I’ve Moved!

Thanks for stopping by.  I’ve moved to a new blog home.  Please come visit me at marychrisescobar.com

See you there!

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(Not So) Unexpected Awesome-ness

Yesterday a friend casually mentioned getting  “rush” tickets for a Virginia Rep show.  Did you all know about this?  How did I not? (Maybe it was on facebook.)  Just in case you’re in the dark too, Virginia Rep is now selling tickets for same day shows, 2 hours before the show for a (significantly) reduced price!  Here are the details.

So last evening we went to see Night Blooms, for nearly half price on a random Thursday night.  While I love a planned evening at the theatre, there’s something equally sweet about a seeing a show I hadn’t even thought about over breakfast that morning.  The show itself was well-written and well-acted.  The relationships between characters were grey and complicated; the ending hopeful while resisting tying the whole thing up in big fluffy bow.

Today I was getting ready to sit down and write something about how awesome this one little unexpected surprise was, when I realized I’ve had a week full of them.  From the big (seeing elk at the end of a long hike in Rocky Mountain National Park last Thursday) to the small (that delicious bowl of carrot, coconut, curry soup on Monday).  I suppose it’s actually not so much about the awesome things, as it is the open-ness to seeing the awesome.

The Evolution of Tribe

A few weeks ago, I read this lovely post on women and connection and support.  It has stuck with me (as so many things I read there do) and I have found myself reflecting on the concept of tribe quite a bit; specifically about the shifts and changes in my personal tribe over the years.

The times of large groups of friends and those of smaller clusters.  The people who have been in my life for years and those who have been with me for a season.  Those that I lean on daily and those who were there for me in one pivotal moment.  Those who make radically different choices and those whose life’s trajectory could be my own.  Those I’ve actually met and those to whom I am connected to through words.

My tribe has been everything from dinner with a huge table full of women in my college residence hall; to beers at the bar with one dear friend.  It’s made up of mothers by birth and marriage; aunts both familial and chosen. Cousins and friend-siblings.  Mentors, advisors and godparents.  Co-workers turned friends and bloggers whose words speak to my soul.

As I think of this kaleidoscope of women, I realize that there aren’t really adequate words to express their collective and individual impact on my life.  I can only simply state that I am grateful.  For the women I know, have known and will know.  For my tribe as it exists today and for what it will evolve into tomorrow.

Thank you.

Stack of Journals: Sketchbook (aka Art is Not my Creative Outlet)


That stack of journals I brought home from my parent’s house included a sketchbook from the Drawing I class that I took my freshman year of college.  Above are two fabulous examples of its contents.  So that you can truly  appreciate them, I will highlight two things: first, please notice the extremely sunken television screen in the first picture (showing Friends); second, please know that the rose in the second picture was not supposed to be an abstract (in my written reflection I lament how unrealistic it looks).

So drawing wasn’t really my thing.  Also not really my thing – jewelry making, stained glass, pottery and crocheting.  Oh, and also acting.  And especially singing.

I don’t say that these things weren’t my thing because I didn’t like them or even really because I was totally devoid of skill in them.  I enjoyed the art, craft and theatre classes I took in college and, in retrospect, was not terrible at any of these things (except the singing, the singing was/is really bad).  The thing is, I lacked the passion for them to push myself to be better than average.

When I talk about my college career, I often say that I have a degree in Psychology with a side of Art, a splash of English Literature and a pinch of Theatre.  I admit this proudly without an ounce of regret.  Sure if I had figured out then that I wanted to be a writer I could have focused on that; maybe majored in journalism or gone on to get a MFA in creative writing.  But here’s the thing, I’m not sure it would have worked.

Without that personal exploration in creativity that began in college and continued until I sat down to really focus on writing at age 29; I’m not sure I would be much of a writer.  I’m not saying you can’t be a writer when you are young.  You absolutely can.  I’ve read and been inspired by some amazing young writers.  I’m just not sure that I could have been a writer when I was younger and I am grateful for the life experience I  have to draw on now.

Just like I’m grateful for sketchbooks full of average drawings and a crate full of lumpy pottery. They are the artifacts of my creative journey.


Dashing

I have a problem with the dash.  Not the 50 yard kind you run on a track, though I’d probably struggle with that too.  No, the dash I am referring to is this little piece of punctuation:  –

My problem started with over-dashing.  It was as if I forgot all about the comma, semicolon and period.  If I paused, I dashed.  I would catch my right middle finger headed for that sneaky little dash nearly every sentence.  Once I was aware of my bad habit I was eventually able to catch myself and make better choices.  My problems with the dash were over!

Or so I thought . . .until my arch-nemesis of punctuation reared its ugly head from the  top of the synopsis I submitted for critique at the James River Writer’s Writing Show.  It was right there laughing mockingly at me from the most grammatically incorrect of places, as if to say: You used to be my biggest fan.  We hung out all the time.  And now you avoid me, shun me, turn your back on me.  Well I’ll show you . . .

To which I say: bring it on dash, bring it on.   I’m not embarrassed by you.  I’m glad the error was brought to my attention.  And no, it isn’t even particularly bothersome that a whole audience full of people saw you because maybe you helped them too.  So if you’ll kindly excuse me, I have some editing to do . . .

Giving

This morning I had my heart set on an ice coffee from the shop around the corner, but I knew it wouldn’t cost enough to meet the $3.00 credit card minimum, so I added one of their amazing pastries to my order.  Since I had already eaten breakfast, I slid the apple-y delicious-ness into my lunchbox to save for tomorrow’s breakfast.  When I got to work my co-worker mentioned that she needed to get something to eat, but wasn’t sure what she wanted.  I immediately produced the “extra” pastry from my lunchbox and it was a match made in heaven.

Last week, one of my students gave me a card thanking me for all my help this semester and for being an important part of his academic journey.

Thinking about these two things I am struck by how easy those little tangible gifts are for me.  A cup of coffee for a friend, a pack of gum for my husband; little things picked up as I move through my day.  And I am humbled by my student’s decision to write a note; to pause for a few minutes and write about his gratefulness.  Because in this world of clocks and deadlines and twitter feeds and status updates and quick coffee breaks it seems that sometimes we forget to pause and offer a genuine “thank you.”

Often, it is the best gift we can give.

Stickers

I got a gold star today. Actually it was red with polka dots. I got one yesterday too. I can’t help but smile as I write this, because how can you not smile about getting a sticker! Or maybe that’s just me . . .

Anyway, my gym is running this contest where if you work out four times a week between May 1 and June 7 you are entered in a drawing to win a Kindle Fire. When you leave for the day, you’re given a sticker to put on a chart next to your name, under the correct date. This is the second time they have run this contest recently. The first time I didn’t sign up, because I already go to the gym at least four days every week. I academic-ed myself out of it: “I see your charts and stickers and gadgets and external motivation but I have my own intrinsic drive, thank you very much!”

This time I decided to step off my pedestal and play along. And the crazy thing is, it really is fun. Seriously, as I was winding down my workout this morning I found myself thinking “I get to put a sticker on the chart!” A good reminder to myself that understanding a technique is equal parts knowing theoretically and empirically how it works and understanding how it actually feels to use it.

And tomorrow, I get another sticker. That’s right, little pink striped star . . .I’ve got my eye on you!

*Gold Star from pixabella.com

For the Birds . . .

Or perhaps this post should be called, NOT for the birds. This past weekend I planted orange mint and oregano in my window boxes. By yesterday the majority of the mint was gone; plucked by my feathered neighbors for their nests (I assume it was for nests, since I don’t think birds eat plants, though I am in no way an Ornithologist.)

One of my main draws to city living was the lack of yard maintenance. That being said, I love having a few plants around, especially herbs for cooking (and cocktails). One of the most surprising things I have learned in my foray into urban gardening is that animals still present a challenge to your “crops.” I grew up in a rural area and was familiar with the frequent occurence of waking to find lettuce nibbled by rabbits, entire garden crops obliterated by groundhogs or fruit trees snacked on by deer. Naively, I never thought once about herbs plucked by birds or flowers dug up by squirrels.

A couple of years ago I thought I had run across the perfect solution for stopping my plucky little friends: shiny things. Apparently birds see light reflected off a reflective object, think it is fire and move along. I bought a couple pinwheels and stuck them in my planter boxes. Shiny and spinning, that had to look like a raging bonfire to the birds – score! And it did actually work. So when I noticed that my mint was disappearing I thought I would try the same trick, but did not happen to have a pinwheel just lying around (silly, me). So I dug into an old craft box and found some glittery gold and red pipe cleaners. I twisted these into spirals and stuck them near the mint – brilliant!

Or maybe not so much . . . since I came home to find more mint leaves missing. Either the birds in my neighborhood are exceptionly smart or their love of a citrus-y mint-y smelling nest far exceeds fear of fire. So I guess this spring I’ll just have to enjoy my iced tea plain and my juleps mint-less while I think of little bird babies hatching out into a lovely fragrant nest.

Or perhaps, since they are so smart, I could just leave a tiny contract in the windowbox: half for you guys and half for me – deal? Come on guys, I’ll throw in some birdseed . . .

For the Love of Libraries

Happy National Library Week! You did know it was National Library Week, didn’t you? I personally have had it marked on my calendar all year; in no way did I accidentally run across this fact on NPR a couple days ago . . .

Okay, so I may not have known something as awesome as National Library Week was happening as I laid my head on the pillow on Sunday night, but as soon as I found out I knew I had to celebrate.

My love affair with libraries started very, very early. From my early childhood until his retirement two years ago my father was an elementary school librarian. I spent many summer days in his library, shelving books, creating bulletin boards or curled up in the corner pulling one Babysitter’s Club book after another off the shelf. (This was the reading equivalent of watching a whole series of shows on DVR, no need to wait to check out the next installment!)

In high school I discovered the Alderman library at the University of Virginia, with its marble lobby and narrow staircased stacks. Searching for a book felt like a delightfully creepy adventure. And finding it was like finding buried treasure.

A few years later in college I volunteered to shelve books at the local elementary school library. At the time I just thought of it as a desire to volunteer. In retrospect, those hours spent in a place that had been my second home throughout childhood probably kept my freshman homesickness at bay.

And then, the pinnacle of all library experiences, as a graduate student I had access to . . . the Graduate Reading Room. Located on the top floor of the library and requiring a swipe of your student id to get in, it was like a private club for library lovers (or you know, a really, really quiet place to read – but I prefer my version).

So a big “happy library week” to everyone out there who keeps our libraries running. The helpful librarians who plan programming and order books and likely do countless things we know nothing about. The maintenance people who keep them clean and functional. And, of course, another heartfelt celebratory greeting to anyone else like me who counts their hours spent in libraries among the most formative of their experiences.

*image from: www.ala.org

The “I” Word

I am an introvert. And these days, I’m cool with that. But I haven’t always been. For many years I wished that my results would come out differently on any assessment I took, be it the Myers-Briggs or a quiz in the latest issue of Marie Claire. I wanted to be outgoing, daring, fun, the life of the party. It seemed that extroverts had more fun. And who wouldn’t want to have more fun?

My other problem with always coming up introverted, was the fact that I do a lot of non-introverted things. In high school and college I participated in competitive public speaking. Later, as a young professional I led workshops and taught classes. I studied Psychology and Counseling. I make a living talking to people. How could I possibly be an introvert?

It turns out that my problem with introversion for all those years was a simple misunderstanding; a matter of buying in to an image of “The Introvert” (huddled in the dark corner, nose in a book, terrified to speak to anyone) instead of seeking to truly understand the term. In the very first graduate class I enrolled in, we took the Myers Briggs and somewhere deep inside I cringed just a little, thinking here we go again with the big “I” label. Sure enough, a week later there were my results, that “I” looming right there in the forefront.

Except this time, something magical happened. My professor explained that the introversion/extraversion scale has to do with where we get our energy, not necessarily our proclivity to be social. An extrovert draws energy from interaction with others. They “re-fuel” their low reserves by spending time with people. On the other hand, the introvert draws energy from quiet reflection. So introverts often need to recharge by spending time alone, but they can and do enjoy social interaction as well.

Now this I understood. It was totally me. I often need a little down time between a busy, people-filled work day and a post-work gathering of friends. When I don’t get in my quiet, reflective writing time each week, I feel a little off-balance. And sometimes I do really, really like to sit in a (well-lit) corner and read a book. This in no way makes me antisocial. Quite the opposite, when I’m getting the quiet time I need, I can be quite fun, quite courageous and maybe even the life of that small group of people I am talking to at the party.

So I no longer shun the idea of being an introvert; instead I seek to embrace and nurture this aspect of my personality. I am happy to be truly and authentically introverted.

(For more on the awesomeness that is introversion, check out Susan Cain’s TED talk!)