Archive for June, 2013

n/51

Marty Jones and NAMB's AV conference room equipment.

There is a palpable sense of relief in the room when the company CEO loosens his tie. There’s a moment of respect paid around the conference table, and then top shirt buttons are gratefully tugged open and ties pulled into cockeyed Ys. It can’t be more than 78 degrees in the room, and once it was clear that the air conditioning had well and fully failed, fans were hastily procured and brought in. But it’s still hot.

I keep my tie securely fastened. I’m the vendor in the room.

The next slide comes up, and the narration continues. The corner of this slide reads 11/51. I’ve already read the first eleven, in depth, in my office, and I’ve read the next forty, too. But the CEO wants to deliver them, so I’m listening.

Sort of.

What percentage of me is in this room? Sixty, seventy percent. I’m not necessarily feigning interest; that’s too harsh a term. But, seventeen years into a career of consulting, I can put on a studious expression at will. My soul is twenty-one miles west down I-70, hefting my giggling son in the air for another toss into the deep end of the pool. I can already feel my rotator cuff stinging from the effort, but I don’t mind. My last memory of him, and his sisters, before I left this afternoon was one of pure presence and mindfulness. They are truly themselves in the summer; there’s no artifice of school personas, no submerged intensity. They reach a perfect symmetry of their inner and outer selves, all in balance, all present without shame or conformity. They are the children they are. It’s beautiful.

They’re looking at my tie at this point, and I think about loosening it for a moment, and then – perhaps in honor of that memory – I just don’t. “Can we run that back?” I ask. “Are those assumptions base case or bear case?” More discussion.

I’m not always required to be present in these moments, suit-and-tied in client offices. Most days, when I’m not selling new engagements or reading out existing ones, I can work alongside their summers, shorts and Keens all around as they sprawl about the house with new books or invent new plots involving the TARDIS tent in the basement or add on to the ever-expanding world they’re building in Minecraft. But when I am present in the corporate environment, I’m conscious of how I’m holding it in, toeing the line, obeying the norms –

Speaking of, they’re still looking at my tie. Right; when in Rome. I unfasten the top button my shirt, too, and give my tie a tug. It’s all part of the ritual, the dance…the ojigi.

They’ve done this in school all this time, holding their intensities at bay to be like the others, laughing when the peerage wants it and not laughing when the teacher’s had enough, and otherwise obeying the ojigi of public-school life. They’re not necessarily themselves when they’ve done so, and the contrast between the children I taught for the year and those I see daily over the summer is dramatic.

I know why I do what I do. I enjoy it, first off; it’s mentally engaging for me to help clients tackle thorny issues. I like the people I encounter (mostly) and the compensation I receive for work done (mostly), but that’s all been of my own design. My children trust in me that their school days are spent in equally directed and efficient endeavors. Otherwise, why would you bother? Why not exist in this perfect symmetry at every moment? Why contend with any of the bullshit ojigi at all?

Why not be the people we are all the time?

We don’t get to, of course. There are Important Tasks to Attend To in the Adult World®.  I’m fortunate in that my time-to-be-a-grownup moments are fairly few and far between, but even I have to pretend to be 43 from time to time. But I can see my own purpose for doing so. Even as the slide deck drips languorously over to 12/51, I can contemplate what this engagement means: it’s money in the bank for homeschooling tech, or a fistful of day trips this fall, or in their 529 accounts, or the rainy-day fund. My reward for time spent in ojigi is linear; I know why I’m here, what the pros and cons of my involvement in this moment are. I’m aware of the decision I’m making, and it is made of my own free will.

Theirs isn’t. Education is a long-term investment of their time and effort. Maybe that time and effort docks with the work environment of their future, and it was time well-spent. Maybe it doesn’t, and I’m just burning their childhood hours, these perfect symmetric hours, for nothing. When I do get the chance to remember who they are, skin darkening with each passing day in the sun, laughter a little more organic and less self-conscious as the months roll on, I want nothing more than to preserve the conditions under which they freed themselves to be these people. There are endless days of ties and slides and ojigi ahead of them, but every day I can keep them from that is a day they’ll remember well later. Even when they find their passions and go to them, that’s still not quite the same – and I feel that I will, in some sense, owe them a reckoning of I how I chose to spend these moments on their behalf.

As we roll on to 13/51, comfortably aware of my own motivations in this moment, I look out the window. There’s plenty of sun left in the day.

The Course

Impression from a running man

Too large for smaller toes to fill

Therein the risk that footsteps pose

Creating lines of human will

That outline choices in one life –

One forking path of joy and strife

And so I pull them with both hands

To run beside, and not behind

For theirs is each their own to run

Joy and sorrow, pride and pain

Days in sunshine, days in rain

But theirs will be their own – so why

Should I expect their steps to try

To mimic mine? In craft or trade,

Relationships, or schoolbook grades,

No tick of my life’s clock is theirs,

No breath of my days their affair,

Nor would I ask that they should run

In footsteps never meant for them

So pull again I do; resistance

From these hands, who know not how

I plan for distance, every day

In every hour and endeavor

They will know these days themselves

But not today, and not tomorrow

Should their hours be so spent; so

Childhood, its own defense

Against such works, and breaths, and days

This the reason that I stay

Resolutely to one side; I gently

Pull them into stride

Upon their own path, footsteps theirs

To treasure when they flew in grace

Or mourn when, stumbling, red in face

They found themselves in moments dire

Balanced there upon the wire

Of their making; this will be

I know it, for I’ve lived this too

But I wish for them these moments new

Spent on the run, on paths they flew

Along in sunshine.

Matsaaruti

561

The fantastic Gifted Problems Tumblr posted this exchange last week, and it stopped me in my tracks. It’s really rare that someone takes a descriptive challenge that has approximated nailing custard to a wall for decades and says, “here, let me pop that in the freezer for an hour, and put it in a frame. By the way, here’s a pair of picture hangers and a tack hammer.” But, indirectly, that’s just what this exchange did: neatly hang a problem that haunts many gifted kids (and adults). When you do something right, it’s because of your ‘giftedness’ – as if it were one of Allie Brosh’s Alots, a beast that sits apart from you and does amazing things. When you do something wrong, however…well, that’s entirely on you.

That, in turn, has a lot to do with how we perceive failure – and gifted individuals deal with a great deal of failure in a lifetime, regardless of what the popular belief might be. We fail at large goals and small, otherwordly attempts and mundane tasks. We fail over and over again. But if we allow kids even a hint of owning the schism that’s hinted at in the Gifted Problems exchange – that credit for our triumphs is due our ‘condition,’ while blame for our failures is due ‘ourselves,’ we’re pointing them down the wrong road. Triumph and failure belong to our fully integrated selves: I own both, for better or worse.

There’s more of the ‘better’ in that last sentence than you might initially think. Failure’s important for everyone in life, and GT kids (and adults) are no exception. Failure can do so much more for us, in many ways, than success can: it can teach, it can provoke, it can inquire, it can test. Failing at anything will tell you everything you need to know about your relationship with that activity. Specifically, how failure feels in each of its instances provides us with deep and rich insight into our passion level for trying again.

And that feeling is unique to each specific failure. There are a million flavors of failure for GT kids (and adults). In much the same way that the Inuit have a dizzying array of words for snow,  I like to think of failures in very specific and individual ways; not every failure is a garden-variety one. Here’s just a few of my favorite varieties.

  • Fehlure: failing at something you’re expected to be good at, simply because you couldn’t care less about it.
  • Fauxlure: actually pretending to be terrible at something just so people will stop asking you to do it for them.
  • Frailure: a stunning-upset failure at something you’re normally good at, simply because you’ve been stretched thin doing everything else.
  • Flailure: being tossed into something you’ve never done before and being expected to do well at it, despite having no experience at all.
  • Foelure: a bitter draught, this one involves failing at something high-profile in the presence of your sworn nemesis or arch-enemy.
  • Foolure: a close cousin to fauxlure, but in this case, you’re hiding some genuine skills you’ll pull out at the eleventh hour.
  • Feelure: another close cousin to fauxlure; this time, you’re not going to do it because normally you’d be paid to do it.
  • Feylure: expectations aside, nothing short of being able to do actual magic would have saved this one from being a disaster.
  • Feralure: you’ve abandoned any pretense of trying to pull this one out with skill and intellect, and now you’re just going at it with brute force
  • Freelure: the end state of fauxlure, when you’re finally left alone from being asked to do whatever it is.

My favorite, however, is fillure. Fillure is a failure that immediately floods you with confidence, inspiration, and excitement; that’s not how it’s done, fillure quietly informs, but you’re on the right track. Fillure pulls you to your feet and sends you back to the keyboard or the kitchen, the rink or the research, with renewed vigor. When you’ve found fillure in your life, you’ve probably found your passion – or at least one of them. And over time, as you say it aloud, it really does start to sound a lot less like failure…and a whole lot more like its own condition.

To my own kids, and to all GT kids (and, really,everyone), then, I would say: know your snow. Not every snowfall is a travail, and not every failure is a disaster. For the Inuit, auniq (“ice that is filled with holes, like Swiss cheese”) is a danger; matsaaruti (“‘wet snow that can be used to ice a sleigh’s runners”) is a tool. Failure will present itself over and over again, sometimes as a trap, sometimes as a test, sometimes as a teacher, and sometimes as a tool. Greet it on your own terms, name it in the moment for the role it possesses in that moment – and know that this meeting will not be the last.

The Habanero Cycle

Capture2

COME ON BACK TO AUNT CHILADA’S! the email blared. WE MISS YOU!

Ah, Aunt Chilada’s. I’d completely forgotten about you and your weapons-grade muy caliente fajitas – so hot that the cooks have to wear gas masks to cook and serve them, lest the pepper gas render them unconscious. Did I order the muy caliente fajitas one day last year at Auntie’s? Perhaps fueled by one pitcher too many of Pacifico on a hot Phoenix night, did I have delusions of youth, believing myself to be capable of handling the same multi-million Scoville food I ate in my 20s? I did. I could scarcely eat them, and Kathy got a good laugh as my head flushed pink, then raspberry red, then deep purple as I tried and tried to get through the platter. I paid dearly for it, in ways I will not subject you to.

I know this happened, but I have no experiential memory of it. We move through these moments and they are left to anecdotal, but not experiential, memory. Do I remember this happening? I do. Can I summon up what it was like to pile into that first overstuffed, billion-Scoville Tortilla-O-Death? I can’t.

Auntie C’s email came at just the same time that I was reviewing my notes from the last homeschooling year, in which – at least once a month or so – I wrote, somewhere, ‘this feels like too much.’ I can go back and look at my project bookings for work at the time, and see what horrific home improvement projects were going on, and sure enough, the correlation is clear: there were moments it was all too much. Too much algebra. Too much PBL management. Too many contractors at the door, and too many sheaves of paper to proof and spreadsheets to check, and too much too much. 

It was too much, in the same way that so many other things are too much:  roller coasters, breaking a limb, ice-cream headaches, the vengeance of last night’s good bottle(s) of red wine. They leave a trace of excess with us afterwards, but then it’s gone. Quick, summon up a summer-BBQ hangover, right now. Pull up your mouth memory of that crazy-ass ghost-pepper sauce at Tango Red’s, or the sensation after getting off Space Mountain. Bring that experience back, just for a second.

You can’t, can you?

Homeschooling is the same way. I know it was too much, then; it’s right there, on a journal page, that I thought it was. But it’s not now, and it doesn’t really matter that it was: I remember that I felt this way, but I can’t summon up the sensation – and I’ll be there again at some point this fall, and then I won’t, and life will go on. Hot sauce and roller coasters and red wine will make their repeated appearances in my life, too, and I’ll swear them off at different points, and forget I did.

Too much is all right, so long as it’s not too much all the time. And it’s not. It wasn’t today, the first day of summer vacation for us. I tackled a competitive analysis this morning while they labored away in Minecraft, taming ocelots and poking zombie villagers in their snouts and giggling the whole time. When my lumbar region gave out, I stretched and we took off on a bike ride and picnic, E comparing cloud shapes with me while H climbed a tree and A assembled an Iron Man suit out of bark. Home we came, and the girls tackled summer reading books while A and I played Monopoly for an hour. Back to work for a bit, and then it’s off to light the grill for dinner.

Not too much at all. Highly doable. And isn’t that really what’s necessary? The days that make it all seem possible?