Friday, November 30, 2018

The View From the 30th Blog Post

Taipei skyline (photo by Julie)
Up here, in the Kingdom of Completed Goals, all is peaceful and serene. I am basking in that good old mission accomplished feeling, and for the next few hours at least, I will be proud of myself. After that, of course, my evil brain gnomes will whisper that my “accomplishment” ain’t all that much compared to, say, curing cancer. If my entire blog oeuvre were to suddenly go “poof,” they will say, only my diehard followers would be sad. Hush, evil gnomes! I am trying to have a moment here!

I was at writer’s group this morning, and my friend Joyce asked me what I had learned through all the writing this past month. I didn’t answer her very coherently, but I will try to do so now.

I learned that I really don’t seem to have all that much to write about anything that exceeds 500 words. I know so many writers who just can’t keep their essays to under 2000 words. 2000!!! By 1200 words, I am padding my pieces with random verbal flotsam and jetsam. I make use of lots of extra verbiage to describe, for example, someone’s long, flowing brown hair. Her hair was flowing, like a river would flow, if a river were made of long, flowing brown hair. 15 extra words right there! A 2000 word assignment, for me, would be like Death by Thesaurus.

Another insight: I’m not big on polishing/editing. I say that with shame to Joyce, who is a great editor. But by the time I finish a post, and find photos to accompany it, I’m so done. The beauty part of a blog marathon? Unless you can afford to spend hours writing each day, speed is all. I will, of course, correct the most egregious flaws (what would I do without the squiggly red line that appears beneath my computer errors?), but a lot of other goofs just slide by.

Epiphany #3: I enjoyed titling my posts more than writing the posts themselves! I prided myself on clever names for my pieces. Imagine my chagrin when, in my personal essay class this summer, I was told to write simple and clear titles that would quickly tell the reader the subject of the essays. Where’s the fun in that? Sigh.

Finally, I learned that I am not the same writer on November 30th as I was at the launch of this blog-fest. I am becoming something else, hopefully something more. I was lucky enough to be at Michelle Obama’s book tour appearance last night. She talked about “becoming,” and said that as long as we live and breathe, we are always becoming something new (or should be). If “becoming” is inevitable, what (who) is it we want to become? Because we have choices. This month, I chose to exercise my writing muscles, and now I’ve become a writer with 30 new pieces under her belt.

Which, as I look out over the vista that is November, 2018, feels pretty darn good.


Thursday, November 29, 2018

Merry, Merry. Sorta.

20 Christmases ago! They haven't changed a bit!
Lots of Christmas traditions have been jettisoned around here. First, I quit writing the gift tags in the shaky, spidery handwriting that indicated these came from Santa. As I used the exact same kind of tags for presents from Mom and Dad, only the youngest Seyfrieds were ever fooled. Next, we dropped St. Nicholas Day (Dec. 6th, when stockings were filled by Steve and me, then dumped out by our eager kiddies). Then we stopped purchasing a tree ornament for each of the children to keep and take with them when they moved out (disorganization! I tried to keep track of whose angel or reindeer was whose, but basically gave up. At this point I think only Christmas-crazy Patrick still knows for sure which ones are his.) After that, we stopped sending Christmas cards, which was sad because I got a kick out of adding “clever” comments (“Alex—a.k.a. Sher— age 11, still loves playing the violin, and wishes you a very tuneful 1995.”)

In recent years, I have not set foot in a bricks-and-mortar store for a single Yuletide gift (between online options and Julie, my personal holiday shopper, there has been neither need nor desire to battle crowds). We still draw names for Secret Santa on Thanksgiving night, but it has become a slapdash event, with most of us quickly losing the slips of paper with our chosen names on them. Steve has taken it upon himself to record everyone’s choices, in case we forget who we picked, and most of us have to ask him for reminders (some of us, more than once). I’ve never been a big holiday house decorator, because all I can think of is how lengthy and painful un-decorating will be after New Year’s, but nowadays I am more of a minimalist than ever.

This sorry state of affairs is ironic, because the whole reason all of this began was my disappointment with the lack of prep that occurred in the Cunningham house when I was growing up. Mom up in Heaven is probably having a little chuckle about this turn by her hyper-critical daughter. Yeah, yeah, have your laugh, Joanie! But at least I tried to create Holiday Magic! For YEARS! That’s gotta count for something!

Which brings us to Christmas 2018, with Aiden and Peter in the mix, both of whom are now aware of things like Mr. Claus and other holly jolly accoutrements. We took some super cute pix of the boys recently, any one of which would look great on a card. There is also plenty of time (a whole week!) to resurrect stockings and St. Nicholas Day for my precious little guys.

I think, if I can just catch my second wind, a lot of this can yet be pulled off! I just need to find my (outdated I’m sure) address book and some stamps, and buy some candy and toy cars and little books etc. for the stockings, and get the kids ornaments and….

Or maybe not.

Typical Cunningham Christmas (faulty tree stand, tree was leaning against wall so it wouldn't fall)

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

People Pleasing Christian?

Reason #1001 why I am not Saint Paul:

“Am I now seeking human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” –Galatians 1:10

But Saint P.!! Why can I not seek both? I realize in your circumstances that you had to give the early churches a little dose of tough love, when they were going off the rails and straying from Jesus’ teaching. Had you been too soft on them, Christianity might well have died out. But why do I have to be an old meanie like you? (Oh, I’m sorry! I meant to say, an old sweetie like you! Am I forgiven?)  

All my life, I have been searching for complete and universal acceptance and approval. I only acted out when I was with my immediate family, and even then my heartfelt apologies were quick to follow any nastiness to sisters or parents. When friends feuded, I always took sides—with each of them. Which I think kind of cancelled everything out, especially when Friend #1 and Friend #2 were in the same room with me, each demanding I voice my opinion.

As a parent, I may have SAID, “I’m your mother, not your friend!” and actually followed through with some consequences for misbehavior, but deep down I was thinking, “I’m your mother, not just your friend—I’m your BEST friend.” Never mind that during the delightful middle school years, it was clear that I was mama non grata 90% of the time. I remember (still with a twinge) when easy going Sheridan went away to music camp in 8th grade, and came home a sullen sad sack. I found a letter he was penning to a girl he’d met there, telling her how dreadful Steve and I were. I think I cried for a week, by which point Sher had completely forgotten about both letter and girl.

Church life is tricky, because everyone is so invested in their stake in it. Either our youth are never in church (my fault) or the kids are doing too much in church (mea culpa). Some people love the mission trips I lead, others criticize them to the max. And very often, I hear about these dissenters second hand, “I’ve heard some people say…etc.” Who are these “people”? I spend my hours in worship scanning the crowd for possible culprits. But if I ever found out who was dissing me? I would probably just do my best to butter them up (the amount of buttering up I do must account for the extra ten pounds I’m lugging around.)

So, Paul-formerly-known-as-Saul, what’s your advice for me? I only want to serve the Lord, and at the same time keep my shiny Miss Congeniality crown. Is this possible? Please tell me I can be a People Pleasing Christian! Without, of course, sacrificing my ideals or personal integrity!

Whichever way you answer, dear Paul, I agree with you!

At a speaking gig--just people pleasing away!