Are You Sure We’re Related?

SiblingsMy parents have this running joke that if they had me first, I would have been their only child. Like with any good joke, it includes quirky details like, “Her sister slept through the night from the moment we brought her home. Hell, she might not even have woken up during the delivery! But this one, ” my father would say, gesturing at me with his thumb like he’s trying to hitch a ride, “This one hasn’t had a good night’s sleep since the Carter administration.”

I’m only mildly bothered by these comments since, really, did anyone sleep well during the Carter administration?

And, he’s not all together wrong – not just about the sleeping situation, but more generally that my sister and I couldn’t be more different. If there wasn’t such a strong physical resemblance, one could reasonably assume switched-at-birth scenarios that, once uncovered, could result in a book deal, followed by a wildly successful Lifetime movie, leading to a heartwarming weekly series on ABC Family. But, alas, it would seem we do share the necessary DNA to be considered sisters.Why is it then that we experience the world so differently?

My sister grew up on a steady diet of pastels, lace, and paper dolls. I was earth tones and corduroy. The most fun I had with paper dolls was when I was seven and locked myself in the bathroom with my mother’s Bic lighter and an assortment of Holly Hobbie’s patchwork dresses and paper bonnets. Burn, baby, burn.

My sister happily believed whatever she was told; I questioned everything. Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, Santa Claus? My sister fell for every one of them. She probably thinks we really landed on the moon too.

I never believed in the Tooth Fairy, but I understood fee-for-service at an early age, so was happy to oblige. Not that I completely understood what she wanted the teeth for in the first place. Some strange craft project, I imagine, involving elbow macaroni and pipe cleaners. It’s one of those questions in life that could go unanswered.

That anyone believed in the Easter Bunny is as odd as how many people think Justin Bieber is well-adjusted. I know I’m not the first one to point this out, and I get that the Easter Chicken has zero sex appeal, but a bunny with eggs? Let’s just say I’m not a “Belieber”.

Santa Claus has to be my sister’s favorite though; so imagine the depths of her despair when I combined my early onset reading skills with our freshly delivered ‘S’ volume of the Encyclopedia Britannica. The historical myth of the big guy in red was revealed, unleashing a sea of tears and emotion. “Mommy and Daddy were right! You should have been an only child,” she said, charging at me as I sat smugly in the beanbag chair.

At least she got one thing right.

Maybe Baby

Featured imageWhen I was little, I never spent much time thinking about whether or not I would get married and have children. I assumed it was one of those things that happened in life, a fated event, a given. I was well in to my 20s before it really dawned on me that I had a choice. I thought I had choices in other areas of my life – what school to go to, what to study, what work to pursue. But a spouse and a couple kids would be part of the package regardless. Perhaps they would even be doled out at graduation – cap, gown, diploma – oh, and by the way, please pick up your husband and two infants on your way out of the auditorium.

Turns out I might have been a bit naive…

In fact, I did get married shortly after college graduation. Not to someone I picked up in the auditorium, mind you, but rather to my high school sweetheart. We had been together for years. I thought our marriage was a fait accompli, so if any doubts took up residence in my mind, I swiftly moved them aside and kept moving forward in what I believed to be the expected and necessary direction.

About two years in to the marriage, he started talking about children. Of course, we’d had the conversation many times before, but it had always been simple ideation. Wouldn’t it be great if…Imagine what it’ll be like when…These new conversations had intent and used a whole different language. We should start thinking about…when do you want to…

It was only then I realized that I didn’t want to. It didn’t come to me quite that clearly at first, but it was the first inkling I had that I definitely wasn’t ready right then to have children, and perhaps I never would be. I danced around the topic for a while, delaying the real discussion while I tried to sort through my feelings. My feelings. This was part of the problem. I’d been entwined with the same person for so long, it was difficult to discern which thoughts belonged to me versus those born out of ‘we’.

It took me a while to untangle the two, but I got there in the end. My husband was a good man, and part of me didn’t want to let that go, but we were moving in different directions.  Sometimes knowing what you want starts with knowing what you don’t want. It seemed I might finally be on my way.

Are You a Dreamer or a Doer?

Surround Yourself...

Photo credit: @danalcraig

I’ve long been a fan of this Edmund Lee quote that talks about surrounding yourself with people who believe in you, people who still dream, people who get things done. If you’re lucky, these qualities are collectively embodied in the same people. In other words, if you have five friends who are dreamers who never make anything happen, and then another five friends who are all about getting things done, but haven’t acted on a dream since they were toddlers, then you aren’t quite as far ahead of the curve as you might like to think. But you have ten friends – so that’s cool.

There’s something about human nature that gravitates toward a dichotomous existence. People are this or that. They can’t be both. We yearn to categorize. We frown at fence sitters. Perhaps this is particularly American. I’ve spent a lot of time in Italy for work, and nothing challenges one’s cultural norms more than traveling and working across cultural boundaries. In Italian meetings, I would often ask questions like, “So…do you guys do this or that?” I was often met with blank stares, questioning glances as if to say, “Why is she trying to pigeonhole me?” Apparently, in Italy, no one puts Baby in a corner.

It was in my nature to try to move the conversation along an invisible decision tree that ended with a definitive choice. They were about to show me another way.

So, there I was with my this-or-that question, and invariably the answer was “Dipende” – it depends. I followed up my first question with, “Well, sure there can be exceptions, but there’s probably a rule too, right?” More blank stares. Italians live in a world of rules and regulations, but they don’t necessarily want to talk about them. And they certainly don’t want to commit to them. They’re eager to leave room for “dipende”.

When it comes to identifying the dreamers and the doers in your life, people who answer “dipende” are precisely what you’re looking for! They have the ability to see both sides of a coin. They aren’t ruled by a single school of thought. They understand the value of expansive thinking, but balance it with the need to get things done. Find them. Embrace them. Incorporate a bit of that Italian mindset in to your daily routine.

Drinking a bit more wine probably won’t hurt either.

All About Podcasts

As a child, I was never really one to listen to the radio for anything other than music. I didn’t like audiobooks or even those listen-a-long books where you played the record and turned the page every time the bell rang. Remember those? Even those were too multi-media for me.

Radio

But sometimes people grow and change. For me, it happened in my late 20s. I graduated to listening to NPR. Car Talk, All Things Considered, Fresh Air – I couldn’t get enough. The seesaw had completely shifted, and I viewed the radio as a place for news and stories instead of recycled pop hits or Top 10 Countdowns (although I would welcome back Casey Kasem in a heartbeat!).

My next foray in to the Land of the Listening was with audiobooks. I had resisted for ages. I love to read, so listening to a book seemed like something only people who don’t  like to read would do. I finally succumbed to the audiobook when my family moved to Arizona. Instead of being conveniently located on the other side of the country, they were all of a sudden in my backyard – albeit a very large backyard. A backyard that takes 9 hours to drive across, and no airport conveniently located in their town. Audiobooks became my saviors on those trips. No more listening to prayer rallies or swap meets as I drove through vast expanses of desert with only a few AM stations as accompaniment.

Why I resisted podcasts when they started becoming popular is a mystery to me. I’ll never be accused of being an early adopter. I think it was the idea of subscribing that threw me. Subscription is such a weighty word. It reeks of commitment, obligation. For years, I couldn’t get past it. But I travel a lot for work and end up with a lot of time to fill. Podcasts are a natural fit. My transition began slowly enough in November 2014 when I heard about a podcast about writing. Just this one, I thought.  I’ll just try this one. It stayed the only one for a few months, but at this point I’ve subscribed to about half a dozen that I devour the minute the new episode arrives, and I sample many others to see what I might need to add to my growing list.

Here’s a taste of some of my favorites:

So You Want to Be a Writer – The one that started it all. This is a completely engaging podcast hosted by Valerie Khoo and Allison Tait, two Australian women who have broad experience in writing, publishing, blogging, and the like. Each episode includes an interview with an author to discuss his or her process or advice. They provide extensive show notes, so if they’ve mentioned a particular article or app, you don’t have to make a mad dash for paper and pen – just look it up later. They were well in to the series by the time I became aware of it. I was giddy at the thought that I had so many past podcasts to download and catch up on. Hours of listening fun!

Serial – If you have at least one foot above ground, you’ve probably heard about this podcast. What a wild ride. Unlike most podcasts, this one has a distinct beginning and end. The first season contains twelve episodes, and trust me, you don’t want to miss even one. Serial recounts the disappearance of a high-school senior, Hae Min Lee, in Baltimore in 1999. This is not fiction. It’s a true story with real people and real emotions. While the podcast was met with great acclaim and popularity, there’s also been some controversy. I found the storytelling to be riveting. The host, Sarah Koenig, has a way of unfolding the storythat can only be described as sublime. I have no idea what season two has to offer, but I await it (im)patiently nonetheless. Instead of binge watching your favorite show, consider binge listening to Serial. You won’t be disappointed.

Dear SugarDear Sugar – This podcast is a re-imagining of the Dear Sugar advice column that achieved cult status on The Rumpus website. This is no Ann Landers. Sugar is a little deeper, more thought-provoking, and more honest. Read some of the old columns and see if you don’t fall in love. The podcast is hosted by Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond, both who tried their hand at the written column. This podcast is fairly new and for any commitment-phobes, this might be a good place to start – there’s currently only one episode every two weeks. Even I can handle that!

Have you come across some podcasts you particularly enjoy? Share your thoughts and suggestions below. Happy Listening!