What’s in a name? (by my dad, Dick Doran)

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VanMan

In my 14 months of writing this blog, this is a welcome first. My dad has been asking to “guest blog” for months–I won’t reveal which one of us procrastinated until this week, not important–so here we are. I am particularly excited about this because my dad comments on my blog faithfully and many people tell me that they look forward to reading his commentary. 

My dad is one of those really instantly likable people and that seems to bleed through his comments too. He’s friendly, kind, thoughtful, incredibly smart, and as you’re about to read, quite funny. As I am typing this, I am just remembering that this weekend is Fathers’ Day, making this a very appropriate time to force one’s father to write one’s weekly blog in her stead. 

Take it away, Dick…

 

Diiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiickie Dickie dambo,

Oh so Rambo,

Air air buschke,

Mische mische pom pom…

-Anonymous singsongy chant*, possibly a Detroit/Michigan anomaly (spelling entirely a guess).

OK, let’s get this out on the table right away…I was not born a dick.  Some of you, hopefully not all, may choose to disagree but my full given name is RICHARD Patrick Edward Doran.  Don’t ask me how Richard birthed the nickname “Dick” but it’s a tradition that is at least 64 years old, since I’ve been called Dick all my life.

Two exceptions.  When Mom was mad at me it loudly became “RICHARD P!!!!”.  Confession: sometimes it did, because she was fierce when in anger mode.  And when I went to college I told the first people I met that my name was Rick.  I’d just spent high school enduring every dick joke ever conceived and thought I could avoid that ignominy.  Rick didn’t stick, although there are a few old college buddies who still call me that.

Let’s go back even further to three famous Dicks.  Search for “Richard Tracy comics” and what shows up is all about Dick Tracy, a comic strip launched in 1931 by Chester Gould.

100 BONUS POINTS FOR GUESSING WHICH RICHARD IS ACTUALLY A DICK

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Talk about your heroic visage!  Tracy couldn’t have a squarer jaw if Chester had used a T-square to draw it.  On the other hand, ski-slope nose Richard “Tricky Dick” Milhouse Nixon is infamous and in my view, hugely responsible for the negative connotations of Dick.  He took the 800+ years of the 12th century noble name of Richard the Lionhearted and dragged it down the toilet.  I do have to admit I’m stretching things a bit there.  It’s unlikely anyone called the latter Richard “Dick.” He was the king after all and his subjects would never risk the wrath of Dick!

By the way, did you know detectives were called “dicks”?  Maybe some still are but certainly not as a name when they catch the culprit.  The Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang traces the noun “dick” in the detective sense to the 19th century (around 1864) criminal underworld slang verb “to dick,” meaning “to watch.” This “dick” came in turn from the Romany (the language of the Gypsies) word “dik,” meaning “to look, to see.”  Give me lionhearted over being a creepy watcher.

These days I often try to confront the issue head on.  When I introduce myself, depending on the social situation and participants, I say to people “Dick Doran, or if you that makes you uncomfortable you can call me Richard.” If I’ve read the situation correctly I’ll get a few chuckles and sly glances.  That’s when I add, “No worries, I’ve heard every dick joke ever uttered”.  If I get it wrong the conversation gets stilted and ends quickly.  The latter happens most often when I inadvertently meet Christian conservatives.  They have no sense of humor when it comes to body parts.

And there’s my own family.  Nancy, my lovely wife, bless her heart, never uses either Dick or Richard.  She just starts talking to me and then complains that I don’t listen to her.  So I tell her that if she starts with my name I’ll listen better because that will draw my attention and immediately open my ears.  Thirty-two years and we’re still having the same discussion/argument.  When forced, she will use Richard though.  Does that mean she doesn’t use Dick because it makes her uncomfortable?  Or more worrisome, does the person who knows me best harbor secret thoughts about the relationship between my nickname and my personality?  We’re still married so I’m left to guess.

My male siblings use Richard when talking directly to me unless they introduce me to someone.  Then it’s Dick.  Are they sending a subtle message to the introductees?  Whereas my sisters only use Richard when they are flabbergasted by something I’ve said to them.  Which happens quite often since we have widely differing views on many things.

Thankfully my daughters call me Dad, Pops or Popsicle (don’t even go there!).

What’s in a name?  From my point of view certainly not inherent personal characteristics.  However, many nicknames are descriptors.  Think Squinty, Four Eyes, Scarface, Big Man, etc., etc., etc.  Others are anti-descriptors such as the seven-footer who is called Shorty or the XXXXL guy called Slim.  And some people do look and/or act like their name/nickname.

For anyone named Richard/Dick though, please do not make the obvious association.  All the Dicks I know are great, kind, hard-working people with a well-developed sense of humor.  We’ve learned to laugh with you and at ourselves.  We cultivate those qualities by choosing to believe people calling us Dick are using it in the anti-descriptor sense.  In fact, I have yet to meet a Dick who is also a dick (I never personally met Nixon).  The truth is the rest of you with less pejorative names are much more likely fall into that category than those of us who have thrived despite the potentially negative associations of our name.  It’s a little-studied but well-known survival mechanism.

Now I’m wondering.  What if all parents gave their kids names that have humorously negative connotations?  I think we might be able to achieve world peace because everyone would learn to laugh at himself or herself.  Do I dare hope…?

*The longer you drag out the first Dickie the happier you are to see me.

The Rose that Grew from Concrete (Dear Young Lady…again)

I told you to be patient
I told you to be fine
I told you to be balanced
I told you to be kind

– “Skinny Love” by Bon Iver

Dear Young Lady,

Here we are. It’s June. And you’re in 8th grade. This is the bottom of the 9th inning. The 18th hole. Fourth quarter with two minutes on the clock. The last horrah. Farewell is Tuesday and there will be music and laughter and words and hugs and tears and final remarks. And we’ll say bye for now and maybe you’ll say, “Thanksss” like you do with more than one S and it’ll bother me because I will want you to say so much more. But I will take it and I might watch you walk away just to torture myself a little because I’m extra like that.

Yesterday when I overheard that mean thing you said about me, it felt you’d taken a sword through my chest. And then I cried the whole way back in from the fire drill and after that too even. You apologized but I still don’t know if I believe you. I think it hurt so much more because this is it. This is really it. I’ve had my chance to lift you up and to teach you not to say mean things about people, especially not when they can hear you and especially not when they care about you. I’ve had three years to show you how to be and how to act and how to get to school on time. I’ve been able to model forgiveness for you and also how to apologize because I do it all the time. And with all of this time, it’s not enough. But I don’t know if it ever would be enough.

Part of me wonders if you wanted me to hear, “Fuck, Ms. Eby,” because then you get to push me away and maybe get me to back off, get me to care less, get me to ask less questions, expect less answers. Deep down, though, I don’t think you want that at all. What a piece of work is a [young lady], how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals– and yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? (Don’t worry, you’ll learn that play someday and you’ll probably hate it.)

Today when I watched you leave the school building and you left crying after the conversation we had, I wanted to rip my heart out of my chest and toss it to you and say “Here take this one, it’s much more whole, and you need it more than I do.” I wanted to run after you and keep giving you advice, keep telling you it would be okay, even though I don’t know if it will. I wanted to remind you of everything you’ve been through and we’ve been through in three years and assure you of your resilience and your support system and your inner light. But instead I just watched you walk to the bus stop and it felt like you were walking away from me for always.

The other day when we talked about your sister’s boyfriend and how he’s in the Rollin’ 60s Crips, I said like a privileged idiot, “Aren’t there other things he can do? And his mom knows? Can’t he find something better that would help the world?”

Then so quickly, I knew we both realized it. So I beat you to the punchline, “I know, that’s not fair to say because I was born with opportunities.”

“Right,” you said. Like you were being interviewed on 60 Minutes and I’d fed you an answer you already had and you knew absolutely everything but you didn’t want to make me feel bad. Because in just 14 years, you’ve lived 100. But at the same time, you’ve lived maybe four or five of the life you’ve actually deserved.

So when I ask you if you’re worried he could get shot or she could or something could happen to the baby, you answer like a 100 year old and tell me, “Of course.”

But I stop there. I don’t tell you that I’m so worried about that for you, too.

It was crushing to watch you be sad today because your future is so uncertain. And I can’t help pointing a finger at myself, even when I don’t know what else I could have done. When I saw your tears, I thought, this is what it must feel like to be a mother and to watch your baby hurt. Because although you’ve got 9 inches on me and the equivalent of 70 years, I can’t help but feel maternal.

So I will just hope you know in your head all the things I’ve been saying for three years–I hope my annoying voice is your inner broken record. I will hope you know I’m here even if I’m not there. I will hope you still call me, even if it’s just because you need a ride from one place to another. I will hope that it all clicks and that you “get it” one day soon. I will hope with my whole heart that you keep holding your head up and stay out of the mess our city tends to pull people into. I will hope you get through high school with your degree and college credits to boot, and your intact dignity and an empty uterus, with a smile, and with a “look what I just fucking did” attitude. And I really hope you invite me to see it. I really hope you invite me to see you bloom fully as that rose that grew from concrete. Because even if you don’t see yourself as that yet, that’s who you’ve always been to me. The rose that grew from concrete.

Love,

Ms. Eby

Honestly, Just Be Honest

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What could be more honest than a candid photo of a grandfather and his 8 day old granddaughter? This is THE Emma Lou Doran Loughlin, my NIECE (no longer a niecephew)!

Last weekend Chas and I went car-browsing. The whole experience feels like one giant cliche. You walk in, some guy with comb lines in his hair slinks over to you to ask if you’ve been helped. You, convinced he’s Satan in a shinier form, don’t return his smile in favor of raising one eyebrow and pursing your lips to allow “No” to escape. He says something about “________________ taking care of you” and you think, Oh I’m sure he’ll take care of us.

This continues to a desk and a crowded parking lot and a car and an “I really like you guys” and, “You’re so funny together.”

You test drive a couple of cars the salesperson plays tough about a lot of things and makes a few jokes that fit neatly into gender roles. You hear several acronyms that are meaningless (well, not to Chas) and when you’re spinning from the GLT and the TDL and BSP and LTD and the DSL, you’re back at that desk again. Then come the “figures” written down on paper–aloud will not do. “Are you a nurse? Are you a firefighter? Did you serve in the military prior to 1954? Are you the type of person who dresses up as a banana on occasion?”

Of course, you’re none of those things but somehow when the salesperson returns from “the back,” you qualify for four thousand dollars worth of “discounts.” She or he assures you that you haven’t yet seen what Tavon can do when he “sharpens his pencil.” Yes, this is the number we can give you before Tavon “sharpens his pencil.” So maybe you will return when the pencil has its pointiest point. Maybe, you say, “I will come back after I send an email to another dealership.” And you both keep your eyeballs still and locked as your heads make circles like you’re drawing mutual lines around one another’s skulls with your noses. And then you leave your information and say that you’re headed for Subaru. Gotta see how sharp their pencils are.

These types of exchanges are hilarious to me for their predictability and for the use of meaningless language. I actually hate/love this kind of thing, maybe I just love to hate it. This silly turn of phrase “sharpen a pencil” is more than just a cliche. It’s code. It’s silly to me because the salesperson could have just said what she meant. She meant that he could get more of a discount for us. So just say it. And then just do it.

One of my all time favorite Seinfeld episodes is “The Dealership.” George plays me.

GEORGE: Look at these salesmen. The only thing these guys fear is the walk-out. No matter what they say, you say, “I’ll walk out of here right now!”

(A salesman approaches)

SALESMAN: Can I help you with something?

GEORGE: (Threatening) Hold it! One more step and we’re walkin’!

The entire episode plays into my lunatic thinking via George Costanza and he believes nothing. I’m actually surprised the phrase “sharpen a pencil” doesn’t pop up.

These weird little unspoken agreements we have in order to be vague and unclear to one another are so odd. In Morocco, we (Chas) learned through research that there, bargaining is welcome. But you have to play the game. The seller gives a price. You counter with a price that is low but not insulting. If the seller counters again, then he/she will make a deal with you. If he/she says “Nope” on that first offer, then just go. It’s not worth it. The seller does not like you and feels disrespected by you. This version of “pencil sharpening” I respect more than these weird American versions, though, because they seem more agreed upon. Like we all get it. And by “we” I mean those of us who read Lonely Planet and also Moroccan nationals.

But wouldn’t it be funny to look at a leather handbag that’s labeled at the equivalent of $30 American and hear from the seller, “I am willing to sell you this for $10 but I labeled it at $30 in case you’re a sucker”? Or if I approached the seller and in broken Arabic/French said, “I want this badly and it would cost about $200 in the US but I would pay no more than $12 here, so what’s your limit?”

Maybe at the car dealership we’d say, “Hey, we’re really cheap. We want a GTI manual transmission and we ideally want to pay no more than $22K.” Then the salesperson could say, “Listen, we get a gajillion dollar bonus if you add to our total of 129 cars by the end of the month so we’ll actually give you the GTI you want for $21K if you just shell out the cash and then just get the hell out of here so we can have a celebratory beer with the mechanics in peace.” The best view into this world is here. Literally (and I mean this for real) one of my favorite podcast episodes ever. In this episode the line “Buyers are liars” is said to be a catchphrase in the “bizness.” I think the line should be “Everyone is a liar.”

There are plenty of things we say in the U.S. that we don’t really mean, and I’m not even talking about “I literally died” or “I can’t even” or “That’s hilarious!” (but with a straight face). I’m talking about “How are you?” or “How have you been?” and other meaningless pleasantries that people spew out just because they think they’re supposed to say them.

What do you think the percentage of “How are yous?” you receive is genuine? I’d bet it’s pretty low. So I propose, you answer it, no matter the asker, honestly. Someone in the grocery store says “How are you?” Launch into the truth about the clogged toilet in the basement leveled out by the fact that someone at work shouted you out in front of the group this morning. Skip the “fine” or the “well” and go right for the jugular. Hey, if someone asked it, doesn’t that person deserve the real truth? That’ll make that person think twice before a insincere question!

Another one is “It’s nice to meet you.” But is it? Is it nice to meet me? Did I make your life better in this awkward 30 second, obligatory interaction? Will you remember my name? Or my face? Or my aura? Did you even realize that I believe firmly in “No dead fish” for a handshake? Do me a favor, if you meet me, and it’s not “nice” to meet me, just don’t say it. Or tell me that it’s been “mediocre” to meet me. That kind of honesty would really impress me, and then it would be nice to meet you. 

I think what I’m realizing is that 30 is too old to be playing along. I want to speak the truth in all circles and I don’t really care who’s around the perimeter. It’s a waste of time to play along and life is just too damn short. Leave the acting for the actors and be straight up.

Honestly, just be honest. It’s legitimately refreshing. And if you’re going to comb your hair like Christian Bale in American Psycho, don’t expect me to trust anything you say, especially if it involves pencil sharpening.

The Opposite of Victims

“We don’t have a word for the opposite of loneliness, but if we did, I could say that’s what I want in life.”
― Marina Keegan, The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories

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Potted plants. Because…potted plants.

Marina Keegan was a 22 year old recent Yale graduate (three days, recent) with a future of creative writing ahead of her when her boyfriend fell asleep at the wheel in a crash that instantly killed her. Now that the sad stuff is out of the way, her book, which is a collection of essays and stories, is beautiful. The essay for which the book is titled, “The Opposite of Loneliness,” is a description of Keegan’s life at Yale and her friends and the family she loves and how she feels whatever you call the opposite of loneliness. I read this book years ago but that concept has stuck with me and my own version just occurred to me the other day. Why don’t we have a word for the opposite of a victim? What do we call it when someone walks away from us better?

I’ve been reading my book club book late at night: I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State KillerEven if you aren’t familiar with the book, you can tell by the title, it’s perfect for late night reading for a person with above average anxiety. The book chronicles the victims of the Golden State Killer, also known as the East Area Rapist, who terrorized California in the 1970s and 80s. It’s victim after victim and when I think about his ripple effect, I’m horrified. When one person is a victim of a crime, be it rape, murder, armed robbery, whatever, that person is not the only victim. A partner, friends, family, offspring, they’re all affected by that act. So while the Golden State Killer has stats on paper of how many lives he ruined, really, he ruined hundreds more. When an adult is murdered, let’s say a 35 year old female, imagine the life-long weight that places on a family. The financial burdens, the parentless children, a widower, her parents burying their child, her employer, her friends’ heartbreak, the stray cat she fed, the dog that expects her to come home, the kids she carpooled, the coffeeshop dude she greeted on Fridays, and ripples and ripples and ripples. Victims straight up abound.

So that’s the large scale. But I also imagine the victims we can create so easily, maybe without even realizing it, on a small scale. This is pretty easy to do when you spend your days in a middle school. Maybe I’m too snarky when I ask someone to take off her massive hoop earrings. Maybe I edit an essay and my comment comes off just a little too harshly. Or a girl looks sad and downtrodden and I make the mistake of not asking what’s wrong. She might read my small action, internalize it, and then snap at another teacher or slam her mom’s car door, or pick a fight with a sibling and so on and so on. Again, victims abound.

On Saturday night when I left the hospital after visiting Emma (my beautiful, wonderful, adorable, brand new niece), there were three women in the patio in front of Hopkins just sobbing. They were shaking and crying and swinging and doing things you do when someone young dies. In the 8 seconds I saw their pain, I could feel it. Was it a shooting victim? A son, brother, and friend? In Baltimore City that’s often a safe leap to make. So then where do they go from here? If it was gun violence, did that shooter picture these young women openly mourning that night on Orleans Street? Did he visualize the pain of a community? Did he imagine how hard it is to concentrate in school or at work when you’re so sad? Did he picture a funeral for a teenager? Or how the victim will stay framed in photos stuck at 18 for eternity? Did he foresee the ripples created by his act?

So it’s easy to make a victim on a spectrum of scales. And it’s easy for that victim to then spread that hurt inadvertently or advertently (should be a word). So, shouldn’t our goal be to make the opposite of victims?

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Photo from The National Museum of African American History and Culture. 

When you look up the opposite of a victim, basically you just get synonyms of “perpetrator.” But that’s not at all what I’m aiming for here. I’m aiming for a word for a person who feels lifted and lighter and happier and more at peace from the action of another. And there is no word for that, as far as I know. But if anything should be a world-wide goal that anyone can get behind, it has to be that. Right? I imagine it like pixie dust. You hold the door for someone who’s at that far enough distance where you’re thinking, “Do I hold it? Or do I let it go?” You give a sincere and unexpected compliment. You leave a kind note. You carry up your neighbor’s recycling bin. You share your garden tomatoes. Or send a postcard, walk a new mother’s dogs, put away all of the laundry, tell someone she matters, share a novel that makes you think of a friend, buy a coffee or a ticket, nominate a colleague for an award, tap a shoulder and say “How are you?” with eye contact and love. Maybe you offer an essential oil or tell an old lady she looks nice or come to my yoga class (hint). Every act, even the tiniest ones, can create the same amount of ripples as victim-making. But for good. Sprinkle it here and there, and it grows.

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The work of a few of last year’s 5th/6th Writing Class.

So why don’t we have a word for this person who has been positively affected by the actions of another? Beneficiary? Too financial. Recipient? Too transactional. Victim comes from a Latin word for “denoting a creature killed as a religious sacrifice.” Vic means to conquer. So Latin for lift up is “leva” and help is “aux.” The best I got is “auxlevatim.” And to my loyal reader, yogi, and friend, Tim, I’m sorry you got wrapped into all of this. English for the Latin “tim” is “Tim” so I don’t understand. Today, make some auxlevatims. Let your pixie dust spread all over the worlds of those you lift and help.

 

We don’t have a word for the opposite of victims (except for auxlevatims), but if we did, I could say that’s what we should all hope to create in life.

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In the red is he who most makes me an auxlevatim. 

“I Don’t Believe in Time.” -Hootie

IMG_0719Family in White and Denim

In Dad’s first Honda Odyssey, the most played “album” (maybe it was a cassette, possibly a CD) was hands down Cracked Rear View (1994) by Hootie and the Blowfish. Most played song: “Time.” In it, Hootie talks about time, talks to time, denounces time, defriends time, and repeats the word time, well, a lot of times.

Time, why you punish me?
Like a wave crashing into the shore
You wash away my dreams
Time, why you walk away?
Like a friend with somewhere to go
You left me crying

Can you teach me about tomorrow
And all the pain and sorrow, running free?
Cause tomorrow’s just another day
And I don’t believe in time

Time, I don’t understand
Children killing in the street
Dying for the color of a rag
Time, take their red and blue
Wash them in the ocean, make them clean
Maybe their mothers won’t cry tonight

 …

Can you teach me about tomorrow
And all the pain and sorrow, running free?
Cause tomorrow’s just another day
And I don’t believe in time

(Time, time, time, time) You ain’t no friend of mine
(Time, time) I don’t know where I’m goin’
(Time, time) I think I’m out of my mind
(Time) Walkin’, (Time) wasted
(Time, time) You ain’t no friend of mine
(Time, time) I don’t know where I’m goin’
(Time, time) No, no no no

 

And as many millions of times as I have heard that song and even sung along to it, it wasn’t until just now on http://www.lyricsfreak.com that I thought about the message Hootie is trying to tell us (I think). He’s filing a complaint to time. Why does it vanish so quickly? Where does it go? And if you can’t beat it, then just don’t believe in it. Horrid cliches aside, Hootie speaks for many of us. Where does the time go? Grabbing it, trying to hold it and keep it is a futile, winless task.

But then he sort of loses me at “I don’t believe in time.” After all, our lives are largely dictated by time. We want to save it, not waste it, maximize it, enjoy it, get paid for it, pay for it, count it, check it, stare at it in disbelief. So when I imagine riding in the Odyssey #1, windows down, cruising on Loch Raven Boulevard, waiting for “the heat to work,” and singing like a hopeless trio, I know time was not actually on my mind. I was just giving back to Hootie what he was giving us. “Time, why you wallga-wayyy?”

I remember my parents when I was little talking about how time went by so fast and I recall disagreeing. I felt like they must have never been to school before because time just crawled in school. How could they possibly believe time moved slowly? Outside of Christmas Break and Summertime, life was creeping by at a snail’s pace. And then I hit about 13 years old (which can only be about five years ago, right?). Everything seemed to speed up at that point. Was it being more aware of the world? Less involved with myself so I became occupied looking at and observing others? Was it because I discovered boys? Hormones? My menarche (I dedicate that word to Erin Drew)? Whatever happened, it’s flown by ever since.

As an adult, I love observing and comparing others’ perceptions of time on a small scale. It’s amazing what others think they will or will not have time for–it’s amazing what I have the audacity to think I will have time for. Some people “don’t have time for all the magazines that come to the house,” while Stacey always says, “I love a good glossy” and on top of an active social and work life, tears through her shiny-covered monthlies. Some people can’t squeeze in working out, while for others, who could be even more “involved,” working out is a mandatory part of life.

What it comes down to is that time is relative.

For example, my friend Jimmy Markakis (no relation to Nick Markakis) sleeps about four hours per night, works more than full time, is heavily involved in Greek things and techy clubs and groups, travels constantly, owns a 3D printer, and then pursues multiple advanced degrees all at once. Now, he’s a bit extreme. But for some, even just one of his lifestyle choices would be too much.

I imagine we’ve all got a little clock inside of us that dictates what we believe we have time for. I am definitely closer to Jimmy on the spectrum but it took me about 30 years to realize that even I have limits (Jimmy still doesn’t).

Chas has been asking me for years to read The Time Paradox by Philip Zimbardo and John Boyd, and for years I have tried and then fallen asleep. Luckily, Zimbardo and Boyd have distilled these ideas to three paradoxes.

“The Time Paradox is not a single paradox but a series of paradoxes that shape our lives and our destinies. For example:

Paradox 1
Time is one of the most powerful influences on our thoughts, feelings, and actions, yet we are usually totally unaware of the effect of time in our lives.”

This is a little above my level but I think he’s saying we think about time constantly, we feel it, and we act based on it but really, we can’t see how it affects us in large-scale ways.

“Paradox 2
Each specific attitude toward time—or time perspective—is associated with numerous benefits, yet in excess each is associated with even greater costs.”

Find a balance between appreciating the past, relishing in the present, and planning for the future. Living only in the past is depressing. Living only in the present is reckless. Living only for the future makes you miss out on what’s happening now.

“Paradox 3
Individual attitudes toward time are learned through personal experience, yet collectively attitudes toward time influence national destinies.”

Your experiences greatly affect your time perspective. But collectively, the society you live in gathers up the perspectives of its people and that effect is great enough to determine a country’s fate.

On the website for the book, you can also take a Time Perspective Inventory to determine how you perceive time.

For transparency’s sake, my time perspective results are here:

Past-negative: 2.60
Past-positive: 4.22 (a little on the high end)
Present-fatalistic: 1.89
Present-hedonistic: 3.73 (close to balanced)
Future: 3.69 (perfectly balanced)

Eastern cultures and Western cultures view time differently and it’s found that even countries that share a border do not share their perceptions of time. The US and Mexico differ greatly. And the US is to Mexico as Switzerland is to Italy. According to Business Insider, “Thais do not evaluate the passing of time in the same way that the Japanese do. In Britain the future stretches out in front of you. In Madagascar it flows into the back of your head from behind.”

We all know that in the US, time is money. On a good day, I can get $80 an hour for tutoring. Our time/money value is reinforced whenever I am outside of the US. In Morocco, artisans spend hours and eardrums on beautiful pieces and then pass them off for mere dollars. As I’ve mentioned before, when I needed to see a doctor in Marrakech, I was able to do so within 8 minutes of arriving in a clinic and for $30. So is our way the right one? Yes and no. Time is relative. The only answer is to savor it, enjoy it, and to know, deep in your heart, that it is also completely finite.

Dear Niecephew (Part 2)

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Can you EVEN handle how adorable your momma is?

Dear Niecephew,

This is the last time I will be able to call you Niecephew because soon you’ll be here, in the world, and they’ll drape you in the color that society has selected for your sex. I can only assume, since your momma and your dadda have decided to make your name a surprise, that in a few short days we will call you something like SnuggleMuffinPieSquishLoveSoSweet. I can’t wait to call you by your name, and oh so many nicknames. (Speaking of calling you by your name, when you’re 18, you must see Call Me By My Name–it is the most beautiful love story but too mature for a little boo.)

Since you’ll soon switch from a fetus to an infant, I think it’s high time we get you into some literature. So here’s my favorite poem. Eat it. Let the juice run down your chin. I’ll add my own commentary–you’ll get used to it–Aunt Amandy always has commentary. Just ask Uncle Chas.

 

The Desiderata

by Max Ehrmann

(Commentary by Aunt Amandy)

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.

Before we get going here, little boo, placidly means peacefully. When you’re ready to know about Greek and Latin roots, I will teach you that plac comes from the Latin word for “to please.” 

I love this stanza for so many reasons, including the appreciate silence. As you grow up I cannot imagine how loud the world will be. Find silence whenever and wherever you can. It’s a commodity these days.

When people make you angry, when you make people angry, find a path to resolutions. Life’s too short for animosity. Sure, your Aunt Amandy often jokes about her nemeses, but they’re just people who need to be called out on their shit. Also, don’t say “shit.”

When you listen to others, look them in the eye. Show people that you’re listening. For the love of all that is holy, do not look at your cell phone while someone is telling you a story. See also this 

One of the most important lessons of living is that everyone has a story. Listen to it. Really hear it. Default to compassion. There is no way of knowing the burden someone is carrying silently. Even meanies**. They might be meanies because life does get hard and sometimes you’re just not sure how to spit that back out and it ends up landing on other people, maybe you. Assume positive intent and help those people if you can. 
Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

As I said above, even meanies have a story but that doesn’t mean you need to hang around them. Model your peace for “loud and aggressive persons,” don’t join in. We want your spirit to remain vexation-free.

Comparisons are a fruitless pursuit. It’s amazing that Ehrmann wrote this before social media because at its root, it seems that the stuff it’s really made of is comparison. Be proud of who YOU are. Be proud of who others are too. Life is so much harder if you make everyone else a competitor. Let your only competitor be yourself and you’ll always continue to grow.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

For the foreseeable future, your career will be tummy time, then learning to eat on your own and then potty training, then it’ll be school for 22 years. Find times to celebrate yourself. And when we say that school is your job, know that your learning and to a lesser degree, your report card, are your paycheck. Earn them. 

Find the heroes that surround you. Start with your grandparents. They’re pretty kick ass. While you should hold things close to the vest, look for the good, the great, in others. 

Money is important for some things but do not let money drive you. Let passion drive you. I want you to wake up everyday and feel like, “Yes, this is what I get to do!” You’d be surprised how many people are never able to say that because money is what drives them. Make enough to pay your bills. But be happy everyday. 

Also, to that end, it’s always just easier on your psyche in big parties to ask the waitress for separate checks from the beginning. If you want to enjoy the meal, get the financials out of the way at the beginning. 
Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.

“Feign” is one of those words that is an exception to the “i before e rule” and it means “to pretend.” Don’t worry, I will teach you that soon. My niecephew will not misspell “receive.” 

Love openly, but no need to fake it. Your heart will be broken. And then again. And then more times. I will give you a great playlist of sad songs and we can eat ice cream from the container. But don’t let those heart breaks break you. Love wins.
Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.

Welcome aging, you’ll know more as you grow. Inside you, in your spirit, you have everything you need to weather the letdowns that will surely happen. Acknowledge the power inside of you. Breathe. Face feelings, even the painful ones. It’s the only way to really heal.

Sometimes we are the hardest on ourselves. Learn how to forgive, not just meanies, learn how to forgive yourself. Apologize to those you’ve wronged and then open your clenched fist and let it go.
You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

The above is my most favorite stanza. Read it whenever you need to. 
Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive her to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

This poem was written in 1927 so I had to make an edit. If god exists, we all know she’s a she. If you believe in god, great. If you don’t, great. You can decide that for yourself. But don’t be afraid of spirituality and the powers of the universe. You’ll find throughout life that something or someone is at hard at work to ensure that whatever is meant to be, will be. 
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

You’ll encounter many pessimists in your life. Don’t be one. Show them how to be an optimist and they’ll be better for having known you, Niecephew. Sure there’s hurt and pain and sorrow and awfulness, but there’s so much beauty. Default to joy. See the pink blanket under the cherry blossoms that have dropped their petals. Find the only cloud in the sky on a blue day. Fold over your legs and enjoy a stretch at least once a day. Smell what’s baking. Listen to the song of the birds who woke you up too early on a Saturday. 

We’re all so ready to meet you. You know how I mentioned “placidly” above? Please, for the sake of your momma, enter the world placidly. Also, soon.

Love,

Aunt Amandy

**meanies = ass holes, but I don’t want you to have a potty mouth

World Without Cell Phones, Amen

Who else grew up Catholic? Remember the “Glory Be”? It ended, “World without end. Amen.” Pretty optimistic for the Catholics in this one. I guess when they wrote that prayer, they couldn’t have anticipated the identity of USA’s #45. Well, I took the end of that prayer to title this blog because I’m sick of cell phones. And, I’m a hypocrite. And I hyperbolist.

My iPhone is less than a foot from me as I first start to type this because Chas is on his way home from a business trip and I need to complain to him about my sudden allergies.

On Wednesday, when my mom and I attempted to hold Crochet Club, we simply could not. We couldn’t get yarn into the girls’ hands, not a hook between any of their stubby little fingers. I stood on my proverbial cell phone soapbox, told them what time it is and Nance and I blew that popsicle stand. What else were we supposed to do? Children who couldn’t get enough fluffy yarn and crochet time back in the fall were eschewing their former pastime in favor of another. The most indomitable. The most demanding. The most desirable and evil and all-powerful.

The cell phone.

I have seen girls stroke their phones, call a phone “my baby,” and during they day when they cannot have their phones on them at all, they often have the phone’s case with them like, “in memory of this morning, when I had my phone…”

I cannot compete with a cell phone. My mom driving all the way from West Baltimore to give her afternoon for Crochet Club cannot either. We’re no competition when the girls start playing awful music and dancing and snapping and insta-ing and god knows what else, they seemingly cannot stop. It surely is an addiction. But it surely doesn’t have to be.

Aside from the lure of the phone for my children, is the danger of the phone for my children. Girls talk to boys, send photos to boys, plan to meet up with boys. Ah! I got my first phone when I was 14 but I am so glad I didn’t have to grow up in the world of smart phones or even camera phones. As educators, we have to investigate the behaviors our students carry out on phones now. Forget “He said…She said,” because now it’s all “She snapped this and then he insta-snapped that and then she was like this and that’s when he sent a Vimeo and then she posted it to YouTube and then she said that back on Spotify…and then the whole world exploded.” It’s a lot more detangling, a lot more mess, and a lot more of, “Do you even understand that nothing you post on the internet ever really goes away?” and more, “That boy does not deserve to have your text, let alone a compromising photo of you,” and more, “Why can’t you just talk it out in person?”

So that’s the kid angle. They’re obsessed, they’ve never known a life without it. I can barely imagine how this looks when they are adults. Will phones be surgically implanted into their hands? The sides of their heads? Where do we even go from here? How will they know how to interact with real, live humans? Will they even have enough words?

But many adults are no better. I have a hard time holding back when I am out with someone and the phone sits on the table. Why does the phone get a seat at the table? Groups of disenfranchised people have been fighting for seats at the proverbial table for centuries…and we just willy nilly give one to our cell phones? And the hypocritical thing is, sometimes I, too, have to pull out my phone and deal with something. But why? Why is the pull so strong? Why can’t it wait like it did for millennia before? It gets us all.

There’s one episode of Seinfeld in which cell phones are a factor. Elaine is floundering about calling her friend to check in on her sick father. But Jerry says she cannot make that call from a cell phone because “The Cell Phone Walk and Talk” is inconsiderate, too rushed, and unfair. Elaine keeps going back and forth about when to call her friend.

Okay, fine. Not a thing today. We get it. But basically a good chunk of the 9 seasons of Seinfeld would be impossible with cell phones. (This is not a post about Seinfeld though. This is.) Think about Elaine’s “little kicks” dance move–she’d be viral! And even more humiliated! Or episode two when Jerry has to recall the name of the office building where a woman works and repeats it over and over again so he can stake her out–these days, he’d be able to stalk her online in about 34 seconds. What about when George wants to sleep with his coworker after a party so Jerry has to find his own way home? He calls Kramer who lets the address fly out the window of his car and it goes from there. This could be true of any story, really. I mean Romeo and Juliet did not have to die. But don’t you miss these little dramas, on screen and in real life, just a little? Do you miss having to pick up the phone to see if it’s your 7th grade boyfriend calling the house before your dad answers? Or planning ahead to meet someone somewhere and then knowing that that person cannot flake on you because she has literally no way of telling you she cannot make it?

Are there any mysteries anymore? I mean people post photos of their hot dog buns, Bichons, babies, bellies, car batteries, who knows? “What did you do last night?” or “How are you?” are barely worth asking. Because I could just look it up. I won’t because generally, if I care, I’d rather ask you that myself, but still. A few clicks and I’ve got your last seven years in front of me.

I won’t weigh the pros and the cons here. That’s too laborious. But what I will say, is that I am ready to be less phone-y. I want to just live. And be a human. And occasionally be part of 2018 but mostly just BE. So maybe the title is a bit of a hyperbole but it’d be simpler, right?

We weren’t born with phones in our hands and I don’t think we should die that way either. Let’s all make an effort to exist more in the world than we exist on the internet or in texts. Who’s with me?

 

They Were Here

My back porch is one of the most reflective spots on Earth. And when it’s breezeless and just the right temperature–that certain degree that feels like no temperature at all, man, I could sit out here forever and ponder what it means to be human and what exists beyond our universe. And also, I can’t help but drift back to some of my very favorite thoughts. Like an old friend, I welcome in the daydream of who was here before.

Remember those T shirts everybody had in middle school? One said, “I am a girl. I am an athlete. Soccer is my sport.” Another read, “If you can’t run with the big dogs…STAY ON THE PORCH.” And then the one that is relevant to this piece (so I can stop showing off my memory of middle school apparel in the ’90s), a collection of animals straight outta the ark and the words, “They were here first.”

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W. 38th Street. Where old meets new. (And new takes all of the parking spots even though new has a massive garage.)

No disrespect to the animals because we surely are damning them as a society right now but with my day dreamy brain, I keep thinking that phrase but applying it to the people who were here first (not the Native Americans, I will save that for another day).

In a century-old neighborhood like Hampden (I can hear the Europeans laughing at me from across the ocean), the history can go unnoticed or it can slap you in the face like the lingering shards in sailcloth factory window frames. You can operate your stainless steel appliances and maybe never think about what this house’s first stove looked like and what element it required to heat up. Maybe you can dig in your garden and think of this as your yard’s first rodeo because you haven’t taken a stab at beefsteak tomatoes before. Or you stare out across the alley and watch people living their lives like you’re looking at your own moving dollhouses.

But do you ever imagine the old-timey people living their lives in your living room? Lying their heads right where you put yours down each night? Do you see their big skirts and layers of drawers prancing around your house? Can you picture the man of the house coming home with a metal lunch pail gripped in grey dusty fingers? Is his wife filling an ashtray in the kitchen, counting her hours in Marlboro Lights? Do you see a chicken coop out back and fresh eggs in the ice box where your Frigidaire hums now? What did they store in the basement? What did they eat every Friday night? Before the dug in, did they pray first? Did they walk to the church at 38th and Roland on Sunday mornings? Were their kids born on the hardwoods of the upstairs bedroom like my Gram’s sister Dolly? Was their couch in the same spot that yours sits? Who is responsible for the stain on the floor near the dining room table? Did someone from the past love sitting out back watching others live their lives?

Partially, I think I love the dreaminess and the slight sorrow of nostalgia. I find my heart living in the space between amazement that they were here and sadness that they’re not anymore. And I didn’t even know them. But somehow, I make these people alive when I picture them moving in the spaces where I move. It’s like I am paying them homage when I bring them to life in my mind.

You were here. I honor you. I will care for this place.

Over the past year two of the backyards across our alley have been gigantic trash cans for the contents of the homes in front of them. It’s that old Hampden story on loop. Grandparents were ill or dead, they left the house to their grandkids, their grandkids were using drugs in the house, the foundation was crumbling, some flipper saw potential and bought it for maybe $80 thousand. He’ll get granite countertops and brushed nickel faucets and sell it for $315K in three months. When I go in our back bedroom now, I keep catching my eye on those yards thinking that it has snowed but only in two backyards and nowhere else. I snap back and realize the yards are paved for parking. And then I imagine the old-timey kids playing and dreaming in their backyards in the 1920s. Was it a mini baseball diamond like my yard often became? Did they dig in the dirt, practice their flips, wrestle to the death? Did their momma beg them not to trample some old-timey-sounding flower like begonias? Did they ever imagine that their factory workers’ hood would ever be so desirable that a parking pad would seem the only sensible choice?

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A life, piled in a backyard.

Sometimes I do this at red lights. Just turn to the left and wonder about that storefront, or that one, or that one, or the house right there, or that old lot. Baltimore is ripe for the picking for those who wish to daydream about the past. We have all levels of decay. Utter and complete dilapidation, abandonment, newly forgotten, and then the newly discovered and gentrified.

Who was there? Did it matter to someone? Did a woman or man take pride in keeping that stoop dirt-free? What did that church sound like on Sundays at 11 a.m.? Who touched up that trim in the ’50s?

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When I find myself in that space somewhere among the triangle of nostalgia and sorrow and rosy retrospection, I’m enjoying myself. I like that spot because the possibilities are limitless. Those people can be happy. They can be ignorant to the future destruction or paving or making trash out of things that once mattered to them. They’re preserved right there in that spot in my mind. Just as they are. With their old-timey clothes and their proud homes and their mini baseball diamond backyard. They don’t age. They’re just there, suspended in time and in peace. And maybe they deserve that because they were here first.

 

And now, a photo essay (not that I really know what constitutes a photo essay). I took the captions out of the caption view because I think they’re easier to read that way.

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I doubt the architect who dreamed up that terracotta design pictured The Hustler in the next millennium.  (For context, I took this picture at the 2018 Women’s March on Baltimore.)

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Roosevelt Community Center Stage. This is where the Hampden Community Council Meetings are held, just below this mural suspended in the air and suspended in time. Seriously, when was the last time they let kids use those deathtrap rings on chains in gym class? It takes two hands to count the ways someone could die on those.

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The Hippodrome Theatre opened in 1914 to show vaudeville films with the sound provided by live musicians. It closed in 1990. Then in 2004 it reopened as a performing arts center. If you have been or you go there sometime in the future, just imagine people paying the premium price of 60 cents for the evening showing of Six of A Kind.

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Govans Presbyterian Church is a block from the Senator Theatre but if I told you I took this photo on the grounds of a Belgian castle, would you believe me? It opened in the 1840s and is named for the Scottish family who settled the Govans neighborhood in North Baltimore. Imagine antebellum Presbyterians flooding in and out of these doors. Can you see the top hats and hoop skirts?

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This is Bates Hall in the Central Branch of the Boston Public Library. Hardly a forgotten Baltimore rowhouse, it was built in 1895. Joshua Bates, a wealthy Bostonian, told BPL he would give them $5o thousand provided that “the building shall be such as to be an ornament to the City, that there shall be a room for one hundred to one hundred and fifty persons to sit at reading tables, and that it be perfectly free to all.” And here we still have it, over 120 years later.

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This is a view of Druid Lake in Druid Hill Park in Baltimore (the lake is now being cleaned and renovated–however you renovate a lake–so this view may no longer exist since I took it a year ago). Ready to feel sad? According to the Baltimore Rec and Parks website, “The history of Druid Hill Park began over two centuries ago when the Susquehannock Indians ceded land in 1652- that included that park’s area and its holdings to Lord Baltimore. Because of its access to the Jones Falls stream and other springs it is believed to have been an ideal site for the Native Americans. Lord Baltimore subsequently began to parcel the land out.” How awful that the history of this place began when we forced out people who’d be there for…ever? Lloyd Nicholas Rogers sold the land he had inherited from his father to the City of Baltimore in 1860. The reservoir was added in 1863, hard to imagine building a reservoir with the Civil War going on and bullets flying all over the place (my vision).

The park was part of the American Parks Movement which sought to give urban dwellers a place to play. It was modeled after European Parks. In 1992 an R&B group calling themselves “Dru Hill” launched onto the music scene with #1 hits “In My Bed,” “Never Make a Promise,” and “How Deep Is Your Love.” Sisqo, of “The Thong Song” was a member of Dru Hill. Can you imagine the slave-holding Nicholas Rogers (Lloyd’s dad) hearing the music of the band launched from his land’s loins? Just makes me giddy inside!

 

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This is the entirety of LMCJ back in January 2016, all crammed into Lillie May Carroll Jackson’s (the person) former kitchen (I’m guessing) on Eutaw Place. This home, which Lillie May bought through the owner of the Orioles at the time (Hoffberger) was in a neighborhood where African Americans just did not live. In it she hosted Civil Rights Leaders who visited Baltimore since blacks were not allowed to stay in hotel rooms in Baltimore in her heyday. The home is now the Lillie Carroll Jackson Civil Rights Museum. When we visited in 2016, it was still being completed. If LMCJ (the person) could only see what’s going on in the room where she hosted Jackie Robinson, MLK, and so many more.

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This is my classroom as I inherited it in August 2015. Woodbourne Junior High School opened to all whites in 1953. It has a bomb shelter in the basement and down there you can see where the building’s footprint was stamped right on an existing sidewalk, an existing world. The school was so crowded for a time that despite its massiveness, there were morning kids and afternoon kids since there wasn’t enough space to teach them all at once. Woodbourne Junior High gave way to Chinquapin Middle School which then became Baltimore Information Technology Academy and then Lillie May Carroll Jackson and we now share with Baltimore Collegiate. When I taught in this room, I often imagined 40 little white kids crammed into desks with shiny shoes and ties and dresses, because that’s what they chose to wear. The story of Madalyn Murray O’Hair is just absolutely bananas throughout every decade. Its inception? Woodbourne Junior High School and the fight for an atheists to not have to pray with their teachers. Maybe O’Hair’s son took Algebra in my classroom. Maybe he was here first.

 

Other links if you share my daydreams. These photos are each worth at least a million words.

http://darkroom.baltimoresun.com/2012/09/nothing-new-with-old-town-mall/#5

http://photos.metrotimes.com/45-photo-montages-showing-detroit-then-and-now/?slide=10&screen-shot-2014-04-07-at-1-38-46-pm

http://www.baltimoresun.com/features/retro-baltimore/bal-nowandthen-pictures-from-retro-baltimore-photogallery.html

https://www.boredpanda.com/abandoned-detroit-school-then-and-now/

http://allthatsinteresting.com/abandoned-detroit-photos#7

http://www.businessinsider.com/thousands-of-vacant-homes-in-baltimore-2016-4#that-would-bring-the-total-up-to-46800-homes-8

In Maryland? You can look up the history of your house by making an account here: mdlandrec.net. Thanks, Dan!

 

Two Months is Not Enough

Dear Young Lady,

As you stand before me, asking me to charge your phone, though you’re an hour late for school and not in full uniform, all I can think of is that we only have two months. So that’s why I Dora-the-Explorer-blinked-and-stared at you before answering. Two months.

I’ll admit that I am menstrual and emotional and generally just a little bit too turnt up this week. So here’s me, Mrs. Eby, in all in my feelings–nothing you haven’t seen so many times before in the past three years.

We only have two months of saying good morning and “How was your night? How’d you sleep?” and “Please stay awake in block 1,” and “Don’t spill your cereal on the keyboard…again.” You have two more months of my looping lectures. You can switch back and forth between sighing and looking away, listening with tears in your eyes, or walking away from me. Just two months of you accidentally calling me mom (and I actually count those, it’s been five times just this week). We have two more months of you leaving your things all over my office. Two more months of your cousin calling me past my bedtime to find out if I know where you are. Two more months of you leaving half-done projects everywhere you’ve sat. And two more months of tiny disagreements followed by tiny apologies. Just two months of you needing a pencil, of needing a sheet of paper, of needing a hug, two more months of you needing me. But I actually know that’s not true.

Three years ago you walked up to the door of my classroom, grabbed me around the middle and said, “Hi teacher!” Like you just thought I looked friendly, or maybe you just hugged everyone, or maybe that was just you. And as I got to know that huge heart inside of your chest, I see that is who you are. That’s my very favorite thing about you.

But it scares me too. So when I gave you an earful this morning about staying out late, about lying to your cousin about where you are, about boys, and that friend I really don’t trust, when I went on about your future and your choices and your amazing brain, I did that because I am scared. I’m scared you’ll give your giant heart to someone who doesn’t deserve it. I’m afraid that you’ll grab a new person around the middle and that person won’t be a me.

I want you to be whole in all of the ways a person can be whole. Whole heart, whole mind, whole spirt, whole piece of toast. I just don’t trust the rest of the world to let you stay that way.

It’s not because you’re not strong or tough or hearty. In 13 years, you’ve been through much more than I have in 30. But I want your next 17, your next 117 to be simpler, with less hard choices, and less hurt, but more independence. I want you to be free to make choices between two good things like this car or that car, this college or that college, this job or that job. No more deciding between a rock and hard place. No more dilemmas. If you can get through these next five without pain, pregnancy, or pleas, you’ll make it to those choices, to that dilemma-less-ness, to that freedom.

But how oh how do I help you see that? How can I show you the crystal ball that I have in my head? Or the well wishes I send from my fingertips? How can I show you the amount I care about you?  I can’t teach you the wisdom of years, can’t make you know that youth is wasted on the young, can’t possibly prove how right I am about this, and everything else I’ve ever said to you. You just have to find out for yourself.

That’s what scares me the most.

But for two more months, I’ll keep talking to you every day. I’ll repeat the same diatribes like they’re brand new, like they just occurred to me, like my words drip drop with novelty and recent realizations. As I fill your ears while pouring out my heart, I’ll hope that I’m filling your brain. I will be here ready for you to call me mom. I will be right here ready for your tears, hugs, your kind and sometimes unkind words.

So, yes I will charge your phone. And please change your shoes and take off that hoodie. Hand me your late pass.

Let’s make this a good day. Because that’s where this starts, over and over and over and again.

Love,

Ms. Doran/Mrs. Eby/Mom

The Butterfly Effect

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I have no justification for this photo being the cover for this post. But I like this picture and I wanted to include some image.

On Wednesday I was in a Lyft on the way to the Orioles game and of course I struck up an invasive conversation in which I turned into an inquisitor the strength of which the world has never seen–well, since the last time I took a Lyft. My driver (to whom I actually gave the address for this blog–What up, Kevin?!) was forced to reveal deeply personal details about his life because of my persistent inquiry. But he was a good sport. He said that he was in the military so I asked what he thought about the military. He told me that he has extremely mixed feelings but that it helped him out when he needed it. When he was a senior in high school he was shopping around for D1 track and field programs for college. He said he had used up all of his visits (I didn’t know what this meant but I am guessing there’s a certain amount for recruited athletes…?) but the night before the decision deadline a D1 school in Alabama reached out and offered him a full scholarship. He and his family deliberated all night and in the morning, decided to take the offer. He shipped off to school that fall and began training with the team. Then,  during that very first season on a trail run during practice he fell off of the trail and down a hill, fracturing his back. Yes, that’s apparently a thing. He left school, stopped running, went back home to Texas and when he found himself doing nothing and hating it,  he joined the Navy. So instead of running competitively for four years or maybe more, he ended up with the Navy, working in suburban Maryland, and mildly disliking Baltimore while driving Lyft all around it. (If you know me at all, this is why I gave him my blog address.) And that’s when I started thinking about The Butterfly Effect.

Now, I wasn’t really thinking about the 2004 Ashton Kutcher movie but I wasn’t not thinking about it. Because, quick diversion, when I was dating my late high school/early college boyfriend who ended up addicted to drugs and then dying at 27, the first time I caught him in a lie–and he was pathological–I had rented The Butterfly Effect and he said he’d take it back on time. But, he didn’t. And when I saw that movie still sitting on top of his DVD player a few days later, I should’ve known. But that was not my own Butterfly Effect. I did have an important one, just a few years later with a different guy.

The Butterfly Effect as a scientific concept came about from the brain of an MIT meteorology professor named Edward Lorenz. The more scientific version is the “sensitive dependence on initial conditions.” Lorenz’s discovery was that some tiny factor could lead to so many other consequences that the flap of a butterfly’s wings in one hemisphere could cause a tornado in the other. According to this article, “Like the results of a wing’s flutter, the influence of Lorenz’s work was nearly imperceptible at first but would resonate widely. In 1963, Lorenz condensed his findings into a paper, “Deterministic Nonperiodic Flow,” which was cited exactly three times by researchers outside meteorology in the next decade. Yet his insight turned into the founding principle of chaos theory, which expanded rapidly during the 1970s and 1980s into fields as diverse as meteorology, geology, and biology. ‘It became a wonderful instance of a seemingly esoteric piece of mathematics that had experimentally verifiable applications in the real world,’ says Daniel Rothman, a professor of geophysics at MIT.”

So here are some verifiable applications in the real world, albeit I am certainly stretching the term “Butterly Effect.” Who knows? This could be the first time this article is cited in a Baltimorean’s blog.

So, my Lyft driver Kevin’s B.E. was his fall from the cliff. Mine came when an idiot threw a beer can at no one at Preakness 2008. That can struck Charles Arthur Eby IV in the head. The strike led Chas to the medical tent where he was told to leave immediately to get stitches. He stayed anyway but slowed down on his typical Preakness-Day-level-drinking. He then approached me, more sober than before and more able to speak with a human female, and here we are 10 Preaknesses later. A butterfly flapped its wings.

Cindy Eby, my mother in law, is like a Butterfly Effect creator. Several years ago she cut out this article from the Baltimore Sun and gave it to me. It describes a school-in-planning. It would be an all girls charter in Baltimore City with project-based learning, a focus on active citizenship. I loved everything I read. So I stalked the process. I believe I was their first applicant. Wimbamboom. Here we are today! Because a butterfly flapped its wings.

About five years before that, Cindy cut out a tiny job posting from the paper and gave it to Chas when he left for a month of finding himself in Costa Rica, jobless but optimistic. He returned, applied using that tiny one inch by one inch posting, and then Chas spent half a decade working that job for the state of Maryland’s Office of Preparedness and Response. After a butterfly flapped its wings.

Then there was the time we did a walk-through in a completely incomplete house. You couldn’t even see the floors there was so much junk everywhere. The flipper was passionate and hyper and he was a man named Loren. We walked out of the weirdest home viewing we’d ever been to–having not seen any other houses that weren’t actually complete–and Cindy said, “I have a feeling about this one.” Here we are in rounding out our fifth year at 807. I really cannot imagine living anywhere else. And a butterfly had flapped its wings.

When Chas spoke at the Stoop Stories back in December, I invited every single person we know, dead or alive. Shar came! (She’s alive.) Which was exciting for several reasons. She told me on the sly that she had a story that would fit the theme of the night: Unconventional Holidays. I took a stance of noncommittal concealed pressure for her to share her story at the free speaking time during the intermission. Eventually, Shar fell for my mind tricks (when I grabbed her hand and shoved it in the air) and she decided to share. From there, my boss Laurel heard Shar speak, asked if I thought she might want to work at Lillie May to which I responded, “I doubt it.” I asked Shar anyway to honor Laurel’s completely ridiculous idea. Here we are many months later and who works with me? Shar. A butterfly was flapping somewhere.

These types of things happen to me so often that I barely have the time to attach them to the Butterfly Effect but that’s what they are in my mind. I’ll check my email with 10 minutes left before a deadline. I ended up in a yoga class where I meet the person who eventually talked me into yoga teacher training…twice. I had lunch with Aunt Robin to discuss working at nonprofits in Baltimore and she said, “You know, I don’t think you’re finished with the mission of your school” and here I am at Lillie May for Year 3, seriously happier than I’ve ever been professionally. Flappity flap flap flap.

I feel two completely polarized ways about this. First, I feel grateful and continue to come back to the concept that everything happens for a reason. Second, I feel scared that I was so close to missing out. It makes me feel tiny and insignificant and out of control. Yet at the same time, I feel powerful and aware and all-knowing.

I think the Butterfly Effect is great motivation for being a teacher who sweats the small stuff and celebrates tiny victories or one who takes kids out to a museum and schedules meaningful trips. It’s a driving force behind complimenting others and holding the door and letting someone into your lane and saying hello to the person you haven’t seen in a long time. Because you just never know whether that tiny action will make all the difference.

I would guess we all fall somewhere in the middle, but certainly in the crosshairs of the Butterfly Effect.