Friday, October 20, 2017

50 for 50 day 44: Wonder

This is post 44 of 50 celebrating my 50th birthday. You can read the rest here.

Webster's Dictionary defines wonder as:

noun:

  1. a cause of astonishment or admiration 
  2. a miracle
  3. the quality of exciting amazed admiration
  4. rapt attention or astonishment at something awesomely mysterious or new to one's experience
  5. a feeling of doubt or uncertainty

verb

  1. to be in a state of wonder
  2. to feel surprise

Wonder is one of my favorite feelings. That sense of amazement and mystery when you experience something wondrous is something I search out on a regular basis. I love knowing that the world, the universe, even my own backyard, that each of these are full of wonders. I strive to increase my capacity for wonder. I don't want to become jaded, someone who no longer notices the small and the large.

Wonder is part of how I define myself. I am a teller of wonder tales, new and old. I speculate, I wonder, about all kinds of things. I keep my imagination supple with a steady diet of wonders commonplace and unknowable. I try to admire the wonders around me, whether it's a friend telling me of their life, the chipmunk's paw on my hand, or the staggering beauty of autumn change. I even try to welcome uncertainty, because it is in those moments of questioning that I am more likely to grow and learn.

Wonder is a basic part of who I am. I'm not suggesting that I am any more imaginative or prone to speculation than anyone else, but I do exercise that part of myself on a regular basis. I know it is one of the things that is essential to my wellbeing. It is certainly not my only basic state, but it is one of my very favorites.

I wonder, what are your basic states? Wonder? Joy? Anger? Hope? I'd love to know.

This is what 50 looks like. Trying to wonder at the world like a five year old.
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Thursday, October 19, 2017

50 for 50 day 43: Gratitude for my work

This is post 43 of 50, celebrating my 50th birthday. You can read the rest here.

If you've ever heard me perform then there is a reasonable chance that you already know that, when I was little, I wanted to grow up to be a paleontologist, a fireman, and the President. It turns out that none of those were my career path. I have wandered through many jobs (as have so many people) including retail, human resources, epidemiology, sewing, short-order cook, on and on and on. Now I have work I love. I am one of the lucky ones.

Many people never determine their calling. If they do it may seem too preposterous, too far reaching to pursue it. If they do pursue it, many find that it ceases to be their calling and instead becomes just another job. What's more, work takes so much of our time and energy (at least in the U.S.) that having a poorly matched job has a significant impact on the rest of your life. I think many of our societal woes come from false expectations about work (linked to the American dream) and the pain of being caught in the wrong job for the right reasons.

I am lucky. I found my calling at a fairly young age and have since been able to pursue it without it changing into just a job. I told Brother Blue a story when I was 19. He shook his finger in my face and said, "You have the power," and in that moment I knew that I did. A few years later I met him again, told a story at his weekly gathering, and by the time I was done I knew I would be telling stories for the rest of my life. I didn't know how, I didn't know if I could make a living from it, all I knew was that storytelling was my mantle. My Excalibur. To have denied it would have been denying the core of who I am.

I'm lucky that I found this calling when I was still young enough to believe I could pursue it. I hadn't yet been worn down by years of struggle in challenging jobs, by questioning my own abilities and passions. I was still young enough to believe it was possible.

Now, 25 years later, I am still telling stories. Maybe more importantly, I am teaching others how to tell their own story, creating performance opportunities, applying storytelling skills in other realms. My work infused my life; the two are inseparable. This isn't always easy. I am working harder than I ever have before and when I make mistakes I feel them far more sharply. It's hard to not fall prey to imposter syndrome, self-doubt, and jealousy. Still, I am lucky.

I know not everyone has the opportunities I have had. Not everyone has had the financial security to take the risk. Not everyone has been blessed with kind of support I've been surrounded by. I know I am privileged to be able to do this. Certainly I've had to make choices. I make less money than I did in the corporate world, so I've had to learn to economize more. I never stop working, I need to remain alert for every opportunity. I don't have paid vacation, sick time, or automatic health care and retirement savings.

I wouldn't change a thing. I am so lucky. I do work that I love, work that I hope has a positive impact on the people I meet and the world, work that matters. I am humbled and I am grateful.

I sometimes imagine what I would do, were I offered three wishes. After the obligatory "more wishes please," I usually imagine something good for me, something good for those I love, and something good for the world. Maybe the good for the world wish would be that we all could find and pursue our callings. That it was not a piece of privilege but something available to everyone. That we lived in such a way that this was sustainable for ourselves and each other. I don't know if this would make the world a better place, but I bet it would help.

This is what 50 looks like. Grateful for my work and my place in the world.
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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

50 for 50 day 42: With gratitude for my parents

This is post 42 of 50 in celebration of my 50th birthday. You can read the rest here.

I don't know anyone who would describe their relationship with their parents as "simple." I don't think it can be simple. We are animals with brains so large that we have turned the basic act of passing on our genetic material into the stuff of dreams and nightmares. My relationship with my parents is no less complex than most, but now, as I near 50, I can finally be grateful for them.

I think every set of parents imagines that their relationships with their kids will be better than the ones they had with their parents. I don't know if that is the case. I do know that they will be different. And I have finally come to believe that most parents do the best they can. I know mine did.

My parents are Harvey and Florence Packer (neƩ Green). They both grew up in American cities, the children of immigrants. They met at a party in Washington D.C. in 1966. Family lore has it that when my mother told my father that, as a librarian, her job was to read, he turned to a friend and said with wonder, "She reads!" He wasn't being sarcastic. Reading was part of the foundation of my parents' relationship, and of our family. They married a scant three months later and I came along ten months after that.

I think we have a cultural tendency to either idealize or demonize childhood. It was either wonderful and mythic or lurid and dark. Certainly the stories are better when we think of it that way. Mine had moments were mythic and others that were dark. Mostly it was a childhood filled with childhood things. School, friends, adventures, homework, family dinners, books, and more.

My parents certainly planted the seeds that have led me to my life's work. My mom was a children's librarian and I remember her telling me the folktales she would later tell the kids in her library groups. My dad would tell me stories from the radio dramas of his youth and would craft adventure stories just for me. I understood from birth that stories mattered and that telling them and that the connections forged in imagination were vital.

As I grew things became more complicated, they always do, but there are still shimmering memories. Going camping in the VW van. Watching the fire and the sparks that drifted up to become stars. The foods my mother cooked that I still associate with comfort. The silly faces my father made to make me laugh. They did the best they could to raise me to know my own intelligence and to know I was loved.

Older still and things became even more complex, but again, there is bright, there is dark, and there is the rest of the time. Hearing my father boast about my SAT scores. My mother dancing around the kitchen when she was proud of me. The way they looked at each other.

I grew older and moved out into my own life. My parents and I drifted away from each other and back, a kind of tidal movement maybe, where the ocean cannot deny the shore. Even at its most stormy, we each did the best we could.

It was never easy. It was never less than complex. But my parents, their relationship with each other, and with me, has of course shaped me into who I am.

I chat with strangers, the way my father did. I love junky monster movies, the way my mother does. I read, as they both did.

The last few years have held a sweetness I never would have expected. No parent ever expects to have to comfort their child for the loss of a spouse. Just as a parent never expects to outlive their child, so too they don't expect to outlive their child's mate. My parents did. They had to try to find ways to help me through my great storms of grief, even as they were experiencing their own, even as they were seeing the ends of their own lives creeping closer.

They did the best they could, and that was enough. The rifts in our journeys through darkness and light were smoothed over and, while maybe still an uneven path, there was finally a track we all could follow together.

My father died in the summer of 2016. I was there, holding his hand as he drew in his last breath. Prior to his death we sat together, watched a lot of baseball, said we loved each other and that we were sorry for the harm we had each inflicted. I am so lucky. I don't think everyone has that chance.

My mother now lives 30 minutes away from me. We talk almost daily and we end each conversation by telling each other I love you.  I don't know how much more time I will have with her, but I am grateful for it.

My parents gave me gifts of intelligence and words and music and books. They taught me (intentionally or not) how to be strong and resilient and ultimately forgiving. Now, as I turn 50, I know how lucky I am. It was never easy, but not many of the things that most shape us are.

Thank you Mom and Dad. I love you.

This is what 50 looks like. Still my parents' child, no matter how old I am.
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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

50 for 50 day 41: With gratitude for social media and knowing I am not alone

This is the 41st of 50 posts celebrating my 50th birthday. You can read the rest here.

I have such mixed feelings about social media. I expect you do, too. There are ways that it's limited discourse, increased volatility, and certainly had a painful effect on our culture, and it's easy to focus on the negative impact. To do so would be limiting because, while social media has had some disastrous societal impact, social media saved my life in my darkest days and I bet I'm not the only one.

As you well know, I was shattered by Kevin's death. Many wonderful, loving people did their best to help me, but (as with any trauma) one who has not been through it can't truly get what it's like. Through social media I found others who had lost their beloved. Others who had lost their beloved at a young age. Others who had lost their beloved from pancreatic cancer. I found people who had stories close enough to mine that I knew they understood what I was experiencing and all I had to say was "today was a hard day." Most of these were on Facebook. I will not name them here because they are understandably private. If you need to know about them please contact me.

Through these widowed peoples' Facebook groups I found an online community that let me to an organization that hosts Camp Widow. At barely six months past Kevin's death I went to one of their events. The first night there I wandered into the hotel bar for the mixer. I saw everyone chatting, talking, laughing, and the enormity of his death, of my loss, came crashing down on me. I couldn't stop myself from crying.

Have you ever sobbed in public? I have, repeatedly. Most of the time people look at you then look away. They don't know what to do and are embarrassed, afraid. I started crying and immediately two women came over to me and, without hesitating, held me. One of them cooed to me, "We know, we know. You just cry." They did know. For the first time since Kevin died I had the overwhelming sense that maybe I wasn't alone in the world. That maybe I could find a way through because they did know.

I remained active in online grief support forums through Facebook, Soaring Spirits, Widowed Village and others. I could always find someone there, no matter the hour, and I know that this  companionship, this community born out of loss, is the only reason I didn't entirely disappear in my grief. No one there ever told me to get over it or stop, they just kept me company as I howled out my pain. If you think some of what I've written here is raw, it's nothing compared to some of the talk in these safe places.

As time has passed I've come to need this support less and less, but not entirely. I still check in, both for support and to offer support to those in a different part of the journey than I am. I check in to remember that I am not alone.

I don't know what I would have done without social media support, without those women embracing me, without this blog. None of that would have happened without social media. I am speaking only from my experience here. I know there are people for whom social media has been isolating, damaging, or even fatal. I am so sorry if that has been your experience.

I was moved to write this post because of the #metoo posts overtaking Facebook and Twitter. Again and again I am seeing expressions of relief at finally being able to name it. By naming we start to reclaim our own power. By knowing we aren't alone we can sometimes feel a little relief. If we find allies then maybe we can begin to change things.

Social media is by no means a panacea. The world is louder and more rancorous because of it. But it is a tool, and like any other, can be used for good or for ill. We get to choose to be passive and accept anything that comes through it or be active and seek out the resources that will be of most benefit to us. I am so grateful that you all were there when I needed (and will need) you. I never would have found you without social media and without you I don't know that I would have survived.

This is what 50 looks like. A little too obsessed with Facebook and Twitter, and so grateful to know I am not alone. #metoo
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Monday, October 16, 2017

50 for 50 day 39 & 40: Gratitude for my body

This is post 39 and 40 of 50 celebrating my 50th birthday. You can see the rest here. And yes, I know this is merging two posts into one for the sake of numerical accuracy. I gave myself permission to do this occasionally before I started this quest.

I don't know anyone who has a clear and uncluttered relationship with their body. We are bombarded by messages telling us we aren't good enough, no matter how healthy, fit and able we are. I have friends who are consumed by their relationships with their bodies; from time to time I have been, too.

Today, on the edge of 50, I am so grateful for my body. I haven't always taken very good care of it, and yet it keeps going. Right now I am in the midst of a significant back spasm (I mentioned this several posts ago, it continues. Yes, I am seeing a chiro, doc, PT and am doing all the things I should. The traveling life does not lend itself to quick healing.) and still my body is doing the best it can. I am experiencing this because I didn't care for myself the way I should have, so my body is letting me know in the only it way it can. It took a very loud and persistent injury for me to notice. This very injury and the persistent pain are helping me be more grateful for it and care for it better, even as it hurts.

This body can be strong and agile. It can experience great pleasure along with great pain. It is the conduit for my stories. It is my vessel in this world and I am grateful.

Our bodies are nothing short of miraculous. That they work as well as they do when they are subjected to hours of sitting and inactivity, poor food choices, sleep deprivation, dehydration, unnatural light, and more, attests to how well they work. Imagine the miracles we could experience if we loved our bodies and cared for them as we care for our pets!

This is what 50 looks like. Living in the body I am in, learning to love what I have, and continuing to learn to take care of myself.
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Saturday, October 14, 2017

50 for 50 day 38: With gratitude for tea

This is the 38th of 50 posts celebrating my 50th birthday. You can read the rest here.

We each have it. That thing (or things) that help us beyond all reasonable measure. For me (and millions other around the world) that thing is tea. In my case the specific tea is hot, milky black tea with honey. It is the start of each day and what I turn to when I need inspiration, comfort, and a pause in the chaos of the day or my mind.

My mother used to make my tea for me. When I was little I think she put milk in because I was a child and she thought it would be easier for me to drink, but the milk stuck. I sometimes feel a little juvenile about my tea, but I like to remind myself that empires have risen and fallen, revolutions been declared, great works of art created, all on tea, much of it with milk and sugar.

My first few sips of tea each day help me balance and ease into the world. I am so grateful for it.

What offers you simple, necessary comfort and ritual?
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Friday, October 13, 2017

50 for 50 day 37: With gratitude for Brother Blue

This is post 37 of 50 celebrating my 50th birthday. You can find the rest here.

I've written before about Brother Blue (there are so many posts about him, maybe start here). Raconteur, storyteller, street poet, holy fool, he gave me and so many others permission to be who we are. He was the self-described "greatest storyteller in the world." Maybe he was. He was certainly like no one else.

I would not be who I am were it not for Brother Blue. Here is a little Blue to light the way forward.


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Thursday, October 12, 2017

50 for 50 day 36: Fear

This is post 36 of 50 posts celebrating my 50th birthday. You can see the rest here.

I am at a book festival. Yesterday I told stories (fairy tales for grown-ups, not the fringe set) and today I will teach a class about applied storytelling techniques. I'm having a lovely time and am reminded of how much I love my work. I am also reminded of how storytelling can connect deeply with listeners, often in ways you don't expect.

As part of my performance set today, I invited questions. They were great, ranging from questions about my creative process to wondering if I'm a good liar (often but not always) to where I find inspiration. The last was wondering in particular if I found inspiration in dreams.

The answer is a resounding yes, and I shared the dream that led to a particular Crazy Jane story. The dream was unsettling, involving the devil sending me on a quest, but it turned into a great story. Frankly, the dream didn't bother me once I got over the chill of having met the devil. It was a dream. That's all.

After the set, one of the audience members lingered as I chatted with various listeners. They were all kind in their praise, some had additional questions, and then it was just me and the lingering girl. She told me that she had some questions about dreams. She was wondering if I was frightened by the presence of the devil in my dream. I told her that no, I wasn't frightened. She pushed, wanting to know why not, what if this really was a visit from the devil?

(What follows is an attempt to summarize a thread in what was a pretty far ranging conversation. Please be patient.)

It was a good question. At first I responded that, in my understanding of dreams, it couldn't have been an external evil force, that dreams are how we talk to ourselves (most of the time). I thought about it for a moment longer, then explained some of my worldview. I wasn't afraid because I can choose to let fear dictate my actions or I can choose to respond differently.

I tend to lean into fear. If there is something that frightens me I will try to understand why, then walk into it. I would rather confront fear (or at least understand it) than let it limit my world.

She was skeptical. She really wanted me to find supernatural reasons for this dream and that's just not what I think was happening. Then she asked me to talk more about why I lean into fear, why I choose to not be afraid. She told me she is afraid all the time and is so frustrated that she can't change anything, what should she do?

It's not comfortable being asked to be guru, but she was clearly in a place of some darkness. I hope my answer helped.

There is so little in this world that we can control. Politics, the weather, the footsteps from your upstairs neighbor. We can control very little. The only thing we really have a chance of controlling is our response to the things we encounter. I would rather not respond with or to fear, because I think fear drives poor decisions. I'd rather respond in other ways, whether that means leaning in, reaching for compassion or pushing back.

I told her that when I was in my late 20s, as she is, I was in a rough place. As I grew older and realized more and more how the only thing I could control was myself, things got better.

She replied, telling me that she feels completely powerless and just wants to give up. And I said that by giving up we let them win; I'd rather go down fighting than know I gave up my own soul. That seems like a clearer kind of devil than the one in my dream. Mind you, I don't know who her "they" are. I also urged her to get help, that she doesn't have to do this alone.

I do know this: Realizing that fear is a feeling like any other, realizing that I have some measure of control over my response to it, has changed my life. I do know that realizing just how little control I have over the world has helped immeasurably, because I can focus on the things that I can change and even small nudges in the fabric of the universe can make a big difference. I know that I'd rather go down fighting.

She seemed a trifle brighter by the time we stopped talking. I don't know if what I said made a difference then or will make a difference going forward, but I hope she finds enough in herself worth fighting for. I hope she is able to lean into the fear and is able to find her own power. I don't know if this will happen and it's unlikely that I ever will. Yet another thing I cannot control. I do know that I at least tried.

This is what 50 looks like. Surprised to find herself an elder and a little unsettled by the responsibility. But trying anyway. Lean in.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

50 for 50 day 35: Dear me, part 2

This is post 35 of 50, celebrating my 50th birthday. You can see the rest here.

Dear 25 year old Laura,

I know, it's not an easy time. It will get better. It will also get worse. But you will be okay. That's the thing to remember, you will be okay.

Right now it's hard to know that you are not the center of the universe. I can feel just how offended you are by that, loudly asserting that you already know this, but the coming years will underscore it again and again. It's okay, being in your 20s is all about thinking you know everything and learning that you don't, as well as thinking you are at the middle of everything and finding out you aren't. This isn't to say you don't matter or that you aren't important, but soon you will start to see just how much you don't know. This is a hard lesson but an important one. It's actually a gift, you'll get to let go of so much certainty, the world becomes easier to navigate.

Soon enough you will find your calling. You can feel it already, I know you can. I know it feels too scary to look at directly but you will and you will soar. You'll tell that first story and you will have no doubt. I remember.

Soon enough you will have to face your own mortality. You'll be okay. Let it change you. This, too, is a gift. It will set you on a path that will empower you more than you would imagine.

I suspect it would take you awhile to warm to who you are now, me, twice your age. I know so much less than you, I am so much more comfortable with uncertainty. I'm sure there would be disappointments in who you grew to be. I've not gotten to Morocco or Hong Kong or so many places. I've not published that best seller. But I'm still here. And you are, too, in a place of much greater peace than you might expect, all things considered.

If I could tell you one thing that might change things, I'd tell you to trust yourself. Your instincts are good and you are stronger than you might think, stronger than you fear. Don't dumb yourself down for anyone. You are amazing.

I love you.

Laura

This is what 50 looks like. Loving myself. Finally.

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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

50 for 50 day 34: The World through my eyes, part II

This is the 34th of 50 posts celebrating my 50th birthday. You can see them all here.

The world through my eyes. Some of the things I've noticed in the last few weeks.

All images (c) Laura Packer, licensed through Creative Commons.










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