Tribe

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I’ve never been much of a big group person.  I’m better one-on-one, face-to-face, mano-a-mano (which translates to hand-to-hand, so that might not be relevant).  However, there’s a trendy phrase floating around encouraging women to “Find Your Tribe.”  It’s often seen in memes with five to ten 20-something women looking cool and confident in their peasant skirts and form-fitting tank tops dancing around a campfire.  My first thought when I see them is that that doesn’t seem very safe; those breezy skirts would go up in a flash if a stray ember were to land on that gauzy fabric.  Granted, maybe I’m just jealous that those girls can pull off a cute, artsy look in billowy skirts, whereas I’d resemble an actual peasant preparing to stomp grapes out in the vineyard.  My second thought in response to their fireside traipsing is whether or not alcohol is involved.  Even though they’re all consenting adults and it looks like no one’s going to be driving anytime soon because they are clearly out in the middle of nowhere, I just wonder if my friends and I would be as inclined to hold hands and parade around an open flame if we were completely sober.  I think not.

Anyway, as a mostly non-group person, the idea of a tribe has never been that appealing to me.  I think it’s the word itself that hangs me up.  When I hear tribe I picture old westerns and stereotypical Native American camps filled with teepees in which entire families lived under one roof (of sorts) in one central area.  And just outside one family’s teepee were 20 other teepees with 20 other families that shared the same daily living space.  It was wall-to-wall (buffalo hide-to-buffalo hide) people 24/7.  That, quite simply, sums up my worst nightmare.  Where would I go for my me time?  Where would I read in peace?  Where would I eat ice cream from the carton?  Where would I hide and recharge?

So you can see why I scroll right by those “Find Your Tribe” memes.  But I do get it.  They’re suggesting that we find people with whom we mesh, then make a conscious effort to spend time with them, and of course I’m on board with that.

When we were little, our tribe probably consisted of neighbor kids and school friends.  We saw them every day, so it’s not surprising that we teamed up with them—they were the ones we had the most access to.  When we got older and had our own kids, our tribe very likely became other moms who were going through the same joys and trials of having kids in first grade then fifth grade then high school.  It was nice to have that common ground and a sounding board to see if their little Timmy was driving them crazy the way our little Johnny was driving us crazy.

“He only wants to eat macaroni and cheese.”
“Mine only wants chicken nuggets.”
“And he puts ketchup on everything.”
“Everything?”
“Even cantaloupe.”
“Gross.”
“Tell me about it.”

We loved the affirmation that it wasn’t just us.  There’s comfort in knowing that we’re not in this alone.

When my son was 16, he went through a particularly quiet phase.  Any questions posed to him were generally met with a one-word response or maybe a head nod or were ignored all together, not so much out of rudeness but it’s just what he as a teenage boy needed to do.

It was during that time period that we had this actual conversation:
Me: Hi.
Him: (grunt)
Me: How was your day?
Him: Fine.
Me: Do you have homework?
Him: Yeah.
Me: In what?
Him: Why do you have to ask so many questions?
Me: You don’t tell me anything–I HAVE to ask questions.
Him: You probably know more about what’s going on with me than I know about what’s going on with you.
Me: Oh!  Well, what do you want to know?  I’ll tell you anything!
Him: But I don’t care.

I laughed…out loud…for a long, long time.

He had no idea why.

But it still cracks me up.
I was so excited.  I thought we were going to have a real heart-to-heart conversation at last!  But it was the ol’ bait and switch, and I didn’t see it coming at all.

When I shared the story with friends who also had teenagers, they laughed equally loud.
They totally got it.  It’s a good idea to keep a few parents of teenagers close by for that kind of reassurance.  I’ve noticed, though, that my “tribe” has changed a lot over the past few years.  I don’t see very many of the moms from my son’s earlier school years.  We’re not picking up kids from school and sitting together at basketball games and hosting birthday parties and running into each other on an almost daily basis anymore.  Routine was the glue of our friendship, apparently, not so much our personalities.  The same goes for certain work friends, women whom I saw and chatted with and enjoyed every day for years, who have moved on to new jobs and new routines, and we haven’t really kept in touch.

A tribe, then, must be based on more than convenience and common interests.  The fact that we both live in the same neighborhood or both have teenagers or both work in the building on the corner of 24th and Main doesn’t necessarily make us tribe worthy.  A true tribe, the kind we start to recognize and really appreciate as we enter into new decades, becomes more about people who get each other.  For me, that means people who know that I’m going to say what I think when I’m asked for my opinion—and sometimes even when I’m not.  It also means people who not only get my silly quirkiness but bring a healthy dose of their own to the table.

What I’ve also realized recently is that the tribe forming in and around me is made up of people willing to wait it out.  For some reason, despite sometimes very little encouragement from me, these folks have stuck around.  They were willing to take what I had to offer, even when it was only crumbs, and accept it as enough.  They didn’t push.  They didn’t ask for more because they had a hunch that I didn’t have more to give at the moment…but somehow they also had a hunch that the day was coming when I would.  They knew it before I did.  Because they’re my tribe.  And members of a tribe get each other.  They help us see what we can’t see.  They help us practice what we need to practice, like taking care of ourselves and laughing out loud and loving one another.  They say, “Yes!” when we really need a “Yes!”  They say, “Absolutely!” when we ask, “Do you want to?”  And they say nothing when words can’t say what needs to be said.  I still remember dropping my head in Katie’s lap and sobbing uncontrollably one day, pouring out bottled up tears and grief on her jeans.  And she just let me, providing silent, steady comfort until I’d emptied out.

I don’t know how we find our tribe, but one day hopefully we look around and realize it’s there.  We may or may not be wearing billowy skirts.  We may or may not really seem to have much in common.  We may or may not even see each other all that often.  Nevertheless, we are a tribe and it’s a blessing to know that we get each other.

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This is an excerpt from Women of a Certain Age (Spring 2021).

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I Don’t Dance

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You would think a self-proclaimed dork like me would have no qualms about dancing.  It seems like I would jump at the chance to get up and do the Hokie Pokie with everyone.  If it was really the Hokie Pokie that would be fine–put your left foot in, put your left out, put your left foot in, and you shake it all about–yes, absolutely, sign me up!

It’s the grownup dancing with hip, cool music and hip, cool people that sends me searching for a dark, dark corner in which to hide.

Although I can’t catch a ball to save my life, I am fairly coordinated.  If the lead singer in our church worship band starts to clap I can usually stay on beat with her, but if I’m near someone who’s clapping out of time I can’t block them out and I have to stop.  So I’m not Pee-wee Herman, but I’m not exactly Fred Astaire either.

My concern is that I’m Elaine.  In that classic episode of Seinfeld, Elaine argues with Jerry about what a great dancer she is, then she hits the dance floor to prove it.  Her body jerks around in the least rhythmic, most contorted ways and her thumbs–oh my gosh, her thumbs–they’re thrusting all over the place.  Everyone in the room looks on with horrified stares while she cluelessly convulses around.

What if I’m Elaine?  What if I’m out there thinking I’m killing it as people watch and wonder if I’m having a seizure?

For the most part, I like me.  I don’t get riled up too easily.  I appreciate simple pleasures.  People say I’m easy to be around…and I hope that’s true.  I also know, however, that I am not hip and/or cool and nowhere is that more obvious to me than in a roomful of people with music blasting.

Therein lies the real problem:  the loud music.  If no one can hear anything but music, I can’t ask questions, I can’t crack jokes, and I can’t offer a listening ear.  The parts of me that I know I can lean on are suddenly not available, and without words to hide behind, I’m basically naked…which is not a good look for me.

One of the great things about becoming a woman of a certain age, though, is that we start to care less if we’re Elaine.  We pick those shoes because they’re comfortable.  We avoid that person because they’re negative.  And (maybe) we decide to dance just because it’s fun.

That being said, my mantra for the new year is “Hide less.  Dance more.”  To kick it off, I’m going dancing with a few friends this month.  I’ve been assured that there are not a bunch of tables situated around this particular dance floor, so people won’t be camping out and watching.  I’ve also been told that the venue is quite dark; bright lights shining all over the place would be a definite deal breaker:  “You guys go ahead.  I’ll wait in the car.”

Really, though, what’s the worst that could happen?
I trip and fall?
People laugh?
I end up in the emergency room?
Wait, where was I going with this?

No, the worst that could happen is that whether I’m terrible or not, my friends and I get to hang out and laugh and possibly even do the Hokie Pokie if the band happens to read minds.

Sooo…

Deep breath…

I’m going for it.

No turning back.

Put your left foot in.

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Note:  This is an excerpt from Women of a Certain Age  (Spring 2021)

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The Problem with Book #2

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Last March I finished my first book.
This had been a longtime secret goal that I’d kept tucked away–even from myself–until just over a year ago.  Then an idea popped up and I decided to really commit to it:  yes, let’s do this!  November 2018 I shared with you that I was writing a book, confessing it publicly with the hope that having some accountability would lead to follow through.  My goal was to have a finished draft a year from the date of that post.  Apparently that was a good strategy because I was holding a printed copy four months later.

Feedback has been positive.  Granted, it’s mostly from people I know, but even a few total strangers have offered thumbs up and high fives and want to know when the sequel is coming out, which I so appreciate.

Book #2, however. is dragging its feet.  I have plenty of ideas and energy when I’m driving in the car or standing in the shower, but when I sit down to put them on paper they scurry away.  So I thought I’d try a magical confession here once again and say out loud that my goal is to have a finished draft a year from today.

pencil in hand…

blank paper on the table…

Ready…

GO!

(clock ticking in the background)

Nope.

Nothin’.

The problem, I believe, is that my goal is the book.  I want to have a book by next January.  I want to see the cover and hold the final copy in my hands and hear feedback from people who (hopefully) enjoyed it.

The catch, of course, is that I actually need to write the words that will fill the pages that will become that book.

As I sat waiting for words to flow from my pencil, I realized the reason last year’s book poured out of me so easily was because I had stories I couldn’t wait to tell.  I had real dialogue and real events to share and occasionally those events cracked me up and I very much hoped they would crack someone else up also.  I wasn’t writing a book last year, I was telling a story…and I wanted to see how it turned out…and that’s how it became a book.

My goal, then, should not be to write a book.
My goal should be to tell a story.

One word at a time.
One sentence at a time.
One chapter at a time.

And eventually the story will become a book.

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Yes.  Good plan.

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Playing to Crickets

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You know when you write something you love?

The lumpy spots have been ironed out and the words all flow and you’ve said what it is you wanted to say–although sometimes it’s not at all what you intended to say.  It was one of those pieces you didn’t even plan to write but it just started coming out, so you went along with it to see where it would go.

Kind of like this one.

This one started out as a few thoughts about audiences, and the reality (as a writer) of often not having one.  I was going to invite you to commiserate with me over the experience of having zero readers for a post over which we’re doing cartwheels because we love it so much.  I wasn’t going to whine exactly, but I was going to admit it’s tricky to stay motivated at times.  Then, ideally, I was going to pull myself up by my bootstraps and give us all a pep talk and say, “Go get ’em, tiger!”

That’s what I thought I was going to do.

But then the first sentence came out.

“You know when you write something you love?”

And I do.

I do know what that’s like.
And I do love it.
I love putting words together.
I love using them to be a dork.
And using them to be honest.
And to be real.
And I love that feeling you get as a writer when you read it and you know it’s done.  It doesn’t need any more words or commas or tweaking.  It’s done.  And you love it.

And although I’d love for other people to love it, too, I suppose that’s not the point.

The point is to do it anyway.
Because I love it.
This thing that God has made part of me, whether anyone sees it or not, I’m gonna do it anyway.

And that thing that God has made part of you, whether anyone sees it or not, do it anyway.
Because you love it.

 

Whether anyone sees it or not.

Do it anyway.

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Go get ’em, tiger!

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D.I.Y. 50th Fiesta!

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I’m turning 50 this month.
The big 5-0.
A half century.
Five decades.

You get the picture.

I don’t generally do much for my birthday.  I don’t tell people my birthday is coming up or expect them to know.  I might go to lunch with a friend or treat myself to a shopping spree at Target (“Yes I will take that name-brand peanut butter, thank you very much!”), but that’s about it.

But this is the Big 5-0.
And the past couple of years have been pretty amazing, so I wanted to celebrate.  I wanted to have fun, and I wanted people to have fun with me.  So I threw myself a party.

I started by making a list of fun people I love.  People that I work with, people I used to work with, people I go to church with, people that are simply awesome.  In general, these are the people that know I’m a huge dork and still say, “Yes” to being my friend.

Then I invited these fun people to join me for a Do-It-Yourself party, which meant we were meeting for dinner at a restaurant and they would be picking up their own tab (no other gifts allowed).  These people were also informed that they would be asked to play games and sing along and cheer and act like they were enjoying it.

And, true to their awesomeness, every person said, “Yes.”
And with the exception of one last-minute flu victim, every person showed up as well as a couple of surprise bonus guests.
Then we ate.
And we played games and rang bells.
And we sang.
And we each lit a candle on our slice of cake for our very own wish.
And I played the ukulele (badly but boldly).
And there were prizes.
And there were hugs…lots of hugs.
Then I sent them on their way to their warm homes and hot showers to thaw out because the heaters on the outdoor patio where we were seated weren’t working–but no one complained…because, as I mentioned before, they’re awesome.

In case you can’t tell, it was pretty fun.
On a scale of 1 to 10…the scale broke.

And I’m still just basking in it all.  I’m wallowing around in gratitude for the people that came and celebrated and went along with the whole, big, goofy thing.

And I’m soaking up how amazing it is that this is where I get to be at year 50.  Because year 40 was not great.  And year 45 was possibly the worst.  And, yet, just a few years later, here I am celebrating how unbelievably great it has indeed become.

One of the bonuses of the whole thing has been the handful of people that have said, “I would have never thought to throw myself a party…that was the best party I’ve ever been to!”  I love that they had a good time.  I love that the games worked.  I love that the dorky little goody bags made people feel special.  And I admit, I loved running the show for a couple of hours and having everybody just roll with it…and not just tolerate it, but truly enjoy it.

 

I hope it doesn’t seem obnoxious to spend all this time talking about my own birthday party, but there is a point.  And that is to say that it’s okay to throw your own party, to invite the people you want to invite, to do the things you want to do, and to have fun the way you want to have fun.

So, my friend, celebrate.
Pick a day and celebrate you.
Throw your own party the way you want to and for whatever reason you want to.
Invite two people or 20 people.
Sing karaoke or drink tea from fancy cups.
Go to a club or meet at the beach.
Play games or…not.
Round up your peeps and tell them they’re invited!
Then commit to it.
Go all in.
Squash the worries about being selfish.
It’s just a day…just a couple of hours, really.  Surely your worthy of that.

All in.

Celebrate you.

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Might I suggest a pinata?

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Teachable Spirit

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I was pretty much a straight “A” student in school–the exceptions were “B”s in Chemistry and Physics.  I wasn’t exceptionally smart; I just knew how to get an “A”:  do the homework, study for tests, pay attention in class, be nice to the teacher (which I’m certain was often the deciding factor between my receiving a B+ or an A-).

For the most part, I liked school.  I liked the predictability of it, I liked knowing what was expected, and I liked that “A”s told me I was doing things right.

Ironically, though, I wasn’t a very good student.

I skimmed chapters to look for answers rather than read for the purpose of actually gaining knowledge.   I didn’t challenge myself to figure out the word problems in math assignments; I knew I had enough extra credit built up to cover me if I skipped them.  I crammed for tests at the last minute to fill my head with the information I needed to get a good grade; after that, it was free to go.

Basically, I didn’t really care about learning anything–I just wanted the “A”.

Once I got out of school, though, there were no more “A”s.  There were no report cards coming every 10 weeks assuring me that I was doing things right.  Sure an employer can tell you if you’re meeting expectations, but it’s not the same as a little chart in black and white giving you “thumbs up” in all the boxes.  Needless to say, I missed that lack of tangible approval.

I realized recently that even though grades were no longer a factor, that straight “A” mentality stuck with me as an adult:  I wanted to do things right.  That may sound like a good thing, but it also meant that I hesitated to try something if I wasn’t sure I’d be good at it.  If I didn’t feel I could ace it, I’d usually steer clear of it.  Not surprisingly, if you’re not willing to mess up occasionally that really cuts down on your list of available options, and your world stays pretty small.

One of the great things about getting older is that we, hopefully, gain perspective.  We get better at discerning what does and doesn’t matter.  We get better at seeing things for what they are instead of what we imagined them to be.  We get better at hearing what people are saying without them even saying it.  And, thankfully, in the midst of all that, we get better at not taking ourselves so darn seriously.

For the past six weeks I’ve been watching Youtube tutorials on how to play the ukulele.  Something about ukuleles just seems fun.  Maybe because their size and sound are so much less intimidating than a full-size guitar or a piano, for example.  Plus, uke players are always smiling–honestly, have you ever seen a sad ukulele player?  Me neither.  So I borrowed my friend’s ukulele and started watching videos, going in humbly but fully expecting straight “A” success.

Ugh.
It was horrible.
Truly, truly, horrible.
My strumming sounded nothing like their strumming.  It took me two weeks to figure out my uke wasn’t in tune (thanks, HJ).  Things improved slightly after that…and then a little more slightly.  I haven’t learned any actual songs yet (damn you, G7!), but the uke and I are producing some not so horrible and–dare I say–even pleasant sounds.  And I am pleased to report that I have noticeable callouses building up on my fingertips from practicing.

If I took a ukulele test tomorrow, I would not get an “A”.  I doubt I would even squeak by with a “C”–unless I was extra nice to the teacher.  I’m really quite terrible.  But I don’t care.  I am having so much fun!  I am learning something just for the sake of learning.  There’s no grade at stake.  There’s no end of the semester looming.  There’s no teacher to please.  I’m just trying something new…taking the risk to try something new, whether I’ll be good at it or not.

After years and years of “A”s…I finally have a teachable spirit.

And that’s carrying over into other things.
Reading things I didn’t think would “fit” my thinking.
Being more brave with people and places.
Asking and going and doing without overanalyzing the odds of success.

I’m getting “C”s and “D”s…and loving it.

Simply,

absolutely

loving it.

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I’m coming for you, G7!

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