Creativity

Halloween Ain’t Over Until I Have Burns From A Hot Glue Gun

The year he wanted to be a Lego.

The year he was a Lego

It is a story as old as time. On September 20th, Mom asks sons what they want to be for Halloween. Sons shrug. On October 1st, Mom asks once again what they want to be for Halloween. Oldest son replies with a vague, “something scary.” Younger son shrugs. On October 15th, Mom tells sons the shipping deadline for their dream costume is rapidly approaching and asks if they want to look online with her for costumes. Nope. On October 24th, Mom urges sons to get it figured out or risk spending Halloween handing out candy to other children. Oldest son says he will be “something scary” but he still doesn’t know what. Youngest son says he’s working on an idea. On October 26th, five days before Halloween and one day before the school Halloween party, youngest son announces in the car on the way to school that he would like to be his favorite Pokemon character, Mudkip.

“I’m not sure where we are getting you a Mudkip costume at this late date,” Mom says.

“It’s okay, Mom. I’ve got it all figured out,” says ridiculously imaginative youngest son. “I know exactly what we need to make it. It won’t cost much. I just need a blue sweatshirt with hood, blue sweatpants, and some fabric, probably grey, orange, black, and white.”

The year he was Pacman.

The year he was Pacman

“Uh huh,” Mom replies warily. “You know I don’t have time to shop for all that stuff today. I have plans.”

“We can get the stuff after school. I will pick out everything I need. I will make it,” says I-am-too-cute-to-say-no-to youngest son.

“Uh huh,” sighs frustrated Mom who now knows how she will be spending her entire Monday evening.

So I resigned myself to my fate. I spent my day painting the family room at the new house before heading to pick the boys up at 4. As soon as they were in the car, we drove over to Hobby Lobby for costume supplies, except we weren’t entirely sure if we would find what we needed.

Luckily for Luke and I, we’re great in clutch situations. We were gifted with the ability to pull something from nothing. We go in with a Plan A, but when Plan A falls apart we quickly devise a Plan B. When that doesn’t work, we run our way through the alphabet. I’m not sure we’ve ever had to go beyond Plan D to find a solution to the problem at hand. When we couldn’t find the right color blue hoodie (and I quickly ascertained that finding one at this point would require multiple trips to various stores across town that we had neither time nor gas for), I got Luke to settle for a blue t-shirt in exactly the right shade. From there we figured out how to create a suitable headpiece for the costume, and Luke agreed to forgo matching bottoms to make the costume a bit more age appropriate. I mean, what kid at age twelve wants to be wearing the equivalent of the pink bunny suit from A Christmas Story to school?

When we got home, I fished out the hot glue gun, my sewing kit, some polyester fiberfill fluff, and got to work. Luke was costume designer. I was seamstress. He wanted to do more hands on work but I relegated him to cutting because, honestly, that hot glue gun is a nasty bitch. I couldn’t see how landing my son in the emergency room with burns was going to expedite our costume creation. We dumped out the supplies and took turns devising schemes to turn our meager $14 in supplies into an adorable costume. We cut and recut shapes for the eyes and nostrils until they looked right. Luke stuffed some of the pieces to adequate fill, and I glued and sewed until we ended up with something Luke could live with. It wasn’t exactly what he had pictured, but he accepted that it was his lack of expedience that led to this backup version of his whimsical plan.

The year he was Mudkip.

The year he was Mudkip

As I was busy using my fifth-rate sewing skills to attach the tail to Luke’s costume, I thought about why I end up in this predicament year after year with this kid, slaving away on a costume that will be tossed out once the pillowcase comes home heavy with candy. It’s partially because he’s my youngest and he’s growing up too quickly. It’s partially because his ingenuity and enthusiasm are contagious. It’s partially because I enjoy seeing how close I can come to executing his perfect costume. But it’s mostly because I don’t want to be the kind of mother who isn’t willing to give herself second-degree burns (yes…I earned a blister) with a hot glue gun the night before her son’s Halloween party at school. It’s my way of letting my sons know there is nothing I wouldn’t do for them, including pouring my blood, sweat, and tears out for them when they need me the most.

I think a lot these days about the legacy I will leave with my sons. If I’m gone suddenly tomorrow, what will they remember? What will they miss? Will they recall that I made up crazy dances to sitcom theme songs or that I fashioned a makeshift triage in my office for their injured stuffed animals? Will they look back fondly at the times when together we coaxed something from nothing in the clutch? No matter what they will recollect someday, I live at peace today in the knowledge that I gave this motherhood bag my all. I never backed away, even on the worst days when my car sang the sirens’ song of the open road. I left it all in the ring and I have no regrets about the time I invested in my children and their dreams while putting my own on hold. It’s just too damn bad I still haven’t mastered the fine art of the hot glue gun.

Talk Amongst Yourselves

Who would win? A ninja or Darth Maul? Discuss amongst yourselves.

Who would win? A ninja or Darth Maul? Discuss.

As we were driving home yesterday, we were discussing our upcoming weekend plans. Through the discussion, Luke realized that he was going to be missing out on one thing he wanted to participate in because he’d already committed to another get together. He was pretty bummed out about it.

“I wish I could be in two places at one time,” he lamented.

“You’re certainly not the first person to have that thought, Luke. I know I’ve wished for the same thing before.”

“You don’t need to be in two places at one time,” Joe retorted. “You just need a teleporter so you can go back and forth between the things you want to be doing. If you had a teleporter, you could be at Justin’s birthday party and then pop over to the hay ride for a bit too. You could go back and forth.”

“There ya go, Luke. Another solution to your problem,” I said.

It always cracks me up when my boys get into deep discussions about things that either will never happen or are situated precariously on the edge of unlikely to happen. Kids are great that way. Sure. Sometimes it drives me crazy when they get into a shouting match in the car about which superhero is better, Iron Man or Captain America, especially because I think someone should be weighing in for Thor in the discussion. Still…I love that they’re capable of sharing their thoughts and opinions and debating their points of view. It means they’re thinking beings, and that’s encouraging because sometimes I think the videos playing non-stop videos on their iPads may be sucking their intelligence dry.

“Nah. I think it would be better to be in both places. Then I wouldn’t miss anything at all.”

“You wouldn’t have the memories from one of the things, though, so it wouldn’t work,” Joe replied.

“Yes. I would. The memories would be shared,” Luke countered. Luke is great about imagining best-case scenarios. And, why not? If you’re going to be arguing about the impossible (or highly unlikely), you might as well get creative.

“Clones are bad, Luke,” Joe reasoned. “Do you really want two of you walking around? What if one of you commits a crime and the other one gets thrown in jail for it? I think the teleporter would be better.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because then you could spend your day on a beach in Hawaii and your night in Iceland checking out the Northern Lights,” Joe said.

“Oooooh! I like that idea,” I told him. “I could totally get behind that. But if you teleport from one thing to another can you really be tuned into where you are or aren’t you always thinking about where you need to be next. It seems like with Luke’s idea you get to live in the present a bit more. You get to live in two presents. On the other hand, though, I think you’re right about the cloning thing, Joe. Not sure there should ever be two of me walking around. I get into enough trouble with just one of me.”

We talked like this for about five minutes on the way home, arguing possibilities and loopholes and scenarios. It was fun. Some of the best time I spend with my sons is in the car when they are my captive audience. Once I drove three hours with Joe and Luke with no electronics of any kind, not even the car radio. We talked non-stop and when we got to our destination the boys actually remarked that it was fun and that we should try it again on the way home.

It seems that I rarely have fun, energetic, and unrealistic conversations with my friends. We talk, but it’s nearly always centered around reality…how the kids are doing, how the remodel is going, what we’re doing for the holidays, how midlife is a nasty beast. Yawn. It’s all so adult and boring. When was the last time you asked your buddy to name songs that would play on a soundtrack for his life or to defend his favorite superhero or to debate the merits of time travel or to share his bucket list with you? While it’s good for adults to discuss reality and engage in conversations about politics and religion and current events, I think we’re getting out of balance in life if we don’t also confer about the random and the whimsical. I’ve decided that every Friday I am going to ask someone a question that has nothing to do with anything important, just for fun. We’re all getting older, but we can choose to think young.

I’m Not Coyote Chow

A bunny I saw on my morning walk. I see bunnies everywhere all of a sudden.

A bunny I saw on my morning walk. It was not thinking.

I’ve been sitting here for the past hour or so desperately trying to come up with something to write about. I flipped through all the tabs I set up in the Bunny Buddhism book, twice, looking for inspiration in the words that had touched me a couple days ago. I found none. The clock was banging away the minutes to midnight, and I was no closer to a theme for today’s entry. I was becoming increasingly stressed out about my impending failure a mere two days into my renewed pledge to write daily. I was just about to give up and write it off (at least I could write something that way) as being overtired when my eyes landed upon this quote on a page I had not marked:

It is better to hop than to think of hopping.

Well, crap. There it is in a nutshell. My problem. You see, I am a great thinker. I’m not exaggerating. I am really great at thinking. It’s my favorite thing to do. I’m curious and intellectually open-minded, happy to accept the world for all its grey matter (and not the black and white that others imagine exists). The problem is that sometimes I spend so much time trapped in my skull, thinking, weighing options, and organizing mental tidbits, that I run out of time to do something. In this way, I am perpetually paralyzed…too tangled in thought simply to be a human being and too overwhelmed by possibility to be a human doing. I am frozen and worthless.

I need to blow up today’s quote to poster size and mount to the wall in my office. Sometimes the best thing to do is tell the chattering monkeys in my mind to shut the hell up and then start hopping forward. I can worry about the quality of my written work after I’ve actually written something down. So just like the zoo keepers in Kansas City, tonight I decided to toss those chimps back into their enclosure so I could stop thinking about writing and just write. It doesn’t matter what I churn out. It’s the act of writing and not the thought of writing that makes a writer.

My friend Heather recently sent me this amazing book by Anne Lamott. In Bird by Bird, Anne, a published author many times over, confesses her own struggle with writer’s block.

“What I do at this point, as the panic mounts and the jungle drums begin beating and I realize that the well has run dry and that my future is behind me and I’m going to have to get a job only I’m completely unemployable, is to stop.”

I am gifted at stopping and declaring defeat before I even begin. And it helps to know that even well-known writers experience a jungle-drum-level fear of doom when they’re facing a deadline, self-imposed or otherwise. Sometimes we humans are our own worst enemies. I stress myself out so much about what I should say that I end up saying nothing…something I did most of the days last year. But that has got to stop. In time and with enough practice, I will spend less time thinking and more time producing. Not every day is going yield a worthwhile piece. Some days I might be fortunate to land squarely somewhere between schlock and drivel. But even schlock and drivel are a tangible result of effort, a venture out of my self-prescribed mental straitjacket. It’s a step (or hop) in the direction I want to head. A bunny that fails to hop ends up Coyote Chow. I’m not prolific yet, but I’m sure I’m not ready to be finished either.

What hops have you been missing?

 

 

Beginning Bunny Buddhism

I don't patronize bunny rabbits.

I don’t patronize bunny rabbits.

Late last week, my sister introduced me to a book I knew was a game changer. The minute I saw it I knew I needed a copy for myself because it fits right in there with two things that appeal to me…working towards my zen and coveting fuzzy things. (Yes. I know to be truly zen I would have to not covet things, even soft, fuzzy things, but this is why I said I am working towards my zen. I am not there yet, people.) The book is Bunny Buddhism by Krista Lester. It is an adorable tome filled with wisdom about life and illustrations of darling bunnies on the path to bunniness. As soon as I got the name of the book, I was one-clicking my way through Amazon to get it here as fast as humanly possible. (Yes. I know instant gratification also goes against my path to zen, but I can only make this journey one step at a time.) Today the book arrived, and I devoured 186 pages of bunny thoughtfulness, carefully marking statements that resonated with me. Fifty some Post-It tabs later, I realized I have a lot more travel ahead on the road to zen than I originally thought.

Last week, a fellow blogger (and all around kind gal) commented that she missed my blog postings. She told me she was planning to write every day in April. I was tempted to join her on her journey, but ultimately decided that after all this time off I’d gotten too lazy to commit to a whole month. That seemed like an awful lot of work. Then Bunny Buddhism arrived in my mailbox, and with it came my inspiration. And so for the next couple weeks, or until I am plumb bored with cute, fuzzy things or deep, life-changing wisdom, I am going to pick a thought from the book and blog a bit about it.

Today’s Bunny Buddhism mediation is this:

Even a reliable bunny misses a hop sometimes; then the important thing becomes simply to return to hopping.

That is what I am doing right now. I am returning to hopping by blogging again. Once I was a reliable writer, composing something every day for a full year, but I lost my way. I decided other things in my life were more pressing. I reasoned that because writing is not a paying gig for me, I had best focus on my primary job as wildlife manager (aka “mom to two sons”). I thought maybe all the time off blogging would give me more time to focus on writing a book. It didn’t. I found other ways to occupy my time when I put writing on the back burner. I rewatched all the seasons and every single episode of Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and LOST. I read way too many articles about our food system that scared the bejeezus out of me. I spent appalling amounts of time on Facebook. And through it all, the only thing I learned is that I am a first-class escape artist. But at the end of the day, no matter what I do or don’t do, the one thing I can’t avoid is the knowledge that I am a writer. I may not be a world-class writer or a published writer or even (gasp) a working writer, but I am a writer. It is what I do. Writing is as much a part of me as my blue-hazel eyes, my constellations of moles, and my stubby fingernails. Denying it doesn’t make it less true. It only takes me further away from my true self.

My writing is not unlike my path to zen. I have a great deal to learn and a lot of room to grow. But I can’t make any progress by freaking out and freezing up when I miss a blog. Life will continue whether I write or not, but every day I skip writing I miss an opportunity to be my most authentic, wonderful, flawed, and yet-somehow-still-perfect self. And so I begin again. They say a journey of a thousand hops begins with a single hop, right?

Trampolines, Swim Fins, and Half of a Roasted Pig

Hawaii on the brain

Hawaii on the brain

I am jumping on a large trampoline in a spacious, overgrown backyard. There are at least seven of us jumping simultaneously as a breeze rustles the palm fronds overhead. It’s sunny, warm, and peaceful. I am where I belong. A friend suggests we go shoe shopping. “I love shoes,” I think, so I am all over this change in plans. We hop off the trampoline and begin walking down a city street to the store. Along the way I am discussing what I should spend my shoe budget on…casual flip flops or a pair of statement heels. I know I don’t really need shoes because I’m in Hawaii, and barefoot is as good as anything in Hawaii but I am excited to shop just the same. As we walk along, I glance down at my friends’ feet. They are all wearing shoes. I am the only one who is barefoot. Apparently this trip is all about me.

When we get to the store and begin looking around, I can’t find a pair of shoes I like. I’m not entirely sure how it’s possible to be in a shoe store and not have anything pique my interest. Something is distinctly wrong. Finally my eyes land upon a pair of Mary-Jane-style, black Crocs. With considerable chagrin I note that these are the most suitable pair of shoes in the entire store. “I am not buying Crocs,” I think to myself, brows furrowed in frustration. Resignedly I lie down on the floor and fall asleep on my stomach, head on my arms, still without shoes but at least no longer concerned about my shoeless state.

I wake up when I come to the awkward realization that someone is rubbing my back. What the hell? Who is rubbing my back and why? “Personal space, personal space,” my mind screams. I look behind me and see an old friend of mine. I haven’t seen him since college. I’d forgotten he lived in Hawaii. He hasn’t aged.

“Your lower back is really messed up,” he tells me. “See this, here? This is not right,” he says, pointing to a couple of vertebrae that are obviously protruding where they should not be. His concern is palpable. “What have you been doing?” he asks.

“Jumping on a trampoline,” I reply.

“Well, I’ve got to get you to my chiropractor,” he says. “This is serious.”

He shoves an oxygen mask on my face, and as I choke on the unsolicited gas I note that it’s not oxygen because my alert-level changes and I go to some sort of happy place only achievable with something reality-warping like nitrous oxide.

When I come out of my haze, I am walking through a casino with my friend. People all around are gambling. It’s noisy, packed, and chaotic. I feel under dressed. I hear an odd noise I can’t place. Panicked, I check my feet. Gratefully, I am no longer shoeless. Instead, I am wearing a pair of white swim fins and my feet are making a flapping sound as I proceed down the marble walkway in the center of the casino. No one seems to notice my fashion foible, so I press on. My friend points me down a side hallway to a door.

“His office is in there,” he says. “He’ll fix you right up.”

I waddle my way down the hallway, picking up my finned feet as I go. When I get there, there is a kind-faced man who appears to be from India. In heavily accented, proper British English he tells me they have been waiting for me. My eyes adjust to the darkened room before me. It is filled with wooden boards. On each wooden board rests an Indian man, eyes closed. The doctor ushers me to an empty board.

“This spot is for you. Lie on your back. Face the ceiling,” he instructs.

I can’t figure out what is going on, but I don’t see any other option so I comply. The room around me begins to vibrate with the chants of fellow patients. Various meditations fill the room. I remain silent, letting myself be surrounded with the peace and goodwill. I am swallowed by the moment and fade into another mental plane.

After a while, I no longer hear chanting. I hear casual conversation, dishes being clanked together, and the smell of Indian food reminds me I have not eaten in a while. I open my eyes and notice that everyone else is awake. I am the last to join them. I am in the middle of a reception in the doctor’s office. There are trays of Indian curries and naan bread. The men are all eating with their fingers and conversing quietly. The doctor approaches with half of a roasted pig, one that has been twirled on a spit and slow cooked. “It’s a half of a pig,” I remark to myself. It was sawed down the center and is now presented to me as a snack.

“Here,” he says. “Eat something.”

I take the half pig from him. It is still warm and heavy, but not so heavy I can’t hold it without a struggle. I can see hair on its body. Its snout is tanned and rubbery. I stare into the half face of the pig. It stares back at me with one eye. The doctor waits by my side, rocking back and forth, expectantly. As I try to ascertain the best way to partake of this offering, other people begin pulling off bits of pig flesh and eating them. I wonder to myself if they are getting pig hair in their mouths. I look at the pig again. It blinks at me with its one eye. It’s still alive. I am astonished. How is that possible? It seems pretty awkward to take a bite of something that’s halfway watching me. I’m uncomfortable with the idea.

“I’m sorry,” I tell the pig as I grab a loosened part of its tender underbelly and tear it away. It blinks again to let me know it’s all good. He understands. I put the food into my mouth.

The alarm clock goes off.

Now…I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “This gal must live in Denver.” And you’re right. I do live in Denver where pot is now legal and readily available for home consumption and where all kinds of spaced out, random mental experiences are possible. But that’s not what this story is about. This is a story about what happens to me when I have curry for lunch and spicy Italian food for dinner. Although, now that you’ve brought it up, I wonder what my brain might come up with if I relaxed a little and ate an altered brownie? I suppose that’s another blog entirely.

I’m fascinated by what our brains come up with while we’re sleeping, perhaps as they try to work out and file away the everyday occurrences of our conscious lives. I’ve been marveling all day at how my brain reintroduced an old college friend whose last name is Bacon into a dream where I encounter an awkward situation with a cooked pig. Coincidence? I think not.

 

 

Casual Conversations Between A Shark And Justin Bieber

Everything you can imagine is real. ~ Pablo Picasso

A shark talking to Justin Bieber on the phone...imagine the conversation.

Justin Bieber on the phone with a shark in the back seat. Think Justin could turn the shark into a Belieber? I doubt it.

Today we took the boys to see The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. I won’t ruin the movie for you if you’ve somehow managed to escape the myriad trailers this holiday season, but I will warn you that it may make you want to travel. After the film on our way home, our boys who, like Walter Mitty, have very active imaginations, began having crazy phone conversations in the back seat of our car using some old telephone handsets they found in the cargo area. I was only half listening while talking about the film with my husband, but at one point I believe Joe was a shark and Luke was Justin Bieber. I love my sons’ imaginations, and it’s in precisely those moments that I deeply appreciate our left-brain dominant boys and their non-stop creativity. The other night we were discussing what life might be like if we had to exist in the present with Tyrannosaurus Rex looking into our second story windows as we were getting ready for bed. Adults never have conversations like this. It’s a shame too because it would make dinner party conversations far more interesting and it would keep us from bickering about politics and religion.

Thinking about Walter Mitty and his daydreams I keep coming back to one thing. Creativity and imagination are far too underrated in this world. You have to dream it before you can do it. Someone imagined flying before the Wright Brothers actually flew and someone envisioned walking on the moon before Neil Armstrong ever did it. American society praises innovation and creativity as if we were the first upright beings to employ them. One look at our schools today, though, and you see that we talk a good game but we don’t play it. There is little room for imagination, creativity, and out-of-the-box thought at our public schools, which are instead consumed by standardized tests meant to make sure all kids measure up to the same rubric like faceless automatons. We’ve somehow determined that this is the best way to get ahead in the world, by engineering our future generations to a measurable standard. It’s sad, really. The kids who think differently are passed along because no one wants to deal with them. Their skills are undervalued and lost. We are systematically eradicating they very things that make us uniquely human…artistry, creativity, and independent thought. We squash imagination in the name of forward progress, but imagination is the one thing that allows progress in the first place.

My dyslexic kids might not fit into traditional schools because they think differently than other kids, but because of them I see possibilities. I see life and the world differently than I used to. I think “why not” instead of “we can’t.” And, maybe it’s crazy, but I sure would like to see that conversation between Justin Bieber and a great white shark realized. Somehow I think that could only make the world a better place.

Draw Something Resembling Anything

And the drawing is...

Guess it? This was an easy one.

Our boys are growing up so fast. Once upon a time, they were connected to me. Then, hubby went and cut the umbilical cord. Ever since then I’ve been herding cats, desperately hoping to catch them and hold them long enough to get some quality time. These days they’re connected to other things…like their iPads, Xbox360, or their Mac. These are their new lifelines. So, I’ve done the only thing I could do. I’ve decided to meet them on their ground. I text them and I send them game requests. I’d friend them on Facebook if they had Facebook pages.

One game I play with my sons is DrawSomething, which is an online version of Pictionary. You draw something and the person you’re playing with attempts to determine what the scribbles you just traced onto the screen of your device mean. My first world problem is that it’s hard to draw a detailed image on an iPhone (even the iPhone 5 with its larger screen). Luke is a natural born artist. He has always enjoyed drawing and his creations on this app are quite detailed and contain appropriate contextual clues so that the amount of guesswork is deeply reduced. Joe…well…let’s just say his drawings are basic. They require a lot of creative thinking on my part. I don’t always know where he’s headed with his art but, as his mother, I feel it’s not an option to guess incorrectly. So, this simple game of drawing becomes a game of mental gymnastics for me. I become Sherlock Holmes. To solve the mystery, I must enter into the mind of the drawer who, in this case, is an 11 year old boy.

Tonight, after weeks of pestering him mercilessly, Joe finally acquiesced and sent me a drawing. This drawing was of a large brown object, which I eventually conjectured was an animal despite the fact that it seemed to be headless. I stared at it blankly for a few seconds and then traveled into the depths of Joe’s frenetic mind. I had an idea but had to verify my mental image with the letters provided for the drawing. Thankfully, tonight’s drawing was an easy one. You see, where I will draw the clue I think I can represent most easily for the other person’s interpretation, Joe most often chooses to draw clues that have a personal meaning for him. Translation: I see a lot of shark, prehistoric creatures, Star Wars, and superhero drawings. Tonight’s was no different. The minute I entered into Joe’s 11 year old brain, I could see where he had gone. To the ice age, of course. Why not?

I love that Joe is not the least bit concerned about his drawings. He doesn’t wonder if they will be understood. He draws what he likes, no matter how hard it might be to convey. I imagine that Joe is so used to meeting the world the way he is required to, so used to following conventions that don’t work for him or even make sense to him, that when it comes to this game he feels free to be himself. And, that is an awesome, wondrous thing. I enjoy these occasional opportunities to get inside his head. I figure it’s the closest I will ever be to him again.