Sunday, May 22, 2011

Buffalo: Where you go when you want to question your purpose in life

Somewhere between the impenetrable fog, the abandoned grain elevators, and the slight post-wing queasiness, I fell in love with Buffalo.

Remember Austin Unscripted, the work project I told you about last year? Well, it's happening again, this time in Buffalo, which meant a scouting trip with the Unscripted crew this past week to prep for our July filming.

The itinerary took us to all corners of the city -- art districts, historic corridors, park systems, grain elevators, urban gardens, Frank Lloyd Wright houses, and neighborhood after neighborhood after neighborhood.

But those diverse sites paled in comparison to the people we met who care about them. Be they homeowners, activists, historians, planners, or simply concerned citizens, Buffalonians impressed us with their hospitality, warmth, and deep pride in their community.

Moreover, these folks get shiznit DONE. They see a problem and they tackle it head on, usually with their like-minded neighbors in tow. Like the West Side neighborhood group opposing the Peace Bridge expansion. The 'unofficial mayor' who organized the first-ever Neighborhood Forum. Or the local business owner planning to repurpose the grain elevators and keep industrial heritage alive.

It got me thinking about what my future communities might hold, and what I might also have in store for them. Do I want to be an small player in a bustling metropolis? Or do I want to find a city of neighborhoods, a place that needs my energy/optimism/mad cooking skillz to enact change?

There's no right answer, and there's certainly no fixed answer, for who knows where life/work (life's work?) will take me. All I know is that I'm thinking a lot about how to make a dent -- how I can be more like Buffalo.

Prayer #166: Make a Dent

Lord, protect the dent-makers. Inspire the instigators, rally the rabble-rousers, carry the catalysts.

Plant in them a conscience and the will to follow it.

Instill in them compassion to hear and respect the other side.

Help them play nice with others while still defending the sandbox.

Give them plenty of space across their towns, along their blocks, and in their hearts to accommodate expansion.

And if they don't yet think they are dent-makers (or don't believe they can be), open their eyes to what they most care about -- and then appear in the sightline to remind them they're not alone.


Sunday, May 15, 2011

What tennis lessons are teaching me about power

Photo by '09 Spyder

Sooo ... I'm taking tennis lessons.

The instructor asked what my goal was for the game. My response: beat Fella in a match while wearing a cute tennis skirt.

YES. (Photo by yourFAVORITEmartian)

However, since my only previous 'instruction' was at summer day camp at an age when I spent more time looking at the instructor than at the ball, I more closely resemble this:

Little known fact: Surgical masks help you focus. (Photo by transworld)

Every week my instructor tells the class to follow the CAP principles: consistency, accuracy, power. Mmm. Power. Sometimes I'm so eager for power I skip the other two and go right to my special patented over-under serve, complete with grunt. Which comes off kind of lame when I land the ball in my instructor's head instead.

Such outcomes remind me that proper form will help achieve the desired function. In turn, I'll be able to direct the ball exactly where I want it, rather than at innocent children or passing birds. Then -- and only then -- can I explode from the baseline and grunt and smash to my heart's content.


There's just one little problem. I have to be patient. Eight weekly sessions won't reveal me to be a long-lost Williams sister. Only practice, concentration, and dedication will. (Which is a shame, because I really thought the grunting would make it happen.)

So, instead, I'll take the lessons for what they are: a terrific opportunity to run around like a kid, learn a new skill, and work toward a solid skirt goal. Power will come. And in the meantime, I can practice humility.

Photo by meddygarnet

Prayer #165: Power Serve

If getting ahead of yourself were an Olympic sport, I'd medal every time.

On rare occasions I do leap forward and discover a fully formed talent or gift. But I can't rely on that happening. Instead, I trip and bruise and limp my way toward an evolving finish line where my need for an ice pack sometimes outweighs satisfaction in the race I finally completed.

Instructor of seamless form and function, help me achieve a most difficult balance: belief in my own ability, articulation of my goals, and patience for all the steps/phases/lessons that come before them.

Above all, couch me in this wisdom -- that power does not drive strength and resilience, it derives from them. Help me put the correct foot in front of the other, and lead me on.


Sunday, May 08, 2011

Prayer #164: Mother of ...

Me and Mom do DC, 2011

There's a lot more to being a woman than being a mother, but there's a hell of a lot more to being a mother than most people suspect. -- Roseanne Barr

Prayer #164: Mother Of ...

Some women arrive at motherhood by choice.
Some arrive by accident.

Some care for their own.
Some care for those of others.

Some slip into the role smoothly.
Some struggle to identify.

Some are absent, due to distance, decisions, death.
Some are omnipresent -- often for the same reasons.

All, in their own ways, call forth more life into this world. With more life comes more chances to love. And with more love comes more of You.

So for this divinely inspired act, we ask You to send all mothers the mother of all blessings -- Your help.


Sunday, May 01, 2011

Prayer #163: Bells Should Ring

I can't get up at 6 a.m. for the gym, but I can for romance.

This past Friday found me in front of my TV as the sun rose, watching Will and Kate's royal wedding in rapt attention. Now, I am not one to pore over wedding magazines and obsess over celebrity events. But I am an overemotional ninny, and this event promised to deliver an emotional punch.

It didn't disappoint. From the shots of the earnest choir boys to the sweeping views of Westminster Abbey to Kate's muted 'Oh wow!' as she stepped out on the balcony, I was caught up in the spectacle and enthusiasm. And, I might add, unapologetically so.

You see, the royal wedding for many was an opportunity to say, "I don't care about a couple I don't know." "Didn't we fight a war so we wouldn't have to watch the British royals?" "There are bigger issues in the world we should focus on." I don't disagree with any of them. You don't have to. We did. There are.

What made me bristle about these statements, however, was their implied snub -- that somehow those of us who did want to watch a young couple take a big and important step in their were foolish, sentimental, or misguided. I was none of those things when it came to this wedding. Rather, I needed to cry happy tears with the world for once, after what feels like many, many months of sad or horrified outpourings.

That's why for me, the most emotional moments weren't of the couple at all. They came whenever the cameras cut to the throngs gathered throughout London, waving their flags and cheering. It looked remarkably like a lot of other footage we've seen recently, particularly in the Middle East, with thousands of people packed together in support of their country, but for very different -- and often violent -- reasons.

In contrast, the royal wedding supporters were peaceful, collected in a continuous joyful outburst. And at its heart was one of civilization's oldest, simplest customs: two people who love each other committing to build a life together in the eyes of God and a few billion others.

A few days before the wedding, the Archbishop of Canterbury gave an exclusive interview to the BBC. (I encourage you to read/watch the whole thing -- really thoughtful and lovely reflection on marriage overall.) Of note, he says:
Prince William and Catherine are making this commitment very much in the public eye and they’re sensible, realistic young people. They know what the cost of that might be. [...] But I want to wish them especially the courage and clarity they’ll need to live out this big commitment in the full glare of the public eye – to live it out for the rest of us. I hope they’ll be given the strength and the persistence to go on showing the rest of us what’s possible for the whole of their life together.

Courage. Clarity. Strength. Persistence. What strong words for the world to hear in our trying times. We know the cost -- the cost of war, repression, rebellion, disaster, turmoil, fear. But do we know the cost of love? Of joy? And why don't we pay them on a equally grand scale, and more frequently?

The royal wedding reminded me that it's ok to celebrate amid chaos. Hell, I'd go so far to say we have a mandate to do so, because that's what God built us for. To love. To rejoice. Together.

So let the naysayers say, "Who cares?" I say, "I do." Because life is sad and hard enough on its own. But these aren't the attributes that win, now or in the end. That honor goes to faith, hope, and love.

I say that's worth getting up for at 6 a.m., don't you?

Prayer #163: Bells Should Ring

Extra kisses and damp cheeks. Tissues stuck in sleeves.

Fingers locked together. Arms draped across shoulders. Bare feet.

Spontaneous cheers. Too-loud laughter, punctuated with snorts.

Perfume lingering on well-worn clothes. Wafting aromas of hot food and guests.

"I love you," rich and round in our mouths. Easy to let slip.

Celebrations do not have to be orchestrated events or lavish spectacles. Joy and love are often messy -- muddy, grass-stained, sticky. And even when they come prettily packaged, the giddy heart they wrap tugs at the ribbon, eager to be indiscriminate.

Help us be this reckless with our love and brazen with our joy. Just as bells ring riot, not bothering with the hour, not knowing who hears what, when, so too should we fling our arms open to life's greatest mysteries and accept all comers. For now is no time to be stingy.