Thursday, May 23, 2013

Two Minutes

About two miles from our home, there is a really cool, ethical grocery store. There are three grocery stores a lot closer--and when walking, two minutes versus thirty makes a big difference (especially with the baggage en route home.) When Jennifer or I are feeling particularly energetic, we sometimes give each other a fun little smile which means, essentially, Want to go for the Far Grocery Store? That really cool, ethical one?

And when embarking upon such journeys to the Far Grocery Store--loaded up with either our hiker's backpack, a bike trailer, or canvas bags to lug the food home in--we kind of feel adventurous. Watch out, Indiana Jones, here comes the Reynolds Grocery Trip.

There are all kinds of obstacles along the way...

*Sudden rain! Bam! Quick, run, take cover, launch the umbrellas! No, no, feel the rain! Yes, yes, become one with the rain!

*Sudden hail! Bam! Quick, run, take cover. Yes, yes, take cover, this stuff stings!

*Tired four-year old! Bam! Quick, run, take cover! No, no, wait, stay, hoist him onto the shoulders, forward march!

These outings to the Far Grocery Store always feel like a Thing To Do. Not just a quick bop in for the list, but rather an all-out grocery-store hullabaloo, an activity, a main event. And Jennifer, Tyler, and I usually come home exhausted.

However, this past Monday, we had a first on a Far Grocery Store trip. About ten minutes into the walk / scooter back home, Tyler stopped scootering and boldly announced, "I have to do a pee straightaway."

So I asked what every parent asks their four-year old in this kind of situation: "Can you hold it?"

Tyler looked up at me, breathless and as if to show rather than tell his answer, he danced a little jig right there by his scooter.

I looked back at the super-cool, ethical Far Grocery Store shimmering in the distance. They have a super-cool, ethical, clean bathroom.But ten minutes walk back? In the opposite direction!? That would mean the ten there and then the ten all over again to get back to where we were, only much more exhausted. So, we're really talking fifteen back, and then twenty back to here.

Forward. Got to move forward.

So I calculate again and recall that there's a small divergent path off the sidewalk at one point up ahead, where Tyler used to pee when he was potty training and we happened to be out and about. That divergent path was, say, by my calculations, approximately, maybe...fifteen minutes up ahead.

I knelt down. "Hey little man, can you hold your pee for a little longer?"

Tyler looked up at me and said, "How long?"

And some sort of Parenting Instinct to Lie must have kicked in, because from the very marrow of my being came the words, "Two minutes."

Two minutes!?

Two Minutes!?

Immediately I thought back to my own childhood, whereby I would ask my lovely mother all kinds of time-oriented questions:

"Mom, how long until we can go to the comic book store?"

"Two minutes, Luke."

"Mom, how long until school starts?"

"Two minutes, Luke."

"Mom, how long until I can eat that cake?"

"Two minutes, Luke."

"Mom, how long until I can drive a car?"

"Two minutes, Luke."

It seemed instinctual. Everything was two minutes. The Christmas Tree farm five towns over where we drove to get our Christmas tree each winter was 'two minutes' away. The rest of the cleaning should only take 'two minutes.' Everything would be better in...

Tyler looked up at me with the faith of a child. "Okay, Daddy, let's g. But let's go SUPER-FAST!"

We sped up and off and into the horizon.

Ten minutes later, Tyler said, "Daddy, I have to do a pee SUPER BAD, straightaway!"

I looked up ahead and I could begin to make out that beautiful divergent path. Yes! We could surely make it there in...

"Two minutes, son! We can do it!"

And off we sped, time-warping ourselves forward to the safe-peeing zone, and then making it there just as my son's bladder was about to erupt.

Before my high school graduation in Windsor, CT many years ago, the then-Superintendent of Schools shared a quote that went something to the effect of: "He who is victories is usually he who can hold on just thirty seconds longer."

At the time, I thought, very powerful philosophy of sticking it out, hanging in there even when it feels like you have to quit.

But after Tyler and Two Minutes, I find myself thinking--now wait just a couple of minutes: just how long are these thirty seconds?

And I wonder if, sometimes, God is watching all of us, knowing exactly where the best Pee Spots are, and kind of telling us, "Hey buddy, just hold on for two minutes--just two more minutes." Because maybe, like a parent, He knows if he told us, "Look, it's going to be a long, long time before that wall breaks" we'd kind of crumple to the ground and just fall apart.

Two minutes can sometimes be a very, very long time. Two minutes can be an eternity. But I know that however long two minutes' takes, it's always worth the excitement of the adventure, the rush for the finish line, the joy of the journey. And when we arrive to that Pee Spot or Promised Land--sweaty and bladders bulging--I wonder if two minutes suddenly feels short once more.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Please Do Not Park on the Verge

Every morning on my paper route, I ride past a tall telephone pole on which is posted a sign that reads: PLEASE DO NOT PARK ON THE VERGE. Zipping past, I've never really thought much about it until today. It's in the moments when we feel we can't keep pushing forward that seemingly insignificant things take on momentous value. People giving a thumbs-up, a smile and a chat, a sign on a telephone pole. These are the things the paper route has taught me, and today, after I gave my two weeks' notice as we prepare to begin our transition back to the states this summer, a sign spoke the words on which I desperately needed to ruminate.

Maybe you do, too.

If you find that you're on mile 23, running and feeling the burn along your calves, the strain inside your thighs, the stinging circling your stomach--don't stop. Now is not the time to take a breather, wait and see, wonder the thousand what ifs your mind seems always ready to proffer. Now is the time to keep moving forward. Please, don't park on the verge.

If you find that you're parenting as best as you can, and certain patterns feel so hard to change, and you have so many questions about what you need to learn to do better, what kinds of behavior you're teaching, why your kid shares sometimes and sometimes hoards, why a temper tantrum happens when the day looks bright--don't doubt. Now is not the time to question your ability as a mother or a father, your commitment to growth, or your unconditional love. Keep moving forward, doing the best you can, but understanding that you are never going to get it right every time. No one does. Please, do not park on the verge.

If you find that you're chasing a dream, and yet rejection is chasing you, and calls come that are so close you feel the whisper of their tender-hearted declines--don't lose faith. Now is not the time to take it easy, sit back in your chair, and ponder other avenues or possibilities. Now is the time to work through the closeness until it gets closer and closer. Now is the time to lean into the wind that blows you back, using its own force to make your forward movement that much more determined. Please, do not park on the verge.

If the character arc you're traveling seems oddly void of worldly goods--be it money, fame, praise, prestige, success, respect--don't change course and seek signposts that point towards results over work, product over process. Now is not the time to consider what your bank account could have been, what your status could have been, where your voice might have travelled. Now is the time to get down on yoru hands and knees and watch a bee on a flower; now is the time to realize and fully grab hold of that ancient truth that the work itself is the reward for the work. The joy of the journey is itself the reward for the journey. The love with which you hear and respond to the people all around you is the greatest possible fruition you can fathom. A kiss on the cheek of an elderly woman when you feel like crashing down, a wave to a neighbor, the example of a wife who keeps on giving so generously to a homeless shelter, to friends, to anyone in need even though her own battle is fierce--these are the signposts of love. These are the acts of triumph. Hold onto these. believe these. trust these and keep moving forward. Please, do not park on the verge.

Among everything you are up against, remember that love triumphs if you only choose to keep moving forward. Love your wife. Love your son. Love the people whose paths you find yourself crossing. Let this be your legacy. Not a bullet-point list on a resume. Not a checklist. Not fears of inadequacy nor worries about accomplishments. Let the sheer fact that you never stopped moving forward be all the bullet points you need.

Please, do not park on the verge. Cross over it, believing that the triumph lies in this feat and no other.

Monday, May 6, 2013

George Saunders on Enduring Hardships Along the Way

Lately, I've been re-reading the interviews within Keep Calm and Query On--and I've been overwhelmed by the gratitude I feel towards these authors for sharing so much of their writing journeys. Inspired by the pluck and determination of the 14 authors whose interviews appear in the book, I wanted to share some snippets of their wisdom here. Up first is a powerful (and funny) answer from fiction writer and essayist George Saunders on writing your heart out, realizing you might have been wrong, but then writing your heart out all over again.

Can you recall any moments when you felt particularly discouraged as a writer? What helped to sustain your belief in your work and in yourself on these occasions?

There were certainly times where I should have felt discouraged but even at those low points I was arrogant or hopeful or deluded enough to put the bad news behind me pretty quickly, I think.  I once wrote a 700-page book about a Mexican wedding of a friend of mine, which was called La Boda de Eduardo.  Roughly translated: Ed’s Wedding.  Enough said.  That one took about a year of work and lots of late nights at a time when we had a new baby at home and I was working full-time.  So when it turned out to suck, that was a hard blow.  But in my heart I think I knew it sucked, so it was also kind of a relief—to find out I was right re. the sucking and that my taste was still active, so to speak.  And also a relief to put that book (or, libro, as I might have called it back then) behind me and move on to something more worthwhile and...alive.  There is something so wonderful about writing in a way that feels new and authentic, that feels in line with your true taste – trying to get that to that place is like seeking the Grail.  Whatever hardships have to be endured along the way, are fine – part of the larger quest, if you will. Although – I didn’t feel that way the day after La Boda de Eduardo went in El Garbago.