Wednesday, February 19, 2014

What Faction Will You Choose?

I'm Divergent. What about you?

Yes, I'm now reading the teen fic novel reflecting life choices in another post-Armageddon society. I've already delved through three of these, captivated by the words and images presented in The Hunger Games, Selection and Delirium series. Now I'm exploring another writer's view of our future. 

Admitting I'm concerned about the number of writers who forecast for our youth a bleak future with our cities bordered by fences might be an understatement. I'm consistently learning that society's projected future seems to begin with Conflict, move into Control and end in Combat ... I assume since this occurs at the end of these trilogies that all is well after that. But earth's post-apocalyptic future seems to result in dramatic and varying decisions that will keep us safe:

  1. Eliminate Love from the equation and all is good. 
  2. Hold an annual Fight to the death using children and our cities will tow the line. 
  3. Mandate girls of a certain age apply and compete in a contest for the Prince's hand.
  4. Segregate our diverse personalities into five defined Groupings and the world will run with efficiency.
What is it I'm hearing? Choice creates conflict and pain. Remove choice. Life is good ... for awhile. For a few. Yep. All these work ... until they don't. And then we're back to more fighting and more divisiveness. And in all these stories, our future world will divide us into levels and classes and specific sects as the solution to the violence prevalent in earth's past ... well, er, life's "Now."

In the book Divergent by Veronica Roth there are five factions in society ... Abnegation which embraces total selflessness; Candor which takes honesty to the extreme; Erudite which is dedicated to knowledge, intelligence, curiosity, and astuteness; Amity which advocates peacefulness, kindness, forgiveness, trust, self-sufficiency, and neutrality; and Dauntless -- which I would define as descendants of the James Dean film Rebel Without A Cause -- but in terms this generation would better understand is generally noted for the intense way they explore and demonstrate courage, bravery, and fearlessness.

But there is another segment of this new societal order .... those that are Divergent. If you are divergent, you "diverge" from the norm ... In other words, you dance to your own beat or march to the rhythm of a different drummer or don't play by the typical rules. In the novel, being Divergent is considered dangerous. A Divergent mind is open, not closed, and willing to explore ideas not typically embraced. To me that means that a Divergent mind sees beyond societal expectations and norms, recognizes rules and accepted ideas but chooses its own path, asks questions, loves authentically, shows compassion to itself, looks through limited belief systems to find its own truths and refute absolutes and ... most importantly ... thinks for itself.

In the many versions of this story that I've read, the simpler path is to just play the game. Follow the rules. Don't fight back. Accept the face value of what appears before you. Don't challenge the status quo. If you do, pain and trial and death and loss and divisiveness results. Just smile and go with the flow. Don't color outside the lines. The status quo is fine ... Don't question. Don't be curious and take no chances. Accept. Don't wonder what is beyond the fences, which are placed there for your good.  

If you do, pain will be the result.

So I wonder, as I read, about Eve and the proverbial Apple. Besides the obvious fact that great designers like Valentino and Calvin Klein would have never risen to their current status, without the Apple we wouldn't experience all the death, loss and drama that mankind has undergone for centuries. We couldn't miss what we didn't know. We would be blissfully unawakened and unelightened. We would be peaceful and hanging out in the garden of life unconcerned about designer fashion and thoughts of pleasure related to long, deep slow wet kisses. We would be content and not distracted by passion or the knowledge it takes to challenge the status quo.

Would that be better, in the long run? To remain in the dark and ignorant of what you might be missing. By choosing a Faction or staying in your District or accepting a collaborative relationship selected for you by others, would we be better off?

After all, Knowledge got us tossed from the Garden. And Passion can lead to Pain. 

But, on the other hand -- and since I'm Divergent you know I'm gonna throw this "other perspective" out there -- passion can also lead us to incredible discoveries, exceptional love stories and terrifying feats of brilliance. Without Passion, the Bronte sisters would have left Heathcliff and Mr. Rochester somewhere in a journal, lost in time and dust. Without Passion, Van Gogh would be long forgotten since the intricacies of his works would have paled over time. Without Passion, man would never have reached the Moon or climbed Mt Everest. Without passion, Beethoven would have given up when deafness began to take its toll. 

Without passion, where would You be?

I guess I've come to terms with the fact that I'm Divergent. It's not the easy path ... It's Robert Frost's Road Not Taken. And it's not the path for everyone. We all make choices. But me, I could never choose one faction for my life. I see beyond limits in Technicolor. My dreams challenge rules. Maybe it's a year of yoga talking, but I have learned to embrace and celebrate my own uniqueness. I experience extraordinary highs and fathomless lows. I loathe and suffer under rejection. I dream and cry and scream and laugh. I'm not Dopey ... I'm Sleepy, Doc, Grumpy, Happy, Sneezy, and Bashful too. I will love deeply. Challenge myself and others. Make friends and lose them. I will live out loud, choosing to be passionate or be dead.

You may choose a Faction if you like. Play it safe. Retreat when conflict comes. Embrace the code. You may choose Passion. You may opt for a blend. The thing about being Divergent .... it's totally up to you how you play this pre-Apocalypic game .... 

"Two roads diverged into a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
to where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
and having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I --
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference."
                                     Robert Frost, 1874-1963
                                                                                                                                        -- Jenni


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Use Your China

Last Saturday as I was cleaning the house and prepping for an evening with some good friends, I found myself looking at my china cabinet wistfully.

Several years ago, I earned the money to buy this simple yet beautiful Amish-crafted oak piece after an especially stressful contract job. I'd wanted it for a very long time, stopping in to visit it periodically on the furniture show-room floor. See, my mom had told me that once I had a china cabinet, she would give me my Aunt Grace's china. No, I didn't register for china when I was married. I wanted Aunt Grace's set. As a girl, I had stood in front of my mom's china cabinet and admired Aunt Grace's china. The pattern was elegant ... gold with black against a creme background. The salad plates were square. The bowls unique. And the gravy boat and serving platter were the most beautiful serving dishes I'd ever seen. My mom had her own set so we never used Aunt Grace's china. There it sat, collecting dust in Mom's dining room. Unused for decades.

When I finally acquired the China cabinet, Mom brought it up, triple-bubble wrapped, and helped me unpack it.  I displayed it immediately.

But, I haven't used it much. Like it did under my mom's care ... it was lovingly displayed but left sitting quietly in the cabinet, unused and collecting dust.

Not sure why that hit me on Saturday. But as I was waxing floors and cleaning house in anticipation of guests (yes, I like to clean), I found myself standing before my china cabinet just like I did as a young girl, wistfully gazing at something special and fragile. I thought about Aunt Grace. What would she think of her dishes constantly on display like some museum pieces? My discovery at that moment? I think she'd prefer that they were used. 

So ... on impulse, I opened the glass doors and removed what had long been kept sacred for "special occasions."

I draped an elegant Victorian white tablecloth on the oak dinner table. I pulled out the chest holding my grandmother's silver. I selected cloth napkins, both my "Juliet" crystal and new crystal "Scandal" wine glasses (figured there might be white AND red wine) and decorated my table with Aunt Grace's china. I laid out the salad forks and soup spoons, arranging glasses, dessert forks and knives just like I learned in my Eighth Grade Home Ec class. Loved learning that ... (Pretty sure table-setting isn't taught anymore. Heck Home Ec isn't taught anymore!)

When finished, I stood back to admire my creation, wondering why I had waited so long.

I never met Aunt Grace or her husband Uncle Alba. My mom used to visit their farm. She has many treasured memories of those visits -- she now actually owns that farm. A hand-sketched picture of Aunt Grace -- and that china -- is all I know of a woman who seemed to play a pivotal role in my mother's early years. The relationship is kinda sketchy. I believe Uncle Alba was actually my Grandmother's Uncle ... making him my mother's Great Uncle and my Great-Great. So it would be my Great-Great Aunt Grace's china. Not sure it matters except to tell me how old this Noritake set is ... It's probably turn of the century. It is numbered. It is registered. It is special. And I love it.

I like to think Aunt Grace loved it too. And that she would like to know it was treasured AND used.

So on Saturday night, I used it ... I even used the tiny coffee cups and saucers for my friend and I to indulge in an evening cup of caffeine as we enjoyed the delicacy she made from scratch ... Bubble Room Orange Cake. The recipe comes from a restaurant famous for its desserts in Sanibel, Florida. It was amazing .... and I ate a whole piece!

Do you do that? Save things to be used only for "special occasions?" Most people do. They choose to keep things under lock and key for times designated by our calendar as special or extraordinary.

But it's not just "things" kept under lock and key. It's not just things we keep hidden away in the dark. It's thoughts and ideas. Writings. Hidden novels and poems. Plans for trips. Emotions. Why do we not pay that complement? Why do we put off that call? Why do we not make those plans with a friend we haven't seen in a while? Why do we postpone? Why do we wait and save our efforts for "special occasions?"

Didn't Harry Chapin's message reach you when he sang Cat's In The Cradle

What are we waiting for? We don't have any guarantees about tomorrow. Each of us plans and looks ahead as though we're promised a future. But we ignore and dismiss today as we gaze longingly ahead ... as we await the right moment or the special occasion. But what if we don't get that tomorrow? What if that friend moves away or that relationship fades into the background or the unexpected occurs? What if you've left words unspoken and laughter unshared because you were saving them for just the right moment ... for later ... planning it for later ... putting it off til later.

None of us has any guarantees about "tomorrow." Oh, I'm not advocating being reckless or careless. But our founding father Thomas Jefferson knew what he was talking about when he said "Never put off for tomorrow, what you can do today." 

But we keep doing it. Saving things or conversations or plans for tomorrow. Refraining from reaching out or making that call or recognizing how much someone means to you until that "special occasion" when the planets all align. 

Consider this from Proverbs 3 27-28: Do not withhold good from those who deserve it when it is in your power to act. Do not say to your neighbor, "Come back later; I'll give it tomorrow" when you now have it with you. 

Bottom line ... none of us knows how much time we have. Carpe Diem ... seize the day ... make as many moments special as you can.  Relationships are as fragile as china. Don't lock them away to pull out on a special day or when the "time is right."  Don't hide your talents under a bushel. Make the call. Start the blog. Search out a publisher. Go on the vacation. Send the text. Reach out. Don't put off till tomorrow what you can do today ...

And use your China. 
                                                                                                                         -- Jenni

Friday, February 7, 2014

Walking Without A Net ... aka Just Listening to the Muzac

Did you ever go to the circus? Do you remember the dazzling performers on the flying trapeze swinging back and forth high in the air and performing incredible feats? Do you remember the Tight-Rope Walker wearing the ballerina-esque gown and daringly stepping across this ever-so tiny length of rope? It would quake with each step yet she never faltered.

Ringling Brothers & Barnum Bailey Circus was a staple during my childhood. Memories of it remain etched deep. And though many may say it was the clowns piling out of the teeny car or the enormous elephants or the daring lion tamer that they recall clearest, for me it will always be the Tight-Rope Walker.

As a child, I don't recall if there was a net below her. For safety (and insurance) purposes, I'm sure there was. But perhaps part of the thrill and the challenge for these circus performers is working without a net. It certainly forces them to stay focused. It demands that they walk one step at a time with care and confidence. It requires them to remain solidly in the present. If they get ahead of themselves and allow doubt, fear, distraction, over-thinking -- or what they plan to do after the show -- to pull their focus, they would surely fall. So perhaps they work without a net just to keep themselves deliberately centered on that edge and to keep the audience on the edge with them.

I can't truly say. I don't remember ever looking down ... just up. I watched her take each tiny step until she reached the other side. I didn't take my eyes from her. I didn't even breathe.

Don't know about you but I find myself relating to that Tight-Rope Walker more and more in my own life.  These days, I find myself taking one tiny step forward at a time -- focusing only on the moment at hand. On keeping my balance right now. On making that one step count. I have no goal in mind. No idea what is ahead except for the next step. No idea how far away that other platform is. No list. No action plan. No idea what is out there. For a woman who defines herself as a planner, this is not an easy place for me to be. But, here I am.

And I'm pretty certain the RingMaster neglected to put up the net.

It is said that life -- I think of it as "The Universe" -- works in waves of three. Good things, challenges, opportunities, losses, trials, joys, etc ... they come in threes. As I stand suspended in mid-air, the Universe has rocketed my tightrope recently with three shock-waves. I have to honestly admit that I'm reeling a bit as I work simply to maintain my balance ... and my smile. The Tight-Rope Walker of my memory not only looked lovely in that sparkly dress but she never appeared without that smile. (And perfectly coiffed hair!)

So as I stand in mid-air suspended on the tight-rope, I breathe and offer up the best of myself. I mean, isn't that what each of us does every single day, especially as challenges and the unexpected arise? No matter how good we are at lists, plans, goals and organizing, we can't anticipate everything. So, as "life happens," all we can do is breathe and offer up the best of ourselves in the present moment. Pressure and disappointments come our way and each of us will inevitably experience moments of discomfort. Kinda like a diamond.

Diamonds don't obtain their brilliant sparkle unless they undergo heat and pressure. So too we must undergo heat and pressure to become better versions of ourselves. 

So, as I shake on that tight-rope, I'm becoming stronger .... brighter ... sparklier. And, I'm coming to terms with the notion that I'm right where I'm supposed to be at this point in time. 

Maybe you are on a tight-rope too. May not be what you want to hear, but perhaps that's exactly where you need to be.

See, as I stand here, I find myself discovering that The Universe provides cues to let us know we are exactly where we need to be -- no matter how uncomfortable we might be in that place. They may be subtle or bold ... but there are cues. Sure we might not like the message or stage direction. But little cues from The Universe reinforce that we're in the right place now. For me, the cues are little things ... I hear a song or read a reference or a quote in a book that means something to me and it resonates in my heart. Something happens ... I call these the "ah-ha" moments. I am drawn to yarn that I love, buy it without a pattern (the book cost too much) and then discover exactly what I wanted on Craftsy for $5! Little hints come my way ... if I pay attention. And, as I stand shaking on the tight-rope, I am absolutely paying attention.

It's that and more that helps me trust I will get to the platform on the other side. I am walking without a net. I will struggle at moments in taking the next step. I may stay in one place for a bit until I'm ready to  move. But I will keep smiling ... eventually reaching the other side. After all, I've heard it said that sometimes the soul needs isolation and rejection to break away and do what it needs to do on earth. 

A good friend (let's just call her Molly Ringwald ... I'll explain later) was there for me when one of these shock-waves hit. And she reminded me that the Universe knows what it's doing. It has plans for me that will eventually become clear. She unknowingly guided me to a verse in Jeremiah (Chapter 29, verse 11). And I'm working to come to terms with the idea that no matter what is happening at this moment, the Lord has plans for me that I just don't understand yet ... "plans to prosper me and not to harm me, plans to give me hope and a future." As I walk this tight-rope, I'm being readied for something.  

Maybe you find yourself on a tight-rope walking without a net as well. Maybe you feel unsteady or uncertain. As someone who loves goals, lists and plans, I'm struggling with not having something specific on the horizon. I'm struggling with not having something in mind to reach or to look forward to. I'm struggling because I don't know how long this wire is or what I will find when I get to the other side. I don't like it one bit. But, it's where I am.

Are you having difficulty seeing the platform on the other side? Well, I'm gonna share my friend's suggestion. She told me to hang tight and listen to the Muzac. Eventually, the Universe will guide me to the place I'm meant to be.

I have confidence that I'll get to the next platform. I'm gonna walk without a net. BUT if I have to listen to the muzac, I'm gonna pick my own Playlist ... and I'm gonna walk that Tight-Rope with a great dress on and smile.

What about you? Are you walking without a net? Are you listening to the Muzac too? It certainly ain't easy. But you choose how you take the steps. You choose how you manage the silence. That you can control. The outcome may be unknown. But how you take each step is up to you.

                                                                                                                       -- Jenni