Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Write Question

What would you do if you knew you could not fail? I’ve heard this question before—at church, in an occasional motivational business seminar, on my Gmail quote of the day. I’ve never had an answer. I’ve never really understood the question.

I mean, I’m doing it ... my life, I mean. I’m doing my life. I’m doing what I’m supposed to do. I’m making the most of my business degree; I’m getting out of bed everyday and making sure my children are clothed, fed, and are dropped off and picked up on time. I’m checking their homework and making their lunches. I’m grocery shopping, taking care of the dry cleaning, balancing the checkbook, tithing, doing the laundry, shaving my legs, brushing my teeth, and coloring my hair. And then I do it the next day and the next day and the next. And most days I do more than not fail at these things. Most days, I do these things so well I don’t even have to think much about them. So it seems perfectly clear that I’m doing my life and I’m not failing at it.

But the question still nags. Why? Why does this question plague me so? I think because, for me, the question really should be what would I do if I knew I could succeed? Ahh, now we’re getting somewhere. The question is still not exactly right. Let’s tweak it a bit more. How about what would I do, that I’m not already doing, if I knew I could succeed? Okay, the question almost makes sense to me now. Let’s fine-tune it a tad bit more and see what happens. Let’s go with what would I love to do, that I’m not already doing, if I knew I could succeed? The answer: write.

I’ve almost always known the correct answers to the questions that my life has presented me. There has been one notable and very painful exception and it changed me forever. The circumstances surrounding the loss of my first son and the choices I made for him taught me more than I believe it to be possible to document in one lifetime. However, one of the most important lessons his loss taught me was about questions. I learned very delicately that if I am having difficulty answering a question, I am probably trying to answer the wrong question. And so it is with this question.

I have never been able to answer what I would do if I knew I could not fail, because I was doing exactly that at which I would not fail. I know this is a bit of mental u-turn, but stay with me. The distinction I’m trying to draw here is a critical one. The question my life is currently asking of me is what would I passionately, lovingly, surrender my life to if I would succeed beyond my wildest dreams. That question, I can answer, not because I have the right answer, but because it is the right question. The short answer is to write. The long answer with all the messy details of getting from point a to point b, I’ll figure out as I go. Sometimes the short answer is all you need in order to choose your path ... getting on the right path to begin with is the hard part.

Last week, the music blogger of the Dallas Observer made note of an article I wrote about my sister who plays flute in the rock band, The Polyphonic Spree. The blogger knows a lot about my sister, but had never known I existed until he read my article. In his blog from December 22, he described me by saying that I was a writer. A professional writer wrote in his widely read publication that I was a writer. And since that day more than a week ago, I’ve been trying to get the question right. Pete Freedman of the Dallas Observer had provided me with the answer. I just had to figure out what question went with the answer.

So in 2009, I will write. I will write on days I’m happy, days I’m not, and days I’m just generally irritated. I’ll write on days I can’t stop and on days it takes forever to get started. But now that I am a writer and have started down the writer’s path, the rest should be easy.

Monday, December 22, 2008


Stepford has a new Target that is one half-mile and five minutes from my driveway. And it’s not a regular Target either, it’s a TarGucci. This is very, very bad for me because, well … my name is Kristi and I’m a Target addict. Say it with me now, “Hello, Kristi.”

I seriously believe I could survive shopping no where else but TarGucci. Starbucks, check. Sushi, check. Shoes and clothing, check. Lip gloss, hair color, dental floss, tampons, check, check, check, and check. I’m trying hard here to figure out what I could possibly need that is not contained within the walls of my drug of choice. Nope, nothing is coming to me.

So yesterday, my eight-year-old daughter (the Christmas Elf) and I went to TarGucci under the disguise of grocery shopping for Christmas dinner. What we were really there for was to buy me some cute t-shirts and sweat pants to wear during the holidays. It was freezing in Stepford yesterday. No, really it was way past freezing. It was 27 degrees when the Christmas Elf and I hit the store, neither of us wearing a proper coat. It’s very hard in Texas to get in the habit of dressing appropriately for cold weather because it comes and goes so quickly. Twenty-four hours earlier, it had been seventy-two degrees.

Teeth chattering, the Christmas Elf and I hit Starbucks first. Hot chocolate for her, grande hazelnut latte with two equals for me. I never said Stepford was all bad. Then off to find the hip Ts I had seen a fellow Stepford Wife sporting the day before. I was quickly able to locate what I needed and was only slowed down by the Christmas Elf’s unfortunate mishap with her hot chocolate. I didn’t see exactly what happened, but my impression was that she squeezed a bit too tightly on the cup, ejecting the lid, which startled her into dropping the entire cup on the floor. The hot chocolate exploded. It’s crazy how a small cup of liquid looks like gallons when its spread across TarGucci’s floor. We quickly moved to the Christmas Elf’s section to buy new tights.

And there in the girl’s section we hit a snag. On an end cap there was a display of little girl t-shirts. They were knock offs of the classic I Heart NY Ts. Except these didn’t say “I Love NY.” One said, “I Love Fashion.” Another, “I Love Candy.” However, the one the Christmas Elf set her little beating heart on said “I Love New Stuff.” She whipped a sized-medium off the rack and held it close to her body as if it were life itself.

I said, flatly, “Uh, no.”

I was thinking, “Hell no, over my dead body no, no f’ing way no.”

She said, “Why?”

I said, “Because, I don’t think it’s appropriate for you to walk around in a T-shirt that says you love new stuff.”

I get the irony here … I know, really I do, I know I was in TarGucci getting my fix of new stuff because I’m addicted to new stuff, because, well, I LOVE new stuff.

She said, “But Mom, it’s the truth. I really do love new stuff.”

Good Lord, not only am I two bricks short of being a fully-loaded Stepford Wife, but I’m looking down at one in training.

I said, taking a deep breath, “I know you do. I do too. But it’s kind of boastful and braggy to wear it written on a t-shirt.”

She said, “Because if someone couldn’t ever afford new stuff, my t-shirt might hurt their feelings?”

I said, “Yes, honey, something like that.”

So we left TarGucci with the “I Love Candy” t-shirt. Last night as I was tucking her into bed she said, “Mom, do you know what my favorite thing is about Christmas?” I said, “What?” And, once again, without knowing it, this beautiful child validated me as a mom by saying, “It’s not the presents. It’s my family. I love my family.”

And her family loves her, too.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

My Sister Rocks

My sister rocks. No, really she does. My sister plays flute in the rock band The Polyphonic Spree. People infinitely more qualified than me have tried, and in my infinitely unqualified opinion, have failed to describe The Polyphonic Spree with words. People who write words for money in publications that are widely read, like Rolling Stone for instance, have failed to capture the essence of this band. While music is my sister’s genre, words are mine. And words are inadequate to define or even adequately describe The Polyphonic Spree. Seeing this band live is an experience like none other that exists in my Stepford life. Last night I took my eight-year-old daughter to see The Polyphonic Spree’s annual Holiday Extravaganza. Last night was exactly what my soul has been craving.

I’m five and half years older than my sister and that’s older enough to remember her clearly as a toddler. From the moment my own daughter was a toddler, I began seeing my sister. There is a picture of my sister as a small child on The Polyphonic Spree’s Web site and the first time I clicked on it my breath was taken away. I have photos of my own daughter that would be hard to distinguish from the one on the Web site. My daughter’s personality is also much like I remember that of my sister’s personality as a child. Perfectionist, independent, passionate, and gifted. My sister’s gift is music. My daughter’s gift is soccer. The gifts are different. The commitment to them is the same.

My daughter loves music, I’m not sure she has a gift for it yet, but she certainly has an appreciation. So, yesterday she and I climbed into the Palinmobile, cruised out of Stepford and headed into the city. The concert was at Dallas’ renowned and beloved Granada Theater on lower Greenville Avenue. The minute we hit Greenville Avenue from the highway, I felt out of place. My SUV is entirely too large for this part of town. The narrow lanes carved into the skinny streets were not created with my vehicle in mind. The tight turns required to get into the parking lot behind the Granada necessitated me to take a few curbs along the way. Actually parking the behemoth that I drive inside a parking space in this lot was not physically possible. The gigantic truck tires protruded over the yellow lines on each side. Thankfully, a VW Beetle and a Honda Fit slid in neatly on each side.
Inside the theater, I fit in no better. I immediately wished I could trade my leather blazer for a crocheted sweater, my Talbot’s khaki’s for ripped jeans, and my Italian leather boots for vintage sneakers. The problem is I don’t actually own any of those things. At least I had only pulled my hair back into a messy ponytail rather than blowing it out and straightening it with the flat iron. I searched the crowd and was struck by what I did not see—I searched every shoulder for a Louis Vitton only to come up empty and I saw no evidence of silicone or botox. I saw no one who I perceived to be worried about his or her 401(k) or the looming financial crisis. I saw no Stepford Wives. I saw no one who looked as if they were trapped inside a gilded cage. I saw no mirrors.

The Polyphonic Spree began to play and I was swept up in the moment. My sister’s flute, playing delicately and at times roughly, the harp, the cello, the choir, the pied piper himself, Tim DeLaughter and my daughter on stage with the rest of the children singing Happy Christmas (War is Over) I was suddenly slipped back into my groove that I so often cannot find in Stepford. I felt as if I was in a room with the only happy people left in the world. I knew at this moment that I was not alone on a desert island that is the left wing of the Democratic party, but for a few hours was surrounded by those who would consider me a moderate. I was surrounded by those who get what I get and still believe in those crazy little concepts like hope, love, and peace. I was in a room with people who know they can make a difference—who are empowered not by money or the bars they have constructed into the cage that holds their lives, but are empowered by their beliefs and take their power from their truth. I don’t know a lot about music. I do know this … there is something very special about a band that can, through their music, welcome a Stepford Wife home in a room full of strangers.

My sister and I began our lives at much the same place. We took two separate roads. She followed her passion. I followed my head. She lives in the world of The Polyphonic Spree. I live in Stepford. My prayer this Christmas is that my children will follow my sister’s example and live their passions while carving a groove so deep for themselves they never lose it.

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