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Orchid-Speak or Why I Changed My FB Pic

May 5, 2015 5 comments

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Art imitates life, they say.  But in my home, life has become art.   Specifically,  an orchid that is now for me an objet d’art .   Arcing in hues  from boldest to barely blue, it commands the surrounding space, silently shouting “Pay attention to me.”   I’ve become enamored of this exotic plant.  So much so that I photographed it.

Which brings me to Facebook.    Previously an image of a blue butterfly served as  my FB “photo.”  It was a stock drawing, available to any and all for creative use.  I had chosen it because butterflies emerge from cocoons and fly free. I liked that symbolism.  It’s still a nice idea, but I no longer want someone else’s work (even at no charge) to represent me.  Nor is my self-image any longer that of a butterfly, social or otherwise.  Time to proclaim a new public persona.

If you look closely at  the above photo, you’ll see there’s a new, pale flower that doesn’t have the darker colors of its predecessors.  In fact, it’s not even from the same branch, but from a side off-shoot I had overlooked when I bought the plant.  Just above the newly emerging  blossom is a shriveled, not-going to-make-it floweret. Both of them are surrounded by an abundance of beautiful blooms.

In a thought-provoking little book, When I Loved Myself Enough, author Kim McMillen repeated the name of the book on each page and then added what she saw happening in herself as a result.  On one page she wrote, “I began seeing the abuse in trying to force something or someone who isn’t ready — including me.“  On a later page, she continued, “The impulsive part of me learned to wait for the right time.”

Maybe she had an orchid in her home.  Because as I’ve  learned from contemplating this exotic plant,  you don’t force an orchid.   It’s going to wait to open a pregnant bud and birth a beautiful blossom until it somehow knows the time is right.  So it is with me.

I’ll intuitively know when it’s time, so to speak,  to blossom socially again. And I’ve learned as a writer — sometimes to my dismay — that  I have to let some ideas  wither on the vine and focus instead on other ones that are appearing right before my eyes.

Before getting this plant, the only thing I knew about orchids was that they were the prized corsages at prom-time.  I had no idea they have a language of their own that I can hear if I sit quietly and listen.  It took a while to learn orchid-speak.

Now the more I sit silently with it, the more this orchid slowly reveals what’s budding in both of us.

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Orchid-speak or Why I Changed My FB Pic

CAM00392 copy

Art imitates life, they say.  But in my home, life has become art.   Specifically,  an orchid that is now for me an objet d’art .   Arcing in hues  from boldest to barely blue, it commands the surrounding space, silently shouting “Pay attention to me.”   I’ve become enamored of this exotic plant.  So much so that I photographed it.

Which brings me to Facebook.    Previously an image of a blue butterfly served as  my FB “photo.”  It was a stock drawing, available to any and all for creative use.  I had chosen it because butterflies emerge from cocoons and fly free. I liked that symbolism.  It’s still a nice idea, but I no longer want someone else’s work (even at no charge) to represent me.  Nor is my self-image any longer that of a butterfly, social or otherwise.  Time to proclaim a new public persona.

If you look closely at  the above photo, you’ll see there’s a new, pale flower that doesn’t have the darker colors of its predecessors.  In fact, it’s not even from the same branch, but from a side off-shoot I had overlooked when I bought the plant.  Just above the newly emerging  blossom is a shriveled, not-going to-make-it floweret. Both of them are surrounded by an abundance of beautiful blooms.

In a thought-provoking little book, When I Loved Myself Enough, author Kim McMillen repeated the name of the book on each page and then added what she saw happening in herself as a result.  On one page she wrote, “I began seeing the abuse in trying to force something or someone who isn’t ready — including me.“  On a later page, she continued, “The impulsive part of me learned to wait for the right time.”

Maybe she had an orchid in her home.  Because as I’ve  learned from contemplating this exotic plant,  you don’t force an orchid.   It’s going to wait to open a pregnant bud and birth a beautiful blossom until it somehow knows the time is right.  So it is with me.

I’ll intuitively know when it’s time, so to speak,  to blossom socially again. And I’ve learned as a writer — sometimes to my dismay — that  I have to let some ideas  wither on the vine and focus instead on other ones that are appearing right before my eyes.

Before getting this plant, the only thing I knew about orchids was that they were the prized corsages at prom-time.  I had no idea they have a language of their own that I can hear if I sit quietly and listen.  It took a while to learn orchid-speak.

Now the more I sit silently with it, the more this orchid slowly reveals what’s budding in both of us.

Discovering a new letter

April 16, 2015 9 comments

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Of the 26 letters in our alphabet, there are two I have recently found distasteful: W and V.   Like Hester Prynne in Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, I’ve discovered each of these letters pinned to my chest in the last few months and I have wanted to rip them off.

The letter W— for Widow.   Did I think ignoring or getting rid of that one would somehow change my reality???!!!

The letter V— for Vulnerable.  A word that probably most people don’t want to have attached to themselves; and oldest daughters generally— and particularly this one — really reject.

Last week I watched an interview with NY Times columnist David Brooks about his new book, The Road to Character.  One of the key points he makes is that we are all flawed and that the key to becoming a better person is identifying your weak spot.

That’s where the V word comes back in. A definite weak spot for me.  I don’t like being vulnerable.  I much prefer being in control.  Ask for help? Huh uh.   Against my nature.  Lead the way. Meet challenges and plow right on through.

But God/the universe/whatever you choose as a name knows just when to step in. And nothing subtle .  After watching the interview, I couldn’t miss a regular, morning meditation that appeared that day in my inbox with the title, Ask for Help.

For the past several months I’d been ignoring a hospice-sponsored newsletter with information about grief-support groups. My thinking:  If I called them, if I went to a meeting, I’d just be reinforcing the W and V words. I so didn’t want to do that.  But I could no longer refuse.

Yesterday I went to my first meeting.  I cried through half of it.  It was a safe place to do so.  No need to put on a “just fine” face.  Everyone there — those mourning the loss of spouses, or a daughter, a son, a  parent,  a pet — understood.  The boxes of Kleenex at each end of the long table were reached for frequently.  As were the pitchers of water.  (Did you know that there’s a need for the body to replenish the water lost through tears?)

We are all in this Together.  It’s an expression I’ve heard so many times, it had lost it’s meaning. As  had the adage, It’s by our weakness that we are made strong.

I’ll go back to the meetings.  The W and V are still on my chest.  But I’ve added a bigger one: T.

What’s YOUR Name?

April 19, 2014 2 comments

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“What’s in a name?” — a familiar query and an underlying question in All Our Names by Ethiopian-American author, Dinaw Mengestu.

The title refers to the primary given names of the book’s two narrators and also to the titles used to describe them at different times: the Professor, the poet, the writer…student, case worker,  revolutionary, friend, lover, outsider, daughter…

As you might imagine, reading this novel led me to consider “oldest daughter”  and the labels or tags often associated with what is actually, when taken at face value, simply a description of birth order.  “O.D.” is not an honorary title, like the doctorates given to keynote speakers at college graduations. Nor is it a title earned for some accomplishment.  Nope, “oldest daughter” just comes with being the first-born female in a family.  No choice here.

But as we grow up,  lots of options exist for how we describe ourselves or are depicted as a result of our birth-order position.  Among them are the M words: (little) Mother, Model, Mentor, Matriarch.   And of course the B word (not the rhyming one): Bossy.

We may be thought of or called any of  these names, depending on the particular period and circumstances we find ourselves in.  But unlike “oldest daughter,”  the label we voluntarily put on ourselves reflects what is most important to us.

As an adult, do I want to be for my siblings a substitute mom, a controller, a model, a leader,  a mentor?  Or would I be more comfortable as a peer, a first-born among equals?  What’s my personal preference?  While we don’t control how others regard us, we do have a say in how we see ourselves.

So, what’s YOUR name? As a song in Sound of Music puts it, what’s the name you call yourself?

 

Oh, and about that B word.   The Girl Scouts of  the USA and CEO Anna Maria Chavez  have joined Facebook COO  and oldest daughter (!) Sheryl Sandberg  along with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to launch a “Ban Bossy” campaign. Learn more about it at www.girlscouts.usa .

 

Oldest daughters and the meaning of identity: an unexpected tale

March 11, 2014 2 comments

If I ever thought I was the only oldest daughter out there trying to get a handle on who my true self really is, Fannie Flagg has let me know I’m anything but that.  In her latest  novel, The All Girls Filling Station’s Last Reunion, issues of self- and family-identity are front and center–interlaced with humor.

Flagg never comes right out and calls her principal characters  “oldest daughters,” but as readers learn,  each of them is the oldest child and first-born female in her family.

  • The primary protagonist, Sookie (Mrs. Earle) Poole, has one younger brother.    The expectations of Sookie were set early and often–to be a leader in society.  A traumatic revelation leads Sookie to challenge herself and what she’s always considered her fate: the obligation to live up to family expectations.
  • Fritzi Jurdabralinski, the heroine of Flagg’s story within a story, is the oldest of five children.  From early on, there’s no question that the leadership trait exists full-blown in her, as do the nurturing, protecting genes.
  • Lenore, the matriarch of the family is the oldest of the first-born females in this novel.  The mother of Sookie, she personifies the traits that many consider stereotypical of oldest daughters: take charge/bossy.

I find it difficult to believe  that a masterful writer like Flagg would create characters without carefully considering what attributes and personalities she’s giving them.  So why did she make each of three leading characters the oldest child/first-born female??? I googled Fannie Flagg to see if perhaps she, herself, is an oldest daughter.  No such information.

So I’m left to wonder:  Was it just happenstance that these  characters in Flagg’s latest novel are oldest daughters?

Or did Flagg know that readers would find her characters believable as leaders and risk-takers because they are oldest daughters?

Whatever — Have you read anything else in which the main character (heroine or villain) acts as she does because she’s an oldest daughter?

Matriarchs and Oldest Daughters

July 30, 2013 3 comments

Lindy Boggs — wife, mother, grandmother and public servantdied last Saturday at the age of 97.  The widow of  Majority Leader Hale Boggs who in her own right became a  nine-term congresswoman from Louisiana and later U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican, Lindy Boggs was known for her ability to rise to whatever challenge life presented and to respond to those challenges with ingrained graciousness.

Her oldest child is  Cokie Roberts —  sister, wife, mother, grandmother, acclaimed journalist and author of (among others) We Are Our Mothers’ Daughters.  Her admiration for and emulation of her mother are widely documented.  It is Cokie who is especially in my thoughts and prayers today, and to whom I send my deepest condolences.  No doubt that’s because of the affinity I feel as an oldest daughter who lost my own mother a few years ago.

A niece by marriage recently pointed out that since my mother has passed,  I am now the matriarch of the family. I was somewhat taken aback by what she said.   “Matriarch” is a title I never aspired to or  — truth be known —  found particularly appealing.    Maybe that’s because the word “matriarch” has such a, well, such an “old” sound to it.  A kind of wrinkled Queen Victoria image.  Or maybe it’s  because I’ve always intuitively known that it can be lonely at the top.

Whatever the case, I decided to follow the advice I give  my Comp I  students.  Check the dictionary. See for yourself if  the word means what you think it means.

According to online definitions, a matriarch can be either  a female who is head of a family or tribe or “an older woman who is powerful within a family or organization.”  Hmmm. Some would say becoming the family matriarch is  a natural progression for oldest daughters.   Growing up  — especially if we’re also oldest children — we often unwittingly set the barre for behavior and achievements in our families.  We are  probably also observed as we lead the way into the higher (I prefer that to “later”) age and life brackets that our culture goes to great lengths to run away from.

And though from my personal perspective, it’s far too soon to actually be one,  I’m willing to consider someday using “matriarch” as a descriptor.  For the time being, I’m  hoping I can live up to an unattributed quote on a guest towel a next-generation, politically active friend gave me:

Here’s to good women.  May we know them,  May we be them, May we raise them.

And when matriarchs, may we use our “power” wisely.

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Come Dance, February 14

February 2, 2013 2 comments

You may be familiar with “Some Days You Gotta Dance,”  a hit recording by James Taylor and the Dixie Chicks. The lyrics, written by Troy Johnson and Marshall Morgan, explain “you gotta dance when the world doesn’t make sense…you gotta loosen up those chains and dance.”

One of those “some days” is February 14, 2013.  That’s the day when the organization One Billion Rising is inviting one billion women and those who love us to “walk out, dance, rise up” in protest of the violence against women.

According to the stats, one in three women will be raped and/or beaten in her lifetime.

Two months ago, people around the world were horrified  by the because-they-could, repeated rape/murder by six men of 23 year old “Damini”  on a public bus in New Delhi, India. Then last month a second second, similar rape took place on public transportation.  The audacity of these rapes made headlines.  The commonplaceness of rape does not.

Now you are invited, encouraged, urged to help put an end to this violence. To come together on February 14 in planned flash mobs/dances to show “our collective strength, our numbers, our solidarity across borders” in demanding an end to the violence against women.

For those of us who are oldest daughters, it’s something we’ve traditionally been asked to do — to protect, nurture, be responsible for those not (or not yet) capable of caring for themselves.

For more information about the event, the organization and where and how you can participate, go to onebillionrising.org .

See you on the 14th.   I’ll be at the event taking place at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kansas.  Wherever you are,  I hope you’ll be dancing too.