized that someday I will be older and I feel pretty certain I will want the same thing; someone who will just take a few minutes so that I can share a part of me. Don’t get me wrong…it was still difficult. The competing GO mode was still there, but I became aware of the fact that sometimes I need to shut that off. I need to work on giving people a little more of myself by taking time to just sit and listen to their tales.

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Friends move, then Winter.

friends
Friends back Home

Well, what was a mountaintop experience of graduating has quickly eroded into the summer doldrums. Unenhanced by the excitement and vigor of grad school, my Minnesota life has become clear, yet again. It’s a life mostly characterized by friends moving far away, generally in late August for whatever reason, followed by the quick and relentless pursuit of my least favorite season, Winter. And as the calendar made its tick to August this week, I felt reality close in on me. It’s coming.

Moving to Minnesota is a difficult lot. You’ve heard it said elsewhere, but I will reiterate here, it is nearly impossible to break into circles here. I won’t beat a dead horse by telling you that people here have had their friends for life, that they will meet you anywhere except in their homes, that they might say, “Let’s get together,” but they mostly don’t mean it, etc etc. Suffice it to say that all of those things you may have heard are painfully and regrettably true for many people who have moved here from elsewhere. So, my biggest success in making friends who will actually hang out and get involved with my life and my children has been with transplants. However, transplants move and so here we go again…

Transplants don’t leave Minnesota quietly, either. They generally leave in a blaze of glory, shouting their relief as they go. That they are FINALLY getting out. That it SUCKS to live here. That they are going back to where FRIENDS can be made and the WEATHER doesn’t threaten your life.

Their parting sentiments only reinforce my already well-weathered struggles with living here and exacerbate the late summer blues. This year feels different, though. It’s getting to a point. There are a few reasons I stay: My kids are happy and I have a job. These are things that are really great and I am not making light of them. But those things aside, it is becoming difficult to look at our future in Minnesota and imagine an entire life lived without the security and comfort of a big crew of friends and family and friends-as-family in and amongst my daily life.

Mostly I feel scared. I am sure this is driven in part by my obvious depression of late, but I am scared of living without a network of people to lean on during the hard times and to enjoy during the good times. When we return to NJ for visits I am always struck by the depth of my relationships there and by the genuine quality of people’s affection for us. They love us, they love our kids, they want us in their homes, they want to know us, and the feeling is mutual.

I have not found much of that here, and that’s with much effort. It’s not that I haven’t found it at all, but mostly I have found it with the people who keep moving on. And with the ones who stay, it seems to take so much work because it’s not second nature here to really live life with and invest in people other than family or life-long friends. You can’t make people include you. You can’t make them believe your kids are important or that theirs are important enough to you that sure, you’d go to that hockey game just like a blood relative might. You certainly can’t convince them to call you when they need something because they don’t want to owe you anything. Believe me, I have tried. It was never this hard back home. People back home make you their family without asking, whether you are blood-related or not. That’s just not the way here.

Minnesota is not a bad place. It’s a great place if you are from here. But what I have realized of late, is that I am not from here 🙂 . I will never be from here. It doesn’t matter if I become a Twins fan, go to the State Fair, eat cheese curds and walleye, go to the cabin, graduate from the U or entertain myself in Minneapolis. I will never be FROM here and without that rite of birth, I will never be one of them. As my one friend put it, there is some sort of code to living here and getting “in” and those from the outside just aren’t provided with said code.

The Minnesotans might talk to me, enjoy my company, think I am an interesting and forthright person, but when it comes to holidays or family parties, we are not of the tribe.

Minnesota, you nearly have me beat. My resolve is weakening. And maybe that’s the point. Texas has a saying you see all over billboards there, “You’re not from Texas, but Texas wants you anyway.” That is not the case here in MN. It’s more like, “Outsiders, how long before you go home?” Maybe, in the end, the goal is our surrender.

I have often felt as though returning home to NJ would be like coming full circle, and that was in some way admitting defeat. Well, that may be true, but maybe defeat is ok if you are returning to the open arms of the people who know you and want to know you more. I’m not sure, but it’s becoming more and more difficult to not consider giving up. Maybe one day I’d like to wake up and just feel settled like I used to in NJ, where a 1200 mile move wasn’t always something on the horizon  to consider.

 

 

 

An Open Letter to the Class of 2014…

 

Nicole graduation

Well, it’s done. We did it. It was a fast and furious four semesters. And now we’re done. Moving on, headed back to regular life. In some ways it feels like one grandiose hiccup in the journey. Just a blip in the entirety of our lives.  But in other ways it was life altering. For me, it was a highlight of my existence.

For a person who sees life as one shell-collecting walk, I found a lot of unique and wonderful treasures during the last two years.  For you non-beach babies, I’ll explain. When you live at the ocean, many hours are spent, not sunbathing or riding the waves, but in walking along the beach looking for treasures, maybe a certain color sea glass or full shells instead of broken ones. The walk is all about collecting as you go. I see my life similarly, only people and their stories are my treasures.

While at school I was constantly amazed by the people I encountered. Everyone was so smart and interesting and full of stories to tell and wisdom to share. I’m pretty sure I met a future President of the United States and might have gotten a picture or two with him or her.   I met people who reminded me of the unquenchable hope we have when we are twenty-something and others who had a more nuanced perspective of the world. There were those that came from places whose names I have never heard and those who will return to places I will likely never see. I met friends who made me laugh every-single-time we were together and others whose stories pierced my soul and reminded me of the unsinkable determination of the human spirit and our ability to overcome hardship.

As you leave this place remember, with a little help from your friends you can do just about anything. Love people and pour yourselves into them, but always take care of yourselves, too. The better you care for you, the more you will have to share with others.  Take the world! Make a difference! Share what you know and what you think. Be humble. And if in ten years you think, “Aw crap, there’s something else I’d rather do,” then do it! Ten years ago I didn’t even know the job I will be starting soon existed! It is never too late to change course, never too late to chase another dream.

To all of you, thank you. Thank you for letting me be a part of your lives; For sharing your stories with me. Thank you for letting me be your candy supplier and for the looked-forward-to conversations at my desk while you snacked. Thank you for showing me that it doesn’t really matter if I am a little (emphasis on a little!) older than you and have a few kids in tow, we are all journeying through together. I will be forever grateful that I entered this program at this grad school at the exact time that I did and got to know all of you. You have left an indelible  mark on my soul. Good luck in all you do, now and always.

Dream Big

are you doing your very bestI am at the threshold of the completion of a life dream. I always knew I wanted to go back to graduate school, but I wasn’t sure which field of study I wanted to pursue. So, instead of going right after college I got married, worked for a while, popped out a few kids. Then about five years ago I secured a job at the University of Minnesota  doing research, the gears started going again about this grad school thing, and, well, the rest is history.

Here I am, four semesters from the start, about to graduate, feeling as though I picked exactly the right Master’s program where I got the exact skills I was seeking, and will soon start a job in the field I love where I get to read articles, run statistical analyses, and write papers all day long (a nightmare for some, I know).

I share this not so that I can say, “Hey! Look at me! Look what I did!,” but so that I might convince you to believe that any dream that is worthwhile to you is worth chasing.

I was a pretty unlikely candidate for graduate school. I was in my mid-30’s, a mom of four, and had been out of undergrad for many years.

But a few years ago I realized I had given up too much of myself to live the life I was living. Somewhere along the way I had lost sight of MY goals and MY dreams and much of my identity. Getting married and having children can do that.  That was an unsustainable reality.

So, I began my journey to collect the pieces of myself and my dreams that I had dropped along the way. Going back to school was a big one.

My family had to sacrifice to get me where I am today. We moved into a smaller house, my children saw me a little less,  my hubby did a lot more housework and worked a second job. It’s been a journey for us all, but I am so thankful to have gone through it together.

I hope that in seeing me pursue my dream my children and the others who might be watching see proof that it’s never too late to go after something; you can always change course. Good enough doesn’t have to be good enough. Settle for less in life only when you want to settle. Dream big and with a little help from your family and friends know that many things are possible.

 

 

No one packs me pickles…

the crew
My Crew

Yesterday at school (I’m a  Master’s student) a friend came into the room where a few of us were sitting and offered to us some homemade pickles. Being a huge pickle fan, I immediately took up the offer. Of course I asked who made the pickles. She said, “My dad. He packs me some everyday, but I’m not in the mood for them today.” I said, “Wait, your dad packs your lunch?” “Yup, ” she responded.

Sigh. There’s something quite nice about the thought of being taken care of, of someone packing my lunch for me, someone acting as the grown-up in my life so I wouldn’t  always have to fill that role. I’m older than most of my grad-school friends by about five to ten years;  Add to that the fact that I was thrust into adulthood when my mom passed away when I was 20,  and I realize, I’ve been taking care of myself and other people for a really long time.

It’s different for most of my friends. They are mostly still intimately connected to their parents. They are in this different sort of in-between stage where they are not quite grown-ups, but not quite kids. They are independent, but still being cared for in little ways that make a difference.

That in-between phase was never part of my existence. I got married young, just after turning 21, and started having babies shortly thereafter. By the time I was 29 I was the mother of 4 children. I’ve never had any regrets, but every now and again I long for the feeling of not having to captain the ship, not having to make the decisions. My husband and I have a really egalitarian marriage and, given my fiercely independent and fiery personality, it probably wouldn’t work any other way, but sometimes I long for someone to take the reins so that I can stop feeling like I have to take care of everyone else for a minute. Sometimes I’d like to call up my parents, particularly my mom, and just lay it all on her and let her tell me what to do.

Some days I wish someone would pack me pickles and send me off to my day and I could, for just a minute, breathe a sigh of relief knowing that if I flub the day someone will come to my rescue and be the grown-up. While I’m sure I wouldn’t want it that way all the time, and please understand that I know it isn’t like that in every situation for my friend, I think for a day or two every now and again it might be nice.

You might be over 30 if…

Damn you, Journey.

I was in the dance studio with my kids yesterday and those four repeated piano notes sounded out across the studio. As soon as I heard them I ran to the room from whence they played. As I watched the young dancers move unknowingly to this, a favorite days-gone-by relationship song, I felt my throat tighten and tears well up in my eyes. I watched a few moments letting the music move me to a different time and place in my mind, when I was a teen and love was young and passionate.

I turned around to see another middle-thirties mom choking back tears, wiping them from the corners of her eyes with her pinky fingers in an attempted clandestine manner while her face reddened. I left my moment and walked back to the lobby where a thirties-something dad belted out the chorus, “I’m Forevaaaahh Yo-oooours….Faithfully (air guitar…)” The rest of the studio, the kids and the younger parents, were unmoved by what was happening and remained safely planted in 2014 where some old Journey song, “really old music” as my thirteen year old called it, played in the distant background.

Thanks for outing me, Journey. It seems I’ve become one of those parents, who gets emotional about unknown bits of music that transport me back to my youth. S’okay. It was bound to happen sometime.

 

 

We may have forgotten how to Be Present…

 

newsiesblur
The Newspaper Men

I sat in a coffee shop today waiting for my friend at a high-top table, the bright, warm sun hitting my back, and I was captivated by the gathering of older gentlemen sitting and reading newspapers, undisturbed by laptops and tablets and phones. There was not much  movement on that side of the coffee shop. No quick gestures to answer phone calls, no incessant scrolling on smartphones, no sounds of typing on keyboards. The only repeated movement was that of the newspaper pages being turned slowly and folded back. I envied the tranquility on that side of the shop.

The area where I was sitting was abuzz with group meetings, gatherings of friends texting as they talked to each other,  businesspeople figuring out their Facebook advertising strategy. As I sipped my coffee I thought to myself, when was the last time I just sat, with no device, and took in the world?

Those men reading the newspapers have grown up without the distraction of multiple devices. They prefer their news to come to them the old-fashioned way, on newsprint in ink that turns your fingers black; With words that, once printed, can’t be updated until the evening edition, or tomorrow’s paper.  Those men are able to sit and read and reflect and be present. Present. How often are many of us just not fully present anymore? How many of us have lost the ability to just sit and be?

The building where I work has a large atrium. My office is on the second floor, so if I go out the door I have a neat perspective of all the tables below. I often stand at the railing and people watch. There are very few times when I look over the railing at the folks below and see anyone sitting without a device of some kind in front of them. Rarely do people sit and read without having their phones at the ready.

I am guilty of the same thing. My phone is like another appendage. I am always quick to answer, quick to respond. My phone serves as my alarm clock and is generally the first thing I touch in the morning upon waking. I look at Facebook, read emails, go on the internet. Rare is the morning when I wake and lie in bed and listen to the birds or enjoy the shadow play on the wall as the sunlight streams in the window.

Our phones and tablets take us from the moment. They rob those around us of the pleasure of our conversation. I cannot tell you how many times I have sat with friends and they pull out their phones. It always makes me wonder, “Is my company not enough?” So,  I pull out my phone and we sit alone together.

By constantly being on devices we also send the message to everyone around us, “Don’t talk to me. Don’t disturb me. I am busy.” I often wonder how many fewer connections are made overall, how much more disconnected are we as a society simply because we are all so often “too busy” to sit and talk to someone new?

I’m not sure of the solution. It isn’t likely I will break up with my phone, I love it so. Maybe we can all challenge ourselves to take an opportunity or two to just sit, without a device, and see what happens. Try enjoying the tranquility and the forced languor of reading the newspaper. Strike up a conversation while waiting at the bus stop, if you can catch anyone before they pull out their phone. Sit with a friend and make a pact to be entertained by only  one another and the stories you have to share. Sit somewhere without your device and just be present and enjoy all that the moment, right where you are, has to offer.