Friday, January 30, 2009

25 Truths and a Lie

1. I have a pretty amazing sense of smell. For example, when I go running, I can smell the homes I run past. I can smell dirty feet. In my current position, I am a sort of drug-sniffing dog. A lot of the time, I don't consider this a gift.
2. I have auditioned for a capella singing groups and for Jeopardy! without success. I did perform in a children's theatre group in college.
3. Though I have won prize money for running and for writing, in both instances it wasn't exactly a measure of my talent. In the "sheer luck" category, however, I recently I won $100 in an online drawing associated with completing a survey.
4. I am a summer camp girl: I went to Girl Scout camp during middle school summers and attended a summer school program in New York between my junior and senior years of college. I studied abroad in Italy during college and lived in Africa for a year. I'm only recently afraid of the idea of going places for a long time by myself--because of my family.
5. I like the serendipity of being thrown into situations where I know no one but will come out with new friends (jury duty, classes, conferences, long travel, long lines). I don't mind talking to strangers in a safe environment. Okay, I kind of LOVE it.
6. I smoked cigarettes during the year I was as both a teacher and a waitress in DC.
7. I have learned to value achingly honest people. Especially because I hate being lied to--it makes me uncomfortable and it's a relationship deal-breaker for me. I continue to work on being more honest myself.
8. However, I hate confrontation, so I sometimes struggle with situations where I know I should tell someone how I am really feeling. I am getting better at this at work and in my marriage. Overall, I adopt the "get it off my chest OR get over it" approach.
9. I am a crier. I cry easily and often. I have begun to own my tears, because being ashamed doesn't help. Sometimes having a really important conversation with a student makes me well up, and I am okay with them knowing that the gravity of their lives is not lost on me.
10. I will always regret not attending my grandfather's memorial because at the time I was a self-centered adolescent.
11. I didn't drink in high school, but I made up for it in college.
12. I admire people who can give up their personal lives--their gift of themselves to their families--in the service of others. I am protective of my time with my family, and I know that limits my what I will accomplish professionally.
13. I have always wanted to pierce my nose, and I just might still do it.
14. I recommend you do not get between me and the Indigo Girls.
15. I am a little bit good at running, poetry, writing, painting, and cooking. I think I am actually good at working with teenagers. And at public speaking. Feel free to disagree.
16. Once I got past the Baby Blues, I was surprised to find that I am not a paranoid mom. I am a pretty strict mom, I think, but I don't worry about as much stuff as I thought I would. I am unafraid of germs, messy hair, unmatching outfits, un-childproofed homes, and unorganic food. (But I it will be all organic if you come over, LOL).
17. I have coined a term called "jennymooreing it," which means to attempt to fix something in a way that makes it ultimately disastrous. I jennymoore something just about every day due to sheer laziness or what I like to call "efficiency." One awesome example is when I brought a pair of pants home that still had the dye tag on it. Instead of bringing the pants back to the store with receipt so they could remove it PROPERLY, I jennymoored it, wrenching the dye pack off with pliers. And the dye pack burst, spilling blue ink on the bottom of my white-ish pants. Next I bleached the pants. And then there was a hole in the pants from the bleach. A lot of effort, after all, for a very bad outcome: that's jennymooreing something.
18. Before "stalker" was the common term for a scary murderous person, my mother accused me of being one when I liked boys in middle school. I was A LITTLE obsessive, I will admit. But I got over that. Seriously.
19. I was almost fired from a job for helping someone sue my employer.
20. I sucked my thumb till I was four years old, and I had OCD in middle school (I vacuumed my room every day and even washed my windows). Of both conditions, I was cured by my parents offering me an incentive to quit.
21. I am worried about my kids going to middle school.
22. I am NOT a picky eater, but I don't like some foods others consider delicacies, like caviar and pate. And unfortunately, I am allergic to lobster, shrimp, and crab.
23. Prostitution icks me out. No amount of realism, pragmatism, or legality will make me feel okay about the women I see on a nearby street pacing aimlessly and the men who pull up alongside.
24. I once delivered an inspirational speech at a Christian conference.
25. I have been flashed by skeezy guys too many times--walking home from work in DC, probably 10 times in Italy, and by a man who lived in my neighborhood when I was a kid. Ewww.
26. I have a fear of falling. You won't catch me climbing a fence. I don't even like walking down stairs.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

He Sees You When You're Sleeping

What is it with this guy? Kids LOVE Barack Obama (or Buroco Boma). Am I not right? Okay, liberal peoples' kids love him, for sure. But I think, in fact, that he has broad appeal across the lunchbox demographic. I've taken a poll in my neighborhood.

Tonight I showed my daughters a silly "Elf Yourself" holiday video a friend posted on Facebook, with her face and her husband's copied and pasted on disco-dancing leprachauns. Only there was one more elf stayin' alive in the video: Barack Obama. My daughters laughed hysterically at the clip, and then our kindergartener disappeared for a few moments. When she returned, triumphant, it was with her homemade valentine to Mr. Boma (above).

Meanwhile, I am capitalizing on all this love. I believe I can harness admiration into something that works for us.

Because Barack Obama is the new Santa.

President Obama says Unclench Your Fist (RIGHT NOW, before it connects with your sister's face).

President Obama says Reform Bad Habits (and NOT LISTENING appears to be one).

President Obama says Set Aside Childish Things (like your sister's My Little Pony)

President Obama says Pick Yourself Up, Dust Yourself Off (and GET IN THE CAR).

President Obama says You Cannot Outlast Us, and We Will Defeat You (GO TO BED).

I think they'll listen. Santa is seasonal (like those dancing elves). But Obama is already in town, and he's ALL YEAR LONG.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Gross Domestic Bypass

I thought I spent a lot of money in my twenties. I went out to eat and drink every weekend; I traveled at will; I took taxicabs and bought new clothes, books, and CDs often. I wasn't like Sophie Kinsella's Shopaholic--I was a public school teacher for crying out loud--but I had a relatively carefree, debt-free life, with Me as my only dependent.

My thirties are entirely different story and I know I am not alone. I didn't own a fork or a couch or a TV or a computer until I was 27 years old; they were shared items in my shared residences. Over a decade I have gone from carless and renting a room in a house to owning a vehicle and a house. So I've bought insurance and leather interiors and gas and sofas and appliances and yard stuff and rugs and granite countertops and concrete patios. And then the intangibles like inspections and exterminations and cleanings and removals.

The kids came along and we bought carseats and bouncy seats and booster seats and three different strollers and a crib and bunkbeds and tricycles and scooters and crayons and dollhouses. Not to mention bottles, babyfood, diapers, and clothes that don't fit six months later, over and over again. And then the intangibles like daycare and dance class and soccer registrations.

Oh, how I miss the simplicity! I used to buy soap for myself, my clothes, and the dishes. Now I find myself buying liquid detergent for the sink and automatic detergent for the dishwasher and unscented detergent for the laundry (and also Oxyclean and Tide To Go sticks) and soap refill for our soap dispensers and bar soap and body wash for the shower and tear-free soap for the kids. The truth of the matter is the Spending Menu before us is overwhelming and ever expanding.

People buy electronica like they buy groceries: with replacement in mind. I have a drawer dedicated to old cell phones, batteries, cameras, cords, speakers, and then components whose part of the whole I never determined. And I am not even known for my Tech Savvy. I'm only on my third cell phone. The first one was a hand-me-down.

We're overwhelmed by Stuff we find in stores, but we can also spend an inordinate amount of money on what is essentially air: Satellite Radio, DVR, Downloads, WiFi, Programs, Pay Per View, Applications, Memory, Service Contracts, Minutes, and Fees.

But when you're buying a house and having kids and choosing a minivan and making the weekly trip to Target, you're just in the backseat of The Spending Bandwagon, where you get that subconscious sense that Everyone Else Is Doing It. And, probably Everybody Has Credit Card Debt. So it's kind of okay to buy that $20 shirt at Target. It's cute and will update your wardrobe. Anyway, you deserve it after cooking all those healthy organic meals for the family.

In the meantime we were all mostly pretending that our bank accounts didn't Stress The Hell Out of Us and that we needed new bedding and kitchen accessories more than to fix the dry rot and pay down the debt.

Just like people don't enjoy being the teetotalers at the party, though, friends don't want to put the squeeze on the spendfest when it means saying, no we can't really go on that ski trip or out to dinner or sign our kid up for that activity...and thereby miss out. So we went along, continuing to shop at Crate and Barrel and then taking out a Home Equity Loan.

The truth is, it's a hell of a lot easier to cut back when The Whole Nation Is On A Diet. And right now with The Economy virtually bulimic, puking up bad mortgages and bankrupt stores, it behooves all of us to put our money where our mouths are. Which, if we've been commenting on our collective consumerism, is back in our wallets and bank accounts.

We know people who've lost retirement savings and stocks and even homes and jobs. And then there are those of us who better be satisfied with home and jobs because we're lucky to have them.

Whether or not we've had to come to painful terms with Living Beyond Our Means, I sense a growing sentiment that just because we personally may not be recovering from a heart attack does not mean we should not be cutting some saturated fats and cholesterol from our diets. I mean, isn't it totally rude to eat french fries in front of someone who just had gastric bypass?

So there's comfort in numbers out there as I know I am not the only one avoiding Costco and its inevitable $200 debit per trip. We're driving instead of flying and assessing where we can cut costs at every turn, while being thankful that we're not in bankruptcy court or foreclosure. I appreciate that our friends and neighbors are tending toward fiscal conservatism, too: let's enjoy, but do it cheaper, wiser, homemade, and share.

I have great respect for those who work in industries that our hurting and who are listening to us admit we're cutting back and not spending in support of their livelihoods. When my husband I checked into the Bed and Breakfast where we enjoyed a decadent getaway last night, it wasn't long before the clerk admitted he was being laid off next week. And we admitted we probably wouldn't be checking in if our trip hadn't been a gift.

When the economy turns around I expect it will look different. We might have fewer stores and fewer products; how we spend our money and how much we spend may have shifted.

For all the pain and heartache there are some silver linings. Families I know are home together more often. Or out in the free outdoors more often. We're cooking for ourselves instead of taking out. These habits could stick and we could wind up healthier and happier.

Meanwhile, I've got to return a pair of men's jeans to Target, which constitutes a net gain for the household. But if I am somehow seduced by some cute $20 shirt, I plan to declare it's one last donation to the American Economy.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Dear Mr. President

Dear Barack Obama,

On the first day of your presidency, I send you my plea.

It's your inauguration day. The buzz in the air, the giddiness--the palpable relief,'s unprecedented in my lifetime--which is not a super-long lifetime, I admit--but still. I believe you've delivered on your promise of hope. Or the voters delivered it to one another. Because there's some fierce hope out there. Even the naysayers, the staunchest Republicans must feel this hope.

Your inauguration and presidency are not unlike a wedding and marriage. Today, of course, is the amazing day, the celebration. The outpouring of pride and accomplishment. The acknowledgment of just how far we've come and the hard work and sacrifice that got our country to this moment. The Finally, the At Last. Today is not only for you; it's for the history books; it's for all the people who paved the path and who longed for a reflection of themselves in The White House.

But once you're sworn into office and have declared your vows to the American people, the real work begins. If we're high-fiving in two years, it won't be because we have an African-American president. It will be because you are our president.

I believe the truly exciting things you bring to Washington transcend race. You offer a combination of qualities newer and more unique than the color of your skin. You are smart, straightforward, kind, humble and real. You lack the Hollywood gloss of Reagan and the political glibness of Clinton. I trust that you have stronger personal integrity than Kennedy. And though I supported Hillary Clinton in the primaries, I am certain that she couldn't approximate the Obama Effect. Since the election you've smiled and emanated a baggage-free calm. You kill me with that consistently cool demeanor and your confident (but not arrogant!) stride. I have a ton of faith in you.

Boy do you have a huge responsibility. And even though I know you'll always treat us better than we treat you, I feel a little protective of your fans. Suddenly these are my peeps! I have never felt so close to my fellow American citizens as I do know--much more so than after 9/11, I daresay--because the energy is pure and positive. This country has a new game face. And you're the coach to take us to the Super Bowl.

But I won't expect too much. I'm not going to place Iraq and The Economy and National Security and The Environment squarely on your shoulders; you just try your very best for us. Heck, I am only a vice principal and I am awed by the responsibility. I still have a pit in my stomach from my last email from an angry mother. And you've got a lot of angry moms out there. As well as hungry and homeless people, soldiers, high school dropouts, orphans, and bankrupt and health-care-deficient humans to worry about. I don't know how you'll sleep. That you stepped up, smiling that wide grin, and took this country on and maintained your hope thus far is worthy of our respect and admiration.

But you've got to come through on a few things. They may not seem much to ask, but unfortunately they have been too much to ask: We need you honest and straightforward. We need you smiling but true. We need you to feel us and show it. You could cry and that would be okay with me. Probably it would be reassuring. We need you to listen, not just to us but to citizens of the world. We need you to work your tail off but to go home at night and rest and be a dad and a husband. We need you to learn along the way and alter your course when there's a straighter, truer path. Without compromising who you are. Please don't compromise your integrity, your loyalty, your faith, your friends, and your family.

Just keeping being that guy.

I'm not putting you on a pedestal; if America has put you there now, you worked your way up onto that dais. And I don't think you're some kind of god--I believe you don't think you're a god, and that's refreshing. We're not expecting miracles, just reasons to sustain that hope you offer. But if you realize a few of our dreams along the way, that would be awesome.

You're the first president to make me listen with my humblest heart: you can call me to action, call me to serve, call me to better myself, and I will try my best for us, too.

If, Mr. Obama, "the mightiest word" is, indeed, love, I am confident that our United States will be a much more perfect union with you as our president.

Your faithful citizen,


Thursday, January 15, 2009

48 Hours of Mystery: The Case of the Red Stool*

I used to watch a fair amount of Law and Order until it became clear that I am a sicko who likes her crime real, and "Ripped from the Headlines" just doesn't cut it. Hence we have episodes of Dateline NBC, 48 Hours Mystery and 20/20 queued in our DVR. This is what I watch to torture myself late at night (versus when I want to torture my husband, and then I watch The Bachelor or Brothers and Sisters).

Turns out watching late night real-crime shows has some adverse effects.

One effect is the nightmares, of course. I have dreams in which details from a 48 Hours story weave into an incident from school that week and then feature folks I've seen around our neighborhood. In the morning I can't remember if I assigned you detention or if you're the one who was arrested or if I was a witness in your trial or WHAT.

But the biggest problem to result from my dependence on True Crime Dramas is that I have been very suspicious of myself lately. I am questioning my every move.

For example, when my husband and I were recently advised by our agent to increase our life insurance, I was all too aware that such changes to policies are associated with suspicious deaths in many a Dateline NBC episode. I don't think I made myself (or the agent) feel better about my Suspicion Profile when I painstakingly yet awkwardly explained to Mr. Prudential that I am not asking these questions because I actually want to kill my husband (of course!), but can you please clarify what kinds of death are NOT included in life insurance?

So anyway, there's the life insurance. We have some and we increased it recently. By the True Crime Rubric, that does not look good. For at least two years. Maybe more, if you have friends and family who will attest during TV interviews that you were Not a Happy Couple. That, and they also Saw It Coming.

And then there's the Googling. In this Day and Age, The Internet plays a major role (like supporting actor to DNA) in Crime Investigation. You can bet that your garden-variety murderous husband, wife, or jealous lover has conducted an incriminating web search related to the manner of death and the authorities know about it.

Because I am Guilty of Falling Asleep during television shows (usually right before The Verdict) I have resorted to searching the Internet for the outcome of the drama I partially viewed the night before. On a recent occasion, I nodded off two nights in a row before finding out if a jury of his peers deemed one lying husband responsible for poisoning his wife with antifreeze. And yes, there were Internet searches on this guy's computer for "poison" and "antifreeze."

And because I searched for this story on MY computer, I too have a search for "poison" and "antifreeze." It doesn't LOOK GOOD, I tell you! I can no longer search for these things on my computer; I must STAY AWAKE. I am incriminating myself right and left.

Which leads us to the Case of the Red Stool*.

*By reading further, you acknowledge that there may be Too Much Information included herein:

Tuesday was my husband's birthday and I offered to make him a meal of his request for dinner (with no antifreeze; I swear). He asked for steak and potatoes. We had a few potatoes on hand, but we also had turnips, beets, yams, and some funky orange and purple carrots, thanks to our weekly Organic Veggie Delivery. I decided to make a Roasted Root Vegetable Melange. It turned out yummy. The whole dinner was yummy! A fantastic time was had by all. Happy Birthday, Honey!

But the next morning I was slightly perturbed to find that my Daily Constitutional was...abnormal. By abnormal I mean RED. By RED I mean the color you do not want to see in your toilet.

But I did not panic. I did not freak out. I grew up with parents in medicine after all, and am by now quite used to being told "You're fine!" (even when I had meningitis in the 6th grade--I haven't forgotten that, folks!). I told myself I would investigate the matter further. By, you know, watching and waiting. And, ummm, googling.

Googling? I couldn't very well Google about "Red bowel movements" on my work computer, now could I? These are the things CSIs discover post mortem! And for all I know, maybe even Tech Guys can see me searching "Red stool" while I live and breathe.

No, I decided, I would have to be more clever than that. And anyway, I had a sneaking suspicion about my condition...

Furtively, hopefully, I typed "eating beets" into my Google search bar. I did not even push the "Search" button when the Google Gods read my mind helpfully and offered the following list of options on a drop-down menu:

eating beets stool
eating beets red urine
eating beets urine
eating beets raw
eating beets during pregnancy
eating beets red poop
eating beets turns urine red
eating beets and red stool
eating beets while pregnant

It doesn't take a genius in reading between the lines to discern that it was the beets causing the crimson in my crap.


More relief: I don't think that typing "eating beets" without pushing "search" actually counted AS A SEARCH. I am not sure of this.

But here's what I do know: I am going to eat the leftover beets and potatoes for lunch tomorrow. And when the inevitable happens, I won't have to Google shit.

Because I already know.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

For the Rusty Scupper

My littlest sister got married this weekend to a wonderful man and the wedding was full of high points, among them:

1. My middle sister's graceful, professional, and loving job presiding over the ceremony.
2. Five cousins starring as flower girls and ring bearers. Despite early threats to not wear certain dresses and refusal to carry flowers, generally hitting it out of the park. My youngest daughter peering up at a bridesmaid mid-ceremony and asking, "Are you going to a wedding today?"
3. My father delivering his welcome address to the guests in French in honor of the groom's Belgian family. He practiced for days speaking a language he has never actually learned.
4. The cousins playing racecars on the dance floor while dinner was served.
5. My girls dancing with the crowd for hours, busting twirls and knee slides a la AC/DC.
6. My newest brother-in-law delivering a moving speech and great toasts from his brothers and several of the couple's friends.
7. A gorgeous moon rising over the bay as the sun set.

I was invited to read a poem in the ceremony and chose one of my favorites from French surrealist poet Paul Eluard. The groom's cousin read the original poem in French, followed by my reading of the English translation which I further doctored to include details of my sister and her groom's lives together (rather shamelessly, I've ripped this guy off before in honor of my husband).

I Love You (January 10, 2009)

I love you for all the places we haven’t been
I love you for all the times we’re not alone
For the scent of Thai food and the smell of rosemary garlic bread
For the Rusty Scupper and for the first and the only
For paintings waiting to be conceived
I love you to be
I love you for you

Who calms me if not you yourself-I soothe myself so little
Without you I see nothing but an empty entryway
Between those long distance phone calls and today
There have been all those slow dances
I have not been able to cross the threshold of my fears
I’ve had to learn life step by step
How one discovers

I love you for all the mornings, which are ours
For truth
I love you against everything that is only maybe
For your spirit, which is yours alone
You believe that you are now but you’re just always
You are my dawn and my sunset at the peak
When I lift my head to see

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Smorgasbord II

I've been having some Writer's Block lately, with the only inspiration coming in snippets hardly worthy of an entire blog entry. So instead of waiting for the Big One, I am frying up some little fish for feasting. I checked out the last time I resorted to the eclectic mix, and willya look at that? Smorgasbord Post #1 appeared exactly one year ago, on the eve of return to school after vacation. Looks like a new year and two weeks off leaves me with Not So Much to Say.

1. Our two-almost-three-year-old is being quite naughty lately. For example, the other day when she wanted me to carry her and I refused, she sat herself down on the corner curb of a very busy urban neighborhood and refused to accompany us to breakfast. For a moment I was at a loss, my child trumping quick solutions with Pure Obstinacy. "Fine," I gritted my teeth, "I will be happy to carry you: back to the CAR."

She complied.

For another example, she's been enjoying repeating things like "Pain in the Butt" from her safe berth in the back row of the car, while her older sister loses it in giggles and suggests variations on that theme. After one notable excursion with this soundtrack playing in the minivan, I coincidentally received a helpful email from suggesting that ignoring your two-year-old's "poopypants" verbal diarrhea is the most effective deterrent. Because I do not like taking any advice verbatim, I add eye rolling to the ignoring. And then I feel so much better.

2. Daughter #2 is nestled on the couch listening to her old-school CD walkman and singing Jumpitz songs in that loud headphone voice that invites me to pretend to be mouthing important things to her so she yells WHAT? in the middle of shouting lyrics..."We're all FRIENDS...we're the best AMIGOS..." Oh, I hope she never stops listening to sweet innocent children's music. Hannah Montana can step back; let my daughter be five.

3. Our dog is getting old. If your dog is getting old, by the way, or just recently died, I would not recommend going to see the movie Marley and Me. Actually, maybe I would not recommend that film to anyone whose life looks like small children, overwhelm, career crises and stress, spousal arguments, and more overwhelm. As a dental patient of my hygienist friend put it, "Why did I pay ten dollars to go watch my life?"

Of course, I am not going to publicly claim that watching Jennifer Aniston romp around playing football in tight jeans with her "kids" in an expansive New England front yard is really watching my life, but we probably look fairly similar when we are freaking out. Because I do believe that the Freaking Out Mom/Partner/Wife is an archetype, and we women are One with Each Other when we are doing it. That is only a small consolation, but still. Ms. Aniston does an uncomfortably good job playing the part of Woman Who Has Had It. She is all ready to do some non-acting freaking out should reality set in after Mr. Mayer puts down the guitar and they have some kids. We shall see.

3. The day after I finished the fourth and last book in Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series, I went to the salon to get my hair cut and colored. The aesthetician was sneaking reads of Book 2 between treatments, and the client who came in to get her haircut while my dyeing hair grew frighteningly dark under the towel was wearing a "Cullen 17" tee shirt. It's all vampires and werewolves out there! Meanwhile I have safely left Forks and Volterra and the fight meadow behind.

I continue to be fascinated that the fan bases for the books (and the Twilight movie) and for Facebook have in common that they include teens and thirty/fortysomethings in great numbers. I could actually go out on a limb and say that I know more full-grown adults who have lost their shit over Twilight and who obsess over Facebook than I do teens with the same characteristics. And I do know a lot of teens, people. It's the moms wearing "Team Jacob" shirts that kind of crack me up. We're apparently longing for our virginal days. You know, the days when we tried to convince our boyfriends that we could have sex without them losing control and biting us to death. Those days.

Damn you, Stephenie Meyer. I wish I had thought of it first.

4. Since the New Year's Eve Incident, I've been a little paranoid about my skirt being tucked up into my underwear. Them thighs need more Boot Camp. I could also use cuter underwear.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Resolved: I will submit.

Two days before the holiday break, I sat in on an E-Period class at our school. E Period is our high school's "extra" class, held an hour before regular school starts at 7:55. E Period is for students who rise early so they can finish early or who are taking an extra class in their schedules. Or it's for students who will do whatever it takes to experience our legendary Theory of Knowledge class, only offered first thing in the morning.

I took this very same class with the very same teacher at this very same high school when I was a student (and not Vice Principal). And though I've heard many of the lectures and pondered the deep philosophical questions before, there isn't a single session of Theory of Knowledge that doesn't make me feel like my brain is exploding. Or like I've just had therapy.

The topic that Thursday morning was Submission. As an example, the teacher (an inadequate term for our resident sage) suggested that the title character of Hesse's novel Siddhartha finds his nirvana when he submits.

"Is there power in submission?" queried our Socrates.

I listened as students puzzled through this idea. They couldn't help but think of submission in terms of relationships, deciding that it could be particularly powerful in interpersonal conflicts...if one is employing the strategy of passive aggression. Which is not really submission.

Taking the notion of submission to a more general level, one wise student raised her hand and shared that she has learned, in effect, to submit to her life. The more she accepts events and circumstances, reminding herself that this is all likely how it's meant to be, the more satisfied and content she generally feels.

That sort of conscious equanimity is a little un-American. We noted that Western culture can be characterized by a certain amount of impatience, competitiveness, and desire to be in control. Submission has a negative connotation in this context as it suggests being dominated, losing, surrendering.

The teacher mentioned Gandhi, and another student alluded to Thoreau, which made me think of Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela, who endured lengthy confinements by submitting to their circumstances. These men challenged widely perceived notions of what constitutes resistance. And what is ultimately effective and changes the world.

And then a student alluded to Hemingway's novel The Old Man and the Sea, in which the protagonist declares that "a man can be destroyed but not defeated." Defeat is a state of mind; the most powerful form of submission, we concluded, was internal.

I offered the example of traffic. Being stuck in traffic is most often a circumstance beyond our control, but we nevertheless rage, stress, and complain about it. Our hectic, crowded lives offer us many opportunities to just submit instead of stress out. So I vow to do that a little more often.

I remember living in Kenya and marveling at the remarkable patience of people I encountered. The easiest way to get from one town to the next was the matatu, a kind of share-taxi in the form of Peugeot station wagon, Nissan van, or pick-up truck. At the matatu stage, I would find the vehicle going where I wanted to go, get in, and wait for it to fill up with passengers. This could take anywhere from ten minutes to an hour and a half, depending on demand and whether I was the first or last passenger to hop in the vehicle. Hence the notion of "Africa time," which means nothing happens on schedule. Or there is no schedule at all, which is most of the time. Something wonderful happens when you submit to this kind of low expectations for timeliness. You just go with the flow. And you end up having more time, miraculously.

In Africa I also noticed how quietly and patiently people waited in long slow lines--people under the age of six, too! There's something cultural at work there too--I'm not sure what--but children don't whine and sigh and hang on their mothers or generally misbehave. How is it that we train our own youngsters from early on to hate to wait? To need it NOW? To expect immediate gratification at every turn?

I'm not going to have lofty ideals for my own kids, but I am going to work on my own patience and go-with-the-flow-ishness. I'm going to simply breathe a little more deeply, drop my shoulders more often, and stop, look, and listen. And submit to some of my realities, changing the things I can and need to, and letting other things just be.

On Siddhartha's search for self he struggled, but ultimately, he learns that "all this had always been and he had never seen it; he was never present. Now he was present and belonged to it."

Happy New Year!