Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Is Your Roll Deadly Dull? Is It Time to Live Your Passion?

Wake Up to the Passion

Passion has been on my mind since last week when I caught sight of this splendid passionflower. Its vivid colors woke me up to the idea of pursuing passion in life. I have not been able to ignore the concept because the R.E.M song, “Talk About the Passion” has since been playing in my brain. We don’t talk about passion much in America. Places exist where that kind of passion is put on display—sometimes public display— but conversation isn’t much in the mix. That kind of passion aside, as a culture we are too often silent when it comes to focusing on passion’s elements of exhilaration, excitement, and enthusiasm. A sign of adulthood in our society often means that passionate feelings toward endeavors are placed on a back burner; we become responsible, even grown-up, and follow whatever career path we have chosen, lackluster—and lacking passion—though it may be.
Passionate endeavors might be glimpsed in fleeting moments of clarity and longing, or brought to us in mini-media bites, but most often, we turn again to the reality of mortgage payments, groceries, and the tasks that beckon us to maintain our standard of living, such as that may be.
Maintaining a life standard is a good thing. Rather than occupy any park or street in America, I occupy my desk most days, and am part of the wheel that keeps this great country rolling along.
Roll along I do, but sometimes the roll is deadly dull, like that 100-mile stretch of I-95 in South Carolina where the highway is copy-paper flat, pine trees line one side of the road, and pine trees line the other side of the road. Expanses such as those put my psyche to sleep. Expanses of hours of rolling along and being part of our country’s wheel also put my psyche to sleep.
The R.E.M. song “Talk About the Passion” isn’t about passion. It’s about hunger, bodily hunger. The passion that currently tugs at my spirit is a different kind of hunger. It’s the hunger within each of us, the hunger that goes beyond food and comprises another sort of sustenance—the sustenance of the soul.
It’s no accident that after a string of days in which my roll was deadly dull I got my first sight of a bright orange-red passionflower. Not the beautiful muted blues, lavenders, and pinks of other varieties, this flower’s fiery tones beckoned me toward it and woke up my psyche from its dry and dreary doze. Few could resist waking after viewing the passionflower’s glorious hues.
This passionflower speaks to me in a language I sometimes forget to practice, one with which I too seldom communicate, but one that keeps nudging me, asleep though I often am. The prose it speaks reminds me that passion for life, for art, for creativity, for communication, is alive; it has its own language, but one that is too seldom spoken in our culture of acquiring, achievement, striving, stress. This passionflower reminds me that it’s time to not only talk about the passion, but also to practice it.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Septuplets—At Age 59?

iMac Attacks, (i)Twitches, and (i) Need a Jump

A tangled mess, just like the last three weeks

“Septuplets.” I almost sent that as a text message to a friend on Friday. I rarely cry in frustration, but a week earlier, sobbing semi-hysterically, I called her after several days of iMac attacks when the spinning rainbow of doom arrived on my iMac’s monitor and decided it was there to stay. At first, I thought “No problem, AppleCare to the rescue.” An hour-long phone call ended with a drive to the Apple Store Genius Bar 80+ miles south. The spinning rainbow of doom continued to appear throughout the next week. After more support calls and another trip south, we had a diagnosis: Surgery was necessary to replace the hard drive. I had my backup MacBook and transferred a few folders, so I figured I could still work.
During those down days, I sent frantic e-mails to editor after editor with updates on my inability to meet deadlines. My aging laptop limped along until one morning the slightest touch resulted in horizontal lines covering the screen. The MacBook diagnosis was bleak: $300 to fix the screen. The laptop’s AppleCare expired years ago, and I didn’t want to spend that much, so I employed a little trick of tapping lightly on the edge to get the picture to reappear.
Hobbled, but not completely lame, I attached a mouse and keyboard to the USB ports so I didn’t have to even touch the laptop. I put it to sleep every hour because of its tendency to overheat and my fear that it, too, would crash and burn. Deadlines were further compromised.
In addition to editing, I recently started a new job submitting grant applications for a company that produces continuing medical education programs. The field is foreign to me, and the learning curve is steep. I neglected to transfer most of my CME-related files to my laptop, which put me at even more of a disadvantage.
File frustration, horizontal screen lines, missed deadlines, lack of sleep, trying to learn a new job, and a snippy comment from an associate resulted in tears of frustration and the emotional meltdown when I called my friend.
We talked about how sometimes everything seems to go wrong or break all at once. I remembered that a few months after my separation, when the kids and I felt so broken, everything else started breaking—appliances, the car, a huge hunk of wood propped up one of the cabinets to keep it from crashing to the floor. As we talked, I recalled a quote by one of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott. In a story that reflects the title of her book, Traveling Mercies, she relates that some Buddhists believe that when several things start to go wrong at the same time—to break—it’s “to protect something big and lovely that is trying to get itself born and that this something needs for you to be distracted so that it can be born as perfectly as possible.”[i]
Wiping the tears and snot off my face, I had a new sense of anticipation about whatever this wonderful thing trying to get itself born would be. I stopped work for the morning and restored my psyche with a walk on the beach.
Days later, when I finally got the hard drive-replaced iMac home, the first thing I did was restore the wrong backup from two years ago. During a two-hour AppleCare call, I removed that backup and restored the correct backup. After more than two weeks, I could work on my iMac. Over the next several days, I tackled overdue projects. I still struggled with the grant applications, but pushed ahead. Tuesday, I hit another wall. I had to sign on to a Web site that can be accessed only with an upgraded version of Internet Explorer. Few versions of IE and certainly no current ones work on a Mac. I decided I would use my sister’s Windows laptop when I went to her house the next day.
Not so fast. Her laptop also needed the latest version of IE. I know enough about PCs to download and install a browser update. But no; this update could not be downloaded because the PC needed an updated OS. I gave up and instead helped my daughter Zen her new apartment. Ignoring the twitch that had developed in my left eye, I resigned myself to using a library computer the next day.
I had avoided the library’s Windows computers for a few reasons: I owed a whopping fine that I would first have to pay. The library computer’s time limit might not be enough to complete an application. There is no space for all my work stuff. When I need help, I cannot use my cell phone to call for assistance. And I don’t really know how to operate a PC.
Friday morning found me at the library, silent cell phone, checkbook, thumb drive, and files in hand. Ignoring the dirty hamper odor emanating from several patrons, I sat at the computer, figured out how to insert the thumb drive, got my files open, and browsed to the Web site, login name and password ready. Ten minutes later, I learned that no applications were being accepted in the area of medicine for which I was applying.
I sighed with relief, got help removing my thumb drive, and thought to myself: “Now I can get on with my other work and maybe accomplish something.” I felt almost perky as I sauntered outside to the car where my son was listening to the radio. He was surprised to see me because I was gone only 40 minutes, rather than an hour or longer. I sat down, buckled my seatbelt, and turned the key—click, click, click, click, click.
The car lights go on with the key, which was on for the radio, so the battery was dead.
“It’s okay, Mom, it’s okay Mom,” he said. Aware of my recent trials and fragile psyche, he knew I was teetering on the edge. He was right. I pulled the hood lever, got out of the car, and snatched the jumper cables from the trunk. “Find someone to give us a jump,” I ordered. I opened the hood, got grease on my hands, but only a few smears on my white blouse. I grabbed my cell phone, ready to text “Septuplets”—only septuplets could be this much trouble getting born. Before I could type, a pick-up truck pulled next to my car, but the cables didn’t reach. My son pushed the car backward (into a handicapped spot), the pick-up nosed in front of the car, we attached the cables, jumped the car, drove for 20 minutes to charge the battery, and then we headed home. I was productive for the balance of the workday, probably because I decided that whatever came next, I was simply going to laugh, even if it would have a rather maniacal tone.
I never sent the “septuplets” text, but continued to ponder what is trying to get born in my life, even though I think I figured it out early Thursday morning—right after I knew I couldn’t expect my sister to upgrade her OS, so I could update her IE browser, so I could finally get on that Website, so I could finally do some work about which I was not particularly thrilled.
This essay is long enough, but when I stepped away from my sister’s computer Thursday morning, I got a tiny glimpse of what is trying to get born in my life. Now I just have to distract myself for a few more weeks, so it can arrive as “perfectly as possible.”
I am pretty certain it isn’t septuplets.

[i] Lamott, Anne. Traveling Mercies. New York: Pantheon Books, 1999. Print.