Sunday, May 23, 2010

Is Thought for Naught?

“Wiggle your left toe,” my chiropractor typically says at some point during almost any routine visit. Sometimes it’s the right toe, other times she may request a swivel of an entire foot, but I’m not fooled—-all of the movements are just variations of a single psychological sleight of hand, exposed long ago by the good doctor herself.

The only connection the podiatric twists and pivots have to feats of spinal manipulation is the freedom the split second the shift in my mental focus provides for her to pop a vertebra or two into position without the instinctual resistance I create simply because my focus is on the fact that my neck is between someone's hands.

It’s a psychological flip of the switch: a small movement with a big impact. It’s like having a key to one of a myriad of mental barricades we humans put in place for reasons with lots of names but one true identity: fear. During a of moment of clarity of on sheet of ice last night, I determined that there almost certainly exists an endless panel of these mental switches, capable of unlocking any number of mad skills if only we knew the access code.

I stumbled across another one during a pick-up style game of ice hockey at a friend’s 30th birthday bash last night. See, I’m a reasonably good skater, which basically means I can go straight around the rink without falling, and pretty fast, too, sort of like a cut-rate Anton Ohno without the good form or the gold and silver investment portfolio. But ask me to switch directions, execute a 360, or, heaven forbid, go backwards, and I’m suddenly inching along, focusing every bit of my mental energy on performing even the most basic deviation from my straightforward course.

So I have to admit that I was a little reluctant to grab a stick and enter the fray last evening, particularly in light of the bloody skirmishes I’ve witnessed in HD in my own living room of late as my husband watches his beloved Flyers battle their way toward the Stanley Cup. I wanted to be a part of the fun, but I wasn’t about to lose any teeth over it. Well into the game, however, I became aware of no less than two surprises: not only were all my teeth still solidly in place, but I was all over the ice, in a really good way. Turning left. Turning right. Stopping. Starting. Spinning. Without even thinking about it. Evidently, when my focus turned to the soft, family-friendly, teeth-sparing puck substitute, I unlocked the uptight-way-too-cautious barrier I erected that normally thwarts my attempts to try new things on ice.

Now that I know that these keys exist, I want more of them. I want the key to unlock my fear of driving in traffic, or maybe the one that would nix my roller-coaster phobia. I might want to undo my reticence about talking to strangers, or embolden myself enough to jump from an airplane, or eat fish. A world without fear is a pretty wide open place.

The problem? My limited analysis leads me to the conclusion that distraction is, well, the key to the key. It seems the message here might be: if something could be hazardous, your best bet is probably not to think about it. And I just can’t seem to unlock the barrier of the decidedly convincing argument that distraction might just be a bad idea when it comes to scary and possibly dangerous behavior.

So what are your thoughts, Readers? What barriers would you love to unlock? Would we all be better off under-thinking our favorite fears? Or am I over-thinking the power of under-thinking?

Sunday, May 16, 2010


Here in Virginia, routine water play is occasionally interrupted by the harsh and hazardous phenomenon known as a riptide: a strong undercurrent with the power to suck even the most adept swimmer into a hydraulic tailspin of uncertain outcome.

I’ve been living in the midst of my own metaphoric riptide for the past ten days.
Swimming along at a steady clip in the sea of my daily affairs, I detected a subtle turn of the tide, a hiccup, if you will, in the ebb and flow of my personal affairs. Nothing any more or less dramatic than an accumulation of normal events that suddenly threatened to reach a high water mark, my riptide—in characteristic fashion—caught me off-guard, unprepared to navigate the steady stream of personal and professional opportunities, responsibilities, and routine eventualities which have left me with a cup that is not merely half full, but spilling over into slick and slightly dangerous puddles, some of which manifested themselves as indiscretions my Labradors have left, in expressions of displeasure, when last week found half of the family away from home on various business.

Mopping up the literal and figurative overflow of life events remains my solitary focus as I enter a new week. I long to write…I miss it so, but I am still firmly within the grasp of the current. This post is akin to a moment of control, of emerging from the roiling waves to let shoreline onlookers know I’m still here, OK, breathing—lest more silence cause undue speculation.

In Other News:

Today was a notable day in the life of my mosaic seahorse. Originally scheduled to arrive at the gallery along with a handful of other pieces in mid-June, his life took an unexpected turn when I received word that the gallery was hosting a water themed show. Committed as I am to giving Readers the behind-the-scenes scoop on life events, I will confess here that he would still be waiting on my studio counter were it not for a good catch on the part of my daughter. She inquired about the progress of the pieces last week and I told her that things were plodding along, but I was overwhelmed by a communiqué I received from the gallery about the show. “Who just has water-themed art work lying about?” I scoffed, noting that the show was less than two weeks away. “Who could just whip something up in so short a time?” I continued.

She looked at me as though I had disembarked a spaceship from planet Zorp. “You are kidding, right?” she said.

“Kidding? No, why would I be kidding?”

“The seahorse, Mom. The seahorse.”


So the seahorse is apparently going to be in a show. I say apparently because he could, technically, not make the cut. But my friend Lisa says this won’t happen, so I’ll just assume smoother waters for him at the gallery than those he’s witnessed here.

I’d also be remiss not to report that I evidently don’t have skin cancer. Although I have a wide range of interestingly named blemishes, all save one are of absolutely no consequence. The only one worthy of even an elevation of eyebrow is just on a generic sort of watch list. Which is really good, because I have a host of other problems: when it’s cold (half the days) my heat doesn’t work. When it’s blazing hot (the rest of them) the air doesn’t work. I also found some bugs that examination with the Discovery Channel 30X indicates may be termites. Of course, this is the device that started the whole skin cancer hub-bub, so perhaps the bugs are really just benign creatures with some exotic sounding name.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Fingerpainting the Future

Today, the Space Shuttle Discovery has been safely back on Floridian soil for two weeks--a fact of which made my radar only because four weeks ago I happened to see it launch.

Prior to last month, my most vivid memory of the Space Shuttle program is one I likely share with most people my age or older: the 1986 Challenger explosion. Within minutes after the news broke, school administrators set up televisions in every classroom—I was in art class at the time—and kept the coverage playing school wide for the remainder of the day. At least that’s how I remember it.

The summer before the explosion, I’d read a feature in one of my teenie-bopper magazines about Christa Mcauliffe, the school teacher who had been selected to accompany the astronauts on that ill-fated mission. At that time, I viewed Mcauliffe as a role model simply because she was a woman—an average woman, really—doing something brave and noteworthy. I didn’t pay a lot of attention to the mission details—I wasn’t really into that sort of thing (I was an art student, remember?)—but I was in the middle of a pretty big feminist phase, so I couldn’t help but be impressed.

Years later, I would remember Christa for a different reason. Something she said once about teaching wound up as a bumper sticker fave that I still see in traffic from time to time: “I touch the future. I teach.” I’ve thought about those words dozens of times over the years, every time I have thought of teaching as only the bread-and-butter work I do because there is no money in art, or writing— the only two things I really know to do, the latter more than the former. To date, I’ve held two real teaching jobs, periods of my life that I mentally reference as Art I and Art II.

I loved Art I, adored it, actually, and still miss it. Not in the I-wish-I-was-still-there sort of way, but in a sort of I-miss-that-sweet-time way. My kids were little. I went to school with them twice a week. I was their art teacher, and their friend’s teacher, too. Still, my real ambitions were in writing—still are, in fact, and I had it in my head that when I “made it” as a writer, I’d leave teaching, because, well, I’d be doing writerly things all the time. Writing was my real calling—teaching was a worthwhile way to bide my time and be a good mom, too.

Every now and then, though, I’d see Christa’s words tooling around town on the back of some fender, and I’d wonder about the parts of the future I was touching as I bided my time, waiting to become a writer, which I slowly became. By late Art I, I found myself on assignment for my local newspaper most days I wasn’t in the classroom. Still, I wasn’t making enough money on all those assignments to justify leaving the classroom, and, besides, I loved those kids. They literally cheered when they’d see me arrive on campus—I was something of a paintbrush wielding, clay shaping, tile smashing celebrity to them. They ‘d shower me with hugs, pepper me with questions, and remember parts of lessons I forgot I even taught.

I thought about all of these things whenever I’d see Christa’s words, but oddly, I never dwelled much on the shuttle. Before last month, it’s unlikely that I gave the space program more than a few fleeting thoughts in the past couple decades.

Then my husband who is, of late, an independent contractor working for NASA, happened to score a pass to watch April’s launch from a prime location. I instantly recognized the opportunity as something that was to be valued, an experience that even makes the cut as a Bucket List item for some folks. Indeed, we were even able to share our pass with a Virginia family who made the 18 hour drive to meet us in a Wal Mart parking lot at 2:30 in the morning to fulfill that dream.

Driving to our meet-up, I couldn’t miss the energy coursing through the town—encampments at Wal Mart, traffic funneling into NASA, busses transporting people to locations some 6 miles away from the launch pad—vantage points they’d paid seep prices to secure. The excitement was palpable, raising my interest level and curiosity about what I was to witness.

As our party of six set up camp along the banks of the Banana River, I quickly realized that the whole experience was being narrated in a fashion not unlike the color commentary at a baseball game. An anonymous voice kept the assemblage appraised of events in surprisingly layman-friendly terms. The astronauts—one of whom was a teacher—would be “doing science” in space, we were told. The Voice informed of the discovery that a part was “a little bit broken,” but not anything about which we should worry. We were continually assured of the favorability of the weather conditions, the happiness of the crew, and the time remaining until launch.
Across the dark waters—in which we could just make out the movements of the dorsal fins of playing dolphins—we saw the powerfully-illuminated shuttle. Thanks to the vigilance of The Voice, we we able to track the movements of the International Space Station—the entity with which the Shuttle would be uniting—as it streaked across the clear sky.

The actual moment happened quickly, yet made an imprint on the sky that lasted long after the craft was out of sight. Jet trails etched over the sunrise, cementing the memory into my mind with a visual as beautiful as priceless artwork. On that morning, at that moment, I was very much in the present, savoring something I wanted to remember. And, as a result, I now have a different memory of the space shuttle, one that will always make me feel connected to a program that is just three missions away from becoming our past.

In a way, too, I suppose I forged another connection with the astronaut who taught me to value my classroom and inspired me to make an imprint of my own--across hearts, rather than skies. Although Christa Mcauliffe never knew me, I became her accidental student all the same--a student who has learned well the lesson to embrace the opportunity to leave fingerprints on the future—even though mine just happen to be in paint.


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