Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Networking by any other name . . .

While reading a story about how the creation of social network content has hit a plateau, I realized some of the language seemed very familiar. The church -- a social network of its own and one in which I spent much of my career -- would identify with the classifications of participants:


The study's findings reveal that in the past year, no measurable growth has appeared in the Creators category and in the U.S. that group (of those creating social content) has actually declined. Social networking is still on the rise, however. But this study suggests that the average user "feels most at home taking more passive actions."

If I were still in the church consulting business, I'd have a workshop outlined in a matter of minutes after digesting this one!

Just When I Thought I Couldn't Go On . . .

The temps dropped below 90!

Now I remember what a cool breeze feels like.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Amazed and marveling ...

I've had a lasagna-making, Omega House-mopping, party-hopping, rodeo-clowning, slow-cooking kinda of weekend and it's not over yet.

I'm marveling at the kind of life I lead ...
-bottling mead at one party for friends who own a Renaissance Faire,
-singing "For He's a Grumpy Old Man" to a friend younger than me -- with all his friends and family dressed in old man attire at a cafeteria,
-cooking for friends, people with AIDS, and more friends,
-and filling in at the last minute at a rodeo event that's helping to raise awareness and funds to "beat the hell out of melanoma."

In less than two days, I've done that and more. When leadership gurus used to tell me to envision my future and write it down I always said I couldn't imagine a future that exceeded my reality. I still can't. Rather than setting a course and moving toward a status/objective/goal, I have chosen to cherish each moment as best I can and take every opportunity to milk the life out of every experience.

So far, so very, very, very good.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A time to live and a time to . . .

Before E was born, his father walked out on E's mother and her then eleven children. E, the baby, never knew him and, in some ways, always sought that relationship.

Yesterday when my friend visited E, E was already in a coma. My friend knew the implications of his condition should he survive. He told E, "It's ok to sleep. And when you wake up, you will be in the arms of a Father who will never leave you and always love you."

Last night E died . . . surrounded by his family and my friend.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Peace that Passes Understanding

My friend's friend is quite possibly dying. E contracted a parasite of some kind several weeks ago. He's in his mid-30s, adventurous (especially when it comes to street taco stands), in great shape and then suddenly he's unable to keep anything down and is losing weight rapidly. Three weeks were required before doctors could identify what the problem was and attack it. Antibiotics -- two rounds -- were thought to help but in his weakened state he got slightly better only to get a lot worse. Last week the thought was that he might be rebounding. This week he's in ICU and the doctors say he's added meningitis and possibly pneumonia to his problems and the first batch of parasites have been replaced by something else.

His mother arrived from Mexico on Friday.

My friend is assisting as best he can, trying to be there for E, and at the same time trying to stay out of the way of the family. Since E has 11 brothers and a sister and they are all Spanish-speaking while my friend is not, that's not the easiest thing to do. Still he is there. He steps in when possible and, in the meantime, stands and waits for his turn to see the shadow of his lover.

E hasn't hidden any aspect of his life from his family. They've known since his youth that he plays hard. But in the last few years, he's traded much of his life on the edge for the pursuit of something longer-lasting. He's earned his GED, started work towards a college degree and held down a demanding position as the go-to guy with a catering company. All the while, he cajoles, jokes, and debates his way through conversations and relationships with a laugh that will make anyone forgive his unbridled fervor and, soon enough, applaud his desire to constantly be learning.

Extremely attractive and proud of it, E has retreated as the pounds and muscles fell away. Only family were allowed to care for him. He pulled away from my friend in a vain attempt to shield him from the sight of his deterioration. My friend took the retreat in stride, knowing that when E is determined, there's no option but to oblige him.

E gave his power of attorney to his brother this week. That's the last conscious act he's verbalized.

The brother now serves as gatekeeper to the ICU visits, hearer of the doctors' dire updates, and translator for family members and friends. Since our little chosen family focused on our friend the night before, praying with him, laughing with him, eliciting stories and tears, and then distracting him when he wanted, I decided the brother was my focus yesterday.

Tall, robust, long dark curls framing his face, the brother's obvious strength and love for E was evident from the first hello. Wrapped in a blanket from the night's vigil at his mother's side as she wept over her baby, he was holding on to the edges of both the material and his courageous facade. "I schedule time for crying," he said. "I'm the one my brother wanted to take care of things. Call me silly, but, I can't let them see me cry. That's my time. Last night, I didn't get it because I stayed with my mother. I'm in great need of tears at the moment."

I looked at those arms, the blanket, and eyes that implored the Universe to make this better somehow while every word indicated his resignation to what was to come. I knew in an instance what I wanted to do.

"Hon, I'm a little strange. I know you just met me. But I want to massage your hands. Do you like massage? Do you mind?"

"Are you kidding? Of course. Oh, you are incredible! Yes, yes."

We sat. We chatted. Then we talked, really talked. Mixed between the stories was laughter that sometimes surprised the other visitors in the waiting room. I looked up once to see a woman watching with what looked to be envy and a smile in her eyes. I envisioned that she wanted what we were sharing -- the freedom to just be, to not pretend to hope for things when our hopes are detrimental to the good of the one we love, to accept, to stare down expectations and social mores and just do. I worked his forearms and heard of how E came to be not just his brother but his friend and confidante. On his metacarpals and carpals I got the story of E's youth. Turning the pages of time and my massage attention to toward the fleshy parts surrounding his thumb I got the lowdown on family dynamics. And by the time I was working his fingers we had declared our love for one another.

When Mama came away from the morning visit with E she was ready to go home so I took her lead and exited as well. But I also took the morning's moments with me throughout the day. Later in the evening, when I stood backstage at a fundraising gala for the AIDS hospice where I volunteer, I heard the music with a new poignancy, the speeches with a keen alertness to the myriad of emotions that comes when you minister to the dying and those they love. I was amazed at how my one day underscored the connectedness that a person of faith feels when faced with friendships, struggle, love, aspirations, frustrations, and more. I held no answers but I embraced peace.

And then . . .

Feet announcing with every throb they were ready to head home, secure in the knowledge that once again the power of volunteers had produced an enjoyable experience for supporters and a profitable one for the organization, I stood ready to make a quick departure after the traditional toasts and desserts with cast and audience. I greeted one of the organizational staffers and her husband who I had met briefly earlier in the afternoon. We did a checklist of how everything went and then she walked away for a glass of water.

I turned to her husband. "So as I recall, your beautiful wife told me that you were in marketing as well. Is that right?"

"Well, yes, in a way. I work in communications for the Mexican consulate here in Houston."

Gasp. Hand to chest in disbelief. Was it really only hours ago that I sat with E's brother discussing what we thought was needed to help others of his siblings to cross the border and see E? And here was the man who might have those answers.

I regurgitated what I hope was a concise version of the story. He nodded in understanding, letting me know that indeed he'd heard similar stories before. Then he outlined the steps needed, gave me his card and said the most beautiful words a woman blessed with the ability to connect the dots can hear, "Have the brother call me."

Facing disease and perhaps death is never easy, pleasant, wanted, or any other positive term I can come up with. But with love, touch, patience, grace, and an openness to allow for each person involved to be who they are and how they need to be, peace can come.

I thank God that I don't just get to see this happen, but am an active participant. For that and so much more, I thank God.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Twists in the Conversation

"History shapes generations and generations shape history." That's a line I've borrowed from Strauss and Howe and used many times standing before leaders who are desperate to cross the generational barriers they often see rising up in their organizations.

My massage therapy class is no different. This week I started singing "I'm a little bit country . . ." and my generational cohort completed the line a la Marie Osmond (pre-Dancing with the Stars and Nutrisystem commercials) and one of our younger brethren in the class said, "I remember that. They did it on South Park."

Next up was talk of movies like X-Men and Mystique's body paint compared to the gold paint of Goldfinger. More of the youthful brigade had joined us and acknowledged that while they hadn't see the 007 flick, they knew the reference because of Goldmember in Austin Powers.

And so it goes, seems that history also shapes parody. My youth is being recycled.

So I'm glad to have my cohort in the classroom. T is an incredible artist via knitting, embroidery and some things that one does with needles that I'm not too familiar with but look beautiful! She's smart, witty, and savvy on events past and present so that we have shared more than one look of "been there, done that" when classroom conversations have taken any number of the twists and turns.

That's why when she asked to speak to me -- and had a rather serious tone in her voice -- I quickly wrapped up what I was doing to see what she wanted.

"Do you go straight?" she queried.

Now, I've been very up front about who I am and what I do with various non-profits, political organizations, and my friends. While my instructor has labeled me a liberal and playfully gives me grief on a regular basis, T has struck me as a woman who takes things as they come, doesn't jump to judgement and while possibly disagreeing with someone, doesn't feel the need to preach or lambast them for the differences. So I was somewhat shocked that she went from conversations that had primarily been about pop culture, good web reads, family life, and cooking shows to what my sexual orientation is.

"Uh, what?" I asked in return.

"Do you go straight?" she said again. But the repetition was a tad bit slower since it was obvious that I was confused.

I didn't want to be defensive and yet, I still couldn't believe we were having this conversation in the hallway.

"Straight? Yes, I'm straight," I said while also ensuring that I didn't indicate I thought there was anything wrong with the alternative. At least, I hoped I was doing that. Mostly I had a very confused look on my face. So I added, "Are you asking me if I am straight?"

"No!" she declared emphatically and also gave Seinfield's now famous "not that there's anything wrong with that" look before she really slowed down to say, "Do you GHOST WRITE?"

"Why, yes, yes on both counts. What do you need?"

Lessons learned this week: Massage and laughter are both great stress relievers.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Alone Doesn't Mean Lonely

Reminders that I live alone come every day:

- When I have to apply a Icy Hot patch to my sore back and can't quite get it right the first, second or third try.
- When I see something on the floor and know that no one else is going to pick it up but me.
- When I cook a recipe as written and eat on it for days because they usually feed 4-6 people.
- When bills have to be paid, even if I don't have a regular income at the moment.

Reminders that I'm rarely lonely are fairly frequent as well:

- When a friend agrees to spraying for bugs in my kitchen while I'm away for a few days.
- When another friend texts that she admires the path I'm on and the steps I'm taking to care for myself and others.
- When any number of individuals from the various non-profits with whom I work comment on my energy level and networking skills.
- When I'm driving in my car and tempted to make an unhealthy choice and instead call any one of the speed dial numbers programmed in my phone.

Loneliness creeps in during dark days or at night and waits in the shadows until I invite it to get a bit closer. That choice is usually because there's a tearjerker of a movie on or some memory just got the best of me. Ironically, when loneliness hits, it only takes minutes and I'm not alone. Friend/family are always there. And for this and soooooooo much more, I'm grateful.

Observations from a Massage School Newbie

1. The student nightmare that usually occurs before the presentation is due -- that you are making the presentation and then look down to realize you're naked -- is fact, not fiction, in massage school. Your fellow students will see you naked. You'll be draped. But you will be naked.
2. Massage school is one of the few learning institutions where homework means remembering to shave your legs.
3. During the first weeks of "hands-on learning" bruises happen. Lots of bruises. I sort of wear them like battle scars. I may soon suggest a game of trying to identify shapes, kinda like what you do on a sunny day with white puffy clouds. The best I can do right now is that the one on my forearm (anterior view) looks like an eggplant. Unfortunately, the one on my forearm (posterior) is directly beside an age spot and is blending in way too well. The ones on my thighs? Well, let's just say it looks like I've been having more fun than I really have.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

This Southern Girl Doesn't Glow -- She Sweats

Yesterday was so intensely hot that sane people were indoors with air conditioning.

Sanity is not my strong suit.

By 9 a.m. I had donned three layers of clothing and was searching for shade at a Special Rodeo. Eleven other clowns and I were among the entertainment for a half day of fun for children with special needs. We were photographed with them. We danced with them. We cheered at their karaoke. Some did rope tricks (note that that wouldn't be me). And all of us sweated.

At one point, I found a way to stand with my arm around Confetti for a photo (we all have rodeo clown names) without touching her wet shirt. She had a leather patch on the back of her suspenders. When Valentine or Geranium stood close to me, I cringed each time a hand would press into my back because I knew visions of wet rags had to be dancing in their heads. One hour in and there wasn't a dry hair on my head. Thankfully the cowboy hat disguised that fact somewhat. But I did fear that some of the smaller kids in wheelchairs and strollers might truly be afraid of the deranged looking woman in crazy makeup, suspenders, bright yellow shirt and wearing leggings. I would have (if it hadn't been me!).

The kids were incredible. Some were inspiring. One girl of probably 9 or 10 but looked to be the size of a 5-year-old and who needed a walker, belted out "God Bless America" with the fervor of an American Idol. Several teenagers dominated the dance floor. One girl could do cartwheels. Her friend happily thought she could too as she bent at the waist and motioned with her hands toward the floor. One young man caught all of our attention as he did a rapid fire reading of the words to "Take this Job and Shove It" occasionally allowing the music to catch up.

The "regularness" of their lives was never more evident as they helped each other, as siblings were jealous of attention paid to the others, as Moms giggled at their antics, as a grandfather helped his acrobatic grandson jump high in the air . . . over and over and over again. They were simply kids having a great time on horses, in wagons; playing with rabbits and laughing at the prickliness of a hedgehogs; and turning their lips blue with cotton candy and snow cones.

My heart was warmed as well as my body!

I had just enough time to drive home, shower (ahhhhhh), and load up the car. Why? Because I'm not content to do one event per day. Noooooooo. Crazy woman books a rodeo event and an Equality Texas gig in one day. In defense of what little grip on reality I have, the rodeo event was purely volunteering. ET was paying me to serve as the event coordinator. And in these lean days, that meant saying yes to them even though I already had something on the calendar.

Minutes after drying my hair, the sweat started pouring once again. I had to drive to the store to pick up ice and lemons. More sweat. I loaded my friend's car with supplies I'd been storing at my house. More wetness. We drove separately to the Heights (about 20 minutes away) and my persnickety AC in my car kicked in about ten minutes into the drive. Yet more moisture. We unpacked at this incredible house that was once a flop house but was now the location of many a gala. With a wraparound porch, huge backyard, art throughout, and both a state-of-the-art kitchen and wine cellar, it's truly the bones of a great event.

I had enlisted friends to make this event one of the great ones. They came through as always. We arranged, rearranged, set up the bar, set up the food, and traversed the emotional landscape of a host with one party in the evening and a Sunday brunch scheduled for the following day.

We transformed ourselves into party-goers with quick changes. My hair was still not dry. And served, photographed and mingled well. Just when I thought that I might not look as though someone threw a bottle of water in my face, the crowd grew to such a level that the AC couldn't keep up. Donation cards became fans. The host felt sorry for me and showed me the one vent in the kitchen I could stand over for immediate relief. I'd almost dried off when it was time to clean up, load the cars and enjoy the convection oven that I now know as my Beetle with the bad compressor.

And yet, when people commented on my performance at the party, I most often heard "energetic." Now when you are a year shy of 50, you've dripped in front of strangers in a strange land, and you still get remarks like that, it's not a bad feeling. A smile is a wonderful form of makeup. Sincere interest in what another is saying adds light to the eyes and complexion. What I lack in physical composure, I make up for with attitude.

A day like yesterday was all about attitude. I learned from the young. I shared with the advocates. And I took a shower when I got home.

Life is still very good ... a little warm, but very good.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Facing Fears and the Table

For some anxiety-ridden students facing the return to classes, the nightmare of standing before your classmates and realizing you're naked is a familiar one. The relief of waking up is sweet.

My nightmare has no such ending. I'm in massage therapy class. I won't be waking up. I will be naked.

Even before I hit the one-year-to-the-big-50 mark, I wasn't that comfortable with my body. I've always been aware of the extra pounds and now, of course, there's the reality of aging skin. I'm not convinced that I'm some crone but I'm also not that excited about a swimsuit.

So joining a class that requires you to shed clothing and jump on a table so that 20-somethings who cycle, play in rock bands, and bartend can beat on you makes total sense, right?

I can't say that I was surprised when we were told this week that we'd need our lotion. That was the cue that our clothes would be coming off. We've been practicing with scrubs on, learning to drape the sheet so that some degree of modesty is maintained. But with the introduction of strokes, we had to be moving to the big day.

What did surprise me was my reaction. Suddenly, I saw myself in such a negative light. Every pound on me seemed heavier, every blemish got darker, every wrinkle looser. And when we were told on the second day on "hands-on lab work" that we had to have a male partner if we hadn't already had one . . . well, gulp, I had to face the fear.

I looked around the room and there was the one guy in the younger set (yes, we've somewhat self-organized by age) who actually laughs at my jokes. He caught my eye, we did the raised eyebrow dance of inquiry and both nodded that we would proceed.

I worked on him first. He's the cyclist and may weigh as much as my two thighs. He's never had a professional massage. On this issue, I definitely had the upper hand.

I followed the class procedure of strokes, got the instructor to use him as a model so that my new young friend could have an incredible glute experience, and got some good response for my degree of pressure.

Then we closed the curtains and I stripped.

When he came back to the table, we had to practice the turn. If he does the draping correctly, he can't see but the move requires a rollover in which the client's breasts are potentially exposed. I rolled and positioned myself and took a deep breath. In that moment, I realized the truth of the words I uttered more than once during his practice of strokes and in response to his effusive apologies for getting some part of the practice wrong. "We are students. We are here to learn. We'll make mistakes but if we can't learn on each other, we can't learn."

My fears were faced by reframing. On that table, I am not a middle-aged woman with "issues" about her physical contours and sagging skin. I am an object lesson, a means to greater understanding. In learning mode, the experience made sense and, in fact, was essential.

Massage really does help relieve stress.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Let the Good Times Roll

We started talking about the trip about a month ago. Our new friend -- who had only recently joined our cooking crew of Wednesday nights -- has a condo in the French Quarter. The long Labor Day weekend afforded all of us -- two unemployed (but I am a student) and two employed but with limited vacation time and equally limited funding -- the chance to pool our resources. With some cooking in and wisely chosen dining out options, we could make a dream vacation happen.

We did it!

Driving over on Thursday night, I asked each person to make a wish and I, the official fairy duster, would help to ensure their realization via my positive energy (and a flourish as I waved my arm in lieu of a wand).

"I want to order the right thing. I always wish I'd tried something else."

"I want to meet someone new."

"We need to be safe and have fun."

"I want to see myself in a positive light."

"I want to survive health care reform."

The last one came from our insurance salesman and we agreed that might be out of the purview of my wish granting abilities.

Every other wish came true. We dined well on Cajun and Creole delights. We met tons of new people at parties and even on the streets. We laughed until we teared. We made up ratings games for the time we spent on the balcony watching the crowds who took one street over (ours) to avoid Bourban. We had scales for intoxication ... 0 for he's a glass or two to 10 for "soon he'll be praying to the porcelain god." And another for "that's unfortunate" fashion statements.

We were five adults who hadn't seen their 20s in a while who were wise enough to say "when" and go off on our own as needed and pitch in and make whatever should happen happen when that was required.

Driving home we knew that wishes and dreams were still within our reach. And we all smiled.