Saturday, November 23, 2013


I’ve been feeling as if I’ve been undergoing some sort of internal metamorphosis of late, and for some reason was drawn to re-read Kafka’s short story by the same name. I last read this as a senior in high school. Thirty-five years, and a good bit of life experience, lends quite the fresh perspective.

I read the story as an 18-year old as part of an assignment to compare it to Tolstoy’s Death of Ivan Illych. I may, yet, have to revisit that tome, as well. But as for the present, I’d like to use (my new favorite term of late) “fresh eyes” to examine Kafka’s work. After a disagreement – more emotional than substantive – with a dear friend earlier in the week on the value of a self-help book, it occurs to me today that one of the things that make great literature just that is its ability to continue to speak to us through different times and different readings. With no attempt at self-help, great literature simply speaks, and the reader uses his or her own filter to listen.

As an 18-year old, I suspect I probably focused superficially on Gregor’s death and casual disregard by his family. As a 53-year old, struggling with bouts of emotional self-doubt, poor self-image, and an intense need to be “seen” and accepted for who I am at my core, my filter in the re-read was somewhat different.

Gregor’s transformation into a cockroach or beetle of epic proportions gave him “fresh eyes” as to how his family viewed him. When he became unable to provide for them unquestioningly, his attractiveness and needs were suddenly suspect. They responded to his “change” with shock and a feeble attempt to meet his most basic needs.  It appeared, however, that this response was in the dim hope that he would become his “old self” again, meeting their needs, and placing few, if any, demands on them to return the favor. Even his sister grows weary of her early sensitivity in caring for him, as she becomes more self-sufficient. As their hope for resolution of this calamity wanes, so does their resentment of, and disgust for, Gregor increase.

Even in his most awkward state, Gregor attempts to negate his own discomfort by protecting his family from their own. He hides his unsightliness under the couch, and further, under the drape of a sheet, lest their fear and disgust be intensified. How many of us hide our “unpleasantness” from those around us out of a misguided concern for protection, comfort giving, or some other high minded virtue designed to keep others happy, content, and properly cared for?

The bedroom, the closet, the couch – too many of us withdraw into these for the sake of others, at risk of losing ourselves. A friend shared a Parker Palmer quote with me the other day – “Solitude does not necessarily mean living apart from others; rather, it means never living apart from one’s self.” I’m going to continue to do the hard work addressing my own personal demons and learning to live with myself. If you need company to do the same, come out from under the couch and join me, and perhaps we can accomplish what Gregor found impossible, and try to pick the apple off of one another’s backs.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Whose Self is it, Anyway?

Jesus had his 40 days in the wilderness.  Cindy is having her 40 hours at the Wilderness Club at Big Cedar.  Granted, my 40 hours doesn’t even knock on the door of being Spartan, but somehow, I think we are accomplishing something similar and sacred. I’m trying to renew/find my sense of self. It seems to have gotten lost – at least a part of it – somewhere along my way. So my little retreat, however indulgent, has been an attempt to regain some of that, to find a sense of wholeness that I’ve been missing. And what good little Christian girl wouldn’t then make the leap to “oh no, I’m not being very selfless” to sabotage her wilderness retreat?

For those of us who have grown up in the Christian tradition, we have been pommelled with the importance of selflessness – of being Christ-like – of being the only Jesus some people will ever see. I have tried to do this in my own life, but I’m starting to raise some questions with God on this topic. And before anyone goes all “she’s second guessing God!” on me, bear in mind that I think God kind of enjoys having a “real” conversation with us – hashing these things out – us being honest – being authentic. What’s the point of being otherwise with God? Not like you are going to be able to hide anything . . . ask Mother Teresa. But I digress.

There have been times in my life when I have spent more time in church than I have my own home, so I’ve had quite the opportunity to observe the trappings and trippings of Christianity in action. I’ve watched a lot of people – in the name of Jesus – neglect their families, their friends, and themselves to give their time and energy selflessly to the church. They don’t question, they don’t say no, they just do. Until there is nothing left to give – to anyone, even to God.

Please don’t misunderstand.  I am not denigrating those who have made sacrifices and devoted their lives to serving God.  I know that is part of the gig.  I get it. But in our human frailty, I fear we go overboard, out of context, out of God’s intent on the big Selfless Ship (where there are no lifeboats).

I’m just not sure the word, selfless, is such a good word. If God made us who we are, if our “self” is God given, does he/she really want us to give up our “self” to be more to others? Is not being my best self – mein besseres ich – going to honor God more and enable me to relate in the best/better way to others? This is the chat I want to have with God. I think it’s the chat Mother Teresa wanted to have as she dealt with her doubts for so many years. It didn’t keep her from being the only Jesus some people would ever see. She devoted her life to a cause, but she did not give up the essence of her selfhood. That part was essential to her having something to give to the people she served. As I think about it, the only entity to whom we can give our self is the one who created it in the first place. And the Creator is going to triage and give it right back so we can become our besseres ich.

If we give up our self, what is left to give to anyone else?

Saturday, November 09, 2013


Traveling down the highway yesterday in my new “merlot” Honda Accord, Norah Jones warming up the sound system and keeping me company, I felt like I was on my way to my own little freedom haven as I headed toward Big Cedar on a crisp, sunny November day.

Car packed with comfy clothes, reading and writing material, 3 Tabak dolce cigars, 1 bottle of Tuaca, and a stash of cheese curds and snacks picked up at my regular stop – the Osceola Cheese Factory – in Osceola, population 916 – Sa – LUTE!

I haven’t been this excited to get away in a very, very long time.  A beautiful setting, solitude, and the no of all nothing.

Since the split, I have been blessed with the company of friends, making sure I’m all right, keeping me company and providing a sounding board for my struggle, and I have enjoyed all of those moments. But I’ve realized I simply needed to escape every thing and every one – if only for a couple of days.  So I put the “fleece” out there when my Saturday obligation was cancelled earlier in the week.  I started checking the timeshare reservation search engine several times a day, hoping for a check-in opening on Friday.  Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday kept appearing, but no Friday. I have to be back for a rehearsal Sunday evening, so it just had to be a Friday/Saturday night stay.  Tuesday morning and mid-day – still nothing.  Tuesday evening – bazinga.  There it was.  And I almost hesitated.  Are you kidding?! The hesitation was momentary – I kicked the nudge from The Sisters of Perpetual Responsibility to the curb, and clicked the “book it” button.  Done.  Freedom.  Escape. Solitude in my future. The chance, as my friend Donna puts it, to “be alone with my words.”

And here I am on Saturday morning – stretched out under a quilt on the couch, balcony overlooking Table Rock lake, gazing out at the trees changing their clothes for winter, and sipping a cup of mighty fine coffee, MacBook on my lap. I’m not sure fall gets much better than this.