And Coming...

"She-Bear in the Beautiful Garden" is an allegory for children of all ages, written and illustrated by Ellen Gillette. Order from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or at

Monday, December 31, 2012

Babbling 'Bout the Year Ahead

For twenty-four years, I've written columns appearing mostly in the Fort Pierce Tribune, as well as the Forum, the Independent (aka the WeeklyStuart News, Vero Beach Press Journal, Burlington Times-News, Main Street Focus, and (once) the Raleigh Observer. This wonderful slice of life began with New Year's thoughts appearing January 6, 1989 in the Tribune.

It happened this way: I noticed that a friend of ours had a guest column in the paper. I'm not sure if I asked her about it, or if I just sent something in, but Howard Sharp, the editorial page editor at the time, accepted it, asked me to come in for a photo and gave me the heads-up about submitting invoices. They actually had a freelance budget back then. Would that they did now!

At any rate, Bob Enns, the managing editor (I think they still called the top guy "editor-in-chief" then) stepped down soon after and Lee Barnes took the reins. I went in to introduce myself to "Mr. Barnes." "Call me Lee," he said in a South Carolina drawl he describes as John-Kerry-with-a-head-cold.

I noticed that on his wall hung a diploma frame. I know this is what it was because the store's slick paper insert was still inside it bearing those very words in fancy font: diploma frame. Apparently he was too busy reporting and managing newsrooms and being editors hither and yon in Florida and North Carolina to actually graduate from college. Go figure. But you can tell a lot about his character, humility, and humor from that one simple frame on the wall. We hit it off immediately.

So of course, I tried to take advantage right away, asking if I could write for the paper on a regular basis. Welllll, nooooo, but he did like my writing. "We'll be glad to print whatever you send in." So I sent something in every week.

Eventually I got an official request to be the Wednesday columnist in the local section, and it was, as they say, the beginning of a beautiful friendship. I made some folks mad, and got fired twice (by subsequent editors) but it was great while it lasted. There was one paper that actually closed down shop with an issue I'd written for, but I'm told that it wasn't my fault! Currently, I toss out the occasional guest column and Larry Reisman, editorial page editor for all three of Scripps' Treasure Coast papers is generous enough to run them. No more freelance budget, but hey, it's still a nice feeling to know that people in my community are reading what I've written.

Sometimes I get an email, or  comments attached to the online version of the column. Sometimes they're complimentary, sometimes snarky, both of which mean someone went beyond a thought and did something about it. To a writer, either pro or con taken to that level is a plus.

That's a lot of talking about me, something about which Lee educated me under his editorial guidance. Too many "I's" and I'd get a phone call telling me to either change it or to let me know why he wasn't running my column that week! But I re-read that 1989 inaugural opinion column the other day, and before I get to my 2012 thoughts about the new year, I thought I'd ramble on a little bit for context.

Rambling done (the downside to blogging is that no one edits me first!) what do I hope for in 2013? I'm not superstitious about the number 13, so none of that. And when you think about it, we passed the much-bandied-about Doomsday predicted by the Mayans on December 21, so why worry about 13?

Because our son Adam died in 2000, the turning of the numbers usually has me reflecting on that one point: it will be 13 years, now, since his death. Honestly, for many, many years, that is what every January 1 brought to mind. This year, however, there is a sense of change. Dynamics, family systems, possible local moves, new relationships for loved ones...that's a lot of change! What do I hope for, primarily, between the last day of 2012 and the last day of 2013? Resolutions are temporary, for the most part, but here are some random thoughts that apply to my own life, and may spark some thoughts about yours:

I need to manage my time better so I can get more exercise, and get other things better in order. I've recently re-discovered how many squats and calf lifts I can do while conditioning my hair in the shower. I've wasted precious time just standing there, and hope to remember more often. I could jog in place while watching television, too. My schedule hasn't been conducive lately to running at the track or going to the gym, which means I have to either change my schedule or come up with more creative ways to stay fit. Because I'm 55. And I want to be 95 one day, still fit.

Households operate best when there are some routines its members can count on. This morning, 9-year-old Adam suggested we have meals at the same time, like at school. I think that's a grand idea. It will take some cooperation and some discipline, and possibly, some fussing to get people out of the kitchen because I'MFIXINGDINNERJUSTWAIT. I can remember going through a menu-phase, in which I planned out an entire month's meals at one shot, and bought everything I'd need in one trip. It was great! Why did I stop? Who knows. But maybe this year, I'll become more organized about such things.

Housework's another area I could be more organized. When we were at Discipleship Training School at the Youth With A Mission base in Lindale, Texas, my work duty EVERY DAY was to clean our two rooms and the bathroom we shared with a couple from Norway. Things never required much cleaning because I tended to them daily. I took time daily. Things aren't slovenly around here, but I can see room for improvement. (I learned a long time ago that the way to my husband's heart is not through his stomach, as the saying goes, but it is freshly vacuumed. Knowing that, I think it's the least I can do to maintain a neat home for a man who has worked so hard all his life.)

I need to drink more water. You'd think such a thing would go without saying, but most of us walk around dehydrated, with fresh, clean water available 24/7 for the vast majority of Americans. Water is such a necessary component to our physical, even mental and emotional, well-being that I'm surprised there's not more of a push by the government to educate the public on this. We know to recycle and stop smoking and do breast self-exams and not drive while intoxicated, but I'm guessing there's a mess of people who don't drink enough water every day and don't even know they should. AND I KNOW I SHOULD AND DON'T! Dumb. Dumber than dumb. I just don't remember to do it.

I have to keep fighting codependency. Getting myself wrapped up in other peoples' behaviors and emotions is my default setting. For years, after reading "Codependent No More" by Melody Beattie, and going to a family counselor, I've been working on this, and making healthy strides toward a better frame of mind. What I'd thought was being a servant, being kind, being submissive, etc. etc ad nauseum turned out to be counterproductive in some cases, even harmful. I need to let people be who they are, even if it means they make mistakes or behave badly. It's not up to me to change them, or even educate them, even if that has been an appropriate role in the past for various reasons.

For instance, I have parented my children. They're not my responsibility any longer, because they're adults. That's easy when they don't live with me, but with one resident daughter, it's been a struggle. Have. To. Let. Go. When she has been ill or otherwise unable to parent HER children, I've stepped in. Too much, perhaps. Have to find that delicate balance as the co-head of the household in such a way that I don't usurp my daughter's authority but rather, support it. At the same time, we feel there are things we should require of all who live under our roof. I walk a fine line, and don't do it anywhere near perfection, but I'm working on it. Looooong way to go, as anyone in the house could attest. I don't expect to be perfect by December 31, 2013, but I'll be very disappointed if I can't show some progress.

I need to be more disciplined in my writing. I worked best when I had an editor who expected me to turn in a column on time, with the correct word count and minimal editing needed. Committing to this blog, and especially my other one (A Poem A Day) builds in some accountability, but I haven't written much for paying markets, for no other reason than sheer laziness. There's really no excuse for that. Writers write.

Those who know me and my background best may, at this point, be thinking "When is she going to talk about her spiritual life?" Well...I'm not. As a Christian, it goes without saying that spiritual growth is an ongoing process. None of us has "arrived." None of us, from the newest believer to the celebrity preacher to the theologian with more letters at the end of his or her name than one would think possible...none...NONE...should think prayer is no longer needed, or study, or worship. The day a Christian (or, I would think, a person whose faith lies elsewhere) thinks he or she knows all there is to know about God and God's word and God's will and God's ways is a day of deception and delusion. Eternity is how long it will take to fully know God. And since it goes without saying, well, I'm not saying much.

I want to laugh more this year. Kiss more. Be silly more. Sing more loudly and dance more often. I want to make other people laugh, and cry, because I've written something that touched their hearts. I want to look in the mirror at the end of 2013 and think, "You did okay." Maybe I'll be able to do that honestly, maybe not. But one thing I know for sure, I love being alive. I love love, love's power and grace and fierceness. I'm looking forward to seeing my love affect others, and being affected by theirs. I'm excited about seeing lives change this year in a myriad of positive ways.

It's gonna be a wild ride!

(c) Ellen Gillette, 2012

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

It's My Birthday and I'll Write if I Want To, Write if I Want To, Write if I Want To

Somewhere in the vicinity of four in the afternoon, 55 years ago tomorrow (December 19, 1957 if you must know) I was born. I don't remember this. I don't remember feeling compelled to leave my warm dark home and venture out, squeezing through an opening in the cave wall, being pushed out (literally) kicking and screaming.

I don't remember any of it. There are months, years even, that I've lost. I was held, cooed and sung to, rocked, played with, fed, bathed. For years I received royal treatment, and I can't recall a single detail, which hardly seems fair. How many of us EVER get the royal treatment again?

My earliest memory is probably two, maybe three, a hazy impression of sitting on a high stool listening to my mother and an elderly woman. Mama knows exactly who and what that describes, but I do not.

When I was two, my mother was pregnant a third time, and was confined to bed. I don't remember that either. I played alone a lot while she desperately tried to keep the baby safe and secure within her womb, but I don't remember it. I know that as much as I love people, there are times I must be alone. I get "peopled out" and maybe this is something genetically mapped early on. I don't know. I just don't know.

When my baby brother died, I don't know if I cried or not. I grew up hearing the story, seeing the photograph of funeral flowers, seeing the photo of his still, perfectly formed shape, but I had no personal connection.

Out of 55 years, I remember close to 50 fairly well. I wonder why we're made that way? Why don't we recall every significant occurrence that has done its part to shape who and what we are? Or more accurately, who and what we are becoming. At 55, I am more finished than I was, say, at 17, but not as complete as the woman as I intend to be at 80. I know some things I want to see happen between now and then, and I don't have a clue how it will all pan out, but I'm determined to enjoy the journey.

What have I learned in 55 years? I learned how to cry early on. Turn over, crawl - pretty impressive feats, given my tender age. I learned to walk, talk, use the potty, obey my parents, play with paper dolls. I learned how to do math and use the English language. Learned to read, color inside (and outside, if I felt like it) the lines. Learned how to cook simple dishes (I haven't progressed very far from that). Learned to play a few musical instruments, the names of the states, how to braid hair, and (because I am a Southern woman and Raised Right) how to clean and sew.

I learned that people almost always do exactly what they want to do, regardless of what they say about it. That God exists and will do exactly what HE wants, regardless of how I feel about it. That love can be fierce, loss is physically painful, joy is as necessary to existence as oxygen or food. I learned that I feel loved when I am touched and when I am talked to, which makes me a cheap date, perhaps, but an appreciative one.

I learned from observing my parents and sister, relatives, friends, from reading books and listening to people. I learned a lot from sitting around a breakfast table while a bunch of cranky men talked to one another. I learned how to adapt to almost anything, and then I learned (only fairly recently) that I don't have to adapt to a damn thing unless I choose to.

I kiss well, I'm told. I could tell you other things I'm pretty good at (most of them), but I'm not genius at anything. It is one of the banes of my existence, because I always wanted to be the Best at Something, and I'm not. I could also tell you  the areas of great struggle and weakness that serve as the meat of most of my personal prayers. If you find fault with me, believe me when I say, it's no surprise. I'm already well aware of whatever fault you see, so you might as well save your breath.

In other words,  I know myself pretty well despite that annoying initial fog as a toddler. For the most part, I'm pleased with the skin I'm in (although I'd like to reduce the amount by several pounds). I'm not the girl I was, or the woman I will become, but for now, with the help of God and love and mercy and tenderness, I'm okay. Really. And thanks for asking.

On second thought, I am the Best at Something. Being me. Warts and all.

(c) Ellen Gillette, 2012