Fear and My Jury Duty

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This month I had planned to write about fear and then jury duty happened to me. Again.

This is not my first jury duty rodeo.

Once when I was in my 20s, I got busy with school and did not read the newspapers or talk much with anyone about current events which made me the perfect candidate to sit on a jury for a murder case. I could probably write a blog series on that experience all by itself. Maybe someday I will.

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What I’d like to start with today, though, is how much I rely on and cherish my ability to speak freely. During that (blessedly short) trial in 1995, I was repeatedly instructed not to discuss or investigate the case. I did not until after we found the defendant guilty of first degree murder. (He was something of a small time Ted Bundy. Really.)

In this most recent superior court case, I was again instructed not to discuss the procedings so many times, I thought my eardrums might burst from repetition. Now the instructions included a mind numbing number of electronic ways we should not mess up our empty minds with researching the case or communicating about it.

We also could not discuss what we heard with our fellow jurors. It was almost comical to hear difficult testimony and then go back to our small room to talk about those Seahawks.

In addition to the judge of many words who gave us the instructions multiple times, I sat in the juror number three chair with my legs crossed in front of a laminated print out detailing all the ways I should not communicate and how I could be held in contempt if I did.

I kept my mouth shut until the case resolved, and I noticed something while I stayed mum.

I find it extraordinarily hard to write when someone is constantly telling me to keep my mouth shut.

I’m not saying I think jurors should blab. I’m saying I don’t want to be in a profession (like lawyering) where I feel constrained like that. I’m saying I treasure my ability to speak and write my experiences more than a good number of other things in my life.

And I’m explaining why my blog has been gathering dust on the web.

This month was supposed to be about trying things that scare me. I think I’ve done that by:

1. Passing through security checks multiple times a day at that towering courthouse (they took my lunch fork!).

2. Facing an intense voir dire with potential vocal jurors questioning the process while a prosecutor and pro se defendant asked us awkward personal questions.

3. Once again knowing I might have to make a decision that would affect others’ lives so deeply.

I spent a good deal of time praying for all the players in the stifling drama of the courtroom while fumbling around looking for my own center.

Maybe I need more than a month to write on it or think of what to say with my new found freedom.

For now I’m turning over how much of the story is mine to tell even after I am no longer facing that laminated sign telling me how many ways to hold my peace.

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Epic Fail Part Two: Believe it Or Not Failure Isn’t (Always) Someone Else’s Fault

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As promised after the Super Bowl Sadness, I looked into people who have made mistakes and bounced back. When I googled and asked others about this I found three interesting things:

1. Lots of people have made mistakes.

2. No one wants to talk about their own mistakes.

3. It’s much easier to think even our heroes were unrecognized — that they were unfairly rejected — than it is to think about how many times they had to sweat it out and improve to get good at what they were doing.

When I asked others face to face about famous people who recovered from big mistakes, several people paused, looked at me, and then said something like:

“Well, I’ve made lots of mistakes, but I don’t want you writing about me.”

Then I often learned of the writers or artists they know who were rejected over and over again until someone finally saw their greatness.

But, I kept thinking to myself, if that’s totally true and the writer or artist changed nothing about her/his work, then the people who rejected Harry Potter, Mickey Mouse and Jaws are the ones who made the mistakes, not Rawling, Disney, or Spielberg.

What’s worse, the rejectors had no redemption. They never recovered from their mistakes because the other organizations who saw the greatness made all the money.

What bothers me most is the idea that your stuff is either good enough, or it’s not. Either the world sees you’re already great or it does not. In this view, there is no room for the reworking a book, a drawing or a movie until it’s even better.

I”m still pondering this and what it means for my own work. But for today I will tell you of one successful artist who made mistakes, learned from them, worked hard to make corrections and went on to become a name you all know. I read of his failure in A Curious Man: The Strange and Brilliant life of Robert “Believe it or Not “Ripley by Neal Thompson.

Robert LeRoy Ripley got his first job as a cartoonist in San Francisco with a respected newspaper when he was a young man. Soon after, he was fired from his dream job because his work was not good enough for the publication.

Rather than rail against his fate or go back to the small town he was raised in to live out his days doing work he did not love, Ripley started taking drawing lessons and studying other cartoonists. He kept the lessons and study up even after he got his next dream job and worked ridiculously hard long hours to improve his skills.

Ripley did not resent his firing. He knew he needed to get better and put all his energy into doing just that.

His quest for improvement sometimes bordered on obsession, and I’m hoping to avoid manic no sleep sort of behavior. Still, I admire Ripley’s focus and determination in the face of his own deficiencies.

This encourages me much more than the stories of needless rejection because the amount of effort I put into getting better is under my control.

I’d also like to think those mistaken rejectors might have gotten better and gone on to recognize the next great person who knocked at the door. I’m that kind of optimist.

To finish this up today, I’ll leave you with Ira Glass who says the hardest part about beginning is allowing yourself to crank out enough stinky material until you get better, knowing all along that what you’re making smells like the fish those guys at Pike Place Market fling into the air. In other words, put in the time making mistakes.

Epic Fail Part One: The Gift of the Seahawks After the Loss

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My first column in The News Tribune ran last week. In it, I talked about my admiration for Pete Carroll and his leadership of the Seattle Seahawks. After reading it, several people I knew (and many I didn’t) sent me emails telling me how much they liked my work, including my high school English teacher Mrs. Koon.

It felt wonderful but also oddly terrifying in a way that I struggled to understand.

Apparently, it’s one thing to write along hoping someone will notice and that I will improve enough to be good. It’s another to have people watching for my next piece to see if they like it or not.

Then the Hawks lost.

Dramatically.

Because of a decision Carroll made.

I’ve read the posts and talked to my friends about it. Most people say it was a bad call. They say Pete Carroll made a mistake in throwing the ball instead of running it with Lynch or, my husband tells me, running the ‘read option’ where the Wilson fakes it to Lynch and then runs it in himself if he reads the situation correctly.

“What’s with all the throwing!?!” one person posted on my Facebook feed. “Run the ball!”

I’ve seen plenty of analysis as I’ve tried to process and understand what happened. I’ve even read smart statistics about why Carroll made the mathematically best move.

For the record, I think he made a mistake. Or, at the very least, he made a carefully calculated gamble and lost.

When I saw his face fall after the game ending interception, I felt a recognition. That is what I am afraid of when people say they liked my work and are looking forward to the next. That. Making a mistake, feeling the devastation, and having more people watching to see it.

In a strange way, it helped me that Carroll lost the Super Bowl.

Don’t get me wrong.(Please, dear fabulous Seahawks fans!)

I’d so rather we had won and keep wishing for the Hermione’s time turner so we could go back and make that last yard with Lynch, the read option, or another down. Anything.

It’s just that something about seeing a gigantic failure gives me permission to keep going, knowing that we all make mistakes.

Some will forgive us.

Some will not.

That’s the risk.

The pain of that football loss only happened to me because I cared enough to feel the absolute thrill of the victory two weeks before.

My writing is a calculated gamble I’m willing to make because the joy of getting the words right matters to me enough to face the risk of the defeat, public or not.

To that end, this month I’ll focus on the epic fail. I’ll look at different failures each week. For Carroll and for me, I’ll look for stories of resilience — of how others have overcome huge mistakes and come out stronger for the struggle.

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Hope: Five Slices of Internet Goodness Pie (Plus One)

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One of my amazing cousins has been giving me jobs to do lately for his Happiness Project. I get points for completing his tasks and, if I win, he’ll donate a hundred dollars to the charity of my choice. Because I’ve enjoyed his latest assignment so much, I thought I’d share it here.

Here’s the assignment: “Hope: Post an article that gives you hope for the future each day for five (5) days and what it is about the article that gives you hope.”

Day 1

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The secret lives of happy looking teachers following their artistic dreams give me hope that I can have a profession and a vocation just for the joy of it.

Day 2

This video give me hope because the people in it are making beautiful things out of something I had only thought of as a blight. People are so amazing. A sea chair! And it’s open sourced so I could join.

Plus…the fisherman remind me of my grandpa the Swede. I can almost taste his smoked salmon and smell the salt sea air.

Day 3

This video gives me hope along with Zamperini’s story by Laura Hillenbrand. I am in awe of how much Zamperini endured and not only survived but thrived afterward. I am filled with hope at the thought of all the others contributing their stories to this project. (Even though I know Universal Pictures is probably thinking at least a little about their bottom line as a motivation.) 

And, as a writer, I feel a glimmer of hope that I could write a story that meant as much as Hillenbrand’s did to me.

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Day 4

This article on dailygood.com gives me hope because I’ve been swimming in writing procrastination. Judging myself is not working out all that well for me. I think I’ll give the self-compassion a whirl instead.

(This one got many cracks in comments about putting things off. It seems to me that we all put things off to some degree or other. Laughing at ourselves about it may be a form of self-compassion the article hadn’t considered.)

Day 5

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I met my professor from Western Washington University last weekend. It was wonderful to see the person who taught me to teach. This last article for Wayne’s project fills me with hope for all the teachers out there who get to hear how great they are. I’m also intrigued about the questions about what makes great teaching and how to get there.

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As  a bonus, I’m adding this voting video by Hank Green. It gives me tremendous hope to think that people of all ages might listen to him and choose to participate. And he’s also hilarious. Something about hilarious people gives me hope, too.

Father Sue and Why I Don’t Neuter God

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I once believed, like many of my big hearted friends, that I could cut all the male/female references out of God and It would resonate for me. I even thought the neutral would work better for me because He would be free of gender. A great Force. An It that was bigger than gender. Bigger than the labels we give to what our limited minds understand.

The Force defies images, but if I try, I come up with objects like mountains, or the sun, the moon or even flowers.

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Then one day I read two books by Sue Monk Kidd that shattered those neutral thoughts.

In The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, Kidd talked of needing deep in our souls to connect with the Divine. She talked of how very much we needed to feel a connection as a reflection of ourselves. She even talked of how she felt so steeped in male terms for God that she once slipped and thought of herself as Father Sue while visiting a monastic retreat.

Since reading that book, I’ve awakened to how very repressed the Divine feminine is in our consciousness. I wonder, as Kidd did in another book The Secret Life of Bees, how the world and its balance of power would shift and how it might change if we thought of the Great One as a woman of color. Could we subjugate people if we clearly understood that they reflected the face of the Divine? Could we begin to think of these images as representing the Divine?

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I still respect and admire others’ need to take gender out all together. The Divine is not actually a woman. The Divine is not a man. The Divine is greater and more marvelous than the gender that we assign or that is assigned to us. I once believed God lived on the mountain and, living in the shadow of a volcano, it’s easy to feel the power of inanimate things.

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But I am a woman, not a mountain. And I’ve discovered that to reach my best and most wonderful potential, I need to relate to a Goddess, not a God or a great unknowable Force, as fair-minded as that would seem. I don’t even object to terms like Father and Lord when we gather to worship. I feel the deep need of others to name God and relate in that way.

I only wish those male terms were balanced with the words Mother and Lady so both genders in the congregation could relate and see ourselves as reflections of the Divine. Maybe we could even sprinkle in a few neutral terms now and then to remind ourselves of impermanent nature of what we are now.

The idea of Goddess is shocking to me still — much scarier than a Force whose existence people more willingly agree to acknowledge. I’m scared to post this. My friend Shirley challenged me, and I have had a good long pause in posting while I considered what to do.

I am hoping maybe this means I’m ‘starting to get it right’ — that I might be reaching that moment Neil Gaiman described:

“The moment that you feel, just possibly, you are walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind, and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself…That is the moment, you might be starting to get it right.”

Whether I am getting it right or not, the She Who Is keeps insisting I write this in ways that won’t let me go. So I will punch the keys, hunt for public domain pictures, and hit publish. The world will keep spinning, and then I can move on to the next words tucked inside me.

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Off the Language Track: An English Teacher Tortures Herself with Mathematics

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In a change from my usual programming, I am posting a math problem. Which goes to show that you never can tell what you will end up doing in your life.

I shared this problem on Facebook:

Optional Math Problem (courtesy of the math teacher who shares my office):
Use any operation (addition, subtraction, etc.) between the numbers to make the equation true. I filled in the 2’s for an example. The 1’s are the most difficult. I suggest doing those last. And any fault in the instructions or layout falls to the English teacher. I am writing this up from memory.

1 1 1 = 6
2+2+2 = 6
3 3 3 = 6
4 4 4 = 6
5 5 5 = 6
6 6 6 = 6
7 7 7 = 6
8 8 8 = 6
9 9 9 = 6

P.S. I need a word problem to stump him with for a time. The 1/5 Dr. Seuss thing was helpful.

I’m posting a picture of my messy answers a few space bars below if you’d like to see them. My mathematics friend said more than one answer is possible for a few of the numbers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Bookmares

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How I feel about choosing my next read.

How I feel about choosing my next read.

Lately, I’ve felt traumatized by books. Two of the books I was able to stop reading when they upset me. I didn’t care enough about the characters to make myself read any more about teenagers doing drugs and blowing up their lives or risk running into another scene like the botched horse euthanasia that I long to unread.

Two more recent books have had me fully bought into what happens. I care about those characters about as much as I care about my high school or Sunday school students. I need to know what happened to those kids and that they are okay.

I’ve been listening to their stories on audio (iPhones and libraries make great partners for my morning commute – I can’t even get late fines). So I have had to get the printed books to let me skim those scenes about parental abuse of the character kids I want to scoop up and rescue from their writers’ words.

All of these authors are skilled. Very skilled. Even the ones who wrote characters I didn’t connect to have an amazing writerly superpower: they make me see in my head what they experienced or imagined in their own heads.

When I first took a class on fiction writing, I couldn’t get past the idea of conflict in writing. I didn’t want to believe I needed it to make a good story. Even more, I didn’t want to create stories to fill people with more feelings of conflict. I used this excuse for a long time to stop myself from writing.

Recently I scared one of my critique group members with the opening scene to my book with too much conflict. So I try not to hold my readerly stress against authors, and I know I’ve accepted that fiction needs conflict to pull the story forward.

But I am shopping for books with a tad fewer chest tightening scenes for my next reads. I crave great stories that pull me through without ripping my heart out over imaginary people. If you’ve got a minute, I’d love suggestions. Bring on the Pollyanna. My reading heart needs mending. Maybe this makes me a wimp. I’m okay with that.