Room for Chaos

My daughter once told me that my motto could be: “Throw it out or melt cheese on it.”  I had to laugh at that– she had me nailed. But later, I wondered: that’s a pretty pedestrian motto. What does that say about me?

I do love cheese, and I’m willing to take something tired or bland and enliven it with a little warmth and love.

I don’t waste a thing.

I make do with what I have.

Long before Marie Kondo, the author of The Life-Channging Magic of Tidying Up suggested it, I made a habit of keeping only those objects that I love, whether for their beauty or their practicality, which is, in my mind, a type of beauty.

I prefer giving to receiving. I’ve always gravitated toward simplicity in my physical surroundings. My willingness to chuck virtually anything has come in handy in my writing: no word, phrase, scene or chapter is too precious to cut.

But like the Sprats of nursery rhyme lore, I am a neat-nik married to a man who saves everything. I once found a grocery list from a previous decade in the pile on top of his dresser. He just shrugged that time, without giving me his usual, “But honey, I might need it someday.”

It used to drive me nuts– all that “potentially useful” stuff. But my husband is a MacGyver-type guy. He can fix anything with a zip-tie, the lint in his pocket, and maybe that one item he finds after rummaging around for a half hour. The one time I did convince him to toss something that I considered unworthy, we needed it later–or a part of it.

So I learned to temper my desire for order and minimalism, and he learned to contain his largest piles in certain areas: the basement, the garage, a closet, his office. A compromise with an eye toward harmonious living.

But I have learned to go beyond tolerating his “messes” to having some–admittedly only some!–appreciation for them. Once, my young son decided he was going to build a fishing rod, including a reel, from scratch. Sticks collected from the wild corners of our pasture, bits of stray wire, even that old license plate from the car we sold were all put to use.

There is creative potential in clutter. In chaos.

I like my desk to be clean when I sit down to write (see header photo on this blog). I empty the dish rack in my kitchen before I start to cook. But after my vegetables get a head start in my garden, I let the weeds come. Not because I am lazy, but because their flowers invite beneficial insects. (I am lazy: I let the bugs do my work.)

There is a time and a place for everything, even chaos.

Kondo suggests that we pick up every object in our houses and ask ourselves if we love that object. I suggest that we also look at every area of chaos and ask, “What does this invite?” If the answer is “ants,” you might want to consider moving it or getting rid of it. But if it invites imagination, creativity or even the possibility of it, you just might want to find a place for it, in your home and in your heart.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Shot at Forgiveness

A few years ago, when I was struggling with forgiveness (and don’t get me wrong–I had struggled with it since long before then and will, it appears, continue to struggle–I am just fixing this particular moment in time) I picked up Simon Wiesenthal’s The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness. It is a stunning and thought-provoking book that poses this question: “You are a prisoner in a concentration camp. A dying Nazi soldier asks for your forgiveness.  What would you do?”  The responses of over fifty people follow.

I was deeply moved.  And also a bit confused.

Because, for me, it was as if they were all driving the wrong way down a one-way street.

Do I have it backwards? I always thought that forgiveness was a process that the victim engages in to release him/herself, not the perpetrator. The perpetrator finds absolution– and self-forgiveness–by making amends, not in seeking forgiveness. Even if the amends can never erase the harm, the perpetrator puts the stone of his intention to make things right onto the balance– and he does so not to fix the victim, but to heal himself. As much as is possible.

This is one of the reasons why I spend so much time in my parenting book, Parenting in the Here and Now, encouraging parents to treat their children’s transgressions as mistakes, as signs that their children need more guidance. Mistakes need to be noticed and corrected without shaming. If harm has been done, amends can be made. By teaching our children to not fear their mistakes, but to be responsible for them and, when needed, to make amends for them, we teach them mercy–self-mercy.

And no, I am not equating childish mistakes with the Holocaust. I am just saying that we all need to be educated– practiced– at making amends and forgiving. Starting with the small stuff, so that we have a template for when the stakes are higher.

I am coming late to that class. I am still learning. I am humbled to acknowledge where I am in the process, but stating the truth is part of it. Here is one story of my journey: http://themanifeststation.net/2015/08/20/a-shot-at-forgiveness/

What is your understanding of forgiveness? I really want to know.

Mama Bear: An Example of Parental Authority in Action

Watch this little clip of film. (Warning: in the last second, one of the people filming says sh*t, so mute if you want to avoid hearing it. The sound of the clip is not relevant.)

Notice Mama Bear’s weight. She is a Big Mama. Her years of loping through meadows and browsing through forests to find grubs and berries and all the other nourishments her world has to offer her shows—she has gravitas. Not just because she is large and there is more mass for the forces of gravity to work upon, but because she KNOWS. She has been around the block—or the lake.

She does not doubt what she knows. And in this case, she knows that little bearcubs do not belong on the highway with vehicle traffic. And Big Mama not only knows this, but she acts on what she knows. There is no doubt, no drama, no denial.

This is such a wonderful visual example of Ho Hum in action: acting calmly with parental authority (Ho Hum is a central part of Parenting in the Here and Now.

I am not suggesting that when your children are troublesome, you should pick them up by their heads. I am suggesting that it might help to remember Big Mama: the weight of her calmness and the resoluteness of her action.

Story and Curiosity

This is a re-post from 2013, but it feels relevant now:

My husband gave me my Christmas present early this year: a recording of Bruce McKee reading out loud an abridged version of his book, Story.  We had a six-hour drive to Philadelphia, so we listened while my husband drove and I took feverish notes. The book is geared specifically for screenwriting, but the basic structural foundation for a screenplay differs little from that of a book or a play.

My husband wanted a deeper understanding of the elements of story because, as a lawyer, part of his job is listening to his client’s story, and then re-telling that story to a judge or jury.

I appreciated Mr. McKee’s analysis because I had just finished the first draft of a memoir—and a primer on story structure was just what I needed before I embarked on the hard work of revision.

We were reminded of how important story is to humans. It is the primary way we learn about and understand our world—something I only understood after we began homeschooling.

And it reminded me how closely tied story is to judgment. A rush to judgment allows no time, no consideration for the story behind an apparent fact. That is what prejudice is—a pre-judging—based on the assumption that one already knows the story. Judgment is the end of the story—the period that says this sentence is over. No more questions. No more curiosity.

I used to think that love was the antidote for prejudice, but now I am considering that curiosity would be a better cure. Curiosity is just a hunger to know the story. And to love something that you don’t really know—that has always seemed a bit patronizing to me, or maybe it is just too abstract. But to be curious, to want to know the story, to be interested—My kids might say “Nosy, Mom. Admit it: you are nosy.”– that to me is a great blessing to bestow on another.

Parenting in the Here and Now

Parenting in the Here and Now is officially available for order from Amazon, Floris Books and Steiner Books (And BAM and B&N). It was an exciting day to receive my first copies, but this is an even bigger day, when the book actually makes its way into the hands of readers. I hope that it provides some simple companionship as well as insight for any who take part in raising children. Please pass on the link, and if you are so inclined, I would be so grateful to hear your thoughts and comments here and on the Amazon review page.

My website: www.LeaPageAuthor.com

Amazon page

Waiting for Permission

There is an interesting post and discussion about permission over on Steven Pressman’s blog. He is the author of The War of Art, in which he masterfully exposes the role that Resistance (with a capital R) plays in our lives. He speaks of it in the context of being an artist, but it really applies to anything we do. I wrote about it using a different name (Fear, with a capital F) in Parenting in the Here and Now, and when I read The War of Art, I thought, “Oh, yes, we are talking about the same thing.” (To Pressman’s credit, he said it decades before me; I just didn’t know it.)

I won’t re-create the discussion (you can read it here), but the salient point of the post is that waiting for permission to write a novel or form a band or whatever is your artistic dream is a form of Resistance.

I agree, but there are nuances and ironies which I find fascinating.

Just as we must be children before we are adolescents, and adolescents before we are adults, there is a process of growing into maturity as artists, and, I would say, as parents. It doesn’t all happen magically when we turn 21 (or have a baby). For most of us, we go through a period of dependency when we learn through imitation, and then we gradually branch out on our own(with varying levels of encouragement and support) until we are, theoretically, free: the masters of our own selves, making our own choices, no longer needing permission.

In the context of parenting, the equivalent stages are present. An example: a young mother recently asked a group of more experienced mothers if they had ever felt disillusioned with a chosen parenting style. Everyone answered “yes.” This is the adolescent stage of parenting, when the parent realizes that things don’t always work out as promised by any given method and the parent must mature into her own authority, which means making her own informed and independent choices for her family. In other words, no longer seeking permission. That young mother is well on her way.

Just as I don’t believe we can or should hurry our children through developmental stages, I don’t believe we as artists or parents can rush through those stages, either.

I think that often we ask for permission when we really need support and encouragement. But it is a tricky business: depending too much on support and encouragement is a bit like waiting for permission. Resistance and Fear are sneaky devils. But the reality is that few of us become the heroes of our own story, manifesting our dreams despite all the bad guys in our way, on our own.

We have to make that final leap ourselves, but chances are good that along the way, we had some kind of encouragement, and perhaps, at the last moment, we had some permission, too, even if it is only Steven Pressman saying, “You don’t need permission,” which is, ironically, the ultimate permission.

Creating Healthy Will in Our Children

Today, Elephant Journal posted my article, “Crisis of Will: A Family Ecosystem Out of Balance,”

I would love to hear your comments and thoughts.  Tell me how you fill your home with devoted attention.

 

 

 

http://www.elephantjournal.com/2015/05/crisis-of-will-a-family-ecosystem-out-of-balance/

Whining vs. Telling the Truth

In the last week, I have heard three different women dismiss significant and defining challenges in their lives. It is as if they were all reading from the same script, one that goes like this:

“I have been struggling lately because there was this event that happened before, _______.” They start to fill in the blank, and then they catch themselves, “but I don’t want to whine. Everyone has their troubles.”

Yes, everyone does.

And I want to know why that means that we must minimize our own. I want to know why it is considered “whining” to tell the truth. I want to know when it became a contest where only the one with the worst troubles is allowed to speak. And just who is the judge of that contest? I want to know why we assume that if we speak of ourselves, we are no longer listening to anyone else.

It is not like these women were trying to gain sympathy and therefore some advantage by opening the door to these moments. They weren’t trying to cut in line at the bank: “Oh, I have to go first because ______ happened, and I am still not over it.”

No. Acknowledging the truth has been conflated with whining and manipulation.

And that is a terrible thing. A dangerous thing. A harmful thing.

Sometimes the truth will lead people to act in response. Sometimes it won’t. A case in point: the simple stories that are shared on the Humans of New York website. Some of those stories have sparked huge fundraising campaigns and other offers of assistance. And others simply—no, there is nothing simple about it—have sparked readers to hear, to encourage, to stand with the speaker.

When we dismiss our own truth, when we don’t claim it and acknowledge it, we are dismissing TRUTH, not just ourselves. We are assigning a value, a rank: this truth matters, but that one doesn’t. And once we allow one truth to be more worthy than another, we have lost the essential power of all truth, which is in having the courage to tell, to hear, to witness, to laugh and to cry, and most especially, to honor.

 

 

 

Children and Choices: An Interview with Barry Schwartz

In my new book, Parenting in the Here and Now, I reframe many of the issues and challenges that today’s parents face. One of those issues concerns the role that choice plays in raising children.

Choices seem to be the all-purpose go-to remedy now. An article in the Wall Street Journal about the importance of chores—a topic that is very close to my heart—included, almost as an afterthought—that parents should offer their children choices about what chores they do. A recent article in the Washington Post suggested that parents model boundaries and consent by offering their toddlers a choice between chewy dinosaur vitamins or gummy robots. Faced with a temper tantrum or a power struggle? The answer is always the same: offer choices.

Our misunderstanding of the role and value of choice has had a profound impact on families. By digging deeper into how children learn to make choices and by asking questions about not only how much choice is healthy, but also about when choice is appropriate, we can dispel common myths and find practical steps that parents can take in their own households, steps that will bring their families into more balance, steps which will help form the foundation for building their children’s capacities to make good choices.

And so I turned to Barry Schwartz to add his insight and perspective to the discussion of this issue. He is a professor at Swarthmore College, where he has been teaching in the fields of psychology and economics since 1971. In his book and TED Talk of the same name: The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, Barry Schwartz takes aim at a central tenet of western societies: freedom of choice. In his estimation, choice has made us not freer but more paralyzed, not happier but more dissatisfied.

In our interview, Barry Schwartz discusses his thoughts on why we hold freedom of choice so dear, on the challenges of making good choices, and on what parents might consider when they are choosing when to give choices to children.

Barry is warm, funny and wise. I think you will enjoy hearing what he has to say. Click here to watch our interview, and I encourage you to watch his TED Talks, The Paradox of Choice and The Loss of Wisdom, and if you have the time, to read his books by the same names. The questions he asks are the questions that we all need to ask.