Category Archives: Long-Winded Metaphors

The Paper Tiger Breeding Program: Thoughts on Leadership

A couple weeks ago I saw a great documentary called Paper Tigers, which illustrates the effect of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) on behavior and other health outcomes by following students and staff at Lincoln Alternative High School in Walla Walla, Washington over the course of a school year. It was incredible movie. It really does a beautiful job of making  what has always been, for me, an academic/philosophical discussion of ACEs real. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. A full-length documentary? So very many more! If you’re at all interested in the effects of childhood trauma or the social determinants of health, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Despite my familiarity with the topic (I routinely work with our clinic’s child abuse physician on programmatic and research endeavors, particularly those related to ACEs and trauma-informed care), I didn’t get the title until two-thirds of the way through the movie. As one of the featured teachers speaks over scenes of the school, he explains that the traumas these children have experienced have left their brains incapable of differentiating between real and imaginary threats; between real and paper tigers.

Light bulb!

I loved the concept so much! So I did some hard hitting, in-depth research. Ahem. According to Wikipedia:

Paper tiger is a literal English translation of the Chinese phrase zhilaohu (紙老虎). The term refers to something that seems threatening but is ineffectual and unable to withstand challenge.” {Source}

I just loved that distinction so much — real vs. paper tigers. It was so striking in the context of this movie… and then a few days later, still rolling it around in my mind, I had reasoned it into a completely different context.

Real tigers are dangerous. Ask Siegfried and Roy. Ask Pi (from The Life of…).

Yet… real tigers are also the shiz. Even in the examples above. Even after an attack that may or may not have been “secondary and accidental,” Siegfried and Roy continued their magic show full of tigers (and lions too! oh my!) and now maintain a menagerie in Las Vegas. And what would Pi have done without the striped and terrifying Richard Parker?

Real Tigers: Stripes and Teeth, Talent and Danger {Source and Source}
Real Tigers: Stripes and Teeth, Talent and Danger {Source and Source}

Paper tigers, on the other hand, are only an illusion. They look like tigers, but they’re not dangerous. Nor are they the shiz. They’re just paper — no threat, but no talent either. Except that, like Daniel Tiger, they can go to the potty.

{Source}
{Source}

And that’s what I want to talk about, really.

Not every job, every position, every organization needs to be full of tigers. But when you’ve got a tiger, a beautiful, brilliant, maybe even somewhat dangerous tiger, it seems only logical that as a leader, you’d want to make them the star of the show, a la Siegfried and Roy. Or at least learn to appreciate their company, like Pi. Instead, we see tigers in an organizational context (e.g., work, church, school, clubs) reduced in whatever way possible — trim the claws, pull the teeth, tranquilize. And beautiful beasts slink away from places where they could have done so much good with their tails between their legs, a roar stifled in their throat.

To fill the vacancy? An influx of paper tigers. Threat reduced to no more than a paper cut. Leadership can relax.

But is someone in a leadership role really a leader if they can’t appreciate a real tiger?

This, I believe, is the crux of the problem. Too often we conflate management and leadership. We end up fooled into believing that they are one and the same.

I would suggest, however, that management and leadership are two separate and distinct constructs– not mutually exclusive, but to be certain, each can and does exist without the other.

Brene Brown puts it poignantly in the introduction to Chapter 6 Disruptive Engagement: Daring to Rehumanize Education and Work in her book Daring Greatly. She says:

“Before we start this chapter, I want to clarify what I mean by ‘leader.’ I’ve come to believe that a leader is anyone who holds her- or himself accountable for finding potential in people and processes. The term leader has nothing to do with position, status, or number of direct reports.”

I’m completely in love with this definition for two reasons. First, it explicitly removes position and power from the notion of leadership. Second, it centers on an idea of leadership characterized by accountability and a desire to recognize, appreciate, and make use of the talents, skills, and other valuable traits of those around you.

To bring this idea back to my own long-winded metaphor, a leader is someone who keeps the company of tigers. Real tigers. And likes it.

 

But what about the danger?

 

In Daring Greatly, Brown’s entire premise revolves around a really amazing quotation from a 1910 speech given by Theodore Roosevelt:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the area, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again,

because there is no effort without error and short-coming, but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worth cause;

who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly…”

As an academician, clinician, and shame researcher, Brene Brown describes how this whole idea of daring greatly is based on the willingness to be vulnerable. To allow ourselves to be seen, to open ourselves up to hurt, and to be willing to fail.

Most importantly, none of these things require position, status, or power. And since that’s the case… can do it, you can do it, anyone can do it anywhere. As such, I think more of us need to lead from where we are, when we’re there, and in whatever way we can. Refuse to be de-clawed, continue to roar, and appreciate the stripes of the other tigers around us. Look those tigers in the eye and thank them for being big and beautiful and brilliant and special. Maybe even encourage a paper tiger to leap off the page (like Pinocchio — I’m a real boy!).

I spend a lot of time feeling frustrated about my position and I suspect a lot of others do too. We feel unappreciated and powerless in our organizations, but we’re not because we can look out for other tigers and make ourselves accountable for recognizing their potential. We can lead from where we are… step out of the paper tiger breeding program and roar our loudest roar.

Kacey: “You’re a loser!” Me: “I lost my hand!”

My friend Kacey, fellow blogger, displaced Ypsilanti-ite (Ypsilantian? What do we call ourselves?), and Lincoln-lifer, recently called me out on her blog. She said, and I quote, “Hey, Rachel — post something, loser!”

Or maybe I’m actually paraphrasing via my self-deprecation filter. Ahem. It was probably more like a gentle, personal, encouraging call out suggesting I write a little something something in the month of December.

The truth is, I’ve written lots and lots and lots of words since my last post. They’re all sitting there as drafts. Four, pretty much complete, thousand word drafts. So it’s not really writer’s block that I’ve got going on. Rather, it’s more like writer’s disdain. I’ve got lots and lots of words — I just hate them all.

Writing has always made me feel so good and it’s still cathartic, but not the positive release I’m used to. The words I’ve put down on the page don’t feel together, with it, insightful. They don’t feel funny or clever. Not even clear. That makes me exceptionally sad. Depression and grief have taken so much already — my light, my exclamation points. My words too? It’s too much!

So Kacey is right. It’s time to put something back out there.

Here’s a list of all the things I wrote about with all those unlikable words:

  1. I went back to the fertility clinic for a post-IVF, post-miscarriage, here’s-what-we-learned consultation. The verdict: the chances of us having children, even with IVF, are exceptionally low.
  2. I am devastated.
  3. So… in some sort of desperate attempt to control my body and overcompensate for all the things I/it cannot do, the things I’ve lost, the panic I’m feeling, I signed up to run the DC Rock ‘n’ Roll marathon in March…
  4. … and the training has been going really well. Running is so good for me…
  5. … also, I emailed my girlfriends in DC to see if they wanted to run or just hangout while I’m there to run and they were AMAZING. I’m so lucky to have them. They are so good for me.
  6. Then the day before Thanksgiving, my grandfather, my dad’s dad, known to my young self as Papa, passed away unexpectedly. We went to Marquette for his funeral on Monday and it was beautiful — full of light, literally and figuratively. A beautiful service in a beautiful church…
  7. … and I was reminded that no matter how much my anxiety/depression tells me I don’t want to be around family, that I’m not good enough, pretty enough, pregnant enough to even deserve to be in their presence — I freaking love them and it was really amazing to spend time with all those Voncks back in the yoop. My grandfather passed away and I was so sad, but his legacy, the family he built on rock, is a good and beautiful and powerful thing.

Seven relatively brief points. That’s better. Delete, delete, delete the drafts. That’s what’s been going on and I’ve mostly just been feeling down about all of it, even despite the good bits — the family and friends, support and love. Because depression is kind of like that.

Then, yesterday, after I saw Kacey’s public slam (except not really), I was talking to my friend Marie and, because our conversations always take wild and weird turns, she told me about a super bitter guy who never got over losing half of his hand in a factory accident and I instantly imagined him as Nicholas Cage playing Ronny in the movie Moonstruck.

"I lost my hand! I lost my bride! Johnny has his hand! Johnny has his bride! You want me to take my heartache, put it away and forget it?" {Source}
“I lost my hand! I lost my bride! Johnny has his hand! Johnny has his bride! You want me to take my heartache, put it away and forget it?” {Source}

I love the movie Moonstruck so ridiculously much — I mean, it’s kitschy (Marie’s perfect word!) and ridiculous and Cher-filled and perhaps Nicholas Cage’s poorest acting ever, but OMG, I cannot help but LOVE it. And my little chat with Marie and the knowledge that Seth’ll be out and about policing the good city of Marshfield Friday and Saturday night settled my plans to stream Moonstruck at least once over the weekend, probably with popcorn and some cider and a pup to snuggle me. Yes, this sounds quite good.

And then as I was scrolling through Facebook last night (took it off my phone, but I cannot completely kick the habit), my friend Sandy posted about watching Moonstruck. Of all the random 1980s movies…

I don’t really believe in meant-to-bes anymore. But it was an interesting coincidence, and it certainly made me think because I suddenly saw myself in another 5, maybe 10 years, screaming at Seth from my basement bakery:

“I lost my baby! I lost my family! [Every single other woman my age] has her baby! [Every single other woman my age] has her family! You want me to take my heartache, put it away and forget it?” in a self-righteous pity party many bitter years in the making. Just like the movie, except considerably less likely to lead to a tumble between the sheets, amazing wolf-based monologue, and a bloody steak for dinner. Because (1) Seth isn’t super turned on by my crazy, (2) he’s really not really much for metaphors, wolf-based or otherwise, and (3) he doesn’t generally do the cooking. Instead, he’d probably just shake his head, suggest I make an appointment with my therapist, and leave me be for another 5 – 10 years. No makeover, no opera, just real life and bitterness… because life is not a movie, no matter how much I love Moonstruck. (Although — basement bakery, babe? Let’s please consider that for seriously someday…)

I don’t want to be that person. I really, really don’t want to be that person — spending the rest of my life bitter over my missing limb.

Granted, depression, sadness, grief… none of that is the same as bitterness. But I think it could be a gateway, so to speak, if I don’t keep working on myself. Keep looking for the positive, finding ways to expose myself to light and love and goodness, to let it come in through the cracks. Bitterness would probably be easier, born of non-action, but it won’t end as well for me as it does for Ronny. I choose to work for the alternative, even when it’s hard.

And maybe that’s what the commitment to 26.2 miles is, the email to my friends even though many of them are the “every single other woman my age” that bitter-Ronny-me could end up ranting and raving about, the time spent with family despite the panic in my chest on the way. But it’s also gentleness — because life is hard right now, I did lose a limb, and that doesn’t heal overnight. I can only bend so far without breaking, but even slow progress is progress. Or so my yoga instructors tell me (that’s point 8 — it was another thing I wrote about).

 

In the spirit of advent, my friend Dawn recently reminded me of a Leonard Cohen quote:

There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

Turns out, he wasn’t the first one to say something like that. Ernest Hemingway said, “We are all broken, that’s how the light gets in.” And Sufi mystic Rumi said, “The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” That’s a lot of pretty wise people — Muench, Cohen, Hemingway, and Rumi. My job, as a person full of cricks, cracks, and crevices then, is to expose myself to as much light as possible, even when it’s hard, when it’s blinding, and when it’s faint, if I want to avoid the bitterness that can creep in otherwise. Right now, that means running and yoga, family and friends with self-respecting gentleness, and, as Kacey was right to point out, Under the Tapestry too. thanks for hanging in there with me and for being a source of light, always.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Congratulations on making it all the way to the end of this post! You’ve earned a bonus photo!

Full family photo from my grandfather's wedding to his second wife, Anne, in July 1994. The things you uncover before a funeral...
Full family photo from my grandfather’s wedding to his second wife, Anne, in July 1994 (excluding, of course, the three grandkids who weren’t yet born and who got quite the kick out of my hair). It’s no wonder my Great Uncle Elmer didn’t recognize me if this is the picture of me he carries around in his mind’s eye. The things you uncover before a funeral…

As pointless as an inside out raccoon.

Once upon a time, some medieval a-hole invented the oubliette: a dungeon modeled after the mythical bottomless pit. The only entrance, a trap door in the ceiling, was so far overhead that the person banished to the depths went mad with hopelessness, knowing they were left in the dark to be forgotten. (Or something like that.)

Clearly, the aforementioned medieval a-hole was familiar with the concept of depression. And weaponized it. Genius. Mad genius.

Today, I greet you from the depths of the oubliette, depression having settled in like an old friend I never really wanted to meet in the first place. But here he is and the associated fog will likely cover the faint glint of light from the mouth of the pit for a while. It’s my job (with the help of medication) to work really, really hard to remember that it’s not actually hopeless and I do actually matter. But first, how did I get here?

 

Are you familiar with Jenny Lawson? Alias: The Bloggess? Author of Let’s Pretend this Never Happened and, more recently, Furiously Happy: A Funny Book about Horrible Things? I kind of adore her — her irreverence and frankness about mental illness is a thing of beauty and I think she’s done a lot, lot, lot of good for a lot, lot, lot of people who might otherwise feel very alone. Her point: we’re all broken, some of us more than others, and for those of us in whom that means mental illness, it is a legitimate disease worthy of medical treatment. And that is all. That and a silver ribbon to be worn with pride — I am surviving. No shame.

Anyway, I’m reading Furiously Happy right now and the star of the show is Rory the furiously happy raccoon (see book cover):

{Source}
{Source}

Rory is a taxidermied raccoon. Taxidermied to a state of permanent, furious, happiness.

I kind of dig Rory and all his maniacal excitement. And I fully understood what it meant to be a taxidermied raccoon — once upon a time he was alive, he died, his skin was removed, he was stuffed, posed, preserved, the end.

But then last weekend, this horror show took place in my backyard (not a fan of gruesomeness? scroll by real quick):

inside out raccoon

Not actually my backyard, of course, but the backyard that butts up to the edge of mine. So close enough. That’s a raccoon. Hanging from an apple tree. Having its skin removed.

An inside out raccoon.

#Wisconsin

I was disturbed on Saturday, but when it happened again on Monday morning (happened again on Monday morning because #Wisconsin), less so. I mean, that’s how you make a taxidermied raccoon, right? Even a furiously happy one was once upon a time dangling from something having its skin removed.

The premise behind the idea of being Furiously Happy, a la Jenny Lawson, is that when you suffer from severe bouts of depression, it steals the joy right out of your life. So in those moments when you can be happy — you should be furiously so. Embracing life and adventure and goodness and joy to the fullest in those moments when it is in your power to be in that place, when the fog isn’t hanging over you, when all the exclamation points haven’t mysteriously vanished from your life. Or, as is apropos here, when you’re not busy being turned inside out, be like Rory.

I liked that analogy for depression — an inside out raccoon with the potential to be happy again, given a little help from a skilled taxidermist with a good sense of humor.

But then again, once the inside out raccoon suit was off the bare raccoon body, my neighbor took the pelt (is it a pelt? is that what we call the removed skin/fur???) inside the house and left the (now naked) raccoon body hanging from that tree. It swayed there for a long time and I couldn’t look away. What do you do with a dead, naked raccoon, I thought? I mean, people don’t eat raccoon, do they? That naked raccoon isn’t going to get furiously happy — just his little suit. So… what’s his point?

My neighbor came back outside with a bucket, untied the raccoon, dropped him inside, and carried him away to who knows where. To nowhere, probably.

And I realized that I felt past the point of the little raccoon suit with the potential to be happy again. I felt a lot more like the dead, naked, slightly swaying, completely pointless raccoon left hanging on the branch. It was just grief at first. I was so sad, and with good reason, but I had moved past that point. Somewhere in my grief and brokenness, I had convinced myself that that’s all there was. That I was pointless.

I had let myself slip back into the oubliette.

 

The thoughts that came and went (and still sometimes come and go) are scary. I wished to not be loved — because then it would be easier to disappear, no heartache left behind. I wished for tragedy of the variety that was unquestionably not my fault yet would somehow lead me to oblivion. For an end because why was I bothering anyway. I did not matter and that the people who for some reason thought that I did would be better off without me… when they realized that there were prettier wives that were good at keeping their families healthy, children with the ability to produce grandchildren, sisters that don’t harbor ugly jealousy, writers with more talent and less baggage, friends with the ability to smile, nieces without drama, etc. I want to be all those things to all those people. I have been none of them. I had no point.

I don’t want to lie to you. I’m still there to some extent. It’s a bad neighborhood of the mind, as my aunt would say, and I wander there frequently these days. But I do have some good days too. Thanks to the people that love me, goodness knows why, and the mental health care I have sought — needed to seek. But maybe most of all this time because someone else heard what I said and shared their own story with me and I thought for a second, hey, we just connected. And maybe connection is enough of a point. Enough of a reason. Something that matters.

And connection does keep happening, when I really stop and think about it. It has for a while and it has very frequently recently. In ways that I didn’t really expect. Not just those who have experienced the loss of a pregnancy or a child, but those who have been to broken places for other reasons too. People who look so shiny and bright on the outside that there’s just no possible way for that to not be the whole story, except of course there’s more. And they said to me, “hey… me too, because this thing…” And dang. That’s powerful stuff.

On the surface, it seems a little bit like misery-loves-company, but it’s not. It’s a lot more like hey-let-me-lend-you-my-strength. Let’s-walk-together-for-a-sec. I’m-going-to-hug-you-gently-with-my-words. I’m-going-to-show-you-something-tragic-yet-beautiful-and-remind-you-that-it-is-possible-to-be-furiously-happy-again.

For those moments, for those people, and for the people that love me… that I love back… I’m going to hang on. I’m going to remember that even an inside out raccoon isn’t really pointless. That the bottom of the oubliette is temporary and that somewhere above me, no matter how far away it seems, there is light.

Housekeeping, Garbage Birds, and Dumb Rats

Housekeeping

Sometimes, people bring tasty treats into the office. Always delicious, rarely healthy.

Not always this elaborate. But we do have a lot of snacks.
Not always this elaborate. But we do have a lot of snacks.

Healthy office snacks are for healthcare establishments that practice what they preach. Not mine.

Given that we’re all a bit isolated in our own offices and, dare I say, a bit self-conscious (or maybe I’m projecting?) it tends not to be terribly obvious who ate what exactly.

Not that it really matters.

Let me rephrase that.

Not that it really matter to everyone.

Almost every time, though, someone gets worked up that maybe the snacks are disappearing and that housekeeping (gasp!) is the one eating them.

How dare they?!

Well. Because. They’re snacks. For the office. And the housekeeping folks come around the office day after day, just like all the non-housekeeping folks do. So what if they ate the snacks? If they did, quite frankly, I hope they enjoyed it. Certainly not worth the upset. Right?

Garbage Birds

I’ve got five bird feeders hanging around my backyard. At our old place, it used to just be two. Those first two were so ridiculously excellent because the squirrels were always doing their best to get at the birdseed and it was a daily battle of Seth vs. the squirrels.

Pre-squirrel baffle. Let the battle begin.
Pre-squirrel baffle. Let the battle begin.

We inherited several more when we moved into our new place. It’s not new anymore, but I continue to fill the feeders and we’ve got a lovely crop of birds that come by, particularly in the summer, for a bite. My favorites are the mourning doves that lumber around under the feeders waiting for the little guys to knock seed down for them to eat. But they’re all lovely and chirpy.

Except not everyone agrees. When we had some people over this winter, I was admonished for using the cheapie seed blend — the one that’s always on sale at Fleet Farm. Apparently, it attracts garbage birds.

Ummm. Oops.

But then again, what makes a garbage bird so undesirable?

Apparently, they’re all brown. And they don’t belong here.

Meh.

I’m ok with feeding the garbage birds. Even garbage birds need love. Love and a little bird seed.

Dumb Rats

Those first two stories are old stories. They’re things I think about relatively frequently though. Things that really rubbed me the wrong way. I knows it’s people and birds and not really the same thing, but in both cases, the situation, the prevailing attitude, just seemed unfair.

Why does it matter who ate the food???

And then I went to a really great Grand Rounds presentation the other day by Dr. Michael Harris from OHSU about his Novel Interventions in Children’s Healthcare, or NICH, program… and it tied it all together. The program was incredible, the talk was inspiring, I loved it, but that’s not what brought the point home for me in this context.

Rather, it was a relatively small, illustrative point that Dr. Harris used to describe how people, well, rats, actually, rise to the occassion based on the way they are treated. The way they are handled. The assumptions we make about exactly how far they can rise.

The premise was this: once upon a time, a researcher labeled a bunch of cages of rats either “maze poor” or “maze adept” … something along those lines, anyway. Then he had a research assistant run the rats through a maze and record their results. As expected, the “maze poor” rats did poorly and the “maze adept” rats did well. Except, and here’s the kicker, all the rats were standard lab rats. None were actually maze poor or adept, there was no difference between the two groups except in the way they were handled by the research assistant conducting the test.

Ba-bam.

Dr. Harris went on to explain basically that this is exactly the same thing that he sees happening in clinical care when you’re dealing with children that are both socioeconomically vulnerable and medically fragile. The way their parents get treated– either as deadbeat layabouts who neglect their children vs. parents who are trying to do the best they can with what they have — makes all the difference in health outcomes. Thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars of difference in healthcare costs, too. And that gets big attention.

Completely fascinating. It really made me think. Two things:

1) Maybe I should pick up and move to Oregon to work in the NICH program where my motto will become “Nothing I Can’t Handle” so that I can help kids and their parents when nobody else will.

But more realistically…

2) How often do I treat people like dumb rats?!

{Source} I know, they're laboratory mice, whose genes have been spliced... not rats.
{Source} I know, they’re laboratory mice, whose genes have been spliced… not rats.

—-

Ideally, we’d treat everyone like a smart rat. Like they are capable. Maze adept. Good enough to be good at anything you put in front of them. So, what about me? In my daily life, do I treat everyone like a smart rat?

Of course I do. I’m perfect.

Actually… sorry, I was thinking of somebody else.

Me?

Heck no!

I’m full up-to-here with prejudices and preconceived notions just like everybody else.

So I’ve got to try to be better. To live life a bit more blinded. Because maybe we’re all just basic, run of the mill rats, doing our own little rat things.

Not dumb rats. Just rats.

Not garbage birds. Just birds.

Not housekeeping people. Just people.

That’s all.

And the rat, the bird, the person… they’ll all respond appropriately to the treatment they’re given.

Birdseed for the “garbage birds” certainly results in gorgeous coos from the mourning doves outside our kitchen window. I see no problem there.

What Forrest Gump said.

Life is like a box of chocolates.

Did you read that with Tom Hanks’s perfect, slow, southern drawl? Such a good actor!! Maybe you even prefaced it with “mama always said…”

It’s just such a classic line. We’ve all heard it. We all know it. I think most of us agree that it is true.

You never know what you’re gonna get.

This Christmas season, my office was spoiled rotten with chocolates. SPOILED, I tell you! Completely rotten. It was so delicious.

One of the boxes was particularly fascinating. It came from Vosges Haut-Chocolat (fancy pants chocolates!) and had some of the most unique (that’s the nice way of saying weird) truffle flavors I had ever encountered– things I never would have even dreamed up! But man, did they ever WORK.

I didn’t sample them all, of course. Some were simply too unique and I was too chicken to try it. And sometimes I just couldn’t justify taking another lactaid. (And I remembered right away how important it is to take a lactaid with chocolate. Lactase?! Lactase?! Why have you forsaken me?!)

(Are you Catholic?… Yes, I did just replace the phrase “My God” with “Lactase” in a classic Easter-time responsorial psalm… probably blasphemy. I’m kind of known for that around here.)

Sometimes I just remembered that the box wasn’t entirely for me and the respect I have for my colleagues (where respect = fear of judgement) prevented me from eating any more.

Regardless, those that I did try, even the really weird ones, were absolutely phenomenal. So amazing that I even emailed my Aunt Susan and Uncle Ed to apologize for my previously very cavalier attitude toward good chocolate. I had laughed at Ed’s use of the word divine, which sounds super serious with a Scottish accent, but now I get it. And I owed them an apology.

So if life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get…

I posit that PEOPLE are like this divine box of chocolates. Even the weird ones just seem to WORK. For someone, at least.

I did not expect to looooove a dark chocolate truffle sprinkled with paprika. But I did.

And there are a whole lot of people that I would consider dark chocolate truffles sprinkled with paprika or creamy plum-powder caramels covered in milk chocolate and sprinkled with pink Himalayan sea salt (oddly specific, right? so delicious though– who comes up with these things?!)… odd, intriguing, unique… amazing.

Of course, not every taste suits every palate, but when I saw all of those descriptions laid out before me on the fancy truffle map (I love those guides to the box!), I could certainly appreciate the uniqueness and interest of every last one.

It was easy to do when it was chocolate.

I want it to be easier to do with people, too.

Even a box of Russell Stover can taste amazing. A delicious molasses chew for me, a chocolate covered cherry for my Seth. A truffle for everyone and for everyone a truffle!!

I think the trick is appreciating it for what it is– a unique combination. Something different. Maybe it’s not your taste, but it’s still special and delicious to someone. I may not get why you love it, but that doesn’t make you love it any less.

And in the above paragraph, the “it” can be a chocolate or a person. Same, same.

 

My friend Jess once told me that my palate was likely to change as I got older. I wanted to believe her, but honestly didn’t… I’ve just had such strong aversions to certain textures and flavors and tastes and smells my whole life. I couldn’t imagine anything else.

Yet here I am today, eating zucchini and adding (pureed) onions to my soup. (Yes, I just pretend that I’m my own toddler and get myself to eat healthy things by hiding them. Works quite well, actually.) These aren’t just baby steps– these things are enormous for me!

The fancy truffles, and my attraction to all sorts of different folks, are my grown up palate. The one Jess promised me several years ago. The chocolate is delicious. And the people? All of their unique and unexpected qualities– absolutely the best!

2014: The Ox-Bow Incident (sans rustlers)

Have you ever run a road race? Now that I have fully embraced the notion that somebody has to be last and it’s not the end of the world if it’s me, I really really enjoy them. The best part is seeing the finish line up ahead. Except seeing it doesn’t always mean that’s the end.

One summer when my Uncle Paul and cousin Kirsten were in town and I was home from school, we decided, as a family, to go out and run the Dexter-Ann Arbor 5K. It was a blast. Ab and I putzed along somewhere near the back, but my Uncle Paul is a pretty devoted runner and he was lined up near the front of the pack. My brother Tom lined up with him, but was pretty disgusted when they got going and Paul seemed to him to just be putzing along at a pace hardly better than the one Ab and I had set. Tom could do better, go faster. And he did. As he came around the bend toward the finish line he was thrilled and started sprinting– piece of cake! Except that what he was completing was only the first, and smaller, of two loops. And he was TOAST. Paul passed him up shortly after that and poor Tom had to drag himself another two miles only to cross that same finish line again.

Thank goodness for rachelv.blogspot.com ... the place I kept all my pictures before Facebook was a big deal.
Thank goodness for rachelv.blogspot.com … the place I kept all my pictures before I used Facebook… and Instagram… and Under the Tapestry.

That was a fun day. I couldn’t stop laughing. I laughed so hard my cheeks and my abs hurt.

Oh how I love that story!

Fast forward a few years to a St. Patrick’s day while living in the metro DC area and I decided to run a little St. Patrick’s Day 8K through downtown. A super fun run, as any downtown DC run tends to be (for a nerd like me), that ended right at Freedom Plaza on Pennsylvania Ave. I was rocking it that day. And as I came down the final straightaway, I could hear music and see the balloons arched over the finish line and I was keeping up with a big pack and feeling great and… turning left? away from the finish line? what the?!

Just like Tom, except not quite so bad. There was just a little out and back down a side street to account for the distance we hadn’t quite made. I was fine, I still finished, and still in good time (for me… good time is relative in running, remember), but not quite when I expected or how I expected.

 

Twenty Fourteen

Did you ever have to read The Ox-Bow Incident in school? I did. I only remember it very vaguely. Pretty sure there was a lynching and it was awful, but what really stuck with me was what an oxbow actually was. In the context of a meandering river, anyway. And maybe that’s what 2014 was. An oxbow. A bend in the path. An extra two mile loop or out and back down a side-street that I didn’t see coming.

I expected a positive pregnancy test in 2014. I expected to be a mother. I could see the balloons over the finish line and hear the music. But there was a bend in the road and here I am on December 31st, out of sight of that finish line once again.

 

Twenty Fifteen

I don’t know what the finish line is going to look like when I do get there. I don’t know if the balloons will still be inflated or the music will still be playing. I don’t know how long it’s going to take or how difficult the journey is going to be to get there. Maybe it’ll be a quick out-and-back… maybe it’ll be a two mile slog on tired legs… maybe something else entirely. Maybe the oxbow will cut itself off and form a free-standing lake. It’s impossible to tell at this point.

What I do know, though, is that the course I’m on is not as limiting as I’ve made it out to be. My single minded focus on “I want to have a baby” has really limited the life I’ve allowed myself to live for far too long (flare for the melodramatic, once again). I’ve made small steps outside the lines in the last few months, but I could, and should, go further.

For example, my therapist recently asked me what I hoped to have accomplished one year from now, assuming I still wasn’t pregnant. I had no response, but immediately burst into tears. That was pretty telling. (He keeps kleenexes in his office for moments like those. It’s all good.)

So in 2015, we’re taking a bit of a break. I’m going to give my body and my mind a rest. I’m doing other things… I’m running, meditating, and reading. I just got a new full color, hardcover book full of photographs and amazing text about women healers of the world– so excited. So much learning! And being. And learning to just be.

 

When I announced my non-pregnancy the other day (oh snap, it would have been darkly hilarious to do a photo shoot with the negative test… I can see that now. maybe next time), my Aunt Susan said to me, “I can tell you for sure: life is an interesting line, but rarely a straight one.”

And in that comment, she summed up my 2014 perfectly.

 

Incidentally, I’ve always had something of an affinity for straight lines. Maybe that’s why this whole meandering business is so difficult for me. Once upon a time, I even got intervented on for it. (Intervented is not a word, but I don’t think to say “intervened” really sums up what it’s like to have an intervention in your honor.) My friends Danielle and Stephine teamed up with my mom to ban me from purchasing any more horizontally striped shirts. (In all the colors. From Old Navy.) In retrospect, it was a good call. Still a good call. It was kind of all I wore for most of high school. I had to switch to solid colored polos after that. (Confession: I’m wearing horizontal stripes right now. Not kidding. Relapse.)

 

Man, I’m cool.

 

Anyway… here’s to accepting 2015,  however it may come! Happy New Year!!

 

Unrelated, but awesome, picture of super Curls!
Unrelated, but awesome, picture of super Curls!

A brief, failed experiment.

Want to hear something super sad?

Probably not. But it was all so melodramatic in my mind that I’m going to tell you anyway.

On Friday I went to Madison for another round of IUI (undefined acronym, I know, you can look it up if you really want to know). TMI, I know. And sad in it’s own right. But here’s the really sad part… afterward, as I was laying there on the table for the requisite 10 minutes (nothing romantic about baby making this way, let me tell you), tears just started rolling down my cheeks and, because of the angle my head was at, they welled right up in my ears until my stupid ears were full of stupid tears which made me cry even harder because it felt bad.

The whole thing was, as I said, very melodramatic.

Fortunately, I had not worn mascara that morning. Not because I didn’t want to, but because I forgot to bring it with me and we had stayed the night at my sister- and brother-in-law’s in Madison (super grateful for their hospitality despite their absence– Sister Doctor is busy criss-crossing the country in search of a surgery residency… everybody wants a piece of her, so proud!).

I was in full on self-pity mode pretty much the rest of the day (confession: kind of still am) and I decided in all of my upset that makeup was super stupid and that I just wasn’t going to wear it anymore. So I didn’t on Saturday, despite going to a lovely Christmas party Saturday evening. And I didn’t on Sunday, even though we went to church and out to dinner. Even on Monday, today, I managed to head to work sans makeup.

But I think that as of today, this experiment is going to be over.

(If only all of my experiments in grad school could have failed this quickly…)

Not so much because I feel like I need makeup for anyone else, necessarily, but because I feel ugly and tired. How is that mascara can make a person feel untired as opposed to just looking untired, I don’t know. But I’m pretty sure that is the case.

And I’m pretty sure that tomorrow, I will wear mascara. At least.

It’s such a struggle though. I don’t want to need to wear makeup, for myself or anybody else. I don’t enjoy putting on makeup like a lot of people do, I just don’t. But I honestly feel better when I’m wearing it… better… prettier… more put together… I don’t know what.

Am I conceited or just insecure? Am I wearing makeup because of societal pressure or am I not just to prove a point? I don’t know what the answer is.

Maybe it doesn’t really matter either way.

Maybe mascara really isn’t the point at all.

I may be stretching this analogy… I am definitely stretching this analogy… but I feel like that mascara is the family I want so badly. I don’t know what I’ll look like with a family, but I’m pretty sure I want to put it on and wear it forever and ever. And in this case I am certain, it’s not societal pressure that’s fueling my desire. It’s legit. And I’m sad. Sad enough that some days I can’t even wear mascara because then that, too, would be pooled up in my ears.

Christmas is feeling especially tough. I want to be pretty in photos… by wearing makeup. But I also want to emulate the beautiful photos of happy families lining my cupboard fronts, a new one each day, beautiful moms and dads with their beautiful and happy babies. I love seeing them, I’m so happy for them. But it also makes me want (to be pretty) and not want (because I feel like crying) another coat of mascara all over again, every day.

On Thursday evening, Seth and I are heading to my sister’s house in Michigan. We’re going to celebrate my niece’s third birthday and Christmas with my mom’s side of the family. We’re going to have a blast and there will be a whole lot of love, but the nagging feeling inside me won’t go away until after the Christmas holiday when I find out whether the IUI worked or not.

Patience… patience…

This experiment, the one where I try to start a family, is turning out a lot more like grad school– long, protracted, painful. While the results were equivocal, at least the mascara experiment was quick.

Always with the patience. The best things in life are worth waiting for, or so I hear.

Ughs and Hugs

Confession: when I was in Miss Dimitroff’s class in fourth grade, I anonymously put a suggestion in the suggestion box asking that she not call us “honey” and “sweetie” and the like because not everyone liked being called things like that.

In fact, I hated it. It made me incredibly uncomfortable.

I’m pretty sure that’s why my mom put me in that class though– to get a dose of the touchy-feely crap she thought I needed.

Was she right?

Probably.

Did I like it?

Not one bit.

So it was quite a relief when in fifth grade I moved on to the non-touchy, non-feely Mrs. Lavery aka Mrs. Slavery, as kids were known to call her. Man did I ever love that class. (That is, until I got that fateful haircut and things started going down hill… but besides that, it was good.)

Touchiness… feeliness… just not really my things. I’m kind of a cold fish. And I especially dislike hugs. Always have and still do.

Except when I don’t. Which seems to be happening more and more often. Because, as you know by now, I’m nothing if not a walking, talking, big-haired contradiction.

In high school youth group, everyone hugged at the sign of peace while on retreat. It was terrible. People did the same thing at the big CTA conference I was recently at. Terrible!

Then again… I ran five miles with my friend Marie on Thanksgiving morning. It was her first race and I was crazy, ridiculously, deliriously proud of her as she crossed the finish line.

Wooooo!! Marie!!!
Wooooo!! Marie!!!

So, once I was done taking photos of her crossing the finish line and crossed it myself, I ran up to her and gave her a big hug.

What the?

That’s not me.

Usually.

Except that in that moment it kind of was.

And now I find myself completely unsure  of my stance on hugging.

Another example… my friend and former co-worker Michele recently left her office next door to mine to pursue grad school at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee. When she left, I hugged her, of course, because it seemed like the thing to do. But if I’m being completely honest, although we miss each other very much and it was very happy/sad when she left, neither of us really liked it because neither of us likes to hug. Except… when I went to Nashville to visit Michele a couple weeks ago, the first thing I did when I saw her in her happy bright yellow sweater on a breezy and beautiful Nashville day was give her a hug.

It was an actual hug though, not just this arm around the shoulders... for real.
It was an actual hug though, not just this arm around the shoulders… for real.

No explanation there either. It was spontaneous. It just happened. And I didn’t hate it.

So I grumble and groan and tell people about how I hate hugs and terms of endearment and everything touchy-feely, yet… I’m always begging Seth for what I like to call “huglets” (you know, mini-hugs) and I hug on my pup and call her my little sweetness. I could squeeze my nieces’ cheeks until they were bruised (I wouldn’t of course… just saying it wouldn’t be entirely unpleasant) and I constantly hug their little mama, my Fisky Sister. And just on Saturday night, I noticed myself affectionately grabbing my newest cousin-in-law’s arm while telling her how beautiful she was at her wedding reception.

Is it age? Is it time? Is it comfort level?

Is it exposure to some sort of toxin? Do you think I have holes in my brain???

Who knows what it is. But I appear to be going soft. And I’m not sure how I feel about that.

Most of the time, I’m still awkward and kind of shy and mostly uncool and definitely more of an ugher than a hugger. It’s just that lately, there seem to be more of those moments when a spontaneous hug just happens.

Ugh. Hugs.

 

Except, hugs? Are all hugs really the same?

 

When I’m having a rough time and I talk to my dad on the phone, he always gives me a virtual hug. He says, “Ready for a hug? [squeeeeeez-ing sound!]” and I always feel better just knowing that my dad wanted to hug me. And lately, I’ve been getting and giving lots of other virtual hugs. (Related: Have you seen my friend Dawn’s most recent post?! Someday I’ll tell you about the conversations behind the scenes– talk about virtual hugs. My goodness.) And what that makes me realize is that we can hug people with more than just our arms!

We can hug someone with our words. With a smile. With a facial expression. With some cookies, a note, an email, a text, a phone call, a Facebook poke, a blog comment, a held door, an emptied dishwasher, a well-intentioned prayer, any other small thought or act of kindness. And even if you’re disinclined to actually touch, except certain people on certain occasions, like me, there’s still lots of ways to hug– to show you care.

{Source}
{Source}

Physical hugs sometimes.

Metaphorical hugs always.

 

PS: It’s snowing at underthetapestry.com for the winter season! It’s so awesome!! Make sure you check it out! What a sweet option, WordPress!!

Velcro.

My sweet little sister got all excited when she saw that “Velcro.” was the title of an upcoming post so I thought I’d flesh that one out first. I think it’s a little weird that velcro would excite her so much, but who am I to question someone else’s passions? I’m nervous that I’ll disappoint, so as a preemptive measure, I’m posting for your visual enjoyment a false-colored scanning electron micrograph of velcro because it’s been one of my favorite SEMs since I first saw it a long long time ago:

{From the Columbia University Lamont-Doherty Earth Observity... science, man}
{From the Columbia University Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory… science, man}

Today (as in the day I started writing this post, which was actually several days ago) I decided that I will never purchase another pair of velcro shoes. Terrible choice.

Little odd for a thirty-year-old woman to have to say something like that. I know. But I got these super cute shoes last fall from Zappos.

{Zappos VIP = heaven for a giant-footed monster girl like me}
{Zappos VIP = heaven for a giant-footed monster girl like me}

I always expect the shoes I order to a be at least a little bit different when they arrive on account of no store in their right mind would ever picture the size 11– things become considerably less cute the larger they get, it’s a fact. So when they arrived and they were still super cute, I was thrilled… except that I discovered that they had a velcro closure, not some sort of buckle or clasp. Sometimes surprises can be good (like when your friend rents herself an accordion player as entertainment on her own birthday), and I really didn’t think the velcro would be such a big deal.

My friend Suma invited us for dinner and a "surprise" on her birthday-- the surprise was literally that she had hired an accordion player. Too cute!
My friend Suma invited us for dinner and a “surprise” on her birthday– the surprise was literally that she had hired an accordion player. Too cute!

(Side note: I used to literally feel embarrassed at mentioned my shoe size, as though I had anything to do with it. Now I’m embarrassed that I felt embarrassed about it. My feet are my feet. Short of binding them, ancient Chinese-style, there’s really nothing to be done. Just like my square jaw. Sometimes we just have to accept the body we are in and be glad to have it!)

Unfortunately, for the last year I’ve been walking around in these cute shoes getting more and more frustrated at the dang velcro.

(And yes, spellcheck Satan, I understand that velcro should technically be Velcro, but I’m not going to capitalize now or ever– on principle. Because you told me I should.)

Turns out, velcro is a terrible way to secure the strap on a shoe like this. Especially in this size. Just terrible. The closure kept getting worse and worse every time I wore them and today, I couldn’t even make it from my office to my car without stopping twice to reconnect. Lame. No more wearing those shoes.

I wonder about the cobbler (is that what shoe designers are called? or just shoe fixers? shoe makers? let’s just say cobbler for the sake of making my upcoming metaphor sound good…) who would use velcro as the sole closure for an adult-sized mary jane style shoe. It just doesn’t make sense to me.

…and here comes that metaphor — ginormous leap…

So what about the soul cobbler who seems to have attached my mood, disposition, whatever, to the sun with what basically amounts to velcro?

You know that feeling you get in your stomach when you miss a step and feel like you’re going to fall?

It’s like that for me, teetering at the edge of depression, now that the sun is disappearing earlier and earlier each day. Here in Wisconsin, it’s completely dark by 7:30… then 7:20… (and that was few days ago… we’re looking at about 7:00 pm now…) we’re scheduled to lose 1.5 more hours of daylight by the end of the month. Factor in the end of daylight savings time and that puts us at dark by 5:00.

As much as I love everything about fall– the colors, the crispness, the smells, the holidays– the sun going away makes everything else slowly dull.

As the sun progresses, so does my mood.

Good lord, I could never survive in Alaska… not without being diagnosed as seasonally bipolar, anyway. Manic 6 months of the year, depressed the other. I guess at least I would know it’s coming…

but no!

I’ll never go north of the UP! (Hopefully someday I’ll convince Seth to come back to you, beautiful UP!)

Don’t worry, I’m using my special light (the one I cleverly cropped out of the phone picture I posted in my most recent post– it’s right behind that and I turn it on every morning in the morning, and sometimes for a little boost in the afternoon) and I’m aware of these feelings and I really think the stupid shoes were not helping. So with my light, and my trusty [read: ugly and oh so comfortable (I’m sorry for making fun of you, mom)] Danskos, stomping through the leaves to and from work has been kind of ok (also, I love leaf stomping). And taking my pup on weekend walks in my blue paisley waders is even better. Again, no velcro.

Stupid velcro.

Here’s the hard part, the thing I hate myself a little bit for finally admitting:

FALL IS NOT MY FAVORITE.

In theory, it is, of course, but in practice… man… it kills me. I want to love the leaves and the pumpkins and the corn stalks and the chill in the air and such. But my velcro lets go as the sun slips down earlier and earlier and I simply cannot love it as much as I really want to.

But, for serious, I did great with the fall decor this year, did I not?!
But, for serious, I did great with the fall decor this year, did I not?!

As such, it’s now finally time to admit the following:

SUMMER IS ACTUALLY MY FAVORITE.

In theory, again, it shouldn’t be… I don’t like hot and sticky, when my head gets hot my hair gets crazy frizzy, and mosquitoes and black flies and other insecty creatures make me crazy. But, all that sun? Late night runs when the sun is just slipping below the trees? Windows open, breeze in the house… I kind of do love all of that.

Maybe that’s the real reason I want to move to the UP so badly… because even summer there isn’t so hot. It’s gorgeous every single day. And the greatest of all the great lakes– the Superior one, is the most amazing place in all the land!

(Actually, my grandparents lived there when I was little and trips to the UP were when I got to see them and all of my cousins on my dad’s side so it was really my dream to live there just because I loved how it felt to be in the UP when we were all there. But that was then. Summer is it now. Part of it, anyway.)

 

I have always tanned easily– it’s my sturdy Polish peasant stock. (I don’t remember if my mom or grandma said that to me, but I love it so much. I like coming from sturdy stock! It makes me feel like in a past life I wrapped my head like a babushka and harvested wheat from a sun-filled field… yes, I can romanticize even back breaking labor.) And even when I do burn, it generally fades into a lovely brown relatively quickly. I love Cabo San Lucas more than any vacation destination I have ever had the pleasure of going to (even Hawaii! even Europe! I’m so serious– love love love that dry, sunshine-filled heat). And SoCal is always calling my name (now that I’ve been there and when I forget momentarily that earthquakes scare the pants off me; even if they’re bitty… bitty earthquakes, not bitty pants).

Great news! There's both sunshine AND iguanas in heaven!!
Great news! There’s both sunshine AND iguanas in heaven!!

I guess I’m just a full sun kind of plant. Goodness knows I am always thirsty. (Do you know me in person? How often have you seen me without my Nalgene? Did you ask me if it was in my car or in purse if you didn’t see it?) I whither without extreme amounts of water (ironic for someone who likes Cabo so much… but did you see the other part about the great lakes???) and I think I’m in need of full sun too.

The changing of the seasons, in every season, is something I actually look forward to. I like the variation, life and death and new life, year after year after year. I am learning, however, that those months characterized by less sun here in the northern climes are probably always going to be a little harder for me. Turns out, my soul is more important to me than shoes, though. And even the shoes, despite their unwearability on account of the stupid velcro are still pretty cute and I’ll probably go out looking for another pair just like them… with something a little more secure as the closure. I’m stuck dealing with the soul velcro, so to speak, but even more than the dang shoes, it’s worth it. Worth it to fight. Worth it to stop walking every now and again to secure it.

My grant! It was ROUND!

Imagine for a moment that the world really had been flat when Columbus decided to sail around it. He’d have literally fallen off the face of the Earth.

His trip took a long time and I can’t imagine that cell service reached that far meaning that contact with home was non-existent. As such, people probably thought that he did fall off the face of the Earth.

Last Thursday, I said yes to a real big grant with a very short timeline.

And as you may have noticed, I sailed my ship right off the face of the Earth.

Or so you thought!

But like the world, my grant was round, and here I am! Back among the living! (Just a little tired…)

Sigh of relief though. That was a doozy! The grant still isn’t technically out the door and I’ve spent most of the day today making minor tweaks and changes and edits and such, but for the most part, it’s ready to go. Monday is the official deadline, and on Monday, “send” shall be clicked. Huzzah!

In the meantime, I had a total It’s a Wonderful Life moment. My house was a MESS! I almost took before and after cleaning pictures last night… but it was simply too horrifying to even be funny. We had crossed the line. (See! I matter! I really do!)

My gmail inbox has 55 unread emails– and that’s after deleting the junk! (Huge apologies if I’ve been ignoring you!)

Insane Inbox

I have an episode of Downton Abbey on the DVR (what that whaaaaat?!).

(It's the Masterpiece Classic one. Permission to judge.)
(It’s the Masterpiece Classic one. Permission to judge.)

My nail polish is flaking off to a pathetic point and I haven’t even had the time to pick at it. (But I love picking at it!!)

Nail Polish

And I haven’t posted on Under the Tapestry in over a week!!!

No Posts

Oy. None of this is ok. Thank goodness for this upcoming weekend!

But there are some reasons why the insane hours and the seriously mentally taxing work (and not just mentally! I hurt my finger on a staple! writing can be physically taxing too!) was completely worth it… there were some silver linings, if you will.

First, I learned A LOT. About A LOT.

Unfamiliar funding mechanism, unfamiliar topic, unfamiliar PI. But not anymore.

I could write another HRSA grant, and I could do it well. (Fingers crossed HRSA thinks it’s written as well as I think it is.) Especially given more time. Because seriously, I could have used more time. A lot more time.

The topic– fascinating!! I have a personal interest in improving access to behavioral health services (because remember, I’ve kind of cra-a-azy) and I think the proposed project offers a really wonderful way to do that in our community. Very easy to get on board. Not as easy to learn the material. But I read and read and read (and googled and googled and googled) and I’ve come out the other side with a much better understanding of the role that different types of health professionals can play in behavioral healthcare as well as how the different pieces of the organization I work for can fit together to make that happen. Fascinating stuff!

And the PI… she was wonderful. Truly a dream to work with. She’s passionate about what she does and really understands how to make care better for patients. And that’s why she does what she does and why I wanted to help her do more of it. She makes all those hours worth it… and will continue to do so as I cash in on some favors I’m owed to help advance some other program grants I’ve been toying around with. (Mr. Burns-style excellent.)

So, yes, I am tired. And my poor husband is starved near to death. But we survived it. And I’d do it again in a heartbeat, even if it meant there was another week where we couldn’t chat.

(That’s not to say I haven’t missed you, because I have! And dearly!)

Anyway, I’ve sailed back to you, little lovelies! Back to Earth, back to normal, back to our regularly scheduled programming. Yay!!