Tuesday, January 31, 2012


I saw a group of kids coming from the high school the other day and going into McDonald's. One of them had this box on his head. I followed him and asked if I could take his photo. I think he said yes. He didn't run away.
I have been wondering ever since about why he did this. Was it a project (and did I help or hurt it)? Or was it just that he wanted to hide out for a while? I know the feeling. I had recently been considering wearing a bag on my head. . . if I could get away with it.

A month ago I had to renew my Driver's License. I went in one morning, right when they opened up and before work. Early. I wanted to avoid long lines, and I did. I didn't know that I was going to be someone's joke for the day. When I went to the first station, the man told me to take off my glasses and look at the sign. Okay.
My picture would be available at another station. Move on. He smiled. I know why now.

As I walked away, I had a question: why take off my glasses? The person next to me had hers on. I anticipated a not-so-good picture. First, I can't see without my glasses. The sign had a word on it, and (without my glasses) I had squinted to see what it said--thinking that it might be significant. It wasn't. I later noticed that the other sign was a smiley face. In addition, I was just getting started on medication for conjunctivitis (thank you, darling grandchildren!), finishing a very heavy semester, and preparing to leave for a conference where I had two presentations. I was tired. I want to say that all as an excuse for why the photo turned out the way it did. I want to think that I don't really look like what that photo shows.

The picture was the worst I have ever seen of myself. And I've had some doozies before. Ones where one eye is drooping or my mouth is twisted. One was my DL picture in Washington where my hair had been blown crazy by the wind. I thought I had fixed it, but a chunk was still sticking up. Did the guy taking the picture mention it? No. Instead of what I thought was a welcoming smile, I know now that his smile was for himself, thinking about how funny it was to take a picture of someone with a big hunk of hair sticking up. I understand that the work in the DL office can be boring and repetitive, but I wonder about how these employees find humor in others' misfortune. After all, we live with that photo for a long time.

So, back to my photo. I didn't see it just then. I was moved to another station, eye test!, and then on to someone else where I had my old DL punched out and paid the money for the privilege. That worker told me that I would receive my new license in 4-6 weeks. I asked about air travel and was told to use both the old one and this new temporary one, which is when she pushed a bunch of papers toward me: my receipt, some info, and the temporary license, with my new photo on it. I took the papers and was heading out of the building when I looked down for the first time at the photo that would live with me for the next four years.

Now, I have never liked my picture being taken. I have never claimed to be a beauty. But I thought I wasn't someone who would scare little children or small animals. The picture that looked back at me looked like I was sister to the Nick Nolte mug shot that went viral a few years ago. I started hyperventilating.

I have calmed down a bit since then, but I still cringe to think of the photo. I hate to have to take it out for any purpose at all. It doesn't help that the TSA agent at the airport flinched when he saw it. And, being sensitized, I have noticed that if I ever come up missing or (heaven forbid) commit a crime, guess what photo will show up on the evening news? Yep. My DL photo.

So I understand wanting to walk around in a box. Maybe some days, not just for my face's sake, but for other reasons. To be left alone (look how well that worked for this guy). To have a little extra barrier between the world and my sensitive feelings for a day or so, just enough to get tough again. I get why a box. I really do.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Winter and Seasons and Whimsy

So. It finally snowed in Utah. Bill Bryson notes that native Alaskans have fifty words for snow: "crunchy snow, soft snow, fresh snow, and old snow, but no word that just means snow." This is a wet snow on top of a crunchy, icy snow. I wonder if there's a word for that. When I skied regularly, I was much more attuned to the quality of snow. Now I think of it more in terms of shoveling: wet snow is a lot heavier! 
I think I'm happy about the snow. We've had the mildest weather. We've had days where we couldn't stop talking about how mild it was: "Can you believe this weather?" And I enjoyed those mild days when we normally are shivering in our brief forays outside. But I think a part of me missed winter, too. Missed the idea of a season of winter. Growing up in Alaska, we had all the seasons. One of them was a lot longer than the others, but we had them all. In Washington, winter was mostly rainy (although we did have a huge snowfall one year, the last big one before the one that just hit!). So when we moved to Utah, I looked forward to four seasons again. 

Now, finally, winter is here. It's lovely outside (I tried to get more pictures but for some reason they are sideways?!). I love the contrast of the white snow piled so carefully along the dark brown limbs of the bare trees that line my yard and the streets I drive. Everything looks so fresh and new. When the snow was falling the first night, the flakes were so big I tried to take a picture of that, too. Again, sideways! But the air seemed full of cotton puffs floating past the street lamps. Picture perfect. 

But now is also a different reality: It's slippery. There is ice under the snow, and I'm very conscious of falling. And, before we know it, this lovely white will be scraped up in piles alongside roads and driveways. It will turn the grey color of old snow. And it will be tipped with brown thrown up from sanded streets and car exhaust. It will be ugly and we will wish for spring. . . and then we will be eager for summer. . . and then we will wait for fall to turn leaves. . . and then we will watch for new snow to fall. It occurs to me that we are somewhat whimsical about seasons. We are mostly waiting for the next one, for what is not what we have now. I am back to my word of the year: Present. I don't want to wish for the snow to melt just yet. I want to enjoy the beauty of it today. 

My grand-daughter loves the snow (her brother hates for it to touch his snow pants or boots, so he only walks where it's been shoveled well). I am going to love the snow, too. Even when it's gray and brown. I will remember what it was when it was young. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

slowing down

As it was a day off from school yesterday, we took three grandchildren to McDonald's for lunch--along with about a hundred other parents and grandparents. What a lot of noise! 

We spent a longer time than we had planned, which wasn't a big deal. We were having fun. 

One thing that made the stay longer was how long it took one grand-daughter to eat her meal.  Our five-year-old grand-daughter is a deliberate eater. We don't say "slow" anymore, because she has been told it so often by others that she sees herself as slow, and, for her, that is not a positive attribute. She ate a chicken nugget in little teeny bites. She took about 20 minutes to eat the apple slices. In between, we got to hear about gymnastics and her new baby sister and commentary on what was going on around us. 

Actually, if she eats quickly, she gets sick. We don't know why. No one does, but she learned early on that the result of quick eating was not a happy thing. So, she eats slowly, visits in between bites, ruminates about what she sees, and generally takes about four or five times as long as others to eat the same amount--or less. She is healthy and happy. Except that she calls herself slow

I found myself thinking about my word for this year, about being present, and about how often we rush around. We walk fast, we eat fast, we do three things at once. This morning, on my fast walk from the car to the building (it was about 20 degrees out!), I saw a little girl--probably 4 years old--on her way with her dad to the preschool located on the ground floor of my building. She walked up the brick wall (it does look like stairs) along the cut-through--and then went back and did it again. Her father was speaking both English and Spanish to her, but he didn't rush her much (she was well bundled against the cold--more than he was!). Instead, when she stopped to tap the light pole and ask the name of it in Spanish, he told her. She repeated it three times, each time patting the base of the pole. Then she skipped to something else. As I walked behind them--and then passed them--I got the impression that the little girl likes preschool, but she likes the getting there, too. Was she slow? I don't think so. 

I read something this week about multi-tasking. Researchers did brain scans of people doing one task, then doing another, and then doing both at the same time. In the third set of scans, the brain lit up in the areas associated with the two tasks, but to a much smaller degree. It appears that we really can do two things at once--but we don't do either of them well. 

So I'm thinking about my grand-daughter and what it means to slow down. Maybe it shouldn't be such a negative to be slow? To eat more slowly, to enjoy the journey as well as the arrival, to focus on what is important in a day instead of focusing how much there is to do? Quality over quantity? I don't know if the world will let me do that, but I'd like to give it a try from time to time. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

One Little Word

In 2011, I felt rushed. The year passed in a blur of worrying about obligations. What is next? Sweep it away as soon as I can and move on to the next thing. I don't want to live 2012 in the same manner. I don't want the year or days or minutes to rush past. I want to experience them. Savor them. Even the difficult ones, I think. So, my word for 2012? PRESENT. 
I was going to choose LINGER, but I like PRESENT better. It is both fully attentive to the moment, but also a gift. That's how I want to live 2012: Here. Present. Living this moment and not the next one or the past one. I know past and future are with me, but I want to savor the gift of the time I have now. 

So, what does this photo have to do with that idea? I'm not sure, but it was a first attempt at just enjoying the moment. I was in Arizona with grandchildren over the holidays. One day, they were outside for a while. When I looked out at them, I saw that they had picked all the grapefruit but one and then piled them in a skirt around the tree. It was funny and visually appealing. I wondered why they had suddenly decided to pick the fruit and why the one grapefruit was left (so obvious!) unpicked. I wondered at their desire for symmetry and design. Mostly, I took the picture to remember the moment, to enjoy the contrast of bright yellow and deep green. And to think that maybe I was like the grapefruit on the tree, lingering a little longer.