Friday, January 22, 2016

Graceful Words: Inspired by Jane & Judy

With 2016 arrived #ClassicsChallenge2016. Thanks to Ron Bernas once again for tossing out the gauntlet. But this year's challenge began with a gentler tone, an aspect I seek to incorporate into myself in an effort to settle an intense spirit and become just a bit more graceful and quiet.

Many years ago, I opened the pages of my first classic novel at the behest of one Judy Lebryk of Valparaiso High School. I was a Junior at the time and Ms. Lebryk was the terror of many an English student for her fierce love of classic literature and her intolerance of grammatical ignorance.

In Judy Lebryk's class, two or more spelling or grammar errors on a paper would result in an F. At that time in our education in this Honors English curriculum, we were to know our stuff ... or else.

While some may have cursed Ms. Lebryk's adherence to these exceptionally high standards, I feel nothing but gratitude for her work in assuring I knew HOW to articulate my written thoughts well. And I credit her for guiding me to a passion for Classic Literature.

I also credit her for my introduction to the works of Jane Austen, a simple woman who penned stories in bound notebooks and nurtured a deep desire to write all her life. And her gift with dialect, word choice and descriptive elements was artful and remains enjoyable to read to this day.

Now, I didn't begin as many do, with the popular and much dramatized Pride & Prejudice. Oh, I've read that book many, many times. However, it wasn't my first Austen. My first Austen was the more critically reviewed Mansfield Park. And the first heroine I came to admire was Fanny Price.

Oh, I'm probably more an Elizabeth Bennett from P & P. Independent. Content on my own. Quick to feel -- and perhaps too quick to judge. Romantic. Intense and outspoken for my station. Restless and passionate. Impatient at times. Intolerant when people are careless with the feelings of others. Protective of those I love. Like Elizabeth, I enter a room with a vibrant rush of energy and spirit. Yes, Elizabeth and I are alike in our passionate natures. Our intensity.

Perhaps that is why I admire Fanny Price so much. Such a quiet, gentle spirit was Fanny. Perhaps that is why when Ron directed me to re-read a classic from high school, I immediately sought Mansfield Park and re-acquainted myself with Fanny. Perhaps Fanny could fix, help or inspire a transformation in me.

Mansfield Park introduces us to three sisters. One marries above her station to a wealthy baronet named Thomas Bertram and has four children. One (the busybody, childless aunt) marries a clergyman named Norris. And the last, Fanny's mother, marries a naval lieutenant named Price who gets injured and is useless. This sister pops out children with abandon and can't handle the burden. That said, the novel commences with busybody Aunt Norris urging the wealthy family to foster the oldest daughter ... Fanny. And mom is thrilled to get rid of one kid. Pretty sad but there you have it.

Fanny is raised by the Bertrams, but always reminded by her Aunt Norris and her class-conscious cousins Maria and Julie that she is beneath them. She finds a friend though in her cousin Edmund, They are much alike and it is Edmund who Fanny cares most for. He is her closest friend and her confidant ... in all but one thing. (Guess what that is?)

A few years pass. Fanny is 17 and (drum roll, please) Enter the protagonists ... Henry Crawford and his sister Mary. Henry is a careless flirt, vain and arrogant but charming in his manners and style. Mary is pretty and captivating but her character is shallow and mercenary, inconsistent and self-absorbed. Henry hatches a plot to make Fanny fall in love with him, after toying with both her cousins' emotions. But Henry is foiled in that Fanny sees through him. And, when he realizes he is genuinely falling for Fanny, she rejects his proposal -- despite all who try to force them together.

Fanny is a complex personality but she's criticized often by readers for her meekness. Consider this though, she's alone and thrust into a world that constantly reminds her that she doesn't belong, yet she maintains her ideals and kindness. She is shy and sensitive, yet intelligent with good sense and perception. And she is strong enough to reject obedience in favor of following her instincts and conscience.

Many have a love/hate relationship with this character. But I admire how Fanny loves, how she lives gently, and how she is willing to let go of things that don't belong to her. In short, I wish I was less of an Elizabeth and more of a Fanny. But, at least she and I are long-time friends.

Perhaps someday her gentle spirit will soften my passionate nature and I will learn to adjust more gracefully to life as it happens. I certainly learned from Ms. Lebryk how to write eloquent papers and express my ideas without grammatical or spelling issues.

So, perhaps there is hope for me ...
                                                                                         -- Jenni

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Before The Kick-Off

The other day, I was watching a football game. I don't watch a lot of football, I must admit. I grew up in a state that was all about basketball. But it was one of those playoff games where both teams had stellar seasons so the pre-game chat projected a compelling competition. And, well, my husband was watching so I thought I'd hang out, knit and see how it all shook out.

Energy was high as the clock ticked down the minutes before that important first play of the game: the Kick-Off. Even I felt the tension through the television set.

It's exciting in those moments before the kick-off. The records of the season are top of mind. All the great plays and accomplishments rank them at the pinnacle of their leagues. Sports fans wait for the match-up and anticipate a great game. There's so much Hope and Potential. The air is ripe with Possibility and Promise. Expectation.

Before the Kick-Off, anything is possible.

With the first snap and the kick, the ball sailed through the air. It was beautiful. And then, it was caught. And the next thing I knew, the ball had made it all the way back down the field and the officials declared a touch-down.

There was silence for a moment. And then one set of fans exploded into triumph. The other sat, shocked at what they had just witnessed.

I hung around for a little longer. These kind of games make me really tense. I feel for both sides. They've worked so hard for such a long time. They've put their heart and a lot of hard work into getting this far in a competitive, physical game. I want to see both do well. But that was not the case. For after that returned kick resulted in a touchdown, the game shifted and was a one-sided domination.

Bad luck? Better team? I honestly couldn't say. But that Kick-Off -- that one play in the initial minutes of the game -- changed everything and the tide turned quickly. The mood in the stadium did too.

Got me thinking about New Years Resolutions and Hopes. At the stroke of midnight, armed with a glass of Chateau Chantal Celebrate and my New Years Intentions, all is possible. But then, the morning dawns, stuff happens, and old habits and actions damper the hopes and dreams of accomplishment, improvement, happiness and growth ... or, perhaps, less growth and a few fewer pounds.

It doesn't matter the Resolution or Intention you set. It's easy to get off course ... to allow the other team's Kick Return to throw you.  To allow that unexpected play and its implications undermine your confidence in your plans, or what you hope to do or accomplish.  It's much safer to stick with the status quo and surrender your dreams or goals or hopes to change and improve your body, spirit or mind, relationships, career ... etc. Heck, ya can't fail if you don't put yourself out there. Isn't it just simpler to go with the flow and what you know? To keep out of the fray and accept that the die is cast and what is ... is.

But, no matter how the game ended and who went on into the next phase of the Superbowl playoffs, both teams put themselves out there. And no matter the score at the end of the game and the discouragement as the one sided game continued, the players didn't walk off the field and give up. They kept playing and doing all they could do until the final whistle.

I don't know if you make New Year's Resolutions. I set Intentions, myself. And I do what I can to keep the focus. I don't always meet the goal. I get off course and discouraged at times. I lose and fail. And there are moments in which I feel the failure more acutely.

But there's something that pushes me along after even a messy Kick Off. Every moment is a new opportunity. I can't fail unless I give up and stop trying. I may not win. I may not get what I want or achieve my fondest wish. I may lose things and people along the way. BUT I'm going to fight a good fight and finish the race. I'm going to keep the faith in myself, in my "intentions" and aspirations whatever they might be, and in the people racing beside me -- whether they've fallen behind, advanced beyond me or walked off the track and away from me. Think Paul suggested that  ... And it gave him a sense of peace in the moments before his execution.

"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." 
2 Timothy 4:7

Or, if you prefer a simpler, more popular mantra, remember Dory's words of Wisdom in Disney's Finding Nemo and "Just keep Swimming."

We're a few weeks into the 2016 Kick-Off. You may have scored a goal or two. You may be facing a tough challenge and waiting for your break. You may be in a Time Out, seeking strength and perspective. But you can't win if you stay off the field. It's comes down to Endurance, I guess.

So, whatever your "game," don't allow a rough start or a few tears or a week where you just didn't get to the gym and instead consumed a box of Oreos or a difficult meeting or unexpected loss keep you off the field.

You don't know what you'll discover unless you pick yourself up, offer your best and let go of the rest. That's really all you have to offer ... the best of who you are in this moment and what you know and can do now.

Find the Joy in that ... Shake it off ... and Just Keep Swimming. Before the Kick-off gets all the hype. But it's how you play the game that defines you.
Happy New Year.
                                                                                                      -- Jenni