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Going to see the King

camera blackDear Lyla,
I must confess, school was difficult for me when I was young. The subjects I studied did not cause distress, rather the feeling that I never quite fit in was the cause of much anxiety. Often I felt like an observer, instead of an active participant in my life. High school was particularly brutal for me socially and emotionally; though perhaps those around me never would have guessed that was the case. We did not have social media back then, and for that I am somewhat grateful. Back then my world was very small, I had no idea how varied the human experience truly is. All I knew is that when it was time to leave high school I would never look back. For the most part, that is still true. I do not lament missing high school reunions nor do I feel a pull northward when homecoming season is in full bloom. However, with the advent of social media, I have been curious as to what happened to those who walked the halls of adolescence with me all those years ago. As you know, storytelling runs through my veins and my curiosity for new methods of communicating the narrative is endless. Although the written word and still photography are like old friends, film’s siren song is calling and I must answer. While you will always be my muse, ghosts from the past have been whispering. Social media has given me a glimpse into how the lives of old school mates might have taken shape, but online repositories are charlatans and convey only what we want others to see. Viewing sanitized profiles creates a haze and numbness around memories of teen angst and bruised feelings. In some measure it has been soothing to reconnect to those I left over 20 years ago. I admit to feeling surprised at some of the paths that my peers have taken, where they ended up and with whom. One journey that holds particular interest belongs to a man named Chris, he goes by the name “King” now and lives in San Francisco. I have been most intrigued by his story. How does a young man from a town of less than 200 from northern Minnesota end up becoming a cultural fixture in the Castro district? What is his story? How has he shaped and been shaped by others? Does he feel the pull of the past or does he live contentedly in the present? What will the story I tell about him reveal about me? These are questions that will soon be explored Little One. In less than two weeks I am going to see the King and listen to his tale. I am not sure what will happen when our narratives collide in the filmmaking process. What I do know is, when the time is right, each of us will have a story to share.

Snow Day

12418831_10156581337870105_1847855357891011100_oDear Lyla,

When I was little my sister and I would listen to the nightly weather with great interest and intensity during the winter months. We hoped to hear the words “nor’easter” or “white-out conditions.” Living in Minnesota meant that we almost always went to school unless a storm of apocalyptic proportions was making its way to the north central region of the state; even when severe predictions were made a snow day was never a guarantee and was never called the night before! Fast forward more years than I care to count, and here I am scouring the various weather outlets tracking “Winter Storm Kayla.” The discussions between Daddy and I are “will it pass us to the North,” “will it be as severe as they predicted or will it be a light dusting not worthy of all the angst we have seen televised, tweeted and texted over the past few days,” and “will Tuesday be a snow day?” Of all of these questions the last is of the utmost importance. Our contemplation of Tuesday’s forecast is not due to worry about missing a day of school, rather it means the three of us will be together with no classes, meetings or events to distract our family unit. When I was your age a snow day meant building forts, making snowmen and snow angels with my sister until we couldn’t feel our fingers and our scarves were crusted over with the ice. After frolicking in the snow my sister and I would waddle back into the house to be greeted by Grandma Jo with a hot cup of cocoa and a crackling fire. In retrospect it seems like it took forever for us to warm up again; we took great delight in snuggling deep into the blankets and spending the rest of the afternoon reading or playing board games. Snow days are the best! It was true then and it is still true today; a snow day can liberate a person in the most unexpected ways. So here’s to hoping the snow falls heavy tomorrow Little One; here’s to hoping for a bonus family day this week that is unencumbered by obligation and mundane distraction.

DSC_4336

Dear Lyla,

It has been a while since I have written, too long. While I have good intentions it seems that the busyness of life gets in the way. Papers to be graded, meetings to attend, dishes to wash, activities to go to; the list is endless. Yesterday my “to-do list” included attending a faculty meeting. Faculty meetings are fairly mundane and a routine part of my existence; this one was just like many of the others, with one notable exception. As per usual a faculty member stepped to the front of the room to open the meeting with a devotion or words of inspiration. While I expected Dr. Nolan to read some inspirational poetry or perhaps a famous soliloquy that would resonate with the ranks of the teaching faculty, she did something a bit unexpected. She asked each of us to close our eyes and “do nothing” for one minute, she would be the time keeper. I recognized this technique as it is one I use often with my students to get them to understand the importance of being still, quiet and reflective in a world that has so many distractions. Our faculty acquiesced to her instructions and the room, normally electric with chatter, was muted and peaceful. When the exercise started I was focused on enjoying the hushed environment because I knew that minute would fly by; but it didn’t. That minute stretched on for what felt like ten and I began to feel uncomfortable and agitated. We had things to do, was this a trick by Dr. Nolan? I am fairly sure that nothing duplicitous was happening with my colleague at the helm willing us reflect and relax. That minute humbled me. I preach to our students constantly about taking time for themselves and to purge the toxic buildup of banal worries. As for me, I confess I had a difficult time doing so. I have elevated my own status as to be seemingly above such needs; there is work to be done after all. I was wrong. If a simple minute of silence creates such angst, I have work to do. One of the things that I love about you best Little One is that you seek solace and isolation when you need it. You extract yourself from loud or busy situations when you need your “alone time.” That kind of self-awareness is precious; I hope you never lose it. Perhaps when it comes to nurturing myself with stillness you, my dear child, are the teacher and I have much to learn.

lyla on trackDear Lyla,
One of the things that I love most about you is your unconditional acceptance of everyone you meet. It seems that you never meet a stranger and your heart is an ever-expanding space. Such unbridled acceptance comes with it a willingness to suspend your disbelief and embrace wild tales. Daddy finds your enthusiasm for a well-spun tale both delightful and disturbing; to this end he has tried to teach you the art of sarcasm and debate at a tender age. When I was young I too was more apt to believe someone than to question his or her motives; your Bumpa warned me that my gullibility would not end well. Unfortunately for me, your Bumpa was somewhat of a soothsayer in this regard. I would fall for the same line over and over again; always disappointed that things did not end differently. Sometimes my willingness to buy a story was based on fear. I recall one summer in particular when your Aunt Patti targeted my squeamishness for her own personal gain. She and I would always have chocolate milk at night in the table in front of the window, which Grandma Jo kept open to cool the living room down. When I wasn’t looking Patti would hit her knuckles (so I was told when I was older) on the underside of the table and declare, “A frog just jumped through the window and landed in your milk!” I would bring my gaze back to my glass, which would still be rippling from the hard knock to the wooden table. Horrified I refused to drink my milk. Patti would bate me and dare me to drink the frog-flavored concoction. In my resolution I would shove the glass at her demanding that she drink it if she was so brave; which she did, deliberately, slowly and dramatically. As you might have guessed, there was no amphibian to be found at the bottom of the glass. We repeated this one act play many times over the summer until at last Grandma Jo intervened on my behalf. Bumpa used to tease me about being gullible and warned me that it would some day be my downfall. In some ways Bumpa was right, I can be too trusting and ignore the ache in my gut that signals a warning. On the other hand, if we become too cynical we may lose our ability to show empathy to others. I choose not to live in a world where there aren’t second chances; I suppose the price for that is a level of vulnerability. My hope for you Little One is that you maintain your ability to accept others for who they are and that you have the wisdom to know when it is time to give someone an opportunity for redemption.  Keep that heart of yours open Little One; someone, somewhere will need it some day.

Right Church, Wrong Pew

lyla flowerDear Lyla,

When I look at you I can clearly see both daddy and me staring back. You have the color of my eyes, but the slope of his forehead. His nose sits squarely in the middle of your face while my hair provides the frame for your face. It will be all but impossible for you to deny your parentage; our DNA has lefts its unalterable mark on you. Although your chromosomal inheritance is clear in your physicality, it is your mannerisms and your language choices that truly reveal your lineage. Often I will hear you utter phrases that parrot my own language choices and I am taken aback at how much you have already assimilated from daddy and myself. Your penchant for science fiction at the tender age of six is entirely daddy’s fault and your need for happy endings with a soundtrack rest entirely upon my shoulders.  Since you began to speak I have marveled at how much of our family history is already embedded into your vocabulary. The ability to turn a phrase or tell a story is certainly part of one’s personality, but it occurs to me it is also a map of one’s family culture. I often hear myself responding to someone that I am “finer than a frog’s hair.” While the chuckle in response is certainly gratifying and I would like to think myself clever; the use of that phrase is most likely due to the fact that I heard my grandfather say that more times than I can count. My uttering the phrase keeps him in the present with me even though he passed away when I was in the seventh grade. Language is a way to keep my dad close as well. Although you never met Bumpa or listened to him spin a colorful yarn, he has certainly influenced you. When you get yourself into a sticky situation and I say “you are up a creek without a paddle,” that’s Bumpa talking to you. When I get frustrated and say, “I am as unhappy as an outhouse mouse,” you are hearing your Bumpa. Grandma Jo also has a specific vernacular all of her own and I am afraid you and I will both someday lament our housekeeping and say “It looks like the wreck of the Hespers in here.” Or we will make a silly mistake and declare “Right church, wrong pew.” The point is Little One that we are more than our DNA. We are a reflection of our familial heritage and those who go before us live through us in many different ways. You come from a long line of talkers Little One; your ancestors have left you with a hefty collection of colloquialisms and one-liners…use them well.

lyla colorDear Lyla,

Sometimes change is hard. Often when it seems like you have a handle on this game called life, someone comes along and changes the rules. Getting used to new ideas and experiences can be a little scary. When you came home from the first day of school and I asked you how it went and you replied, “Mrs. Taylor did not do her job last year;” I knew you had inherited my predisposition to be a bit wary of change. Apparently, according to you, Mrs. Taylor (whom you adore by the way) did not do things in precisely the manner in which Mrs. M. (whom you also adore) does and thus….”first grade is going to be really hard and Mrs. M. says there is going to be A LOT of homework.” Now that you are almost a month into your first grade experience it seems that your apprehension has all but dissipated. The stubborn little girl who insisted on not reading and only making up her own stories (because Mrs. Taylor said that was acceptable) has now demanded that after mommy reads it is Lyla’s turn. A looming fear of any pain that would come with losing a tooth has been replaced with anticipation for the return of the Tooth Fairy (mostly because Daddy instructed her to put a $5 bill under your pillow for the first one). Anxiety over homework becomes a celebration of  “Mommy-Lyla” time and you seem to love school now more than ever. I am sure that to your six-year-old psyche it seems ages ago since you had any trepidation over beginning a new school year; and that is the lesson to remember Little One. Change is inevitable and sometimes scary; but time has a way of softening our memories and dulling the ache of fear associated with the anticipation of something new and different. Life will continue to offer new and exciting adventures; not all will be welcome but they will come just the same. My hope for you Little One is that you remember that without change we cease to grow both in body and in spirit.

batgirl bwDear Lyla,

It has been a long since I have written a letter. I am ashamed to admit that I have not been so good about the work/life balance lately. I suppose the rush I have experienced in the last few weeks is normal when the semester is about to end. One thing you will learn is that our household runs on the academic calendar; the first of the year for us begins at the  end of August. Most of us embrace the comfort and consistency of routine even when it may not be in our best interest. It is possible to be too dependent upon routine, too resistant to change and too unwilling to engage the messiness of life.  I admit, I like to plan. I want to know what, when, who, why and for how long. I like the comfort  a “to-do” list written reverently on a post-it note provides. But alas Little One, the sacrifice of spontaneity for the sense of comfort can act like a false prophet leading us to fatigue and creative exhaustion. I suppose this is why I have not written for a while. Over the past few weeks I have been so focused on the minutiae of the end of the semester that I have forgotten the big picture. I have neglected to nurture the part of my personality that loves to turn a phrase, snap some photos and whip up bakery confections to share with my colleagues. I have missed out on the joy I find in mentally visiting my past in order to create a narrative for you to explore when you are ready. While this letter may not introduce you to some new character on your family tree or expose the adolescent adventures of one of your aunts or uncles, I do hope that you will find something valuable within the text. While it is noble and right to meet the deadlines that you are given and to honor your obligations, it is important that you allow yourself time for reflection and rest. The soberness of life must be balanced by silliness if you are to maintain a sense of self in this very fast paced world.  How blessed I am Little One that between you and Daddy I have a bounty of silliness in my life to keep me centered.

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