Welcome to the middle path

My photo
Sporadic photos and notes from a Psyche-midwife, cheerleader, anthropologist--aka clinical social worker in therapy practice. Photos are usually mine except for those of historical events/famous people. Music relevant to the daily topic is often included in a web video embedded below the blog. Click on highlighted links in the copy to get to source or supplemental material. For contact information, see my website @ janasvoboda.com or click on the button to the right below. Join in the conversation.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

BURN BABY BURN

Ok, this is going to be a little late for most of you-- since it's usually a ritual for before the new year begins.  And yes, tomorrow starts the official 31 Day Challenge.  If you don't get to this one before 2012, see if you can do it in the first week of it.  It's a sweet way to clear the slate for some new beginnings.

Make a list of what you'd like to let go from 2011.  Be specific, general, wildly optimistic, whatever.  These are intentions, not contracts.

Give some loving respect and compassion for all that you are ready to leave behind.  Then burn that sucker up.  You can be as serious or lighthearted as you choose.  Throw it in the fireplace, or torch it in a nice ceramic bowl.  Let it go, let it go.  Get ready to move on to what you need to learn and how you want to grow/

The page turns to a new day.

love,
Jana

Friday, December 30, 2011

Get Ready to Occupy Your Own Creative Self, 2012

COUNTDOWN to January's 31 days of poet games and creative challenges.  In preparation for take-off, please unloosen those seat belts, sharpen your pencils and call out the muse.
Here's a community invitation to just that courtesy of the luminous Peggy Fitzsimmons.  You might remember her as the encouragement for last January's capstone vision board finale'.
Enjoy and please pass it on.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Gearing Up for The New Year

Mac Forest, Corvallis
Yep, I know, it's been quiet here.  Keep stopping by.  In a few days we'll start the annual daily January Challenge blogs.  I'll be alternating poet games and creativity prompts with Tiny Resolutions.  Hope to hear from some of you who take up the gauntlet.  I'm pretty sure you can post anonymously if you want, but if you can't figure it out, send submissions via the Contact Me button and I'll add it for you.

Last year's challenges can be found (reverse order) here:   http://www.janasvoboda.org/2011_01_01_archive.html

Meanwhile, here's some great tips on happiness.  Thanks to Keith Abhrams for the link.http://www.marcandangel.com/2011/08/30/12-things-happy-people-do-differently/
 
Wishing you restorative, loving and warm holidays,
Jana

Monday, December 12, 2011

Home for the Holidaze

Yep, it's a rerun, kiddos. What can I say-- the muse is on the back porch, smoking cigs and being a jerk.  Plus I really do love that Robert Earl Keen song-- so familiar--
Will try to post something new and upbeat before the new year--  Meanwhile, Tis The Season To Be Challenged.

 "Having a family is like having a bowling alley installed in your head"-- Martin  Mull

Christmas and Hanukkah are boom times for therapists.  What is it about holidays that cause so much trouble?  There's the  obvious:   the extra activities to cram in too already crazy busy lives, the financial strains, the booze and sugar hangovers.

And there's  the poignant and sometimes painful difference between the Hallmark commercials of ideal family communion and reality of messy humans coming together with their messy selves.

We spend the latter years of our family-of-origin time struggling to develop identities that resonate with our souls.  Part of that journey means turning away from the very sources of our safety and nurturing-- to be able to find enough differences between ourselves and our parents that we can leave them.


And then the holidays come.  And with it, questions unconscious or not.


Can I be different and still belong?  Can I be true to me and still be loved by you?

Visiting home, or reuniting with relatives, we bump into our younger selves.  Dependent, less competent, locked into family or community roles we may have long since left.   Oftentimes these self portraits aren't held so much by others as projected by us.  Boundaries shift, alliances conflict, and sometimes we fall apart.
We may also struggle to see others as they see themselves without us, and call them back into roles that no longer fit.

Reunions seem to work best when we notice our thoughts and judgments, and remind ourselves they are just that-- impressions and projections, not facts.  I read in a book on some subject seemingly unrelated to therapy-- I think it was economics-- that people are all looking through their own very narrow aluminum tubes, and thinking they are seeing the same thing that others see, looking at different points through their tubes.  When we can rise above ourselves take an eagle eye view, we gain understanding and compassion.  We get that in any given moment in time, we are acting with the limitations with us right then-- just like everyone else.  Sometimes we are being very limited.  We snap and complain, out of tiredness or just confusion from being out of our element or stretched past our resources.  We overfunction, out of hopes we will be shown the love we need.  We isolate, out of fear we don't belong.  And yet we still want acceptance, or at least recognition of our validity.  As do those we love, acting out of their own limitations of the moment.

If you find yourself with loved ones trying hard to conjure up some love, see if you can show them the same acceptance for who they are as you are hoping them to show you.  Even or especially if you disagree with their choices.  In between reminiscing in the sweetness or horror of how things used to be, remember to be curious about how things are now for them, and who they are becoming.  Relinquish your internalized limitations for them and maybe they can do the same for you.  If worse comes to worst, try the OLA strategy.


As hard as you try, no one can escape the horror of Christmas, so you may as well be with your own family."—Liz Lemon, 30 Rock

May the holidays and the new year find your heart ever expanding,
Jana


Friday, December 2, 2011

funny little bug--

post isn't showing up on blog page unless you access it from facebook.
here's a back door.
http://www.janasvoboda.org/2009/11/grief-and-memories.html

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The More You Know-- The Less You Know You Know. You Know?

Onions increase bone density in rats, may prevent ulcers!--- The National Onion Association
National Science Foundation Consensus Report:  Science is Hard.  --The Onion

I love science mags and books.  I love facts and trivia and graphs and flowcharts and studies and all that effluvia.  And while I might toss them around like they have Real Substance, truth is I spell "truth" without a capital up front.  The more I learn, the less certain I get about most things.  And that's ok by me.

I try to keep up with research that relates to my field.  But I take it, as I told a client today, "with a salt lick"-- a block, not a grain.  What's science today may be tomfoolery tomorrow.  Coffee's good for you, or maybe it kill you.  Eggs:  artery clotter, or nature's perfect food?   Both of these have been demonized and lionized, several times, in the last twenty years. 

Seizures result when one is possessed by demons, and schizophrenia when one has a love-withholding mother-- oh wait, those are brain disorders.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Wild Bill Takes Off

he knew how to laugh
It's been a week since my last post, Trouble Wants Community.  The day I wrote it, I talked to someone with whom I'd had little contact over the past dozen years.  He'd lost his parents last year, and I told him about my father moving here in the Spring.  He told me to treasure every minute with him, and I said, "If you knew my dad, you'd tell me to take a Valium every hour."  I was teasing, mostly.  Relationships with parents can be complicated, right?  But later that evening I had a great visit with my dad, and then came home and wrote that blog, and it felt good.

Here is part of the note I sent my friend the next evening:

R, you're an unwitting angel, and it was grace that you contacted me when you did.  
       I begrudgingly called my dad last night.  I was tired and wasn't going to, but I remembered what you'd said about your parents, and I did.  And when he ended the call "mentioning" that he had only the night's dose of a medication he needed, and that he was supposed to take it morning and night, I went rather begrudgingly to pharm, bitching that he could've let me know last week, and spent $50 that I knew I wouldn't let him pay back.  But I stopped at Trader Joe's and got him some OJ and licorice scotty dogs because he loves them, and went to his house, and we had a good visit.  He told me a couple of stories from his youth, and then he looked tired, and I asked if he was ready for me to get out of there, and he was.  I told him I loved him and gave him a very tender kiss.
           Today during my 11 oclock session my client's cell rang.  She was sheepish and asked if I minded if she checked; she was waiting for an important call . To give her a little privacy I turned toward my desk just in time to see my phone light up (it's silenced during sessions, of course).  It was the independent senior center where my father lives.  I picked up and they said my dad had collapsed and ambulances were on the way.  
...
Not long later, with family soothing his brow and holding his hand, he peacefully took his last breath.
---
I thank you so much for your urging to enjoy those minutes.
-----------------

Born during the depression in the small town of Pawnee Rock, KS, Bill was the youngest child and only son of Anna and Louis Svoboda.   His father was a jack of all trades, doing whatever work he could to support his family.  Bill arrived during a difficult time.  The Czech immigrant community and most of the midsection of the nation were hit hard by overfarming, drought and poor economy.  When the Dust Bowl swept through Kansas, Bill contracted osteomyletis and “the dust pneumonia” at age 2.  He spent much of his young life in hospitals, enduring more than 40 operations by age 18.  They were horrific-- ether was used, "and I used be so scared when they came at me with that mask; I thought I would suffocate--  Sodium Pentathol was the best thing ever invented." Last Tuesday he told stories about those times, and that “I would have been a genius if I hadn't been in a coma for months" as a kid.  I said, "You mean a SUPERgenius".  
here comes trouble

Bill lost most of the use of a hand during this time, as well as all of his teeth by age 18 following a car wreck and related to the osteo.  But he remained Wild Billy.  He learned to drive at age 7 and would go on whiskey runs with his grandfather during the prohibition.  He was spoiled and beloved by his sisters. 

Despite his physical hardships, Bill was a strong man, and loved labor, biking, tennis and being outdoors.  At 24 he met and married a nursing student from Memphis TN he’d  met through his sister.  He was smitten  by the “glamorous big city girl”, though he found out later she was also from a rural family.  They settled in Topeka, KS  and raised their four daughters.  Bill really, really wanted a son, but once he realized that was not to be, he made sure his daughters were strong and independent, and he advocated for equal opportunities. 
bill and ruth's sitting rooom
Bill and Ruth both went on to obtain Master’s degrees, the first in their families.  Bill worked in the 70s to arrange and then enforce access for persons with physical handicaps to public spaces.  He also worked for the blind, helping them adjust and find employment.  Together with my mother, he restored a beautiful Victorian house he and Ruth had purchased in complete disrepair for a few thousand dollars in the mid 1960s.  He added a kitchen with hand made cabinets, new foundation, remodeled the dug out basement into a family room, and built a workshop and garage. Bill brewed beer in the basement and crafted in his workshop.  He hauled huge limestone posts from the old family farm in rural Kansas to make stairs up to the home from the street, and Ruth turned the gardens into showplaces.  They loved finding antiques at garage sales and auctions, and furnished the house with their finds.  It became a gathering place for assortments of collected kids, with frequent Friday night potlucks and big Thanksgiving gatherings.  They always had an open door policy, and several youth lived with the family for short or extended times, becoming honorary daughters.

Here's a piece one of them wrote about him (thank you, Juliana, for this gift):

There so much about Bill that I remember. He was really there, I mean there there, In a way most Dads couldn't be. He was a gritty Tom Waits kinda character who made us laugh all the time, mostly with corny jokes, but funny just the same. While most the adults were smoking, he did it like it was part of his outfit, you hardly noticed the cig, because it was there just like the T-shirt was. There was no affectation or elegance about it. He was one of those people who could lean over, cigarette in mouth and, say, tie your shoe and when he was done he hadn't gagged on the smoke or gotten it in his eyes like everyone else would have. He was facile, as he was with everything else. He fixed everything, he fixed up their house, he fixed the car, he fixed the camper that Jana and I "camped" in in the back yard. He sang silly songs like " A Boy Named Sue" He made up a poem about me. "My name is not Lisa, my name is Julie, my hair is unruly..." He drove us everywhere and never complained. He seemed to enjoy getting that extra time with his girls. He made me feel like one of his girls. When we moved on to college, he showed up to help with moving and broken apartment parts, and sometimes he hung around and talked. He had a dog named Gouda. 
And he was also there for me when I was grieving and so young. He knew just what to do. He was soft in the right places too. There is little hollow place in my heart for him today. Rest in peace Bill.

Here are a few random thoughts about my dad:

memorial shrine at the wake
He liked to smell nice.   He loved his drink and tobacco, and M&Ms and peanut butter crackers.  He was a competitive card, domino, tennis, pool and ping-pong player.  He read voraciously--- everything from  detective novels to political biographies to the entire “Great Books” series.  It wasn’t unusual for him to read more than a book in a day in his younger years.  He loved the poets, from Shelley (he named his youngest after him) to Yeats to ee Cummings. He loved classical music, history, nature, fishing, and Simon and Garfunkel, and public radio.  He stopped hunting because he was too tender-hearted.  He was a squirrel whisperer-- they ate out of his hands.  

He made the worlds’ best cocoa fudge and popcorn;  and his beef jerky had a national reputation.

He was no saint.  He had trouble expressing vulnerability and related emotions.  He could do happy and goofy, but it was never easy for his to talk about the tender stuff, or his own vulnerability, so sometimes what came out was angry or curmudgeon.  Those were his protectors.  He’d been through a lot, and that was what worked for him.  But we knew him despite himself, and we knew his poet’s heart, and the sweet boy in him, and all the rest as much as he could let leak through.  He told terrible jokes, made terrible puns, and had no trouble at all proudly mispronouncing words and watching us cringe at them.  

He loved his family, and told us often.  He was proud of his girls, all of them.

I know this is a long one. I miss him bad.  A week ago, he was telling me stories.

"When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight."  --Kahlil Gibran

Don't forget to treasure those moments.  

Thursday, November 17, 2011

My dad died yesterday.
How else do you start such a post, but to tell that inevitable truth?
Maybe first with the story of his death, and then some about his life.
-----------
A year ago,  I went to visit my dad for my birthday, in the beautiful Victorian house he and my mother had lovingly restored prior to her death a decade prior. During the ensuing years, he'd struggled physically.  He'd broken his leg slipping on the ice 6 years ago and it'd never properly healed-- in fact, the surgery to repair it had activated osteomyletis he'd had since a child, and nearly killed him. His mobilty after that was severely limited, but he made do.  My dad had always been a powerful man, full of energy and able to build or fix anything.  He loved that house, where he'd matched old wood to repair rotting finials and trim, and installed stain glass windows he and my mother had rescued from tear downs and auctions.   It was now starting to fall apart around him, and I talked to him about finding some place a little smaller, with a lot less yard and upkeep.  He admitted it was depressing not to be able to keep up with it, but refused to talk about a move.  

A month later the decision was taken out of his hands.  Going out to the barn to feed his cat, he stumbled on his bad leg and it shattered.  A series of medical mishaps ensued-- overdoses on pain meds that stopped his heart and resulted in resuscitation, an allergic reaction that caused horrific itching and then another to the med for the itching that threw him into fevers, seizures and arrhythmia.   Fully conscious and his rascally self at admission, he was completely out of it by the time my sister and I arrived; none of us expected him to live.  Time to shorten this story-- a month in the hospital, a month in intensive rehab (none of which he remembers), and another month in nursing.  He never went home.  The sisters decided he should move here.  He's too rascally to live with any of us, so we arranged for an independent senior living place that would serve his meals and do housekeeping, but otherwise leave him alone.  He was unusually compliant, but later remarked it was a relief not to have had to decide,  and a relief to be here, where there was more family in town, no acre to mow, less bills to manage.

We had 9 months of dominoes

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Trouble wants Community

Life sure is a mixed bag, with her joys and sorrows just bumping into and never-minding the others' presence.

This way to heaven in a concrete tub.
There was sure sweetness this week. I received a wonderful massage by Janice Endres at Breitenbush, after a healing soak in the mineral waters (the natural hot springs there are full of lithium, which may explain why everyone there seems so happy and mellow!)   The little cabin sat beside a rushing river, and wind blew the fall leaves outside the window.   "I hope you don't mind that I don't play music.  Nature does a good job providing it," she said, and yes, that was just fine with me.  The massage  was a gift from my old college roommate and only my third professional one in my life.  God willing I won't wait so long for the next.

the luminous wilhemina
I heard some great music Saturday night in the little town of Summit, OR.  Willeke Frankzerda gave a wonderful concert in a packed community hall, premiering three original songs (was there four?  we were late!) with memorable melodies.  At 13, her lyrics and musicality transcend her age-- wise and soulful.  She's raising money to get to her next fiddle camp, and her town showed up in spades.  The audience ranged from nurslings to 90s, and she earned that standing ovation.  Being in that community always warms me, and reminds me how strong we are when we come together.

I also heard from two old friends this week.  One has been laid off the second time in three months as his employers' business closed.  The other is facing losing his home.  I wish I could say these were startling stories, but I've heard many like them in my practice this year.  The wolf seems to be at the door for more and more of us these days.  Hewlett-Packard, once the town's largest employer, has perhaps a fifth of the number of workers of 15 years ago.  Most of those left worry every day about that pink slip.

There are the bittersweets to fill in.  My angel trumpet bloomed for the first time this week.  I planted it as a two leaf cutting on Mother's day.   Now it's a small tree.  House guests said the opening flowers filled the room with a scent like baking meringue, or the vintage "Three Sugars" perfume.  I couldn't, of course, smell the faintest whiff.  But still, it is beautiful, don't you think, all huge and putting itself out there.

When times are good, we need each other.  When times are hard, we need each other even more.  Suffering is universal if one lives long enough.  Do you know the story of Siddhartha, whose parents were told he would grow up to be either a king or a priest?  Wanting the king, his father asked how he could ensure that outcome.  "Protect him from witnessing suffering", he was told.  His father built a walled town, throwing out anyone who became elderly or infirm or sad.  But one day, Siddhartha heard an unfamiliar sound from beyond the walls and asked his servant what it could possibly be.  "Crying", he was told, and he was puzzled.  His servant tried to explain but Siddartha could not comprehend what he was being told, and asked to be taken out to see for himself.  Beyond his protected home, he saw for the first time the suffering that is part of being human.  He watched people grieving the dying, he saw children who were hungry and had no solace for it.  His heart was broken open with compassion-- a word that literally means "with suffering".  He made it his vow to remain in compassion as long as he lived, and to teach others.  His enlightenment transformed his heart.

When we suffer, we can be like animals--  like my dog, who at the end of her very long life, kept trying to isolate herself far from the us and her home, under a tree.  Near death, animals isolate out of instinct, probably to protect themselves from predators in their vulnerable state.  People in great suffering will also isolate.  Sometimes it is to conserve their waning strength.  Sometimes it is in shame about their state.

Withdrawal can be good for us.  It can give us time to reflect and to plan.  But it needs balance, because we need each other.  We need to remember that we are loved and important and have something to offer, even if that something is receiving from others who care about us.  It's true that not everyone we want to be there for us will be.  Sometimes they are scared or out of resources themselves.  Sometimes they just don't know what we need.

As noted in a previous blog, it's rare for people to have the sorts of community that was common in the past.   We have to take personal responsibility for that.  We fill up our lives with busy-ness and forget to keep our ties.  We cocoon to preserve what little energy too much stress and too many work hours take from us.  To learn more about rebuilding community, click here.

But reading won't fix things.  Reach out to someone today.  Offer a hand, lend an ear, fix a broken stoop, deliver a meal.  Even if you are the one who is suffering, being of use is very healing.

Trouble and joy both need community.  "Joys shared are joys doubled; troubles shared are halved."  Make it happen.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Give Yourself to Love

Kate Wolf was a luminous singer-songwriter.  Her intimate and emotional lyrics and clear voice captured and opened hearts.   Her song "Give Yourself To Love" was a powerful revelation and personal anthem for many in the 70s.  She was initially surprised at her impact on listeners, but later wrote:
       "Sometimes we just can't find the words, but we all have those same feelings. You feel these things, and you don't think it's okay to say them, or you can't quite get the words, and then it comes, and it's just this breaking loose: you have a way to say it."  
         Kate died young, at 44.   Before she left, she said:
        "I live for a sense of a feeling of purposefulness in this world, you know, that I could stop my life at any point and feel that my life has been worthwhile; that the people I've loved and my children have all reached a point where their lives are now going to come to fruit. And as far as something I live by, it's to try to be as alive as possible and feel free to make my mistakes and try to be as honest as I can with myself."
         Today marks another birthday for me.  I know I have many less in front of me than behind, though how many is anybody's guess.  I've been a little hunkered down, not communicating well or accepting invitations from friends and family.   
        The last two weeks I've been astounded by the showering of love and kindness of friends.  It's softened my heart, and reminded me that while we are here, for however long, we can to give ourselves to love.
        Here's a beautiful video my friend Marilyn shared.  Unfortunately I can't figure out how to embed this one, so you'll have to click the link.  I hope you will, and that you'll take a few minutes today to let someone know the difference their love has made in your world.  
http://www.wimp.com/simplybeautiful/

Monday, November 7, 2011

Just watched documentary
MISS REPRESENTED", about negative bias towards women in the media.  It only took turning on my browser to get an up to date example:  "The lawyer behind the accuser: Gloria Allred is a girl's best friend".  This a subheadline under the Cain story.  The opening line:  "Her clients include mistresses, starlets and allegedly wronged women from all walks of life."

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Moments of awe

Apparently potty-mouthed comic nerds aren't everybody's cup of tea.  Most folks who commented to me on the last blog loved Chris Hardwick's take on addiction, obsession and getting it together, but he's a bit rough.  I did appreciate how he turned my sour disposition around that night.

There are lots of ways to change a mood.  This video was posted by several friends and I pass it on.  The joy and awe on these paddler's faces at the unexpected beauty that shows up-- well, you can't help but smile seeing it.  Although they couldn't have missed the spectacle that unleashed around them, we get provided with such glimpses of the divine in much smaller ways, if we keep our eyes open and get outdoors.  A shooting star, an aurora, a late afternoon fall glow on the leaves, tiny mushroom perched on a tiny patch of moss-- these are little bits of heaven we get for being available and paying attention.

Friday, November 4, 2011

This week's good read: Talk Nerdy To Me.

I'm an info junkie.  I've mentioned that, right?  I subscribe to way too many periodicals, and if publishers fret about the future of the printed page, I can assure them I am not in the demographic to cause them worry.

Here's a juicy tidbit from last night's reading.

WIRED magazine (technology and culture) incites my early-adopter lust even though I can no longer turn on my TV without assistance.  But there's more to it than tech porn.  This month's issue, "How Science Can Help You... "(many blanks filled in), had great articles on "how to smartify your life."  Find out how to increase happiness (perform acts of kindness, exercise, get a pet), correctly and mushlessly dunk a cookie in milk, ace a test, keep earbuds from tangling, find your soulmate or rekindle your relationship-- with SCIENCE! 

But my favorite piece this month didn't even make the cover-- comedian Chris Hardwick's brilliant "Self Help for Nerds".  Excepted from his new book, The Nerdist Way: How to Reach the Next Level (in Real Life), he covers the sins and gifts of a Certain Kind of (yep, obsessive) Mind.  From procrastination to addiction to classification and problem solving, the anxious minds and messy internal dialogues of the Sensitive Obsessive can be used for good or evil.  "Be warned!" says Hardwick.  "Sometimes obsessions cannot be piloted, and in those instances you must learn to donkey-kick your brain out of the way.  When nerds run out of things in the external world to deconstruct and analyze, guess where they go?  Inward.  We become the object of our own deconstruction protocols; an auto-cannibalism of sorts."

    Yep, it's that troublesome-- and blessed-- trifecta of big brains, big feeling, and big radar.  When it's properly focused, books are written, new species are found, Nobels are won...or at least bills get paid and nobody gets hurt.  But even non-nerds have to wrestle with brain's short-sighted desires.  Hardwick has some great advice:  talk back.  He uses the F word too much to be a traditional Buddhist, but he's onto something with his response to brain's suggestions to such brilliant ideas as " 'Get drunk in the morning!'  'Eat 50 Chocodiles!' 'Instead of working, you could masturbate!' "  Hardwick reminds us:   "You can simply say to yourself, 'I hear what you are saying, brain, but I chose to ignore you.' ...Be smarter than your brain."

You don't have to be a Junior High School Chess Champion or comic genius to make use out of Hardwick's hilarious and wise writings. See for yourself:   read the full article online at WIRED here, or buy his book at your local independant bookseller.

May your Nerdy Force be with you--
Jana

Saturday, October 29, 2011

A poet, a hunger, and life goes on...

 Went to see Brian Turner, Poet Laureate of New Zealand, tonight at the OSU library.  It is so good to live in a college town.  It was interesting, and sort of sad, to observe that 3/4s of the audience was grey-headed.  Poor old poetry-- competing with the World Series, and CSI, and Friday night bars.  But what a treat for those grey haired or getting there that did show up.  Turner was described in the PR as funny and unsentimental, a helpful reassurance for poetically worried sorts.  He writes about rugby, nature and our place in it, and the Human Condition.  He's delightful: unassuming, straightforward, and of course articulate in a very Kiwi mumble-y way.  Can't think of a better way to spend a Friday night.

I'm a would-be poet.  I ran a web group of poetry games, and used to have a weird hobby of making strangers write poetry for me.  I still have notebooks full of poetry by waitresses, gamblers, shoe-shiners, Welsh firemen.  I love the written word.  I don't have a lot of truck with flowery prose, but that grab-you-by-the-gut stuff--  oh, the beauty of economy in language!  Turner is good at that.  My favorites of the night were his short pieces, in which a short story was taking place in three sentences.

dreaming of food
I haven't written much poetry in the last few years.  Not sure why, but I tell people my muse done fled. Of course, after listening to a poet, I get inspired.  Maybe that muse will peek back in.   An audience member asked Turner how he knew if any of his poetry was any good.  I liked his answer: "I don't.  But I can't help writing it" (or something to that effect).  I think creativity is like that.  We put out, and we hope it resonates with someone, but even if it doesn't, it feels good to our soul.

felted daemon, 10/11
I got a call tonight from an old friend, one of my poetry conspirators back in the day.  He asked how I was, and I said "Not so bad considering".   He didn't know exactly what was under consideration. I forgot we hadn't talked in months, since before smell fled me and then Bad Smell moved in.  I told him the long story: how everything I could smell, after four months of no smell, smelled rotten.  Like nearly everyone I've told this story to he'd never heard of anosmia or parosmia.  I've acquired a whole new vocabulary this season. Stephen knows a few things about me, and he knows I loved food and olfaction.  He expressed deep sorrow for my loss, and I appreciated it, since this particular one doesn't strike most people as particularly interesting.  But I get reminded of it often-- like, for instance, tonight.  You can't listen to much poetry without hearing something about smell, and its triggers of memory and wonder. Stephen asked if I'd noticed any compensation in my senses since smell fled.  I remarked sarcastically that I can now bend spoons with my mind.  Stephen reminded me that I probably won't become a super-hero, and wondered if any of the other four senses were brighter.  I said I had been hoping that I would at least get a heightened visual acuity, but so far, no good.  Smell was it for me, sense-wise.  I've never been much of a visual person. I get lost all the time.  Touch is good; who doesn't like it?  But smell was my number one Four-D sense.  Hearing-- well, ok, I love that.  Sometimes it is 3D, mostly with nature sounds or music.  I'm slightly synesthesiac.  When I hear voices, I often have a textural association.  But smell has always, always been at least 3D for me.  And without it, the world seems awfully flat.

I had a visit from an old friend and her family a couple of months ago.  They'd moved away four years ago, and I'd not seen them in a long, long time.  They didn't know about the anosmia.  I hadn't seen their boy, now eight, since then. The dad reintroduced me to him, saying, "Do you remember Jana?  She always used to smell your head when you were little."  I teared up right away, even while reassuring him he didn't need to worry about that now.  He'd been the youngest in our circle of friend's children, and I do, or rather did, love the smell of a baby's head.

The pear I really want to be eating
Sometimes now I go a day or two without thinking so strongly of what I miss.  I do think I have learned a few things about loss and grief and acceptance.  But I miss smell.  And tonight, writing this, I am thinking mostly about my hungry belly.  I came home from work peckish, and could find little I wanted.  I came home from the poetry reading ravenous, and could find nothing tolerable. The parosmia puts most foods off-limits. The upside:  I've lost my "kummerspeck"-- a great German word that translates as "grief bacon", and means the weight you gain after a loss.  I gained 15 pounds following a couple of significant losses a few years ago.  I now weigh less than my driver's license record of a few years ago.  On the other hand, I'd take back the pounds to be able to enjoy a delicious meal of fall's bounty.  But there you go.  We don't get to choose our cards, as they say, only how we play them.  I am trying to learn grace in the game.  It's a slow go some days.

Back when I cooked food, and liked it, and was the poetrix for the word game group, we had an assignment to write a recipe into a poem.  Click here to read my Gumbo recipe on the wonderful Very Bad Poetry website.   It's bad poetry, but good gumbo.

Off to dream of eating something satisfying...
Jana

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Incredible Heaviness of Being: Braving The Stigma of Mental Illness

Kay Redfield Jamison wears many distinguished hats.  A PhD psychologist, she is a tenured professor of Psychiatry at the prestigious John Hopkins school of medicine.  She's been honored by Time Magazine as a "Hero of Medicine", and is the author of at least two international bestsellers and over a hundred published research articles.  She's had dozens of  fellowships, lectureships, and national awards.  She's received the MacArthur "Genius" Fellowship.

She also has, and she will be the first to tell you this, a serious mental illness.

Dr. Jamison first became ill with Bipolar Disorder as a senior in high school.  In her conservative Episcopalian family, mental illness was not discussed, and if anyone noticed how she was floundering, it wasn't remarked upon.  But she noticed.  She noticed the long periods of high creativity and energy followed by the much less tolerable periods of complete, abject and suicidal depression.  The story of these, and her later complete psychotic break and serious suicide attempt, are charted in vivid and heartbreaking detail in her books "The Unquiet Mind" and "Touched with Fire:  Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Sentiment". 

It's unusual for a PhD (as opposed to an MD) to be offered a professorship in psychiatry.  But that rarity pales in comparison to the level of support her employers at John Hopkins gave her for being "out" with her illness.  In an unusual display of wisdom and compassion,  her mentors allowed her to continue to pursue her work after her first major break and hospitalization.  And her direct supervisor urged her to use the experience of her illness to teach and write.  As a result, we have what has been called the classic textbook on Bipolar illness (then called Manic Depressive Disorder), countless research studies, and an example of human courage exemplified.  If she had been dismissed, marginalized-- if she had her license to practice revoked (none of these are unusual situations in our culture, when ignorance is faced with illness)-- we would have none of these great works, which have done much to encourage understanding and treatment.

But it is not only the compassion of her employer responsible.  It is her courage in saying:  "Yes, I have an illness.  It is genetic.  It is not my choice, but it is my responsibility to manage".  Her bravery has had a profound effect in showing people that "different" is not always hopeless.

Dr. Jamison would tell you, as she did the audience of several hundred at OSU tonight, that having BP  is not an easy path. In fact, (and I disagree with her, but I don't have her direct experience to effectively contradict) she says that having a mental illness is "99.5% bad".  As in my last post, I strongly believe that it was her experience of the illness and her ability to humanize and integrate it that led to some of her greatest gifts.

I don't have much to add to information about Bipolar that colleague and expert on affective disorders psychiatrist James Phelps has not already said, much more brilliantly than I could.  If you've not visited his website, I urge you to do so.  (If you or someone you love has BP, get his book as well).  I would add a bit to Dr. Jamison's speech, though.  I'd add that there are some effective management techniques other, or in addition, to medication when folks with affective disorders aren't significantly impaired or completely disabled by their affective differences.  You can read about these on Dr. Phelp's site.  I would take issue with calling those without BP "normal", because I just haven't met anyone who truly fits that description-- we ALL have our stuff.  I think her point in repeatedly saying "mental illness" was to get across that these impairments are not any more chosen, or morally suspect, than having asthma or cardiac disease.   And the outcomes of not treating this illnesses are profound:  50% of persons meeting criteria for Bipolar Disorder attempt suicide.  10% succeed.  That's a very lethal illness.

See also:  http://www.janasvoboda.org/search/label/depression

In some ways, it is easier than ever to get treatment for affective and other dis-eases of the mind.  You can google, ask your MD, look in the yellow pages.  In other ways, it is harder than ever.  There is still a lot of stigma and ignorance about illnesses and differences that affect our minds and behavior.  And even though literature reports that  lifestyle changes and therapy support are as effective or increase effectiveness over medication alone, insurance often won't pay for counseling.  Certainly not everyone has insurance.  Your local NAMI chapter can help you find resources and support.  If you are a student, contact your education counseling center to see what low-fee or free services are available.  If not, call your local mental health center (God. politicians and voters willing that you still have one).  If all else fails, call a crisis line.  There are many you can find on the web.

Here are two: 
1-800-SUICIDE
1-800-784-2433
1-800-273-TALK
1-800-273-8255

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Imprisioned Voice

Drove to Eugene late Sunday night to visit gifted photographer/friend Maria.  I don't often have time in the car, and I forget to listen to the radio at home.  NPR was on the dial, with Krista Tippet (Speaking of Faith in the old days, and now hosting the more inclusively titled On Being) interviewing a biologist and Big Cat conservationist.  I was distracted and couldn't focus on the interview the first half of the drive.

I noticed the guest had a slight stutter-- so slight I wasn't sure I heard it until the third or forth time.  In the second half, I came awake, as biologist and explorer Alan Rabinowitz revealed that his love of cats started because watching them at a zoo was a rare respite for him as a child.  Rabinowitz was afflicted with severe stuttering as he developed language-- so severe that he was effectively electively mute until adulthood.  Friendless and locked in with a voice powerful but seemingly unable to be tolerated, he related to the tigers, lions and jaguars that paced their cages, made impotent by their environment.  His parents did their best to help, and sent him to psychiatrists and speech therapists.  At the time, stuttering was seen as a behavioral rather than neurological issue.  The therapeutic emphasis was on getting him to knock it off, which only made things worse.   When he was 18, his parents found a speech clinic which taught him to be a "fluent stutterer"-- to accept what was true about him and work with it.  It worked.  He is now an international speaker, and his voice-- for the animals, for conservation, for himself-- is a powerful and effective one.  As a child, he watched these powerful cats pace in their cages and said to them, "I'm going to get us out of here."  He has devoted his life to finding and preserving places for this animals to express their powerful voice and their genetic heritage.

Krista Tippet is a wise and compassionate interviewer, and has talked with many people over the years whose wisdom, like Dr. Rabinowitz,  was similarly hard won.  "When you talk about what helped you... becoming a fluent stutterer rather than denying it...It reminds me about what I hear about hearing and wholeness... that in fact being a whole person is about taking in whatever our wounds are and our fears are, and  integrating them into our identity... it's the work of a lifetime."

The story gets even more profound. In 2002, Dr. Rabinowitz was diagnosed with CLL (Chronic Lymphocyttic Leukemia), which has no cure.  As Krista pointed out, mortality is not at all special, but most of us manage to avoid looking at it while we are still living our full lives.  Yet even though hearing that living in the field, with its exposure to dengue fever, thyphoid, malaria and other illnesses, was likely to shorten his life, he decided that his mission was so important to his identity he would soldier on.  "Have the courage to live", said Robert Cody.  "Anyone can die."

This was a powerful and moving interview, and there is much to be learned from listening to it.  I encourage you to take the time.  Find it here:   http://being.publicradio.org/programs/2011/voice-for-the-animals/

Many of us have voices that long to be heard.  Find your voice, and use it.  Your wounds are part of your history.  Own them.  They are part of your power.

Related links on stuttering:  http://www.stutteringhelp.org/
http://www.asha.org/public/speech/disorders/stuttering.htm
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lj2IsxxCSS8

If you've not seen it, The King's Speech is a powerful film in which the protagonist stutterer finds and uses his voice.  

I'll close with a poem by a voice for the inarticulate:  Mary Oliver.

The Imprisioned Voice

Driving to Eugene on a Sunday night to visit gifted photographer/friend Maria.  I don't often have time in the car, and I forget to listen to the radio at home.  NPR was on the dial, with Krista Tippet (Speaking of Faith in the old days, and now the more inclusively titled On Being) interviewing a biologist and Big Cat conservationist.  I was distracted and couldn't focus on the interview the first half of the drive.

I noticed the guest had a slight stutter-- so slight I wasn't sure I heard it until the third or forth time.  In the second half, I came awake, as biologist and explorer Alan Rabinowitz revealed that his love of cats started because watching them at a zoo was a rare respite for him as a child.  Rabinowitz was afflicted with severe stuttering as he developed language-- so severe that he was effectively electively mute until adulthood.  Friendless and locked in with a voice powerful but seemingly unable to be tolerated, he related to the tigers, lions and jaguars that paced their cages, made impotent by their environment.  His parents did their best to help, and sent him to psychiatrists and speech therapists.  At the time, stuttering was seen as a behavioral rather than neurological issue.  The therapeutic emphasis was on getting him to knock it off, which only made things worse.   When he was 18, his parents found a speech clinic which taught him to be a "fluent stutterer"-- to accept what was true about him and work with it.  It worked.  He is now an international speaker, and his voice-- for the animals, for conservation, for himself-- is a powerful and effective one.  As a child, he watched these powerful cats pace in their cages and said to them, "I'm going to get us out of here."  He has devoted his life to finding and preserving places for this animals to express their powerful voice and their genetic heritage.

Krista Tippet is a wise and compassionate interviewer, and has talked with many people over the years whose wisdom, like Dr. Rabinowitz,  was similarly hard won.  "When you talk about what helped you... becoming a fluent stutterer rather than denying it...It reminds me about what I hear about hearing and wholeness... that in fact being a whole person is about taking in whatever our wounds are and our fears are, and  integrating them into our identity... it's the work of a lifetime."

The story gets even more profound. In 2002, Dr. Rabinowitz was diagnosed with CLL (Chronic Lymphocyttic Leukemia), which has no cure.  As Krista pointed out, mortality is not at all special, but most of us manage to avoid looking at it while we are still living our full lives.  Yet even though hearing that living in the field, with its exposure to dengue fever, thyphoid, malaria and other illnesses, was likely to shorten his life, he decided that his mission was so important to his identity he would soldier on.  "Have the courage to live", said Robert Cody.  "Anyone can die." 

This was a powerful and moving interview, and there is much to be learned from listening to it.  I encourage you to take the time.  Find it here:   http://being.publicradio.org/programs/2011/voice-for-the-animals/

Many of us have voices that long to be heard.  Find your voice, and use it.  Your wounds are part of your history.  Own them.  They are part of your power.

Related links on stuttering:  http://www.stutteringhelp.org/
http://www.asha.org/public/speech/disorders/stuttering.htm
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lj2IsxxCSS8

If you've not seen it, The King's Speech is a powerful film in which the protagonist stutterer finds and uses his voice.  

I'll close with a poem by a voice for the inarticulate:  Mary Oliver.










I was profoundly moved by this interview, and I hope you will take time to listen to it.  

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Back in the Saddle Again

Just returned from a wonderful visit to Wales and England.  It was a true vacation---few to no responsibilities, and gone long enough to settle down and Just Be.

I love my job, but we all need time to be off duty and refresh our perspective.  This trip was a gift from my sister and her husband; my job was to show up and enjoy.  What a gift that was.

We spent our first two days in a village a couple of hours north of London, where the average house was 400 years old and the streets resembled alleys.  Weather and company were sunny and warm.

Time in Wales was rhythmic and slow in the best sense of the world.  We stayed fairly close to the family home as to be available for the gracious meals of the matriarch and the zingy one-liners of the patriarch.  Yet each day we saw amazing places-- castles and gardens and stone-age settlements.  Day one was a pilgrimage to Dylan Thomas's writing studio and boathouse on the south coast.  The walk is punctuated with poetry and inspiring vistas.  I collected beach glass that I've convinced myself are from ale and whiskey bottles Thomas pitched from his writing perch on the cliff above.

London was hustlebustle in comparison, and the smells, or rather The Smell, overwhelming at first.  My anosmia transmogrified into parosmia just a few days before my trip.  I now get one smell and it's horrific:  think offal dipped in toxic waste then burned.  It's triggered by such seemingly unrelated scents as coffee, soap, and salsa.  Also perfume, garbage, fuel and just about every ten feet of an urban environment.  I used all those skills I preach about here to cope-- acceptance, targeted refocus, mental math-- and it worked pretty well most of the time.   Eating was the hardest part, especially in restaurants where every pound paid was a gamble.  I found fish and chips tolerable and ate more this week than I've had in 10 years.  To your left is a sample of what I couldn't eat, so merely lusted after.

Tate Modern Art Musuem provided good targeted refocus and I especially enjoyed the Dadaist and Surrealist works.  They had a nice room of Rothkos for soothing contemplation.  Other highlights:  walking along the Thames in the evening before theater, watching a well-acted play, wandering in the London library, and a great meetup with a writer for lunch.

Coming from a small town to a metropolis that size means lots of people watching.  While walking in the city, I decided to experiment with eye contact.  In most urban environments that's the province of the aggressive or insane, so percentage of return was low.  Whether the person I passed was a child, elderly, rich business person or homeless looking, I looked into their eyes.  If they looked back, I usually smiled.   My thought was:  Each of you is someone's child, who was loved or deserved to have been.  It was a powerful experience.  No one shouted or glared at me; many smiled in such an open way it was almost heartbreaking.  That happened more with the poor/homeless than the business people.

In the past months I have been thinking a lot of the importance of community.   And despite it's virtual prevalence and all our connections (Facebook, emails) we are more isolated than ever.  In Llandeilo, Wales, population less than 2000, at least four pubs have shuttered their doors since my visit ten years ago.  More than a bar, pubs are the UK's town halls and churches, where business is conducted, families connect, problems identified and resolved.  Now some 50 pubs a week are closing throughout the UK.  Some have histories going back hundreds of years.

In the US, it's our libraries and independent bookstores and diners that are going away. Places where we used to while away some time, breathe a little, meet with friends.  Single-screen movie theaters are a thing of the past, but the multiplexes aren't doing that great either.  Live music events don't attract like they used to; people are content to buy (or steal) their music off of the net.  Old venues fold and with them a piece of our history and the exoskeleton of our community.

This week's homework:  Get out a little.  You don't need to cross the pond to find connection and renewal.  Take some time to support a local institution you want to see survive.  Ask a few friends to join you, and remember how nice it is to see familiar faces.

Meanwhile, if you need to relax, here's a Welsh lullaby:

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

GOT TOUCH?: The Oxytocin Connection

My version of an oxytocin molecule-- DaVinci days


Known as the "cuddle drug", the"superglue of relationship", and "the connection hormone", oxytocin is secreted when we love and touch.  It's the chemical catalyst for community.

Studies found that when women gather in community, oxytocin levels increase-- and so does cooperation.  When persons were given internasal doses of the hormone, they were more likely to extend trust to sales pitches-- the proverbial "want to buy some swamp land" type, which has some sinister implications for the misuse of this powerful molecular concoction.  On a more positive note, oxytocin levels jump when devoted women imagine their husbands, or nurse their child.  Increased levels of oxytocin encourage intimacy and bonding by ramping up trust and reducing fear.  Sounds like my kind of drug.

a proposal on Mary's Peak
Lack of touch can stunt growth in babies, increase anxiety in all ages, and decrease calmness, connectedness, and safety.  Remember those terrifically sad pictures of monkeys clinging to the foodless warm terrycloth mom model over the cold wire cage milk-dispensing "mama monkey?".  They'd starve for food before starving for tactile connection.  Traumatized people need touch too, but it's got to be expected and the giver sensitive to tolerance levels.  Hand pats to the shoulder are usually acceptable where a hug would feel threatening.  Some who wouldn't tolerate a hug are ok with therapeutic massage.  When even that level of human touch is too fraught, humans can raise their oxytocin levels by cuddling a non-threatening pet.  In nursing home residents, blood pressures go down and perceptions of happiness increase when therapy dogs and cats are around for pettings.  To avoid the messiness of live animals, Japan is working on fuzzy robots to fill this role.

When circumstances dictate, even self-touch works.  And I'm not even talking masturbation. We rub our own neck, wring our hands, scratch our heads to self-sooth.   Physical therapists teach clients to curry themselves with ultra soft brushes.  It's calming, seems to raise oxytocin levels and desensitizes these hyperalert/tactically defensive folks to accept safe touch.

So get your touch on.  Dancing, petting animals, holding hands with a friend, rocking a baby, yours or anothers'-- not all touch is sexual.  But it is essential.


 More resources:  http://www.reuniting.info/science/oxytocin_health_bonding?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Articulation: When Art Talks for Us

Copyright Jason deCaires Taylor

Say what you will about the evils of Facebook--info junkies like me find much to be loved there.  My last blog was prompted by friend Marilyn W's link to a 9 page NYTimes article
I wouldn't have otherwise seen.  And last night, a Serbian mail-artist posted a beautiful picture of an underwater installation that led me to the website of artist Jason deCaires Taylor.  How could I never have heard of this guy?  I spent a very long time looking at his amazing works.  I am so moved by them.  There is much going on here-- the beauty and poignancy of the models, the interactions of the living environment in the moment, and the inevitable deconstruction/remaking of the statues as nature moves in.  Take a few minutes to visit his website, or view the film below.

We are lucky to have artists who can articulate what we feel but can't explain.  Thank them by visiting galleries, museums and especially by investing in their work.  If you're from the valley, this weekend's a good time to start.  Come to Corvallis's Fall Festival, where over 160 artists will be displaying their efforts.  Stay for the Saturday night dance!


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Kid's Aren't Alright: The Pressure for Excellence

I began counseling teens while I still was one.  I still do and I still love it.  But the kids I see today are battling different demons.  Perfectionism and anxiety have replaced the semi-angsty depressions and predictable adjustment issues of the past.  Every November and April my answering machine is inundated with calls from stressed out teens and parents.  The timing isn't coincidental.  That's peak pressure period for college decisions, SAT/ACT and  extracurricular events.

When I was in high school, there were maybe two or three "honors" courses.  It was assumed that not all of us would go to college, and for those that weren't inclined either temperamentally or academically, there were reasonable options for making your way in the world.  It wasn't necessarily a badge of honor to go the vo-tech (vocational/technical school) route, but it wasn't a badge of shame either.  And most of those that did made a fine enough living, getting a two to four year head start on building a life while the rest of us chalked up some student loans and debts.  At 25, most were settled into careers whether or not they had a graduate degree.

My parents didn't talk to me about college, though there was an assumption I'd go.  There were no late night marathons of form filling, or many of homework for that matter.  I went to school-- most days-- and did the work, and graduated, and went to a college 25 miles from my hometown mostly because my sister broke her neck that summer (she's fine now, BTW-- no thanks to me transporting her home from our day at the lake in the back seat of a VW bug).  I'd thought I'd be going to Iowa, but KU worked out fine, and I learned from some great profs and from immersing myself fully in what I wanted to learn.  Maybe it helped that I'd known I wanted to be a therapist since I was 12 and had some great local mentors.  But on the whole, a lot of my learning occurred outside of the classroom-- from volunteering at a crisis center, working as a psych ward aide, working with the sexual assault response team, and reading like crazy.

I was an exception.  Most kids don't know what they want to do when they grow up, and that's just fine. It's developmentally quite appropriate.  The benefit of a liberal arts education is supposed to be to expose people to all kinds of things, so they can decide-- decide what sets them on fire, and where their individual strengths are.  I think my high school served that function, and I knew I loved biology but pretty much sucked at math, and I loved social sciences and did well there.  My course was set and it was fine with me.

Now, I see kids under immense pressure to know in advance what they want to do for a living.  They seem less concerned with vocation (from voca-- get it?  Voice.  A calling, not a command) and more with how to get into the Right School and earn money.  I don't think there's anything wrong with the latter.  But there's a whole lot wrong with how we tell kids they need to go about it.  We've raised a generation of kids thinking that self-worth is based on GPAs, AP classes, extracurricular activities that "count" (read: look good on the college application) and getting into the Right School.  We've reduced intelligence to IQ scores, and success to academic achievements.  What good does it do to get to Harvard but be so emotionally wrecked you cannot sustain an intimate relationship, sleep at night, or find any peace and pleasure in the life you lead?  To graduate from the Right School with $100K plus of debt and little prospect of finding a decent job, with decent hours and pay, that also allows you to have a life?

And the big lie is now there are hardly any jobs anyway.  Most young people today are not going to have the standard of living their parents had.  They aren't going to get going on careers as young, or even earn livable pay with benefits for the most part. Apprenticeships for teens are gone. Vo-tech is gone.  Even community colleges require minimum standards in English and Math that will deny some very bright students the ability to complete a 2 year degree.  And 2 year degrees are barely acceptable for jobs that pay minimum wage.

When I worked in a community counseling center in southeast Texas, I had clients who could barely read or write but who made adequate incomes to raise families and buy a home.  They were mechanics, or worked in oil fields, or raised cattle.  They were smarter than me by far, but today most of them would be unemployed because of minimum standards for jobs. The workforce has changed. The requirements don't seem to have much to do with the actual jobs in many cases.  I see bright people stuck in low-end jobs not because they lack experience or ability but because they lack a degree.  I see very competent 40 somethings being supervised by 26 year olds who have no real idea what they are doing, but they do have an MBA.  I see 25 year olds with master degrees working as waitresses because no one wants to pay them for what they DO know.

And I see way too many 16 and 17 and 18 year olds torn up because they aren't completely sure already what their paths should be.  Doing 5 hours plus of homework a night.  Who don't know how to socialize, play or be curious.  Who have no idea what it is to simply ponder and putter.

I'm not blaming the parents-- I got sucked in too.  In the whole No Kid Left Behind testing marathon, we ditched the kids completely and went for the scores.  We were told these were the most critical  fill-in-the-blank (years/tests/elasticities/applications/choices) our kids would make; and if we let them slack, their failure would be our fault.  We would have hamstrung their future.So we pushed and nagged them into frenzied versions of midlife adults completely undone by premature decision making.

There is something very wrong here.  And it is up to us, the adults, to put it back in order.  The kids don't sure as hell don't have time.  They are too busy being tutored, cramming for tests, writing entrance essays and worrying about getting accepted to the Right School.  Grown-ups are going to have to do what grownups are meant to do, and take care of them.  Teach them kindness, curiosity and balance.  Teach them to live with failure and imperfection.  Remind them that many of their heroes took various paths to greatness.  And even remind them that the definition of greatness is considerably debatable.

There's a movement afoot.  I'm hoping to bring the movie in the trailer below to Corvallis, and to talk to parents about how we can advocate for our kids to have a childhood instead of an entrance exam.  Please take a minute to watch the video below.  It should break your heart.  Want to help?  Send me a note.