Gran's Apple Butter Blog

October 25, 2011

Going Home, Excerpt: Checkers (7/VI)

Chapter 7 – Checkers

Frequently our journeys involve an overnight stop or two. Maybe a tire blows out and has to be special ordered from Wesleyville. Maybe we run out of resources and have to rustle some up before we move on. Gran said this was all part of the trip, although she suggested we avoid hotel-motels with extra large ice chests and lonely male clerks. She never explained that one.

She did explain that our homes-along-the-road reflect who and where we are, just like our starting points and the home we’re headed for. This is easier to see when we’re out and about, ‘cause it’s hard to whitewash walls when you’re on the move, in which case we tend to either ignore the grime or focus on it a little too much. During times of transition, Gran said, people’s homes often reflect a similar split.

This happens because we don’t feel at home when we’re in between. The house or hotel or roadside park we land in reflects this with a general state of disrepair. The place itself is on edge, like the people living in it. Others may create a perfect bubble, with all the right elements in all the right places, clean and quiet, a living, breathing museum. And that may be all it is: An empty bubble, a shell of a home.

Our houses reflect more than we probably want them to. Gran said she’d seen this after bridges had been burned beyond repair and the end result was the big D word – Divorce. Divorce feels just like death, Gran knew, and it can leave us in emotional shambles.  

We may feel like life cheated us, robbed us of a dream. We may feel hurt, guilty, bewildered, furious, sad. We may feel like we didn’t get to say a real goodbye. Maybe we feel things might have turned out differently if we’d had a chance for one last do-over, or if our playing partner would have tried just a little harder, cared just a little more. We may feel angry that this person didn’t want a do-over. We may feel all these things at once, or we may just feel numb. We may even suspect that we may have had more to do with this than we’d like to admit – and we may not be ready to examine this possibility any more closely just yet. Working and learning through those emotions takes time, Gran said, and it takes courage. After all, it’s easier to hold on than it is to let go.

The thing is, whether we were living in a bubble or a grease-pit, it’s hard to wake up someone who’s pretending to be asleep, and it’s hard to notice signs that our egos are determined to ignore. The fairytale ends abruptly and everyone feels cheated, just like when someone gets frustrated while losing at checkers and “accidentally” knocks over the board.

Life can feel pretty crazy as we’re trying to pick up all the pieces while keeping one hand on the wheel and an eye on the road. There’s also the big job of figuring out where our new path leads, ‘cause changes this big tend to have quite an effect on our trajectory.

About that game board: Gran said it really doesn’t serve us to play holier-than-thou, to pretend it was an accident, or to play the victim. Nor does it serve us to pretend we didn’t see the frustration building in our checker-playing partner. These situations can help us realize how desperately we’ve been blocking out things we didn’t want to see, and can help us take a good look at our plays-well-with-others skill set.

If you can’t play nicely, Gran said, you shouldn’t play at all. But then, we already knew that, didn’t we?

© Mary Batson, Going Home, Front Porch Rambles, and Gran’s Apple Butter Blog, 2010-2011. All rights reserved.
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October 20, 2011

Going Home, Excerpt: Bridges (7/V)

Chapter 7 – Bridges

One thing about traveling: You cross a lot of bridges. But what about when you need a bridge and there isn’t one to be found? Maybe it’s been washed away, or maybe it never existed in the first place.

Then, Gran said, you become a master bridge builder. It’s not impossible, but it takes real effort, and drumming up the will to make that effort can be the hardest part.

Sometimes it’s better to look for a different place to cross. There may be another road, another bridge, another gatekeeper. Let’s face it, bridge construction is hard work and takes a lot of energy, so we want to be wise about when and where and how we undertake this. These projects cost an arm and a leg, and not just in terms of ego-stretching and letting-go. Sometimes there’s a price we’re not ready, or even able, to pay. Or maybe we’re not in the position to build that bridge, but Joe down the street is. If we can connect with him, the road will still go through.

We also cross bridges leaving places. The lesson here, Gran said, is learning to cross gently, without burning anything behind us. Granted, that’s not always an option. No matter how much we want to keep that bridge, there may be someone happy to burn it for us, goodbye and good riddance, don’t hurt yourself on the door on your way out. When that happens, Gran said it was usually best to keep on moving, making a note to stop by once the smoke has cleared.

Sometimes there’s a way to rebuild that bridge. Sometimes there isn’t. That’s just the way it works. Sometimes we return to find that bridge already half built from the other side, just waiting for us to finish it. Other times we work ourselves to death, building a two-mile extension bridge with the best materials we can buy, putting our hearts and time and energy into it, and just as we’re about to step across, someone sneaks up with that match again.

Then what? We can try to strike up a conversation, but they generally only work when they’re two-way. We can start building again, if that feels right, or we can take off on another adventure, planning to stop by later. If this happens enough times, and we’ve got the scorch marks to prove it, we can also say heck with that, I’m done bridge-building here, and we can head on down the road ‘til we find a place to sit and draw our circle, sharing our love from a distance. Sometimes that may be our best choice, Gran said.

It’s a tough decision, but when it’s clear that we’re the only ones who want a bridge that works both ways, trying to build that bridge over and over can be guilt’s way of side-tracking us from what we’re really supposed to be doing. Carrying a load of guilt doesn’t make one righteous, Gran said, but it will keep one resistant. Sometimes things happen just so we can learn from them, one of those contracts being fulfilled. Once we learn the moral, we can let the story go.

Of course, if the other side of that bridge was an important piece of our home at one time, this tends to leave holes in our hearts. Holes that can’t hold anything anyone tries to put in them, holes that don’t have anything in them to give anyone else, just a big bunch of empty air.

We can patch these holes, like we’ve already talked about. Gran recommended this, although in her experience, one’s heart was never the same afterward. For one thing, her heart was a whole lot stronger, due to repairing itself, like any muscle. But even with that added strength, there would still be a scar. That’s why it’s important to keep building bridges as long as it feels like there’s a bridge to be built.

Once we patch that hole, Gran said, it’ll take some time for the wound to heal. As an echo of our past, that scar may be tender for a long time, but Gran thought that’s what scars were for – to remind us of the lessons we’ve learned and how important bridge building is, and maybe even to remind us to take care of the ones we already have.

© Mary Batson, Going Home, Front Porch Rambles, and Gran’s Apple Butter Blog, 2010-2011. All rights reserved.
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October 11, 2011

Going Home, Excerpt: Along the Way (7/IV)

Chapter 7 – Along the Way 

Along these roads we encounter all the same situations and scenery we meet up with on any other journey, whether it’s to Yellowstone Park or Wichita Falls, Texas. We have the same traffic laws to follow as well, like wearing our seat belts, following the speed limit, and how to merge in rush hour, something Gran said had taken her a long time to perfect.

We’ll want to be careful of those long straight-aways out where the sky is big and the land is large. Sure, we can make great time there – sit back and crank up that cruise control. But sometimes we get a little careless about watching the road, especially if it feels like familiar territory. We think nothing has changed, this is old hat, so we just sit back and fly on by.

This is never safe when you’re driving, Gran said. Even if nothing has changed, when we relax that much we have a tendency to drop into a light snooze, something even those wide roads can’t forgive. We may wake up to find ourselves sideways in a ditch or up to our hubcaps in quicksand. Neither was something Gran particularly recommended. Keep your eyes on the road, she said, and you already know where to keep your hands.

There are fun parts to these trips as well. Like all the road games you can play and the junk food you don’t keep at home. Gran’s personal favorite was stopping for coffee and the day’s blue plate special. She’d made more friends over grimy little diner mugs than she could count on both hands and feet.

And what about all the new scenery? You could stop and have your picture taken at each border crossing: Welcome to Oklahoma. There’s also the world’s biggest ball of string and that two-headed calf you’ve been reading about for the last three-hundred miles, and don’t forget the over-the-road burger joint, highlight of every trip.

Even in this day and age, sometimes you’ll find yourself at a toll gate. The lines here can get pretty long, so you better be prepared to take a break. You’re entering a whole other place, after all, so it makes sense there’d be some kind of pomp and circumstance. Don’t try to race around the crowd – take your turn, count your nickels, and be patient. When the light turns green, you’ll know it’s time.

Less fun in these travels are the backseat drivers who occasionally show up. You’ll know you’ve got one when you realize your knuckles are turning white around the steering wheel. At that point Gran said we’ll want to count to two or three thousand, nice and slow, remembering everything we learned in our sandbox days, and then pull over at a safe spot for a conversation. We can talk about boundaries and how things are, following the don’t-make-me-pull-over guideline.

Other times we’ll come to a place where we have to make a decision – a T in the road or a construction zone with diverging lanes, where each traveler must choose a path. It can be hard to make these decisions, and even harder to accept those made by others. If all goes well, we’ll find some way to proceed in peace. Perhaps we’ll realize we’re in the perfect spot to work on our patience, communication skills, and backbone building. If a truce can’t be reached, however, we may need to pull into the next car lot so Mr. Backseat Driver can get his own steering wheel. Other drivers may look at us funny, Gran said, but only we know what’s going on inside that car.

Of course, if we discover that we’re the ones trying to commandeer someone else’s car, we’ll want to give that some consideration as well.

© Mary Batson, Going Home, Front Porch Rambles, and Gran’s Apple Butter Blog, 2010-2011. All rights reserved.
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July 19, 2011

Going Home, Excerpt: Fairytales and Treadmills (6/VI)

Chapter 6 ~ Fairytales and Treadmills

      An important part of communication is honesty – certainly with others, but also with ourselves. It’s amazing how well we can fool ourselves, Gran said, and she should know – she’d done just that.

     It’s like living in a fairytale. They’re not just for kids, you know. At one point, I looked around and realized I was living in a fairytale, at least that’s how it looked from the outside. Every component was there: Prince Charming rescuing a fair maiden, sweeping her off on his white charger to a far-away kingdom where they lived happily ever after. What a lovely story. I was infatuated with this story.

     Unfortunately, so was Prince Charming. We were both completely bonkers over the idea that we were the perfect match. It was so obvious. However, we hadn’t dug quite deeply enough in the relationship books to learn that once the fairytale ends, if you don’t have a foundation, well, you don’t have a foundation. And if you haven’t done enough work to be at home inside yourself, rather than just a character in a story, a wolf at the door looks even more threatening.

     Sometimes we run instead of facing the wolf, thinking it’s safer. Sometimes we just ignore him, hoping he’ll go away. And sometimes we play the mugwump, with our mug on one side of the fence and our wump on the other, having neither “heart to stay, nor wit enough to run away.”[i]

     Wolves don’t usually go away, though, ‘cause they tend to be hungry. And other times we’re so busy in our little make-believe version of Jack and Jill that we don’t realize the curtain has gone up on a different play entirely and we’re smack-dab in the middle of a tornado, a long way from home.

     When we look up and see how far away we are, we have a choice. We can commit to doing whatever it takes to get started in the right direction again, by being totally honest with ourselves and each other. We can choose to stay busy, to ignore the situation, convincing ourselves it’s only a dream that will fade in morning’s light. 

     But this world isn’t make-believe. It’s very real. So are our choices, and so are their consequences. That choice we confuse as the status quo – it isn’t. There is no status quo in life, Gran said. You may be coming and going, but if you think you’re standing still, you’ll soon see that things around you start moving on their own, like you’re on a treadmill. If you stand there long enough, you may fall off. I know, because I stood there until I fell.  

     On the positive side, the crash generally wakes us up. Then we have a few choices: Do we get back on the treadmill? Do we start walking or running or do we just stand there again? How many times will we climb back on the same machine? After enough falls, we tend to look for a different one. It must be the treadmill’s fault, ‘cause it can’t be mine.

     We think everything will be different then, and it usually is, in some ways. There are different buttons and gadgets and we have a spiffy new outfit and running shoes. But the basic rules of treadmill operation are the same. We have to keep our eyes open and keep moving. Otherwise the whole cycle just begins again.

     Sometimes after we stand up we realize that we fell, not because there was anything wrong with our treadmill, but because we were balancing between two bands running opposite directions. This becomes very apparent when the switch is turned on. There’s little we can do to change this – these things are bolted to the floor, and we only have the keys to our machine. If it feels right, we can turn ours around to run alongside our partner’s. But if our heart cringes at that thought, we may decide to step back on our own path, facing our own direction, before anyone else gets hurts. 

     Gran said she’d heard rumors that there was a way people could step off these treadmills, either alone or together, but she couldn’t speak to that, not having experienced it. This seemed to be a place beyond coming and going, beyond cooperating and consensus. But it couldn’t be reached by force, and it couldn’t be reached before one was ready. Maybe someday I’ll learn what this means.

     Whether we’re on a treadmill or the blacktop, or even if we learn to step beyond, Gran said, we want to always keep our eyes open for truth. It’s better for us, it’s better for everyone around us, and it also lets us check out the cool little hula dancer on the dashboard of the old van that just passed… 

[i] Samuel Butler (1835-1902), English composer and satirical author, in Hudibras, pt. 3, cto. 3

© Mary Batson, Going Home, Front Porch Rambles, and Gran’s Apple Butter Blog, 2010-2011. All rights reserved.
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June 28, 2011

Going Home, Excerpt: Sandbox 101 (6/III)

Filed under: Awareness,Books,Communication,Culture,Front Porch Rambles,Going Home,Gran,Paradigm,Sensitivity,Sunglasses — Mary Batson - FrontPorchRambles @ 11:04 am

Chapter 6 ~ Sandbox 101 

     Regardless of what color we are, Gran said, getting along was simple. Not easy, but simple. It all came down to communication, first with ourselves, then with everyone around us.

     The trick was realizing that all communication – even with the lady next door – is based on cultural structures, those sunglasses we put on at home base. All our words and waggling eyebrows are meaningless without the agreements we’ve made about what those things mean. Dictionaries help us agree on the definitions, like a big rule book. Yet even that can get tricky, since most words have multiple meanings. What if we’re using #7 and someone thinks we mean #3? And don’t get Gran started on all the connotations…

     It’s a wonder we’re able to communicate at all, she said, much less get anything right, as much room for misunderstandings as there is. To facilitate this, she thought we all needed basic training in communication, conflict resolution and the diplomatic arts. She’d call this class Sandbox 101. The main objectives? Awareness and sensitivity.

     Gran explained that awareness meant not just knowing what I had in my suitcase and how my sunglasses made the world appear, but also remembering that other people were wearing sunglasses, too. Even groups wear them, she said, everything from organizations and businesses to neighborhoods and whole countries. We may be wearing several different pairs and not even realize it. No wonder this gets confusing! But until we realize that our sunglasses are only a pair and not the pair, we’ll never truly see what lies beyond those lenses.

     And what about sensitivity? This can be tricky, Gran said, ‘cause we may be highly sensitive to our own needs, yet completely oblivious to others’. The goal here is to reach a central point from which we can see every side of a situation. And, as my mother taught me: Be polite. In word, in thought, in deed. Remember that while there is a time for making one’s voice heard, there’s also a time for dropping our walls and agendas and just listening – not giving out answers or advice or even sympathy – just listening.

     And sometimes, occasionally, learning. As one of Gran’s favorite writers put it, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”[i] When we do this in the middle of any situation, any conversation – even a heated argument – true growth can come, but only if we let it.

     Of course, Gran didn’t think she understood everything. But she was convinced that the answers to all our questions can be found as long as we keep looking for them. The whole issue of splitting hairs on P’s and Q’s while there is real truth to be found, both out on the high prairie and way down deep inside, was an eternal frustration for her, although she was working on patience and detachment.

     Sure, listening to others with an open mind can feel risky. What if they start making sense? It can also feel scary to speak your truth in these moments. But Gran thought if we could create safe spaces where we could explore our different ideas without fear of what others might say (or throw), there’d be no end to the beauty we’d uncover.

     Like foxfire – almost other-worldly in its beauty, but it’s not an illusion. We just don’t understand it yet.


[i] From The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey

© Mary Batson, Going Home, Front Porch Rambles, and Gran’s Apple Butter Blog, 2010-2011. All rights reserved.
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