Some things feel normal this holiday weekend. Humidity and heat blanket parts of the nation. Corn is knee high in many fields. Red, white and blue bunting decorates front porches, small shops, and grocery cases where the traditional hamburgers and hot dogs are on special for cookouts. Someone in the neighborhood is shooting off illegal fireworks. The little kids are decorating their trikes and bikes for an exciting ride down the block with families standing at the curb wearing patriotic t-shirts and waving small flags.
That’s where holiday normal stops. No big parades, no gigantic firework displays, no large gatherings in a park with multiple grills and coolers full of shared drinks or food. Kids don’t wander from their front stoop as siblings ride down the street. Social distancing keeps everyone from huddling in groups to catch up on life. Adults, with masks in a pocket, are trying to put aside their worries for a few hours.
We’re a country with deep problems. Some days the news is so discombobulating that sleep is evasive. More of our citizens have died of COVID-19 than we lost in WWI, twice as many as lost in Vietnam. Inequality is a hard truth digging into long held assumptions about US as a land of equal opportunity. Money and power are in the hands of too few with too many lacking access to food, healthcare, jobs, housing.
Halfway through 2020, many of us are tired and seriously challenged to find uplifting themes. With global economies and a global pandemic, there are virtually no nations sailing in smooth waters. There are many friends and family to grieve, much to repair, more to build afresh, and not enough resources to address all the needs.
On this July 4th 2020 weekend, I wish you all health, safety, and the strength to invest in citizen engagement through what will be long, tough months. Please be kind to each other, seek common ground, and vote when the opportunity arises.
I ask myself this as I watch her and her friends, all clothed in black, carrying cardboard signs down our street. The air has a strong scent of paint thinner and diesel fuel from the markers they used to create their signage. One sign says, Silence is Violence. I say a prayer that the teens lives this motto and that they never stay still when they witness or have knowledge of a violent act. This would bring me lifelong comfort for their safety as well as others.
The five 17- year-olds are walking to 494 and Penn where there will be assembling with others.
Is this a protest? A march? A gathering? Jody and I are not sure. The information we get is a jigsaw puzzle at best. We hope to God that they aren’t planning on walking onto the freeway. Jody and I wouldn’t support that. We tell her so. Yet, we also wouldn’t stop her.
Be Safe, Don’t Die. I want to holler after the teenagers. I stop myself, though this is not an unusual farewell that my family has given each other when we leave the house. I don’t need to heighten any uneasiness the teens may be feeling. How do they know what they are walking into? For certain, I don’t.
Why does she march?
The pandemic has allowed our family more time together. Jody and I take hour-long walks with Crystel. On these walks Crystel talks about how she wants to make a difference. She is particularly interested in making a lasting change in Guatemala, the country of her birth. She had a 3-week homestay and language school trip planned at Casa Xelaju Spanish School in Guatemala for this summer. COVID-19 travel restrictions abruptly halted her plans.
Jody and Crystel joined the mourners at 38th and Chicago where George Floyd was murdered. Crystel placed white hydrangea blooms from our garden at the memorial site. Days later, I accompanied her and her friends to George Floyd’s memorial service in Minneapolis. I wondered if there would be a food truck and porta potties. When I confessed this to Crystel, she gasped and rolled her eyes.
Why does she march?
Don’t ignore something Because it Makes you uncomfortable
Why don’t I march? The question intrigues me. Why her, why not me? Then, I remember why I joined the Peace Corps when I was 30 years old. I had that same feeling, the same drive, that I see in her. I wanted to make a difference.
I’m thirty-one years older now. Crystel asked if we could donate to her friend whose family business was looted at el MERCADO CENTRAL during the riots. She asked if we could donate food and supplies to the families affected by riots.
We can do that. I’m thirty-one years older. I march in a different way.
This month, the WordSisters celebrate eight years of blogging and sharing our love of words and stories.
Why a Blog?
The WordSisters name came from our longstanding writer’s group (Elizabeth, Jill, Brenda, Jean, Rosemary, Lisa, and me). Several of us were working on books and the first tagline, “In it together from inspiration to publication,” reflected the blog’s original purpose.
In 2012, Elizabeth and I had memoir manuscripts we hoped to publish. Experts recommended blogging as a way to attract agents and publishers. In 2016, North Star Press published Elizabeth’s memoir, House of Fire.
Create. Connect. Inspire.
Early on, Elizabeth and I were the primary bloggers. Attracting agents and publishers was our original motivation, but soon we were blogging for the pleasure of writing. We had things to say and stories to share. Plus, the discipline of contributing several blogs per month kept us writing. Some have been classic blogs; others are short personal essays. The blog’s tagline evolved to “Create. Connect. Inspire.”
As anyone who knows me will tell you, I’m a huge fan of podcasts, having listened to every episode of everything from “Fresh Air” and “The Brian Lehrer Show” to “Ear Hustle” and “The Happiness Lab.” And while I know very little about Brené Brown other than her “power of vulnerability” TED Talk, her new podcast—“Unlocking Us”—caught my ear.
In the inaugural episode, she talks about coming face to face with what she refers to as the FFTs: the “F#!%ing First Times.”
She describes the FFTs as those awkward and sometimes incredibly uncomfortable feelings that arise whenever we try something new. Her FFTs included recording the first episode of her new podcast, getting bangs for the first time since the 90s and learning to ride her Peloton bike (for the first three months she left her shoes clipped into the bike because she didn’t know how to get on and off the bike with them on her feet).
But, as she’s been telling her followers for years, the only way to get to the other side of being uncomfortable is to push right through.
That’s what I’m trying to do. But gosh, is it hard.
Ready, set … re-set
I’d expected to be on the road most of the first half of the year, but the coronavirus cut my travel plans short. So instead, I’m at home, staring at a long list of home improvement projects I’ve been putting off for years—everything from clearing clutter to replacing windows, from landscaping to building a new garage.
The good news is that I’m finally attacking that list. The bad news is that nearly all the projects on the list are FFTs for me, some made even harder to get started on because of large price tags and conflicting opinions.
Take my garage, for instance. One contractor says the existing slab is fine, while another says it must be replaced. One advises keeping the same footprint, while another recommends building larger. One says my 200-year-old backyard oak tree isn’t a problem, another that it needs to be trimmed right away.
Then, their estimates arrived … and my eyes glazed over. There was no easy way to compare apples to apples, and even if there was, I have no idea what shape roof to choose or how many lights to have installed or …
What if I make a mistake? Choose the wrong builder, or worse, the wrong dimensions so that the truck I’m planning to buy down the road doesn’t fit.
So, the project has come to a standstill, which is exactly what Brown says happens when we get overwhelmed by vulnerability and stop trying.
Embrace the suck
While I will eventually choose a contractor (a friend who has built two cabins is coming over next week to help me evaluate the estimates I’ve received), Brown says we all too often shut down in the face of uncertainty.
I certainly have been guilty of that.
But I’ve also seen the benefits of embracing what Brown refers to as “the suck.” The suck is the yuck we have to get through in order to get what we desire.
She says that when we don’t embrace the suck, things start to shut down inside of us. And while I’m now in my 60s and beginning to contemplate retirement, I have no plans of shutting down.
Instead, I’m reminding myself that I have what it takes to get through the FFTs. After all, when I think about it, I’ve done it before. I did it when I launched my own marketing and employee communications agency, when I wrote my first book and when I bought an island beach house.
And while all of those things were terrifying stretches at the time, I not only survived them, I emerged from them stronger and more confident. Sure, I experienced the FFTs (and I even f#!%ed up a few times along the way), but I’m proud of all I’ve accomplished and know I’ll feel the same way once one the garage is done.
My key takeaways
Whether you, like me, are considering a home-improvement project or a self-improvement one (I have a long list of those as well), here are three tips to help you s-t-r-e-t-c-h out of your comfort zone and get comfortable with the FFTs:
Engage your imagination. Research shows that our brains don’t differentiate between imagining doing something and actually doing it, so amp up your confidence by visualizing exactly what you’d like to experience. For me, it’s pulling into a light-filled garage and realizing my vehicles fit perfectly.
Lower your expectations. When you first try something new, chances are you won’t be very good at it. That seems obvious, right? But it’s amazing how many of us let the fact that we’re “all thumbs” or “have two left feet” get in the way of trying new things.
Ask for help. Don’t carry the ball all by yourself. Instead, let other people help you get where you want to go by expanding your network to include people who are both younger and older, as well as those who have had different life and career experiences.
My father never talked about his experiences in the Navy during WWII until late in life. He was in his 80s when I learned he’d been on a destroyer off the coast of Normandy during D-Day and that his ship, the USS O’Brien, had been hit by a kamikaze pilot when the war shifted to the Pacific. He never glorified war or his role. Like so many men who served in WWII, he said that he hadn’t done anything special—he was just doing his job like everybody else.
WordSister Cynthia Kraack coauthored 40 Thieves on Saipan with Joseph Tachovsky, whose father Lieutenant Frank Tachovsky, led the elite Marine Scout-Sniper platoon known as the “40 Thieves.” The younger Tachovsky didn’t know the incredible scope of his father’s role until his father’s funeral, which sent him on a quest to learn more. In 2016, he came to Cynthia with hours of interviews with surviving platoon members, letters, and military research that he’d gathered.
During an informal interview with Cynthia I asked, “What was the story you wanted to tell?” She explained, “The book is a fairly accurate capture of the story I wanted to tell. Understandably, the old men he interviewed found it easier to talk about the lighter side of their Marine service—the jokes, the pranks, the exploits. They said a situation was tense without describing the conditions. Joe wanted to pay tribute to the men and we focused on a line of his father’s: ‘War makes men out of boys and old men out of young men.’ The 18-year-old who went to church with his family and had a last Sunday dinner at home before reporting for training would never come home. The man who came home would need time to rebuild his connection to living outside of war. I also found myself wanting to write a book that would help women understand war’s imprint on the men in their world.”
Last fall, I visited Omaha Beach and other sites associated with the D-Day invasion. Part of me understood that although I was hoping for a glimmer of Dad’s experience, I wouldn’t find it. There’s no way I could possibly understand what he went through. Maybe a soldier or sailor could, but not me.
I sensed that longing in Joe and Cynthia, whose father also served in the Navy in the Pacific Theater during WWII. As coauthors, their main focus in writing the book was to remember and honor the men known as the 40 Thieves. Ultimately, their work was personal, too. They hoped to gain insight into their fathers, access those younger men, honor and remember what they did. As coauthors, they have.