Today… for the past week… I have felt terrible for my poor sister. She is so so so sick. Just miserable. And today she appears to have contracted a stomach bug on top of the back/abdominal pain she’s been experiencing since giving birth 8 months ago plus the sinus infection she was diagnosed with last week. She called me, sobbing, and it broke my heart because there was not a thing I could do. I sent her to the ER via my brother-in-law (thank goodness for him– he’s amazing), and I listened while she cried, but that was about it. My poor sweet sister. I wish so much that there were something I could do!
“It is through prayer… that one will be given the most powerful light to see God and self.” –Angela of Foligno
Is prayer, for my sweet sister, perhaps something I can do?
“‘To see God’ is to care very little about anything lesser. But in prayer I see my own littleness most clearly. I know how cowardly I really am. My voice is but one drop of water in an ocean of oppression. It will not change the ocean. But it may put it in need of explaining the injustice it can no longer hide, perhaps. I cannot not speak what my heart knows to be true.” –Joan Chittister
Here’s what I know to be true: my sister is hurting and she needs me. I cannot do anything for her physically, but I can send her my love. I can throw out a prayer or two. I can ask God, the Creator, maker of heaven and earth, all the Angels and Saints, to wrap my sister in love, love, love. To give her comfort and peace. To let her rest and to take away her worry.
We are so small in the grand scheme of things, like Joan says… in the world, the universe, all of it. And this exceptionally rough time for my sweet sister will pass. But it most certainly does not feel small to her right now. Her whole world right now is pain and discomfort and worry and uncertainty. So my prayer this evening is for her, to know that I love her, that we all love her, that God loves her, that she is going to feel better in the blink of an eye and this will all be a vague memory of struggle, something that Abby and Stu and their sweet little family made it through, allowing them to look back on their strength.
“When the death of their master was clearly imminent, the disciples became totally bereft. ‘If you leave us, Master,’ they pleaded, ‘how will we know what to do?’ And the master replied, ‘I am nothing but a finger pointing at the moon. Perhaps when I am gone you will see the moon.'” –Sufi Tale
What does Joan have to say?
“The meaning is clear: It is God that religion must be about, not itself. When religion makes itself God, it ceases to be religion. But when religion becomes the bridge that leads to God, it stretches us to live to the limits of human possibility. It requires us to be everything we can possibly be: kind, generous, honest, loving, compassionate, just. It defines the standards of the human condition. It sets the parameters within which we direct our institutions. It provides the basis for the ethics that guide our human relationships. It sets out to enable us to be fully human, human beings.” –Joan Chittister
And she’s a NUN! A nun who super gets it, right?
It’s not about following the rules. At least it shouldn’t be. Yet for so many people it is. Church, religion, it becomes a recipe, a prescription, a set of Ikea instructions.
True, when it comes time to build the MALM or the HEMNES, there’s probably one best way… leftover screws can be dangerous. But when you pull it out of the oven, a pie is a pie is a pie is delicious no matter what recipe you followed.
Related: mmmm… pie.
I think religion is like that. If the religion you follow or don’t follow helps you to be fully human, to be kind, generous, honest, loving, compassionate and just, if it points you in the right direction, then who cares what religion it is? Who cares if we’re taking directions from a different master? The moon is still the moon. A pie is still a pie.
Related: mmmm… moon pies.
Yep. I’m prone to losing sight of what matters.
Work’s been like that for me lately. I’ve been feeling unappreciated… in need of more thanks, more gratitude, recognition, pats on the back, etc. Thanks had become my religion. And I was using it inappropriately.
I Stella-style got my groove back this week though. At least temporarily. I started working on a new grant and it’s kind of awesome.
A lot of work. Tight time line. Little bit of stress. But dang– if we get it, it’s going to help a heck of a lot of people. People who really need help.
And that is the point.
My job matters not because of the thanks, but because I get really great opportunities to help– to encourage physicians and researchers, to empower them to implement new programs, to bring services to people who really need them. Most recently, opioid treatment services for addicts in the northwoods. Recently, for people suffering from a rare genetic disorder. And before that, kids in the foster care system.
Honestly, I’m pretty lucky. Just got to keep my eyes on the prize… and not let myself get convinced that the thanks are what matters. Nor is the salary. Or the hours. Or whatever. I feel fulfilled. I am participating in improvement of the human condition.
Speaking of Sufi tales… I keep seeing this bad boy on Pinterest and tonight it popped up on my Facebook feed:
I’d seen “Sufi” this and “Sufi” that so frequently that I really thought it was one really wise and eloquent person. Turns out it’s an Islamic concept. Fascinating. Thanks, Wiki.
Another day, another conversation with the illustrious Joan!
Today, she quotes Exodus first:
“God is gracious and merciful… slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” –Exodus 34:6
A lovely sentiment, to be sure, but it’s a bit cherry picked, don’t you think? I wouldn’t exactly characterize Old Testament God as “slow to anger” and I’m mid-way through Exodus right now. For the second time– four books into the real version I had to switch to a plain language version of the bible and it’s going much better this time. Cover to cover! An interesting read… although songs from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat were stuck in my head for all of Genesis. Anyway…
Here’s what Joan had to say:
“Who is this God, really? Who is this God whom we have fashioned out of the light of our needs and the hopes of our hearts? When we are vengeful, we tell tall tales of an angry God. When we are sick with our own sin, we find ourselves a God of mercy. When we are pressed down, face in the sand, we know what a God of justice is all about. Is this God? Or is God the measure of how deep our smallness goes, how great our parching thirst for love? Surely God is all of this. And more. The more we cannot in our smallness and our thirst even begin to imagine.” –Joan Chittister
The threads made of light and hope. The threads of vengeance and anger. Threads of justice and love. God, the universe, the creator, I AM (as it says in Exodus… I’m basically a biblical scholar at this point, guys) is all of those threads and more. So much more.
At least that’s how I feel.
On Ash Wednesday, Call To Action posted this sentiment on Twitter:
The more to me is just that: love– what we come from, to where we will return. Love, love, love.
Love doesn’t judge. Love cares. Love forgives and heals and on and on and on. Love is friends. Loves is family. Love is steady, it’s there whether you believe in it or not. It is. I AM.
My freshmen year of college, some friends and I went taert-ro-kcirt-ing in the dorms on Halloween. Taert-ro-kcirt-ing is trick-or-treating backwards. Obviously.
We dressed up (just barely– some cat ears and butterfly wings or something of the sort) and went from door to door with a plastic jack-o-lantern full of candy that we handed out. Maybe we collected for UNICEF or something while we were at it? I can’t really remember… but I do remember it being an absolute blast.
I’m normally pretty scared to interact with people, especially people I don’t know. And people I do know. So all people, actually. But when we taert-ro-kcirt-ed, I don’t really remember minding at all. I felt silly and confident and fun as we knocked on each door and handed out candy and a smile– people didn’t expect it, they were so happy. Like I said, an absolute blast.
And maybe it is that simple. When you want to do the opposite of something, just turn the word around and do it. That easy.
I hope anyway. And here’s why.
Remember that chocolate I told you about earlier this week? All of that delicious and amazing chocolate?
Do you also remember about that little binge eating thing that tends to haunt me from time to time?
Sigh. It was not the best afternoon of my life.
Delicious, of course, but so very out of control.
But why? When I have so much to look forward to!
I mean, first thing tomorrow morning, I’m getting on a plane and heading to Miami, one of the only places in the country currently untouched by this mess:
… where I will meet my husband for a lovely long weekend and to attend his work Christmas party where all of his co-workers and their spouses will be waiting to meet me and look at me and talk to me and realize how ugly and stupid and weird and lame I am…
I’m stressed. Stressed backward is desserts. So I’m eating desserts. Doing the opposite.
It’s science, don’t think too hard about it.
And the reason I’m stressed?
Really… it’s because I’m terrified. And even worse, I am certain that all of Seth’s coworkers and their spouses and basically all of the people of Miami are going to hate me.
What’s not to hate?! My jaw is so square. My hair is going to be so frizzy (Miami?! of all places!! with this HAIR?!). I haven’t lost any weight (I wanted to lose weight first!) and my clothes come from Target. I’m almost thirty-ONE and I have ZERO kids and I’m a NERD. A huge nerd. I really wish my right eye would open up as far as my left. Oh god oh god oh god. What am I even going to WEAR? What in my closet is the least make-you-hate-me-able of all???
Cheese and rice.
I have got to stop.
I assume that everyone who meets me down in Miami is going to hate me.
All evidence points to the contrary, of course– Seth loves these people and they love him back. Seth is awesome and Seth chose me so of course they’ll love me too. And if they don’t? B… F… D…
But maybe it would be better to head to Miami with my jack-o-lantern full of candy before I start knocking on doors, if you know what I mean. To ditch the assumptions and just emussa instead that everyone is going to love me. That’s the opposite, of course.
Think it could be that simple?
Probably. And here’s why.
… I assumed that Theresa wouldn’t want to be in my book club because she was pretty and wearing fancy jewelry and drinking a fancy drink and married to a doctor and just seemed so cool. She overheard me telling someone else about it, though, and begged me to let her in. We’ve been texting ever since. I really, really like her.
… I assumed that Kristen wouldn’t want to be my friend because she’s pretty and thin and a pediatrician and therefore a “class A” doctor (not kidding about the classification system at my place of employment, that’s real), but today, after we ate lunch together, which we do pretty regularly, that Grumpy Gus told me I had “lifted her spirits” and wished me well on my trip to Miami. We’re hanging out for my birthday next week.
… I assumed that my very young friend Emily (like younger than my sister AND brother) wouldn’t want to be my friend anymore after our mutual slightly-closer-to-both-our-ages-friend moved away over the summer, but Emily’s coming to my birthday dinner next week too. And also we do yoga and crafts and watch trash tv together. Traaaaaaash.
I wonder how much time, stress, and probably desserts, I could have saved myself from wasting, experiencing, and eating, respectively, had I gone in emussa-ing instead??? Not to mention how much cooler I could have played it if I hadn’t been busy trying to keep them from hating me instead of letting them like me like they were always going to do. (That’s a super confusing sentence. Leaving it.)
Eventually, this afternoon, I went to a little mini holiday party and ate some cocktail weenies (oy, so good) and got over it just a bit. I chatted with some people from another department (who I originally assumed hated me… but totally don’t– another excellent example of that assuming crap) and stopped the spiral. I’m going to face the day tomorrow essuma-ing instead of assume-ing and everyone is going to love me in Miami.
Or not. But it honestly doesn’t matter.
Regardless, the weather will certainly be warmer and I’ll get to spend a bit of time with my long lost husband (it’s really only two weeks, I’m being dramatic) and (you do the hokey pokey and you turn yourself around) that’s what it’s all about!
Coincidentally, I’ve talked about assuming before. But unfortunately, Tim Haight never taught me what happens when you assume something about yourself. Like that you’re super hate-worthy. Lessons are so much more difficult to learn on your own. I wish Tim were here.
He’d probably hate me anyway 😉
I’m so neurotic. You knew that already. Don’t hate me, k?
And here we are, it’s Christmas Eve! Perhaps one of the best things about getting married (besides the whole commitment to spending the rest of my life with the person I love and all that…) is that I get to celebrate Christmas even more.
We did the Vonck thing last weekend with my parents and siblings and nieces and aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents and puppies on that side of the family.
Tonight, we start the party Stankowski-style, which as I have mentioned before is big, big, big.
No matter the “side” or the location or the event, as the Muppets say (in the best version of A Christmas Carol ever produced EVER): wherever you find LOVE it feels like Christmas!
And it’s so true! Love, love, love… every where! In every way!
I wish you shelter form the storm
A cozy fire to keep you warm
But most of all, when snowflakes fall
I wish you love
That is truly my Christmas wish for you. For everyone. For myself even. Lots of love.
And especially for my sister’s dear friend Jackie, who I unfortunately did not get to meet when I was in Midland for a few days– I really hope she knows how much she is loved! To be loved by my sweet and fisky sister, that’s a big deal 🙂
I love all the rest of you too and I thank you from the very bottom of my heart for hanging out with me for another year here at Under the Tapestry.
My goal for 2014 was to convince you that I am truly unhinged, but full of love. (The best kind of unhinged, really.) If I haven’t done that yet, let me just send you a quick Christmas card…
Transition to crazy dog lady — complete!
Oh how I love that pup!!
Wishing you and all of your furry (or scaled or feathered or whatever) friends a very merry holiday season full of love, love, love!
In the year 2001, the great and handsome prophet Derek Zoolander asked a profound question… one with the power to affect us all:
“Did you ever think that maybe there’s more to life than being really, really… really ridiculously good looking?!”
And many hearts were glad.
Especially the heart of this girl:
And this girl:
And especiallythis girl:
Because it was quite clear that she was not destined for a life of being even really (just one really) ridiculously good looking.
Thanks be to Derek Zoolander, this girl finally heard it:
Well, not that girl exactly… but that girl a few months later (the photo above was taken in the fall of 2000)… and many years more for internalization.
(Side note: yes, I do have an entire file folder dedicated to ugly pictures of myself. Is that weird?)
Zoolander, like Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999), Love Actually (2003), and Amelie (2001), came out at a very impressionable time in my life. And no matter how funny/unrealistic/weird those movies were/are– they made a big impact on me. BIG. Zoolander is no exception.
I guess I have a lot to ponder. (Zoolander quote.)
In addition to the quotable quotes and the most important lesson of all (more to life than being really, really good looking) there are a bunch of actual for realsies lessons to be learned, if you’ve watched the movie enough times…
1. Assuming that everyone is just waiting to tell you what a bad eu-google-izer you are is no way to live.
People aren’t always out to hurt you! I swear it! Some, yeah, but that’s their problem (or their editor’s), not yours. So give a person the benefit of the doubt. It could work out in your favor. Zoolander and Matilda were totally MFEO (made for each other– Sleepless in Seattle, another favorite) and it was a good thing he gave her a chance even after she hurt his feelings!
2. Have a go to for happy– like an orange mocha frappaccino!!
Derek is so super down after not winning male model of the year for the fourth year in a row, but his roomies know just the thing to cheer him up! (Maybe they could have done without the gas fight.) And in my life, I’ve had lots of roomies like that– Abby (my Fisky Sister) who told me stories from the top bunk to help me fall asleep; Erin, Adriane, and Aimee who put on a little bit of Abba Dancing Queen or Outkast Hey Ya for an impromptu dance party; Stephanie who popped Zoolander or Napoleon Dynamite into our $5 Korean Bazaar VCR; Seth who makes a great Harry Potter reference. (No joke, he told me last Friday that his patronus was me… cooking. Naturally, I swooned.)
3. Own what you are, even it’s a merman. MERMAN.
There’s not shame in being who you are! So own it! … see the photo gallery above. That was me, y’all. No point in pretending anything different. Might as well laugh about it together. After all, plenty of those images are in people’s brains, and there’s not a darn thing I can do about that.
4. Technology changes fast. REAL fast.
So… a huge punch line in the 2001 movie Zoolander is Derek’s itty bitty, teeny tiny phone. Do you remember that? When itty bitty phones were the shiz? And now we’ve got the the iPhone 6 and 6+… insanity. It wasn’t that long ago, really. Was it?
5. It’s good to know, and respect, what makes you farty and bloated.
For Jacobim Mugato, anything foamy will do it. For me? Anything with even a bit of lactose! Maybe I wouldn’t scald someone’s face if they tried to serve it to me. But I will take pains to avoid it so as to avoid the pains later. Just not worth the deliciousness.
6. If someone has to miraculously pull their underwear out of their butt to beat you– you’re kind of awesome.
For most of us, there’s always going to be someone better. Someone out there is faster, funnier, prettier, gentler, kinder, better at cooking, got a cleaner house, etc… but that doesn’t mean you’re not any of those things. Quit comparing and you’ll be happier. Guaranteed. You’ll at least have far fewer wedgies. (Side note: one time in middle school when I wore what I thought was the cutest outfit ever to school– train engineer overalls with a pretty white shirt with lace trimmed sleeves underneath– I got wedgied in the hallway. It was the wooooorst. No one likes a wedgie. And an elephant never forgets.)
7. Remember that most people are not professional film and television actors.
Except if Mindy Kaling actually became my friend, in which case, I would have a professional television actor for a friend. But alas, that day has not yet come. In the meantime, we don’t get to script the reactions of others. And even if we try, people are generally very prone to improv. Jerk people…
8. Age before beauty, goat cheese!
Honestly, I will happily take the wisdom of age over the beauty of youth. Granted, for me, youth wasn’t particularly beautiful (again, I reference you to the photos above)… so… maybe this one is more specific for me. But some of you can dig it, yes?
9. Talk it out! It’s usually pretty simple.
Derek and Hansel had quite the beef going on. Things were tense and everything kind of came to a head during the walk-off. (The walk-off judged by the David Bowie. So awesome.) Afterward, though, it only took one simple phrase and a brief discussion before things were all sorted out– “why you been acting so messed up toward me?” Both Derek and Hansel apologize for being whack. And that’s that. Just talk it out, yo. So simple. I even tried it once. (It’s so scary though!)
10. You can’t help who you love.
At the end of the movie, Maury says of Zoolander, “I love that kid. Dumb as a stump, but I love him.” And it’s true. When you love someone, you just do. There’s not always rhyme or reason to it. Dumb as a box of rocks, a la Derek Zoolander, or too intelligent for their own good, a la Sheldon Cooper and Amy Farrah Fowler. Love just happens anyway.
And finally, bonus #11. There’s always room for a David Duchovny cameo.
Why don’t you love me?!?!?!?!
In conclusion, Hi. I’m former graduate super student Rachel Stankowski and it’s my pleasure to welcome you to the Rachel Stankowski Center for Physicians Who Can’t Write Well… and Want to Learn to Do Other Stuff Well Too.
That’s what I’m talking about!!!!
And that, ladies and gentlemen, concludes our A to Z (plus an interlude for an XX) blog tour. Things were super tough when I started. Things are still kind of rough, but it always (always!) feels good to write… and all this letter by letter mumbo jumbo has allowed me to fill up my little notebook of thoughts. Get ready, cuz here I co-ome!
(I just heard that song on my Pandora, we played it in pep band in high school… recipe for being completely stuck in my head.)
PS: I totally watched Zoolander again, just one more time, to make sure I really got everything I could out of it. When I went to play it from Amazon Prime (I’m obsessed!) my options were to “resume” or “play from the beginning” because I watch it a lot… I am not ashamed!!!!
Tonight after work, I was in the kitchen canning some pickles (that’s a brag) and Seth was working on hanging up a brand new spice rack for me inside one of the kitchen cabinets. It seemed to fit, but it shouldn’t have– according to his measurements. He couldn’t figure it out. So I said, “Perhaps we’re not really muggles after all!”
He didn’t even bat an eye.
True, Seth vetoed the idea of having boy-girl twins and naming them Luna and Ron… but he doesn’t really seem to mind the Harry Potter stuff too much otherwise. And doesn’t even question me when I use references in every day conversation. (Conversations or tasks. I’m not going to lie, sometimes I try to use spells.)
Clearly, Seth is my soulmate.
Today, August 6th, is Seth and my third marriage anniversary. I can’t even tell you how excited I was when I realized that both August 6th and the letter S were approaching– perfection! So this post and the letter S are dedicated to my darling Sethy Stankowski (see how I just outsmarted The Google right there? I hope so anyway… he probably has more impressive credentials out there on the interwebs than a gushy blog post).
Seth and I met at RA training at Michigan Tech in the summer of 2002. I was immediately smitten with him, despite the Kermit and Piggy-ness of it all…
I was 18, Seth was 21, and here we are, nearly 12 years later, celebrating our third marriage anniversary. Our life isn’t the life I had planned for myself before I ever met Seth, but I can tell you with absolute certainty that I wouldn’t want it any other way. I love that Seth and I share so much of our life stories. At this point, we’ve practically grown up together… we’re completely different people than we were when we first met, but still just right for each other. We’re balanced. We’re ridiculous. We’re very, very good <3
In 2002, before things were actually serious, everything seemed so overly serious. Thanksgiving break of that year (it’s a whole week long at Michigan Tech to account for the long drives and unavoidable bad weather) was basically traumatic. I’m embarrassed to admit it now, but I definitely cried through most of the UP on my way home and getting back to Seth was all that mattered. These days, when things actually are serious (as in we’re married and own a house and have real jobs and a pup to take care of), a week apart can be nice sometimes… for both of us. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and all of that. We both travel for work on occasion, Seth more frequently than me, and as exhausting as traveling for work can be, it never feels quite so bad. (Except when Seth is in Miami in January and I’m busy bundling up and shoveling snow in Wisconsin. Then it feels quite bad.) You know the song Home by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros? Well, I only knew it by the lyrics until 30 seconds ago and I had to Google it to tell you about it… anyway, that line:
Home! Let me go home! Home is wherever I’m with you!
Seth makes me really get that. He is my home. Oh look… they make printables. Going to need one of those.
Despite being together for such a long time, I still have no problem gushing about Seth. And I do mean gushing. I love him so fiercely, so completely, and in such a way that even his little weirdnesses are adorable to me– the socks between the toes, the general dislike for pants, the obsession with all modes of mechanical flight (e.g. helicopters, airplanes, the cars that will someday fly).
But the weirdnesses aren’t what’s really up. Seth is hard working, crazy intelligent, sharply funny, extremely kind and generous, and humble to a fault (except when it comes to being better than me, and to be perfectly honest, that’s a good thing for my big head).
I was kind of stuck about what exactly to say next. What to tell you about the amazing man I married. I thought about telling you about how he helps all of our elderly neighbors with their technology, odd jobs, and shoveling (he’s literally the youngest in our corner of the neighborhood by 50 – 60 years… lit-er-all-y). Or maybe about how he loves on our pup and it’s just the sweetest and cutest thing in the world. Alternatively, I could wow you with tales of the crazy handiness he’s capable of– I’m so impressed with everything he’s done to our house to make us warmer, safer, more efficient, and extremely tech savvy and future proofed (love that phrase– future proof). But as I was writing this, my Pandora flipped to the Mamas and the Papas singing Dream a Little Dream of Me (it’s my She & Him station– so good). I love this song, every version of it, but given that I was going gaga over Seth at the moment, this line really struck me…
Stars fading, but I linger on dear– still craving your kiss.
And it reminded me of the very, very beginning. Back when we were so new and I was so nervous. Our first real dates, just the two of us, were at night, under the stars.
On our first date, we drove all the way to the Paulding Light an hour and a half from campus– somehow he already knew I was in love with ghosts! I was so nervous about driving so far with such a quiet guy, but he really surprised me. He actually sang in the car! My friends assured me that I didn’t have to lie about it when we got back– they could not believe I was telling the truth. We saw the light that night, it was amazing.
On our second date, we took a trip out to Misery Bay toward Ontonogan and laid on the beach to see the northern lights. They were all around us, swirling and twirling and twinkling, and it was like being in a planetarium, only real. It was amazing. An absolutely amazing night. I’ve seen the northern lights several times, but never like I saw them that night. I loved Seth even then.
A few nights later, we ventured out to Boston Pond just north of Houghton to star gaze… and again, it was amazing. We stood shivering against Seth’s truck and he asked me how long it took me to make each one of my curls every morning. It was the cutest, the sweetest, the most endearing thing he could have said. I have the biggest smile even just thinking of it.
Paulding Light for a haunting, Misery Bay for the northern lights all around us, Boston Pond for a celestial star show… and 12 years later, a cozy home in Marshfield with the person who inhabits half of my heart. Stars fading, still lingering…
PS: Being the dedicated Wisconsin-ite that he is, Seth’s pals have (I assume affectionately) dubbed him “Cheesecurd”… in which case, I am clearly a freaking cheese factory because I can’t stop being such a sappy, cheesy, sentimental nerd! But for realsies, I love my husband, and I’m cool with you knowing it– knowing it so hard it makes you roll your eyes, groan, and shake your head at me all at once!
Anyone else out there a Dean Koontz fan? Personally, I am OBSESSED!
I love almost everything he’s ever written (77 Shadow Street is the one and only exception to date), even his old pen name stuff. My favorite of all is his book Life Expectancy. I rarely read books more than once and that’s one of the rare exceptions (that and The Historian and Jemima J— so random, I know).
But besides Life Expectancy, I absolutely, completely, and totally dig the Odd Thomas series.
Until writing this post, I didn’t realize just how many Odd books there are… there’s a lot! And I’ve loved every one and it feels like such a long wait in between!
Odd Thomas is a young man who sees ghosts… mostly people, some dogs, some famous, some not. He defines himself as a fry cook, but we know he’s so much more. And I love him for that. He’s humble and loving; loving in a completely heartbreaking way (but no spoilers from me– and don’t read any of the Odd Thomas books before you read the first!! I did… and sobbed all the way through the first one…).
Like I said, Odd is a fry cook; a short order cook at a local, hometown diner. He’s famous for his fluffy pancakes and truly aspires to nothing more than cooking good food quickly. When I started reading Odd Thomas this was a pretty foreign notion to me– the idea that you could aspire to be happy doing something well without meeting the societal norms that define “success.” It was the first time that I really thought about the idea of being ok without always, always, always striving for more and more and more. Lots of Dean Koontz’s characters are like that… they don’t all have to be millionaires and billionaires and fancy, important people. They’re regular, but special, not because of what they do or where they live or how much money they have, but because of who they are on the inside. Just like Odd, loyal and loving, thoughtful and intelligent.
Odd also taught me about trusting your intuition. Granted, he has what he refers to as “psychic magnetism,” which is more than just intuition… when he lets go and really trusts his gut, it never leads him astray. But it’s a good reminder for me because I spend a lot of time mulling things over in my head and not following my gut-heart (because I think when people say follow your heart, they really mean gut). My gut knows what’s up though. When I follow my gut, I end up in the right place. So do all of Dean’s characters.
Finally, I love, love, love how Odd loves. He’s amazing in that respect. I really don’t want to give anything away, but this is a man who follows his gut in all matters, including love. Romantic love and otherwise– friends and family. (Also, I may have mentioned once or twice that I’m an absolute sucker for a love story, and Dean Koontz almost always adds a love story. He knows the recipe for absolute literary delight!)
Odd Thomas is awesome. To me, he’s the epitome of all that’s good about Dean Koontz’s characters. He tells us what’s important– loyalty, optimism, perseverance, hope, kindness, generosity… and dogs 🙂 He always adds a dog, ghost or otherwise, and I love that. I loved it even before I had my own. Now I super love it!
Dean Koontz has made me love the regular guy, to look for the extraordinary in the every day, to swoon over all that is California, and to recognize that no matter how bad things can seem, how bad things can be, there’s always, always, always an opportunity for good.
I recently downloaded the Audible app to my phone (there’s an app for that!) and I’ve been listening to audio books while I run, walk, mow the lawn, or drive the dog to the emergency vet… and only then. A chance to listen to a good book is ridiculously motivating in such instances, I love it! And to date, nothing has been more motivating than a good Dean Koontz book. Yes, I pepper in other things (Divergent by Veronica Roth, Nudge by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein, for example), but I’m completely Koontz-ivated! At present, I’m listening to his newest– The City. It’s wonderful, and so different from the usual! For one thing, it takes place in New York City, not California (or New Orleans). Secondly, it’s centered around a child. Children play prominent roles in others of his books, but this is the first time a child is the main character. Fascinating! He’s branching out, after oh so many books, and still killing it!
Do you have an author like that? One who has found your formula for literary genius???
PS: Speaking of all things high brow and literary… My sister and I have been texting back and forth about The Bachelorette: Men Tell All… and she said to me, “By giving in to the greatness which is the Bachelor, you have helped us take our seester-hood to a new level!” She’s right, you know. This trashy, reality television series is where it’s at!! And books, too. Books. Yep.
Lllamas are cool, and with the exception of donkeys (of course) they are my favorite state fair animal in a tie with alpacas (because I’m not talented or patient enough to tell the difference). But L isn’t for llamas, so I really need to stop belaboring it. L is for a certain Lema I know and love.
It’s funny that this post was in the works because last night, I invented something completely new with Melissa Lema. You’ve heard of butt-dialing, right? Well, I managed to arm band FaceTime dial my dear friend Melissa. I made it to Michigan yesterday evening and felt the need to stretch my legs a bit with a jog after all that time in the car. It was lovely, except I got totally lost in my sister’s neighborhood and while fumbling with my arm band to look at my map (my magic smap, if you will, Tom? Ab?) I managed to arm band dial Melissa. On FaceTime. Super weird. Especially since I thought she was calling me…
Totally worked out though, she didn’t pick up right away and texted me after I’d arrived back at Abby and Stu’s that she was available and she got to see baby Claire and give Ab some tips on how to keep Claire from falling asleep “on the boob”… speaking of boobs, Ab’s are out right now and she says that I should title this post “Interlude for a triple X”… HA!
Anyway… L is for a very special Lema. Melissa Lema.
I’ve mentioned the Lemas like a thousand times, I know, but they are definitely worthy of the obsession, I promise– all of them. The Lemas seem to truly embody the perfect American nuclear family and they seem so normal– mom, dad, daughter, son, and pup– except they’re not normal at all. They are extraordinary and I am crazy lucky to not only know them, but to love them like they’re my own family!
I met the Lemas (including the youngest, Christian, in utero) back in 2007. I told you about that already though– it was the first time I tried to destroy their daughter Emily (the baby, the broken glass, you remember the story, I’m sure). I’d heard good things, of course, Seth was already a big fan of the boss man, Chris, his main squeeze, Melissa, and their little girl, but I had no idea how much I was going to come to love them.
And how incredibly little time it would take to become completely smitten!
Because, you guys, it was pretty much instant.
Oh, that’s Melissa? Excellent. I’m in love.
I’ve told you before that I become overly familiar overly quick. For me, when it’s right, it’s right. And Melissa was it for me– my soul friend. I am so thankful for her every day. And for Chris for bringing her to me. And Emily for making her understand me. And Christian for being his momma’s sweet little boy. But truly, it’s all about Melissa Lema.
I am completely serious when I say that you have not known true beauty in your life until you’ve known someone like Melissa. (And yet… is there really anyone else like her? Perhaps not. Perhaps everyone just needs to know Melissa…) Melissa is beauty– inside, outside, and upside down side. In every way, no matter how you look at her, you see abs-o-lute beauty. You know that Roald Dahl quotation that I love so much? “If you think good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely…” that’s about Melissa. She’s friendly, she’s kind, she’s brilliant, she’s passionate and compassionate, thoughtful and musical, gifted and well-read, understanding and tolerant, interested and interesting, and 100% genuine. Plus, she’s beautiful in the physical way, too– perky blonde curls, happy smile, and all! What a bonus, right? (Also, she’s humble so she’s about to be super embarrassed… but too bad, because it’s all true.)
Never in my life have I felt so naturally comfortable around someone. I talked to you about grace before, but I didn’t know grace until I knew Melissa (and her little girl). Because she gives it– in spades. I know that no matter what I have done, where I have been, who I have been, Melissa loves me anyway.
(And it’s reciprocal! I love her SO so SOOO much!!)
And as disturbing and blasphemous as this is going to sound: by knowing Melissa and knowing what it feels like to be loved unconditionally by someone who doesn’t have to, I feel like I get the whole idea of God a little better. I’ve always thought abstractly of God as the manifestation of unconditional love without purpose or reason– Melissa made that a concrete notion.
… As much as the rest of this post has made Melissa sound totally other-worldly and ethereal, I want you to know this: she’s just as human as you and me. Get her in a card game late at night in Mexico and you will see just how weird a person can be– even sans booze! But doesn’t that just make it all so much better? If Melissa can be so amazing, maybe it’s something I can aspire to too! Maybe we all can! I definitely think we all should, because seriously, this is an amazing woman I’m talking about here!
J is for the author and psychologist Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the book Full Catastrophe Living and a huge proponent of mindfulness (no, it doesn’t really start with a j, silent or otherwise).
Although I haven’t actually finished reading the book yet (it’s a monster!), I am becoming more and more interested in the idea of mindfulness. Or more than idea, really– the science of mindfulness. (It’s a science that literally has it’s own journal, peer-reviewed and PubMed-indexed. Dang.) It’s another one of those things that keeps coming up over and over and over again… and the universe only has to put something in my face so many times before I actually take notice.
Would I have admitted to mindfulness being a legitimate science even 6 months ago? Absolutely not. The excellent thing about being an actual scientist (despite my work place’s unwillingness to call me one– only scientists can be trusted with a per diem!) is that I’m totally cool with allowing the evidence to change my mind. With regard to mindfulness, my mind is just about completely changed.
And I’m not the only scientist who feels that way. As I was contemplating mindfulness as a topic for the letter J (because… J… right…), I came across this Humans of New York (HONY) post.
Mindfulness, inner voice, meditation, introspection– it’s all kind of the same thing. The new age mumbo jumbo that has always intrigued me, yet turned me away because… well, because I am a scientist, darn it! And I thought I was supposed to be against all that!
According to this guy though, lots of scientists are into mindfulness and the like. And I am certainly convinced of that after attending the HMO Research Network (HMORN) conference back at the beginning of May. I saw several oral and poster presentations presenting hard evidence* suggesting that mindfulness practices improve physiological measures of health in patients with diabetes, heart disease, and several psychological conditions. It’s certainly not a panacea, as nothing is, but to think about the power our minds have over our bodies is amazing. To see evidence of it? Even more so.
For example, people with diabetes could literally reduce their hemoglobin A1c by 1 – 2% over the course of an 8 week mindfulness practice. If you’re familiar with glycemic control in the context of diabetes, that will undoubtedly impress you. That’s a number that takes considerable time and effort to change, and it’s a really good measure of diabetes management.
Because I’m always quoting Mumford and Sons:
In these bodies you will live, in these bodies you will die. Where you invest your love, you invest your life.
— Awake My Soul, Mumford and Sons
Isn’t that it? Mindfulness? Investing in yourself… love here meaning time and energy; a moment for yourself.
I know, I sound like I drank the Kool-Aid and that’s that. Not the case, I assure you.
For months my therapist has been gently suggesting meditation and breathing and such… mindfulness practices. Every time, I nodded my head like a good girl, an agreeable girl, but in my head, I thought he might be Looney Toons… at least a little too “new age” for my liking.
He knew I’d come around though. And I did. Good call, Dr. C!
HMORN piqued my interest for seriously and I started reading Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book. Then, all at once, we had a grand rounds on mindfulness and I had a therapy appointment where once more Dr. C tried to convince me in his nonchalant way that mindfulness is where it’s at… the confluence of all these events was somewhat striking and it wasn’t until then that I realized I didn’t have to be good at mindfulness right away and that I could ease into it.
Doing something I’m not good at?! Ugh! That’s not how I prefer to operate, but at least it seemed slightly less daunting.
So I started doing 4-7-8 breathing… all the time. In the middle of the day, when I’m feeling stressed, first thing in the morning, and before I go to sleep. It’s so easy, even a skeptical nerd like me can do it. I just close my eyes, breath in for 4 counts, hold it for 7, then exhale for 8… times three in a row… several times a day. I don’t know why it works, but it does. When I open my eyes again, I feel like I’m coming back from somewhere else. Every time. Try it!
Here’s a video from the real deal (i.e. not me) Dr. Andrew Weil. My favorite part is in the beginning when he is describing the yogic way you’re supposed to breath and says, “no idea what that means in terms of Western physiology, but they’re the ones who invented it, so we should do what they say.”
I like that– just because you don’t know why it works, doesn’t mean it doesn’t work.
I don’t envision myself sitting on a pillow for hours at a time in a quest for nirvana, but I certainly don’t think it would hurt to take baby steps toward a more mindful style of living. Jon Kabat-Zinn’s mindful-based stress reduction seems to be a good start!
*I say hard evidence here to mean something that is measurable, but relatively un-bias-able. There are, of course, all sorts of validated self-report questionnaires that can be used to measure outcomes of mindfulness practices, but I always wonder about how “real” that is… likely because it’s not my field, not my comfort zone. But in the studies I’m discussing here, people were actually drawing blood and making laboratory-based measurements of different compounds. That’s what I mean by “hard” evidence.
Not in the prison way.
And since we’re talking about mindfulness, let’s briefly touch on the complete opposite for a moment– mindlessness. Or, as I like to call it, The Bachelorette. A couple of my Marshfield friends got me into it this season and I’m hooked, it’s like checking out completely for two hours and liking it. And it makes Mondays so much better! Plus: girls night, every Monday! Tonight we even had oatmeal cream pies (mmmm… Little Debbie). Anyway, Marcus and Brian… right?! RIGHT?! I wish I could say Josh on account of being at the letter J, but… I just can’t. Enough now.