Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Saddest Story Ever

I have a small story to share from a novel I have checked out from the library with the intention of reading, which was recently featured in the SA Express News as a book that would come to life brilliantly on screen-- "A Confederacy of Dunces" by John Kennedy Toole. There's a reason that in all probability, you have never heard of him.

Here is what the book jacket says: "Turned down by countless publishers and submitted by the author's mother years after his suicide, the book won the 1981 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Today, there are over 1,500,000 copies in print worldwide in 18 languages."

It just broke my heart to read this. And it encouraged me to inspire other authors. Particularly if your mother is not still alive to earn you your rightful place in history. She should have won an award, too! Poor woman. What a tragedy. Anyway, finish writing that book (Carol!) and never despair of getting it published and finally earning the global accolades you so richly deserve. Or not. But don't give up!

I may have to make "The Saddest Story Ever" a regular on my blog. You know, the story or picture that grabs you and doesn't let go, that no amount of tears could ever fix, that haunts you for days. There are so many, and they add meaning and pathos to life.

By the way, this is a very funny, quirky story. That's why I wanted to read it, something to laugh and guffaw about! His character sketches are brilliant, wacky as all get out, and completely genuine. Mr. Toole, why didn't laughter save you from despair?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Enneagram type 4; and college choices

I have mentioned my discovery of the Enneagram, a personality profiler, if you will ... similar to a zodiac or horoscope. Back in January, I went with my friend Karen to an Enneagram workshop. At the time, I thought hmmm ... not for me! But I continued to pursue it, thinking that I might be missing something important otherwise. The work paid off. A few months ago, I discovered that I was a type 4 (of 9 possibilities), and this was something of a revelation to me.

Type four personalities are "the need to be unique" or "special." Thus, the first surprise was for me to discover that there were other people out there who saw the world in a similar way to me! I still hold to the view that every human being is unique. But apparently, we are not so distinct that we can't be grouped together into common types that do describe certain qualities amazingly well.

One of the hallmarks of a type four is disavowing labels, insisting on not belonging to any stereotypical group at all. I have always approached life from the perspective of the outsider. I was the outsider throughout school, and I remain an independent outsider from religion and politics, among other things. I thought this was somewhat unique to me, because I changed schools and moved so often, so it was only natural that I would never be part of the "inside" group.

Being on the outside shaped my whole personality, so that I strongly identify with minority groups, the oppressed, underdogs everywhere. If I am a member of any group, I am one of these. It is strange to look at me, a white upper-class American, and imagine that I could support the rights of the people who are the most despised by others. It's because they are my brothers and sisters, so much more than people who are in positions of power.

I also strongly advocate diversity, starting in my own family. This has been quite difficult to practice, because I do have the human tendency to want to influence others, especially those I love. I certainly do give my share of nudges, but I insist on the right of every person to have their own (well thought out) opinion and viewpoint, even when I heartily disagree with it.

I feel a lot of conflicting emotions at the thought of Austin wanting to attend A&M University and join the Corps and the Aggie band. Gee, maybe it would be good if A&M is no longer part of the Big 12, because it would be awkward to have a big Longhorn fan (my hubby) and big Aggie fan at a UT-A&M game! Which side of the stands would we sit in, for instance? Aack!

I am glad Austin is thinking of going somewhere that is not a big party place -- or shall I say, not the biggest party place in Texas, which would have to be located in the city of his namesake? Because he certainly could get hooked on partying! But will A&M be a diverse place where he can meet all kinds of people? Do people in the Corps have a sense of humor, and do they ever question authority, or just blindly obey it? Double aack!

On the other hand (like Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof) ... I think Austin will thrive in an atmosphere of discipline, and maybe he recognizes that he needs that. He says he wants to get into shape! You know I would support that wholeheartedly.

The hardest thing for a parent to do is to get on board with qualities of their child that are totally alien to them, and figure out how to love all that anyhow. I think the best thing Dwaine and I can do for our children is to give them our blessing. This is a way of saying that we may not have chosen all the same things our children will for themselves, but it's been a great pleasure and honor having them as part of our family, and we love and support them as they make their way inexorably to adulthood.

Ooops, I wonder if it is a quality of type fours to digress. One thing I certainly embrace is that we type fours know how to feel emotions. Deeply! And we are often wonderfully creative as a result. Yeah, sometimes amazingly depressed and suicidal as well. But let me tell you about how exercise can save your life in that regard!
Tapping into the well of human emotion is deep and powerful, and an amazing gift. To me, it makes life worth living. And I guess worth dying for, too.

Speaking of emotion, I am pumped at having the chance to help out kids at Floresville High School polish up their college application essays (by email). I recently emailed one of the English teachers there, who graciously allowed me to come volunteer a couple of days in May to get juniors started drafting their essays, with this offer -- and she said all the senior English teachers were interested! I actually love writing and editing and don't get to do much of either one these days, and I've really enjoyed helping Austin make his essays better (even if he hasn't). If it helps someone get into college or get a scholarship, that would be amazing.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Good news!

I have good news: my husband found a new job! He actually had another solid job interview last week, too, but couldn't pursue it because they want him to start so quickly. Isn't that a miracle, that he had two good job prospects in this economy?
I am so happy for him and hope that this job will be fulfilling and interesting for him. Since this is a public forum, I can't go into the reasons he decided to leave his old job, interesting as that might have been.

Dwaine had actually never written a letter to resign from a job position. Ever. He was a lifelong employee of Southwest Research Institute until they had a mass layoff in 2009. The letter he wrote to his current company was exceedingly gracious and carefully thought out, and a credit to his character.
This new job involves on-the-job training for something that Dwaine has never done before. I think the position is Computer Architecture? Some fancy, technical-sounding name like that. Apparently, not too many people do this kind of thing, whatever the heck it is. The person who was in the position before knew Dwaine from SwRI and felt he had all the right skills for the job, and apparently, everyone else agreed.

We also celebrated Dwaine's birthday recently! He picked out a restaurant and delighted in being all secretive about where we were going. He printed out something (a gift certificate, I later found) and quickly grabbed it off the printer with a great flourish before prying eyes could see. Austin got increasingly anxious as the hour to eat approached. A large part of his joy in life is in eating, you see. Quantity, not quality, is what he seeks. I think he actually got both when we finally discovered our secret destination.

It turned out the mystery restaurant was an all-you-can-eat Brazilian steakhouse downtown. Austin was so concerned that we were going to a high-end restaurant with paltry portions that he actually packed a mini-box of Corn Flakes in the car, which gave me quite a laugh at the end of the meal! In fact, I was ready to dare him to try to eat ]the Corn Flakes except that I was worried his stomach might explode.

Out of all of us, Austin got the most meat for his money. I am sure that he ate not ounces, but pounds of meat. Chicken, sausage, ribs, and lots and lots of beef, prepared many ways, with different marinades, wrapped in bacon, or crusted. He rolled out of the restaurant, occasionally moaning in discomfort and making other noises that caused us to give him a wide berth. 
I chose to eat from the "salad bar" because I knew I couldn't possibly do justice to all the meat selections, nor did I have any desire to try. I put the "salad bar" in quotes because it was another huge selection of foods, heavy on protein, to include smoked salmon, shrimp, mozzarrella balls, lobster bisque, and black beans. The salad bar was a part of everyone's meal, though only Dwaine tried a substantial portion. Austin was going for the meat all the way. I worry about that boy! He is capable of overstuffing himself, from the Bud Jones full-plate chicken fried steak to last night's meat bonanza. He's putting on the pounds, too. Not overweight, yet, but nearly there. Not a good place to start off college next year.

We then walked off at least 75 calories (i.e., 10% or less of the dinner tally, in some of our cases much less) by going down the River Walk near the Pearl Brewery to see the tail end of the bat exodus from under the bridge. I love that part of the River Walk, with its native plants and joggers and bikers. It is uncommercialized and has a completely different feel from the River Walk that usually swarms with tourists and locals, closer to the mall. We actually saw a crane catch and devour a crawdad out of a swampy bypass of river, on a recent outing there. (Did I blog about that? Just got a feeling of de ja vu.)

Dwaine's new adventure starts Aug. 29. My new adventure (career) started Sept. 28, 2010. It certainly feels weird to both be working new jobs! But that is the modern economy, it seems. There isn't any reward for working many years at the same company any more, and it seems like every job is much more precarious than it used to be.

It's me!!!

I actually have a day off from work where I'm not planning to go see Dad, or go with him to a doctor's visit (though I do need to call and check that all is, in fact, well with him at the moment). He has actually been home for about a couple of weeks now, trying to rebuild his strength and get enough food in him!

I took the most lovely walk this morning, up and down the driveway. The place has been transformed by the 6/10-inch of rain we got Saturday evening. It's like a whole different world out there, with hope literally growing up anew. The trees and plants have all revived somewhat, the dirt looks moist rather than bone-dry, and the greenery is vibrant, especially in the morning when it's not ungodly hot out yet. This walk was such a treasure to me, too, because I haven't had much extra space in my life recently. I know there are many other people who know exactly what I am talking about, probably few of whom would ever read this, but anyhow -- what a blessing! To be able to walk ... to have the day off work ... to not be at the side of a critically ill parent, because he's doing better! I pray that continues.

I am reading a wonderful book by one of the great spiritual mentors of my life, Scott Peck, called "In Heaven as on Earth." The book is about his vision of what heaven is like. So this is a theme in books I've read recently, I guess! I like to go into the library at times and just browse the shelves. It seems that whenever I do, a book sort of leaps out at me and it is just the book I need to read. That's how I found this one.

Of course, I love Peck, and he thinks so much the way I do (that's a major reason I love him). He has also influenced the way I think. Nonetheless, it is interesting how unique each person's vision of heaven is -- based on the books I have read -- and how mine differs from those of others. I am struck by how important the "place" aspect is. As in Jesus's statement, "I go to prepare a place for you." Everyone's idea of the construct of this place is quite different, to the point that heaven perhaps would need to be custom-tailored to fit each individual personality. Isn't it so amazing, the endless abundant diversity of creation?

As for me, I would require a verdant and lush place, much like Earth, I think. I'm not talking Hawaii here or any exotic locale ... something like my own yard in the early morning would be beautiful. Seeing, feeling, smelling the splendor of all that life makes me feel very close to God. (Oops, sounds like I would need my senses still to function to be able to appreciate it all.) I don't think this is a clinging need. It feels more like the essential need to be as near to God as possible. By God, I mean so much more ... please don't misunderstand and insert the Christian God here, limited by people's narrow views. I mean, I mean -- the universal creative potential that binds us all together. Something that is really beyond words and thoughts, that is inexpressible at its core. It is something I long for, very deeply, and I think we all do.

I mention "place" because my friend Karen is fond of saying that heaven is not a place, but a state of mind. Well, yes and no. I don't know about you, but I can't imagine existing without being somewhere! Perhaps that is just because I (like most other humans) am so locked into these mental constructs formed from my surroundings, ideas that are fixed and temporal, and probably not very accurate in describing reality. But I have to believe the evidence of my senses while I am living here in this body.

Here are some other ideas Peck's book gives me to think about. Try this one: what we see as our own greatest flaw, could be the very thing God is using to achieve His/Her purposes. That's what the apostle Paul said in 2 Corinth. 12:9 that the risen Christ told him: "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." It's striking how often this message is repeated, I noticed while looking up this verse.

The character in heaven sees himself as quite impatient, and views that as a sin. But he is told that perhaps that is exactly how God wanted him to be, and behave, and it could be his greatest strength.

Another idea is that God's wish for our service is for us to do what we absolutely love to do. I've never been good at this. In fact, it seems like I have to feel like I am suffering in order to truly be serving God. The more, the better! In fact, I can't really be serving God unless it is quite painful. Anything that is not painful can't be serving God -- it has to be selfish and unimportant. This is one of my greatest life struggles, and I think it is because I have always assumed I know what God wants me to do -- it has to feel like work, and be time-consuming, and a great obstacle for me.

But yet God apparently led me to this new career, where everything just fell into place and feels (relatively) effortless, full of ease even.* (*It's still work -- note my delight at beginning of post about having a day off!) Could that be how it is supposed to feel to really be serving? And if this job really is the result of divine intervention, I have to admit I have no idea what God's plans are for me, after all. Why in the world would it serve God best for me to be a CPA and do tax work? Just because I enjoy it and seem to be good at it? I don't get it!

I am going to continue posting if I have time. I have a backlog of unexpressed thoughts that desperately need to be written down. However, so I don't bore you with one (just one) endlessly long and rambling post, I will draft additional posts with different subjects (still possibly endlessly long and rambling!) and try to come back and post one each day. How's that for an effort to be readable?

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