Baggage Claim

Baggage ClaimI just returned from a trip to Minnesota, and I’m sitting here writing and staring at my suitcase. Those of you who know me are familiar with my fascination for the things we tote around with us. (For proof of this, reread Relevance from Afar.) And yet, as much as I put off packing until the last minute–and have been known not to unpack for up to a month–I’m still intrigued by what we decide to put in the baggage that we lug around.

Packing, for me, is haphazardly tossing random things into a suitcase, then systematically combing through all of it and deciding what stays and what goes. This second process of choosing what to carry is what I find so arduous, and so interesting, because we are all a product of this baggage that we carry.

Some will argue that we don’t choose life’s baggage, that’s assigned to us, or even that it chooses us. I disagree. While we can’t help what we’re handed in life, it’s up to us how we carry it and whether we let it weigh us down or make us stronger. It’s one thing to drag around what we’re given. It’s another, entirely, to know that we can then choose what stays and what goes if we’re just willing to put in the painstaking work.

I have spent many years eradicating baggage from my life, letting go of situations that weigh me down, taking things that aren’t working and putting them out to pasture, holding on to the things that matter, taking the opportunity to understand the baggage that others carry, and all of it can be summed up as the practice of creating a strong and peaceful heart and learning to wear it on my sleeve.

And now?

Well, now I think that if you’re willing to take the painful inventory of these things you carry, and you realize they’re necessary to your life, then carry them. Claim them as your own and carry them with pride. But let’s not forget that the more you travel, the less you pack. The more you put yourself out there–and here is where the heart on the sleeve comes in–the more you hone in on what you truly need.

So here I sit and stare at my suitcase filled with necessary items for December in Minnesota: sweaters, knee socks, a coat for shaking off the cold, hammers for the class I traveled to take, and all the other things I deemed necessary; and a detail springs to mind from, no kidding, David and Goliath. The detail is this: When David faced Goliath, he did it without armor. He did this because the armor was too heavy.

When the very stuff that’s protecting you no longer fits, when it makes you unable to move, it’s time to take it off. Let it go.

Walk on without it.

~
Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a multi-blogger, poet, and traveler. To learn more about her current writing projects, or for ways to donate toward their completion, see JodyBrown.com/writing.

Election Day Stories

Election DayHappy Election Day! I’ve put together some of my own Election Day stories, from what’s happened to me at the polls to how I got there:

  • In the mid 1990’s, when I waited tables at a truck stop Denny’s in Pennsylvania, we were the only Denny’s I’d ever heard of that served beer and wine. But on Election Day, we had to wait until the polls closed before we were permitted to serve alcohol to anyone. Over the years the law was interpreted in various ways, and depending on percentages of alcohol sales, some bars and businesses weren’t allowed to serve at all while others were allowed to serve after 9 p.m. The law has since been changed to allow alcohol sales all day long, although I did see an article dated as recently as 2012 that said South Carolina and Kentucky still operated under the restricted laws.
  • When I was in college, my parents would pick me up from school and drive me home so I could vote on Election Day. Then they’d promptly return me to school again.
  • Back when I was married, I went to the voting location according to where I lived, but they didn’t have me on the list. I’d updated my name, my license, and my address, but somehow, none of it updated my voter location. The volunteers at the polls told me I needed to prove my address, either with a bill that had my name on it (which I did not have) or I could have my husband come in and vouch for my address. I thanked them and went on my way—my way being straight to my previous voting location a few blocks in the other direction, the entire time muttering things like, “If my man will vouch for me, I can vote?? What is this, 1920*?”
    The voting location connected to my previous apartment address still had me listed with them, so I cast my ballot, collected my sticker, and felt good for circumventing the system—especially without needing help.
  • Twice, once in Minnesota and once today here in Pennsylvania, I checked in to vote and was met with, “Oh, of course. You wrote a book!”

Regardless of the outcomes today, I’m sure we all agree that we’re done with dinnertime election calls and candidate mud-slinging. Personally, I’m ready for the day when all political ads have to disclose where they got their mud-slinging information and how they computed their blanket statements—you know, the day where a non-attorney spokesperson has to read aloud the fine print on claims for prosperity and change similar to the way pharmaceuticals have to disclose the laundry list of side effects. “We’re selling a smart-inducing drug that causes headaches and temporary shrinkage of brain cells and some people may grow tails. We’re really overcharging for it, and we approved this message.” Now that’s entertainment.

I’m Jody Brown. I wrote a book. And I approved this message.

*Women were granted the right to vote in August 1920.

Marking the Miles, February

photoAh, February. We can’t believe it’s over so fast. Simultaneously, we’re over it, weather-wise.

And you, well, you lived it with me, blog fans. As I said in January, I’m beginning to see the the importance of recognizing where we’ve been, appreciating how far we’ve come.

Here’s a look back at our February journey, from my view:

The most popular February post was Groundhog Day. My edgiest post, in my opinion, was Recompense IV, which was posted on a Friday, of course. (I tend to have attitude on Fridays.) I admit I like edgy. I have small moments of terror when posting edgy blogs, but I post them nonetheless.

In February, I posted two series: the Recompense Series and the Walking in the Woods Series. Recompense began as a reaction to my friend’s comment: “It just doesn’t pay to be a nice guy.” From that, I wrote four reactionary blogs about expectation, giving freely, thankfulness, and the reality of turning the other cheek, which was Recompense IV. My Walking in the Woods Series reviewed my very first three experiences in the woods here in Minnesota. Each of them were vastly different, from watching my footing to listening to my inner self to, finally, picking my head up during the walk and seeing what was actually around me.

In Life in the Snow Globe, I posted during a blizzard here in Minnesota, one that we are still digging out from under. Mid-blizzard, I’d lost power during that blog, so I wrote and posted for the first time via mobile app on my phone. Immediately afterward, one local blog fan sent me the text: “Are you posting via candlelight now?” Indeed I was.

My typical Friday rants included a rare Sunday rant in February with Take a Stand. I must say, month-wise, I’m most proud of Take a Stand, Recompense IV, Edge Riders, and The Greats.

I ended the month with some poetry, and it received good response, so I may include more poems in the future. I typically perform new poetry at monthly readings, so I can certainly share what I’m working on with you. Upcoming events are always posted on my website.

I tried not to get too word-nerdy this month, but that’ll probably change as I have many words that I love and want to blog, and many phrases being used today that I can’t stand. Additionally, I’m a practitioner and witness to risks being taken with language that I find astounding and expanding to our vocabulary. I won’t continue to remain silent about these great wonders and their gorgeous effects.

Truth be told, I enjoyed the end of Lunacy. I wrote it, posted it, and then added it to my lineup to read at a local college two hours later. (Special thanks go out to poet Pam Whitfield for organizing that stellar poetry performance February 14.)

Readership numbers increased in February, and, as I said in January, they’re reading your great comments as much as my posts. Thank you, readers!

And though I have no idea what is coming in March, readers, mark my words: It will be epic. And we’ll do it together.

Signing off from February. See you tomorrow in March.

-J

~

Support an artist! Check out my book, Upside Down Kingdom, on Amazon!

Hinges

In Minnesota, snow can be inevitable. Last winter, I remember shoveling a particularly heavy snow one afternoon from front walk, really feeling defeated by a winter that dragged on. I looked to the house with tears in my eyes and said to myself, “Look upon the house one last time, Jody, because you’re selling it and moving to a beach where it never snows.” And just then, my neighbor showed up with her snow blower and finished my walk, then dug out my driveway as I wildly gestured my gratitude through mummy layers of scarf, hat, gloves. Then, with new tears, I said to myself, “This is why I live here.”photo-2

There are moments in life when you soar with the eagles. And there are times when you feel like you’re looking up from the bottom of a well. On well-bottom days, I think about the joy of that snow-blower rescue. In addition, I made an eclectic list of reminders to lift me up whenever I need it. Here’s part of it:

  • Sometimes my mom calls me up just to tell me to eat more chocolate.
  • The first thing my 2-year-old nephew does when he wakes from a nap, despite our encouragement for him to talk to us, is to look at us sleepy-eyed as if we’re aliens. Then he says hello to the dog as if it’s the most natural thing in the world.
  • I’m usually wearing a bracelet and a necklace that my friend Johanna made for me.
  • I’m reminded daily by my cat and dog that they allow me to live with them.

The population of my life, from family to friends to employers to coworkers to my furry roommates, includes people who are kind, brilliant, talented, open-hearted, generous, full of life, and all know how to laugh, even at the mistakes. Everything hinges on this, on knowing that a door that swings closed also swings open. Simple directional movement. Perspective. Hitting the bottom of the well allows you to properly remember all the good.

~
Support an artist! My book, Upside Down Kingdom, is available on Amazon.

Ralph, the World

Peter's House

Introducing Ralph. The world, Ralph. Ralph, the world.

You’ve seen this sock monkey grace this blog, Facebook, and he now has a board on Pinterest.

I came across this little guy in the grocery store here in Minnesota a few years ago, at a particularly difficult time in life. I rounded the corner, saw the display of these locally-made keychain sock monkeys in blue, green, and yellow, and I laughed.

But I knew I shouldn’t spend the money to get one, and I had all sorts of real life problems to attend to, so I kept walking toward the milk aisle.

And then I realized: that was the first time I’d laughed in quite a while. It was foreign–a release—and it felt good. I rounded back to the display, chose the only green monkey left, and went on my way.

Since then, Ralph—long story to the name—has been all over the U.S., around Europe, and even to the Middle East. He’s usually clipped to my bag, my purse, or to my belt loop. And everywhere he goes, weirdly enough, strangers want their picture taken with him. From those first moments when he cheered me up at the grocery store to the [no kidding] scores of pictures of smiling people holding him, this little sock monkey has had quite an impact.

I’d like to say that I bought him and never looked back. But the truth is much better than that: I remember that moment, often, and what it taught me:

Don’t second-guess joy.

Invite it in.

~

My book, Upside Down Kingdom, is on Amazon.

Paradise Slop Cook

Medit. Sea 1

This time last Monday it was 30 below zero here in Minnesota, and the wind chill was deadly worse. Today, it’s 30 above–a gorgeous 60-degree difference in the standing temp. Sure, we expect snow tonight and tomorrow, but for now, everyone is enjoying the break from the cold. So much so, in fact, our thoughts naturally bring us to the beach.

In honor of the calm before the next storm, I’m posting one of my very favorite poems, a beachy one:

The Bottle Will Find Me… It Always Does

Question: What if the Chief’s daughter is ugly?
I mean, what if you get
to the beautiful island, they let you live
and surf and eat all the shrimp cocktail you can eat,
you design beautiful thatched-roof huts

With sand floors the likes of which
have never been equaled, and the ocean is always
warm and inviting, no sharks,
just dolphins and waves, waves, waves…
and the beautiful woman you were supposed
to have thrown at you is not so beautiful?

What if she’s the slop cook
at the island’s only burger joint?
Or what if she’s beautiful but
has a mean spirit and a cold heart?

Plans are only plans, my friend,
and you’re walking a fine line today.
Sure, this side of paradise
is not so pretty,
why do you think Fitzy wrote that book?

Alright, I’m letting it go.
I’m done talking you out of this.

So,
on the other hand
dangling in the ocean water,
why the hell not?

Go,
surf the ocean, climb the mountain,
grasp the brass ring, leave all this behind you
and only look forward.
Make no arrangements–break free
from the weight of your things, let them all go,
forget the job, the car, the house on the corner lot,
even the piano (you’ll get another one!)—
leave this life all behind you
and seek out the one you were meant to have,
and when you do,
send a postcard or a message
in a bottle
back to me
in some language other than English,
in some language that you make up on the spot,
or just draw me
a crayon drawing
because I already understand

~
My novel, Upside Down Kingdom, is available on Amazon. More of my poetry to come soon.

The Welcome Door

As my Facebook friends know, last night I posted this:

“I’m on church vestry. It’s like Congress, and just as methodical and slow-moving. Tonight, however, we ‘DMC-fast-tracked*’ the same sex marriage issue…”

Father Nick himself put same-sex marriage on the agenda. He eloquently spoke about the mix of feelings and sentiment on this issue, about the separation of church and politics, and about the logistics. He’d checked with our Bishop; ceremonies can be done using our current Book of Common Prayer, or a newly approved book (of which he already had a copy and he now showed us) and he will conduct a forum for the congregation in September to inform and answer questions. In proper Father Nick form, his entire speech took about two minutes. And then he said, “In the meantime, we have people in this church who are loved and have been serving this church for years, and this law affects them directly. I think some of them would like to take this sacrament. Personally…” he paused, and casually moved the Kleenex box on his left and repositioned the pen on his right. He’s brilliant for his pauses. Then he looked at us. You could have heard a pin drop. He continued, “Personally, I want to do the ceremonies for them.”book

With that, we opened it up for discussion. Fourteen of us at the table, from various backgrounds, many of us originally from out of state, took our turns to speak. Around the table there are Mayo doctors, IBM engineers, lawyers, a waitress (me!), retirees, clergy spouses, financial advisors, and I’m not sure what the new guy does, but he and his wife are my age—which is to say, mid-thirties and on the younger end of the spectrum. I looked around the table with a bit of dread. We can’t agree on the colors for our website (six-month ongoing debate I don’t want to go into), how are we going to come together on this? Perhaps this is a jumping off point, and maybe by September we’ll have reached some working solution. But I was wrong. Oh, was I wrong. As we went around the table, one after the other, each of us and all of us had our say. Each and all.

Retired doctor, “Agreed.”

Current Mayo rules-maker, who likes to follow the book, “I agree. Long overdue.”

Lawyer, “I’m in favor.”

My turn, “Agreed. And I echo, ‘Long overdue.’”

Around we went. All in agreement. When we got around to Heather, the church secretary (and in my personal opinion, Super Woman), Father Nick said, “Heather? What are your thoughts?”

She stopped typing the minutes and replied, “I’m hoping to be a flower girl. Agreed!”

“All in favor?”

A resounding, “Aye.”

“All opposed?”

Silence. Sweet, melodious silence.

Done.doodad

We acknowledged that possibly some members might leave the church because of the decision. Father Nick’s forum will have tremendous importance. The message is this: We believe marriage is a sacrament. The law in our land now says marriage is legal for same-sex couples. Thus, we are within the law to offer the sacrament to everyone, and so we shall.

Now, we’re not Vegas. As a church, we have rules to follow. All couples getting married have required marriage prep classes with Father Nick. All couples, which has a nice ring to it.

We think of our church as a sanctuary and an oasis to anyone “heavy-laden and needing refreshment.” Just as some may leave us, it was brought up that new families may join our church because of the decision we just made. Open doors work both ways. Faith tells us our door says, “Welcome.”

On May 15, 2013, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton signed the bill legalizing same-sex marriage in Minnesota. The ink is barely dry on his signature, and my church is forging ahead, unanimously. Fourteen people sat around that table yesterday and spoke from their hearts, and made history. I was lucky to be a part of it.

Minnesota is the 12th state of in the union to enact such a law.

I live here.

*DMC is Destination Medical Center, a Minnesota bill written and passed in an unprecedented 90 days in 2013, offering support to the Mayo Clinic to make Rochester a top-notch medical destination, complete with housing, shops, roads and infrastructure, hotels, arts, culture, and the like.

 

Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, available on Amazon.