The Freckle Correlation

Posted: August 17, 2018 in Uncategorized

I think freckles are adorable. They make a person seem genuine and outdoorsy and fun. They give an immediate impression of wholesomeness and sunshine.

My husband has a few freckles, my daughter has a light sprinkle, but all I have are some dark spots and a tiny mole: I guess I could call them giant freckles and a beauty mark. But really, there’s nothing adorable about my facial pigmentation.

I’ve been doing some research, and it seems that most of people who have freckles also have red hair. So last week, I went to Walgreens’s, perused the hair color aisle, selected L’Oreal Autumn Flame (“medium auburn with warm golden tones”), came home and followed the instructions on the box to a T. And just like that, I joined the ranks of the gingers. I didn’t recognize myself there for a minute, but I have to say, it was a pretty good look for me!

But – this probably doesn’t surprise you – no freckles. Every time I walked by the mirror, I stepped closer and squinted and double-checked across the bridge of my nose. Nope. Not a single freck. I was devastated. How could this have happened? Or, more specifically, not happened? Red hair = freckles: I saw it on the internet.

As every student who has studied research and statistics for more than two weeks knows, one action causing another (causation) is very hard to prove. The best you can usually hope for is a strong correlation. There are just too many combinations of factors that work together to actually lead to something happening. But if someone with a little data in his back pocket wants you to do something or buy something, it’s easy to blur that causation/correlation line. For example:

• People who play competitive (travelling) sports as kids make more money as adults. This could be true in some cases, but probably less because soccer is involved and more because families who can afford travelling sports are more likely to be educated themselves and encourage kids to excel.

• Take this supplement, and you’ll lose weight and feel better. This one reminds me of Granny Clampetts’ cure for the common cold: you take a swig of the “recipe” 3 times a day, rest and drink a lot of (presumably other) liquids, and Voila! The cold is cured….in 3-5 days. Sometimes, the advertised supplement is part of a “patented” system that involves exercise, natural foods, lots of water, 7 hours of sleep…..and their product. I’m not doubting the benefit: I’m just skeptical of the silver bullet claim.

OK, so I didn’t really dye my hair: I’m way too chicken for that. Even if I did think it would give me freckles (which I do actually find adorable), the blondish highlights-that-sort-of-barely-disguise-some-of-the-gray are about as bold as I’m likely to get with my hair.

But I have tried to dye my soul a few times, thinking it might magically grant me some associated spiritual freckle. And I’ve been disappointed every single time. No matter how carefully I chose the shade and followed the instructions, I didn’t quite recognize myself. Even if it turned out to be a good look for me, it was just that – a look. Cozying up to a correlation and labeling it a cause is not just an advertising strategy: it’s a trick we play on ourselves.

Turns out freckles come from one place – genetics. It’s a Yes/No box that gets checked for you, before you, and in spite of you. Authentic. Real. Like Popeye, I am what I am. And I’m working on embracing it.

But dimples, though…..(sigh).


I Love My Yeti

Posted: June 30, 2018 in Uncategorized

Actually, mine is not a Yeti at all, but the brand has pretty much reached the status of Bandaids and Kleenex, so that everybody knows that you don’t necessarily mean Yeti when you say “Yeti.” It’s just an insulated metal cup — a very well-insulated metal cup.

And aren’t they great? Mine keeps my Diet Pepsi, iced tea, or water in that awesome gravel ice frosty cold for as long I want to sip it or ignore it, maybe even forgetting where I left it. Even then, it’s thoughtful enough not to leave a sweaty ring on the furniture. In the rare instance that I linger over a cup of savory hot coffee. . . I can linger indefinitely without worrying about coming back to a cup of yucky cold coffee.

I use my Yeti every day, but I don’t live in my Yeti. I understand they do make tents or some kind of camping apparatus, but I don’t think they are made of the same stuff or serve the same purpose, and if cost is proportionate to size, I couldn’t afford one, anyway.

Although I like the temperature of my drink to vary as little as possible from where it started, I can’t say the same for the climate inside my head. Thank. Goodness. Some of the opinions, impressions, even convictions, I had 20 years ago – and 10 years ago, and last year – have become as uncomfortable as an overcoat in July.

I’ve said it before: I love the phrase cognitive dissonance, which happens when your brain basically gets a rock in its shoe. You learn something, or meet someone, or see something that creates what sounds at first like a wrong note in your favorite key signature. But without that dissonance, it’s hard for the adult brain to learn much. And sometimes what you thought was a wrong note is what makes it music.

Nobody really wants to, but I think we should embrace being uncomfortable, to forego the familiar and climb out of our Yeti. We need to spend more time with people who we think are not “doing it right” (substitute your most cherished “it”), people who don’t look like us, people who struggle with issues we just don’t get. Maybe we just don’t get it because we’re too insulated from their pain. We’ve taken up permanent residence in the Yeti.

Every once in a while you hear about one of those super-tight, well-insulated office buildings that makes everybody sick: it seems there really is such a thing as too much insulation. If there’s a group on the planet that should be as well-insulated as a barn – and I mean the antique, Barnwood Builders kind of barn, not the horse castles we have here in Kentucky – it’s church. It should be impossible to keep it comfortable: it should be drafty, and accessible, and messy. Extremes of opinion, race, socioeconomics, and even most persuasions should be able to coexist without either polarizing or homogenizing.

We may never know unless we get out of the Yeti.

I was going straight from work to get my hair cut. I normally go there from home, so I wasn’t exactly sure of the best route from my downtown office building — more specifically, from my downtown parking garage. I had a general idea, but I was a little fuzzy on which streets are one way and which interstate onramp would get me headed toward my destination instead of away from it. Not wanting to take my chances at 5:15 on a weekday afternoon, I did what any other reasonably intelligent, self-respecting American commuter would do: I asked my phone.

I got in the car on Level 4 or 5 of the garage and called up the directions. I backed out of the parking space and started winding my way down to the spot it branched off toward two exits — Main Street (one-way west) or 1st Street (one-way south). As always, I was heading toward the southern exit.

Recently, a festival based on a century-old pastime got a lot of air on local t.v. In the early 1900s, the great Ohio River, as yet untamed by dams or locks, could be rendered impassable by heavy spring rains; river travelers delayed for weeks at a time found themselves in dire need of diversion. The area near 1st and Main was once the home of a relatively tame, but heavily wagered- and imbibed-upon such diversion — goat races . . . goat races. Billy Goat Strut and Nanny Goat Alleys ran parallel to Main Street and apparently enjoyed the Churchill Downs status of goat racing venues. Both have mostly been consumed by development, but a random block or two still show up on most maps. An apartment complex and the aforementioned beer festival are named for the Billy Goat version.

There was a reason for that random history detour. When I pushed Go on the directions and starting Go-ing down toward street level, the map voice started its odd sing-song instruction, invariably placing emphasis on the wrong syllable: “Turn left onto Billy Goat Strut Alley (pause)… Turn right onto Billy Goat Strut Alley (pause)…. Turn left onto Billy Goat Strut Alley….” Puzzled, I glanced at the dashboard GPS screen: the icon representing me was spinning pretty much in place as I drove down, down, down in a gentle clockwise spiral.

My technologically advanced, satellite-oriented map knew exactly where I was. And yet it didn’t. The navigational coordinates were flawless, but that vital third dimension — down — was comically lacking. From the system’s Flatland point of view, the Rogue and I were on the pavement, half a block south of Main Street, casually doing doughnuts in rush hour traffic; with passive-aggressive insistence, it advised me to cut through the half-forgotten alley and get out of harm’s way.

But I was perfectly fine, and not in harm’s way at all. So I turned off the map, made my way out of the garage, headed in the right general direction and turned it back on. It obligingly recalculated, and half an hour later I was sitting in the salon chair with a plastic cape around my shoulders, chatting with Mallorie as she snipped away at my hair.

So when everything you trust is telling you to bail, sometimes it helps to turn it off for a bit and turn it back on when you’re in a better place. And when you’re tempted to bark out quick and obvious (to you) advice to keep someone out of harm’s way, remember they may just be turning on an axis that you can’t see. You may be missing a vital dimension. And the goats haven’t raced there for a really long time.

Good. Night.

Posted: April 3, 2018 in Home, Memories, Nostalgia, Uncategorized

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They say home is where you can wake up in the night and make your way to the bathroom without turning on the light.

In the old house where my mother lived, and where I lived through my teenage years and summers thereafter, I could drift through the darkness like a ghost, navigating by the creak of the floor, the ticking of the clock, and my feet’s intuition of where the furniture was not. Anywhere I put out my hand, it would slide gently across the edge of the table or touch the door frame, landmarks to confirm that I was where I thought I was.  My still-half-asleep brain could see just fine in the pitch dark. On the way back, my eyes would have adjusted and I could make out the inviting, soft outline of the tossed-back covers and the pillow and the midnight shadows on the wall. I would be back to sleep almost before my feet left the floor.

In the really old house where I spent most of my childhood, going to the bathroom at night involved a flashlight and the moonlight and a hoot owl. “Going to look at the stars” was the country equivalent of “going to see a man about a horse.”

Darkness was rural circadian gospel: at some point, at the close of day, you turned out the lights and you went to bed. You didn’t leave a light on, and if anybody tugged the string on the light bulb hanging from a long cord over the kitchen table before morning, it jarred the household awake like a knock at the door: “What’s wrong?! Who’s sick?!”  There was daylight and dark for a reason. “After dark” was not the time to tackle a project or take off on an unplanned mission.

It’s never really dark now in my house – too many chargers and phones and things that glow, and the blinds are no match for the street lights on the curb or the 24/7 flashing announcements outside the elementary school across the street. Occasional cars move quietly through the neighborhood, headlights signaling comings and goings to people they don’t even know. Even if the power goes out, the brave little army of solar lights stands guard on the front walk. Darkness doesn’t stand a chance in this neighborhood.

There’s not a single clock in my house that ticks. Even so, the silent rhythm of modern life is artificially consistent: we’ve replaced the ancient bellwethers of the sun and the seasons with human inventions of the clock and the calendar. Then we stick them in our pocket or strap them to our wrist and rarely make a move without asking their permission.

Even in the deepest dark of night, my house is just dim, and the only hard part about a trip to the bathroom – it’s barely a dozen steps away – is getting back to sleep.

In The Crossfire

Posted: March 16, 2018 in Conflict, Doubt, Uncategorized, Worry

I can’t get away by myself. I would like to sometimes, but there are two sneaky little companions who seem you-know-what-bent on tagging along. They don’t like each other much, I don’t think they even like me very much, and they show up at the most inappropriate times.

Like shopping, for example. I think they are part of the reason I’m not that crazy about shopping. I might enjoy it more if I could do it in peace. But as soon as my gaze falls on something I think I might like, out they pop, one in each ear, like a grumpy old married couple, arguing with each other by pretending they’re talking to me.

“Oooh, that’s super cute!”

“Cute? No, you’re definitely too old for cute. Besides, it’s gaudy.”

“No, it’s cheerful. Go try it on. I bet you’ll love it.”

“Try it on? You know stuff never looks as good on you as it does on the hanger. It’s a waste of time. And did you even look at the price tag?”

Which is a dumb question: I have never not looked at the price tag.

So they accompany me to the dressing room, and it’s allowed because, you know, they’re in my head.

“Try this one first: it was on clearance.”

“Clearance: that’s code for another orphan sweater that you don’t have anything to go with. If you have to buy a pair of pants to go with that clearance top……I’m just saying……”

“No, look, it goes with your black pants.”

“That should be a sign up over your entire closet: Goes With Black Pants. That’s so boring. Maybe you should just buy another pair of black pants and get out of here.”

And the battle continues. They go to church with me (“That song is so pretty” – “If you like a big production…”), to work (“This project sounds exciting” – “Sounds like a lot of extra work, you mean”) and sometimes even to bed (“You’ve got to get some sleep: relax and clear your mind” – “Hey, remember that stupid thing you did that one time? ‘Cause I do. Let’s go over it again….”). Caught in the crossfire, all I can do is duck and cover.

As annoying as they are, sometimes their yin and yang is comforting. It’s the psychological equivalent of gutter bumpers at the bowling alley. They give my wobbly opinions something to bump up against, so I don’t get too far off center – Trouble is, all they do is push each other to the opposite extreme, so they wouldn’t know center if it rented them shoes.

They are at their loudest when I’m at my weakest – when I’m tired or weary (not the same thing, by the way). When I’m overwhelmed and obsessing over dumb stuff. When I feel like a big fat imposter. When I just can’t even.

Or maybe that’s just when I listen to them. I let them play tug-of-war with me because the paralysis of indecision is safer than the regret of a bad decision. And I listen because I’m afraid not to put at least one egg in every basket I can find.

If you’re concerned about me, relax: I don’t actually hear actual voices. And I can joke about being the world’s worst shopper all by myself. As an INFP, I am a dreadful decision-maker, not because I can’t pick the thing, but because I can’t not pick the other things. My relationship with my imaginary frenemies, into whose mouths I am constantly putting words, is complicated. I think I need to start seeing other people. It’s not them – it’s me.

And I also need a new sport: bumper bowling is really not that much fun. Turns out, the occasional spectacular gutter ball can be very liberating.

I work downtown in a fair-sized city, and I walk around a lot during my lunch hour. Whether I’m walking a couple of blocks to the gym or taking a longer walk to clear my head, sometimes it’s quite an education. I saw something just yesterday I don’t think I’ve ever seen before — a man wearing a mink stole. Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody walking during the day downtown wearing a mink stole. But there he was, waiting to get on the bus.

I see a lot of the same people who are not actually the same people. I see the health-conscious office worker striding along purposefully after trading her heels for the New Balances she keeps under her desk.  There’s the conventioneer, with a name tag the size of a Kindle on a lanyard around his neck, checking his phone for the nearest bourbon distillery. There’s a home school group, a crowd of public school kids on a field trip, a special needs class holding hands, a group of oblivious people walking 5 abreast on the sidewalk. More people than you would like to see are talking importantly into the air, while their headset faithfully delivers all the annoying street noise to whoever is on the other end. There are tourists, concert-goers (either Ms. Cowboy boots and cute little dress or Mr. Ponytail and 1994 tour shirt), sports fans, bourbon aficionados, the old couple from Indiana trying to figure out the digital parking meters, and slim young executives watching for their Uber.

There’s a substantial but unpredictable population of homeless people. Professional panhandlers make things hard on the legitimately unfortunate. One neatly-dressed gentleman asks everybody politely for 38 cents. There’s a woman who always needs money for feminine products, and a guy on the corner who silently holds a dog-eared hand-lettered sign.

In the middle of this microcosm of urban America, there’s one more group of people, more odd and more out of place by a long shot than any of the others. In groups of two or three, in five or six different locations, they stand beside racks of religious literature and talk…to each other. In fairness, they are probably allowed to take up positions on public sidewalks as long as they don’t “bother people.” And bother them they don’t. Headlines on their literature tout happy families and a successful life, but I’ve never seen a soul pick one up. Meanwhile, the pamphlet attendants in a lot of polyester look pleasant and nod politely, while all the aforementioned characters and more stream past them  in desperate need of Jesus.

I hear how critical that sounds, and I don’t mean it to be: I actually admire their dedication and conviction, driving downtown and standing out on the sidewalk in the heat and the cold. But here’s why I mention them: it’s like looking in a carnival mirror. Fairly or not, I see what a lot of people see in Christians, fairly or not – overdressed proselytizers with blinders on, who care about what’s in their own literature and not much else. Worse, I fear I see what people see in me – a pleasant person with admirable convictions who does a whole lot of standing and watching.

I am a conflicted Baby Boomer: I have the right birthday, but that’s about it. I somehow missed out on most of the positive characteristics that hallmark my generation. Thankfully, I also missed out on the Woodstock, free-love, flower power, anti-establishment shenanigans of some of my generational peers, so I’ve got that going for me.

There’s a disturbing refrain I hear all the time, and I’m so sick of it I could scream: I won’t, because that would make me look like a shrew, which is a bad look for a Southern lady pushing the upper limits of middle age. It’s about those pesky millennials: their bosses at work keep trying to reel them in, people at church wonder where they went, and even their Boomer parents sometimes express the same resignation about them as about the elderly parents they are trying to either coerce or placate: (wry smile, shoulder shrug) “What can you do?”

I’ve spent a lot of time around some of these kids – who, by the way, are not kids anymore – and I’d like to say on record that I’m a big fan. I’ve learned a lot from them. And as I am steadfastly refusing to join the “Get off of my lawn!” club, I plan to keep learning from them as long as my learner works. And also from the ones who came before them (those Gen X-ers with the middle child syndrome) and the ones who come after them (okay, those kids kind of are still kids).

I probably should drop a disclaimer here: they don’t all fit neatly into their category, any more than I do into mine. But in general, here are some millennial characteristics I admire:

1. They work hard, under their own terms. A lot of what is criticized as laziness is usually just reluctance to kowtow. You cannot outwork a motivated, empowered, millennial on a mission. Unless you try to make one clock in and out of a 9-to-5 office with outdated technology. Which brings me to #2.

2. Technology is their native tongue. I’m so jealous of this. It makes me feel the same way I feel when I’m around a bunch of people speaking Spanish. I’ll catch a few phrases, but keeping up with the conversation is a challenge. I try to keep up with the technology conversation, but I’ll never be as tech-fluent as they are. Which means I need them sometimes. (By the way, anybody know how to set up a Smart TV? Asking for a friend.)

3. They care. They care about the planet, about poverty, about injustice, about animals, about the marginalized: why else would so many of them have rallied around a gray-haired Democrat who looked like their Papaw in the last presidential primary? The underserved have a friend in the millennial.

4. They are tolerant. Now, it is entirely possible to be so open-minded that your brains fall out, but even if we can’t quite write tolerance a blank check, millennials can teach us a lot about living and letting live. And hopefully a little something about getting along even when we disagree, because the world needs more of that right now.

These last three are big. Because my circle of friends and relatives is a little heavy on the churchy side, it’s only natural that a few of the things I’ve learned from the young folks – oh, wow. I just said “young folks” – apply to religion.

5. Commitment trumps obligation as a motivational mechanism. Boomers do not get this. We tend to think in “oughts” and “shoulds.” That’s how we were raised — by cautious, Depression-era parents who seemed to have a clear picture of where the lines were. So we don’t know what to make of it when millennials of faith don’t fall in line behind our “shoulds.” Nowhere is this more apparent than at church, where sometimes the coin of the realm is attendance. But millennials are not inclined to play church. They may just be a lot more committed to Jesus than to church. This does not compute. To us, it’s the same thing: not necessarily to them. And if “one of these things is (perceived to be) not like the other,” our old friend Duty will not keep millennials in the pew. If church matches Jesus, Duty can retire and move to Florida: his work has been outsourced to Commitment.

6. Similarly, millennials are not bound by brand loyalty. If they stick with something, it’s for a reason. They research product reviews and have very well-developed malarkey filters. If they stick with the same make of car, sports team, or religious affiliation as their parents, it won’t be because “we’ve always driven Fords.” But of course, if it were just about what car we drive or what color our game day shirt is, we Boomers could just swallow hard and get over it.

7. They ask hard questions. Information has always been at millennials’ fingertips: they like to know stuff. If you’re approachable, they may ask you about what you believe and why you believe it. If they know you love them, and you don’t act like they’re trying to steal your birthright, they are surprisingly open to hearing you out. But if all you do is toss marshmallow platitudes in their general direction without real relationship, it’s just a matter of time until your church gatherings start to look more like Cracker Barrel than Whole Foods.

These are good people, these millennials, and we Boomers are the ones who made them — literally. Since we are planning to stay in the game for a while yet, we need to learn to adult with them without polarizing. It is going to take what is best in all of us to make a world worth living in and a church worthy of the name.