Friday, October 21, 2011

St. Mary's Intermediate Sunday School Teaches Creative Writing 101

Once upon a time three cool girls were planning a Halloween party. They had awesome costumes, and they were serving cookies with skulls painted on with icing, doughnuts, hot spiced cider, and punch with dry ice that smoked. They sent invitations to all their friends, but no one showed up! The girls made phone calls and sent e-mails and texts, but still they had no guests. Finally, they gave up on their friends and invited some other kids, and everyone had a great time. In this way, the three cool girls learned the Parable of the Wedding Guests.

Coming next...what happens when a kid at school gets beat up by bullies?

Thursday, August 04, 2011

The Writer's Dilemma

I've been reading over my collection of short stories and trying to evaluate which ones are better than others and why. It's an overwhelming challenge for writers to read over their work with any degree of objectivity in the first place. What seemed like a brilliant idea when they first got started begins to feel empty and lifeless, the words lying hollow and stilted on the page. I know that most writers are poor judges of their own work, yet I sit in judgment of my stories, analyzing what makes them sing, what makes them hold the reader's attention, what (I hope) make the reader want to laugh or cry.
My conclusion brings me no comfort. It's my own vulnerability on display, my own pain that makes my writing real. My secret fears, disguised in the cloak of a story, are what holds my reader's attention. If I am to achieve any success as a writer, I will have to force my soul to stand naked on the stage and share everything about myself that I'd rather hide. I will have to strip away the mask that smiles when I want to cry. I will have to open when I want to close. I will have to face judgment with humility. That is my task.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Winning, Losing, and Playing the Game

I read an interesting column in the newspaper on Sunday. A children's sports coach wrote to "Dear Amy" asking for advice on how to handle hostile parents after running a play that knocked their team out of the championship. Amy replied that the parents who openly denigrated and snubbed the coach were teaching their children poor sportsmanship, that winning was more important than playing the game, and that mistakes are unforgivable.
Politicians have been playing a much larger game in Washington in their fight over raising the debt ceiling limit. And they are showing us how much they value winning the fight over crafting real solutions to frighteningly real problems. Who won and who lost? Those are questions everyone is asking. At first glance, it appears that no one has won. Democrats and Republicans alike emerged from the battle muddy and bruised, and the American people are left with a compromise that may or may not address the harsh realities of unsustainable economic policies. Because politicians in Washington behave as though winning is more important than playing the game, everyone may have lost.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Trust, Part 2

“You don’t trust me!” my eight-year-old daughter accused me before kicking me in the shin. Thus began a long, contentious day marked by tears, anger, misperceptions, unpleasant truths, and tough decisions. It’s shocking that an eight-year-old girl would kick her own mother (barefoot, but still!), and perhaps it is equally shocking that I did not respond with swift justice on her backside. I don’t make excuses that she is a hyperactive, impulsive child on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum. She must be taught good behavior and good manners. I owe her that much at least. I understand why she behaves the way she does, sticking her fingers in her ears and yelling, “Blah, blah, blah!” when I’m saying something she doesn’t want to hear. What I don’t understand is why our lawmakers behave the same way.
We have 11 days left, and Congress and the president still can’t decide exactly how to raise the debt ceiling. Come on. Are we really going to allow bipartisan politics to bring us to our knees? Yes, we need a plan—that’s the mission of the Gang of Six. But what we really need here is…trust.
Last summer, when I was driving home on a Saturday afternoon, I heard a piece on NPR’s This American Life titled “Social Contract.” In Act Two of this piece, the curtain rose on two Caribbean Islands, Jamaica and Barbados. I cannot do the story justice myself, so I’m including the link to the radio archive. However, the story of the small island nation of Barbados and how it handled its foreign exchange crisis hit me where I live.
To summarize, when Jamaica faced its foreign exchange crisis, the country devalued its currently, plunging the nation into poverty. In Barbados, the unions accepted a wage cut while businesses held prices (and subsequently their profits) down in order to keep from devaluing their currency. Yes, you read that right. Unions agreed to smaller paychecks. Business sacrificed their profits by keeping prices down. Barbados was able to ride out its economic crisis. Jamaica was not.
I keep thinking about this story as I hear Republicans arguing to make deep spending cuts and Democrats insisting on tax increases. We have 11 days to avert a financial disaster. It doesn’t matter who’s right and who’s wrong anymore. The only thing that matters is that everyone, legislators and voters, pull together on the tough choices that need to be made. Democrats must look for ways to cut spending and Republicans need to examine where to raise taxes. In the end it’s all about trust.
I can’t lock the doors to the Capitol and force the members of Congress to break into small groups to do those trust exercises in which lawmakers fall backward into the waiting arms of their opponents. But I can ask you forward this link. With any luck, the debt ceiling crisis will pass. However, unless Americans stop demonizing each other for their political views and bipartisanship becomes the order of the day, I’m afraid we’re all doomed.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Trust

No one wants to be a fool, but I've been one many times over. I've trusted those whom I thought were trustworthy, only to be proven wrong. Still, I don't need to examine the handwriting in the nasty note a girl sent to my daughter. She says she didn't write it, my daughter believes her, and so do I. I don't need to ask my other daughter to hand over her Nintendo DS so she won't keep sleep at bay with the glowing screen of Disney characters reflected on her face. I know I can't trust my dog not to dig in the trash and carry off food wrappers, but that's why I'm not a complete fool.
Still I wonder if I can trust a group of men and women I've never met, many of whom I heartily disagree with on a variety of subjects, to prevent the United States Government from defaulting on its loans.
Can I trust Eric Cantor? Can I trust Debbie Wasserman Schultz? Can I trust John Boehner and Harry Reid? Can I trust men and women of integrity, who have vowed not to back down on their ideals, to make a compromise with the enemy?
Perhaps I can and perhaps I can't. I only know that when our elected officials, who have such a striking variety of opinions, can learn to trust each other, we will finally have an effective government that serves us well.
To paraphrase the Tao Te Ching, the Master trusts those who are trustworthy and those who are not trustworthy. This is true trust.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Quiet Moments

I savor the quiet moments as though they are chocolates, the girls are busy with the gentle play associated with well-behaved girls. The soft rise and fall of a childish voice in an imaginary conversation floats down the hall to my ears, joined by a single thread of a popular melody repeated without the accompaniment of guitar, bass, and drums.
I don't want this quiet moment to end, but a bottle of wine is calling my name. It stood opened and re-corked too long to drink and it begs to be simmered with the beef, onion, and celery I purchased to go with it. The wine is whispering to me about the joys of creating that which is to be spooned up with a thick slice of bread rather than a book to be read. Only because I get hungry now and then do I respond to the call of the kitchen.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

The Lawrence Family Unplugged

The Lawrence Family Unplugged
We decided to take our first camping trip as a family an experiment. We wanted to test our skills, we wanted to see how we would bond as a family without the comforts of home, electricity, and electronic devices, and we wanted to see if camping would be a good way to travel inexpensively. The experiment was, well, an experience.
The grownups went through their usual pre-travel packing anxiety--the stressful moment of realizing how far behind in the trip preparations we have fallen. The children went through their usual protests about being pressed into service.
Our older daughter, the thirteen-year-old, showed a remarkable level of acceptance on the point. She ran up and down the stairs, fetching and carrying various items, and washed the camp dishes with an aura of pleasant anticipation, excitement replacing the martyred air she usually wears when doing household chores. Our eight-year-old was the delicate creature for whom the broom and dustpan were too heavy and the stairs too steep. We were kind and understanding as we patiently explained that only those who helped out got to eat 's'mores. Her work got done, in the end, even if she labored to the accompaniment of her own noisy wails of protest.
Once the car was loaded up and we drove off the girls chose their various methods of coping with the lack of glowing screen for entertainment on the road. Our older daughter slept. Our younger daughter fought sleep. Valiantly.
Unloading and setting up the tents became an exercise of fitting the poles in the right places and fitting the jumping jack of a child into the right box. Teenagers are useful when it comes to setting up tents. Younger children refuse to give up the tent stakes they've been playing with because the queen stake was just about to promenade before her subjects (the other stakes). The entire kingdom was pressed into service to secure the tents, causing the imaginative child to wail, "Now, what I am going to d--" Her voice trailed off, knowing we had plenty for her to do.
We let our girls play with the other children from nearby campsites as we finished the preparations for a supper heated on the camp stove. (The fire was for roasting marshmallows.) A group of seven or eight noisy children--ours among them--came hurtling through our campsite occasionally as their game Zombie Tag progressed.
My teenager was one of the older ones holding on to the golden glow of childhood slipping through fingers. My eight-year-old gloried in running with a group of kids who hadn't had the time to label her as weird and decide to make her play It for the entire game. We noticed that in the comfort of their own homes, children can get petty, quick to make group decisions on who gets to play with whom and who gets left out. When they have nowhere to go but a tent with a sleeping bag and don't remember your child as the one who threw up in Discovery from eating too much at the Valentine's Day party, children out camping are friendlier than usual.
By the time we had finished our 's'mores and brushed our teeth, dodging the wayward skunk who was out for an evening stroll, we glanced up at the stars before crawling into our tents. They seemed so much closer and brighter than they do at home.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Myth of Time Management

We talk about time management as though it's something real, like the stock market or the events on the evening news. However, the idea that we can manage time is much more ephemeral, like economic sustainability or world peace. It's like something out of a fairy tale--not Cinderella's glass slipper but her carriage and the rest of her outfit that disappeared at the stroke of midnight.
We can't manage time. We are only in control of how we spend our time, only in control of our tasks and expectations. To speak of time management gives the illusion we could have accomplished more if only we tried harder.
It is true that we can complete more tasks if we eliminate the avoidance tactics we sometimes use when we procrastinate. It's also true that the more organized we are the more we can accomplish in the time we have. Still, time is finite as we measure it. No matter how efficient we are, we have limits as to what we can accomplish. Beyond a certain point, we can't get more done. We can only choose a different set of tasks to complete.
You can manage your tasks, your expectations, and your attitude, but, alas, you cannot manage time itself.