Becca Wilhite Blog

October 12, 2015

Making the Time

Filed under: character,familyness,gratitude,writing — becca @ 6:43 am

I’ve been learning. Studying about creativity at the feet of those who make it their mission to permit the rest of us to drink at the wells of creation. It’s a seriously joyful experience. (Want to try it? Watch Elizabeth Gilbert’s remarkable TED talk, here. Listen to her “Big Magic” podcast. Immerse yourself in all that is Brene Brown.)

Here’s a thing that struck me this week. And I’m paraphrasing – so these are not original thoughts, but they are my words: That painting that astounds me went onto the canvas one brushstroke after another. The book I love was written one hour at a time. The song I can’t get out of my head was composed over a series of stolen hours.

I have hours. Maybe not more than one in a row that I can dedicate to creative pursuits, but one hour at a time, I can write a novel. And I have. And I am. The words don’t pour out of me resulting in a workable draft in a week or two (but hey, if that works for you WAY TO GO). The words trickle. They pile up slowly. But the point is, they do pile up. Day after day, when I give myself permission to sit at my tiny desk and put down three hundred or five hundred or a thousand words, the story grows.

And when I give myself that permission, I find myself unbound from guilt or regret that seems to hound me when I ignore my creative self in favor of more focus on work or cleaner bathrooms. I’m a cooking pot sitting on three stones over the fire – if I remove one of my stones (family or work or creativity) my pot will tumble into the fire, douse the flame, and ruin dinner.

I am learning balance and I really like it.

June 7, 2015

Nourish and Flex

Filed under: character,goals,musings — becca @ 8:39 am

My words for the summer: Nourish and Flex.

Physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, spiritually. This is what I want for me this summer. Nourishment and Flexion.

I want to nourish me, but I also want to nourish other people. Specifically the ones who live in my house, but also other ones. A friend of Kid 2’s came for Taco Tuesday last week, and it was fun to hang – all of us – around the table for an entire hour for a dinner that could have been eaten in fifteen minutes. It was nourishing to eat the food (he told me I make the best tacos in the world, and Kid 3 laughed at him and said, “You make the taco,” and she was totally right), but it was maybe more nourishing to tell the stories and to laugh together and to Be There.

I need to recommit to being flexible. This is a thing I have previously used to define myself, and somehow I’ve lost the ability to bend in some of the ways. So I’m giving it another try, out loud, here and in my heart.

April 2, 2015

Judgment

Filed under: character,gratitude — becca @ 7:37 am

So I had occasion this week to take a group of students to be judged.

They are our school’s Sterling Scholars, a designation that implies excellence in scholastic endeavors and a focus in a particular category. These kids have spent the past six months working on educational portfolios full of 500-word essays. They’ve bought suits. They’ve practiced interviewing, and – depending on category – performance pieces. They’ve worked hard, is what I’m telling you.

Tuesday we took a (long) bus ride to the interview site and they met their judges. I couldn’t enter any of the rooms, obviously, but as I met with the kids to debrief after their interviews, I saw a definite pattern emerge: The kids felt good about the idea of the interview – they were prepared. Then, right before their time, they started to grow nervous – the chatterers grew silent, the calm ones got fidgety. They cheered/hugged/high-fived each other and sent the interviewee on his way, and when the time was over, they watched the door for the return of their friend.

Almost every kid came back from the interview and said, “That was awesome! They asked great questions. They were so nice.”

They were so nice.

The judges – educators and category professionals – were nice to my kids. For a nerve-wracking fifteen minutes, these adults made my kids feel like winners. They celebrated their successes. They nudged for further greatness. They sought reasons to be impressed.

Oh, that I would be such a judge.

When called upon to judge (and especially, when NOT called upon to judge) I hope I can remember this feeling – the gratitude I have for those men and women who gave freely of their time to encourage, to celebrate, and to congratulate. I hope I can emulate their goodness.

March 11, 2015

Open Letter to the High School Kid who Played Ball with my Boy

Filed under: character,gratitude,kids — becca @ 10:18 am

Thank you. I’m not talking to the You who was my student, or the You who is a poet. Right now I’m talking to the You my boy watches at the varsity basketball games. The You who makes effortless three-pointers. The You who smiles and congratulates other players who play well – on your team or the other. The You who calls little kids by their names, like they were your friends.

Last night you played basketball with my eleven-year-old son. You spent time with him, there at the Rec Center. You shot free throws with him. You dribbled with him. You complimented his efforts. And then you played one-on-one. You stood feet taller than him, but you didn’t laugh when he reached to block your shots – when his upraised hand didn’t even reach the top of your head. You held your arms out to “block” him, but you never got in the way of his shot. You celebrated his baskets. You kept score out loud – the score that stayed pretty close despite your vast skill difference. He won. He got to 30 before you. Do you have any idea what that meant to him? To me?

When we left and I asked him if he had fun, he grinned at me. Obviously. I asked him how much you spotted him. He didn’t know what I meant. “How many points did you start with?” I clarified.

“Oh, no, Mom. I didn’t get any free points, but I think he went easy on me.” (No kidding.)

You gave him your time. He felt important. And cool. And so, so grateful.

And I feel grateful. I thanked you when we left, but what I wanted to say is, “Way to go. Way to be a genuinely decent guy. Way to make someone’s day. Way to give a little of yourself to increase the gladness in someone else’s world.” So I’m saying it now. Thank you.

That hour you spent with my kid may not be anything you’ll ever remember, and it may not be an hour you’ll miss. But it will be a forever memory for him. And hopefully, when he’s a graduating senior and he meets a fifth grade kid who thinks he’s cool, he’ll remember what you did for him last night and pass it on. He’ll take a little of what he learned from you to increase the gladness in someone else’s world. He’ll pay it forward and he’ll think of you.

June 25, 2012

Women’s Pull

Filed under: character,debts to the Universe,familyness — becca @ 10:36 am

There is a lot to say about this Pioneer Trek we did last week [1]. Some of it is only to say to each other. But some of it I don’t want to forget, so I’m going to say it here.

Four days of camping in a dress.

Moving on.

There is this thing, apparently a tradition on these pioneer trek re-enactments, called the Women’s Pull. Here’s what I’d heard about it before I went (a whole lot of people do these re-enactment treks, and they lots of them talk about the Women’s Pull). Only the women are yanking these wooden handcarts up a long and treacherous hill. Men aren’t allowed to help. It’s hard. Okay, so that’s about the extent of what I’ve heard. Except this: It’s the most incredible part. Now, Incredible is an interesting word. It actually means “unbelievable” — right? So I wasn’t sure which part not to believe.

Here’s how it went down.

We’d pushed and pulled handcarts across a sandy, dusty track for several miles. Cows watched us. We saw a few snakes. No humans, though. About 10 people were attached to each handcart, (220 people total in our group) so 5 or 6 pushed and pulled, and the rest walked alongside or helped others. At one point, we were stopped, and the man in charge took all the males away. All of them. My 8-year-old, even. As the men walked away, up a long hill, we women and girls and babies and toddlers (the female ones) gathered, listened to a talk, and tried very hard to sing a song. The song was written by Emily Woodmansee, a member of the Willie handcart company. I was the music leader person, and I struggled to make words (much less tune) come out past the tears. That was a surprise — I’m not a huge crier, but I was very touched by the spirit of the occasion.

As sisters in Zion, we’ll all work together;
The blessings of God on our labors we’ll seek.
We’ll build up his kingdom with earnest endeavor;
We’ll comfort the weary and strengthen the weak.

The errand of angels is given to women;
And this is a gift that, as sisters, we claim:
To do whatsoever is gentle and human,
To cheer and to bless in humanity’s name.

How vast is our purpose, how broad is our mission,
If we but fulfill it in spirit and deed.
Oh, naught but the Spirit’s divinest tuition
Can give us the wisdom to truly succeed.

We lined up and started up the hill. My girls and I, with our friend Tina (who has 4 sons and a husband who disappeared up the hill) and our neighbor Kiersten (who’s mom and sisters were ahead of us in the lead cart) pushed the cart up the hill. I’m not going to exaggerate either way, here, because I’m trying to give a faithful representation of the facts: It was work, but not crazy hard. The group ahead of us had a woman in her sixties who is in less than prime shape, even for her age. She had to stop frequently. I’m talking about every couple of minutes. Something inside me felt a twinge of annoyance, but that did not last. I tried to think about the original pioneers, struggling with every kind of unmedicated illness and incapacity, and that helped. Also, we (of necessity, being behind them) had frequent stops, too.

Pushing a handcart (full of coolers holding lunch and water) up a hill is a new kind of work for me. But pushing it through soft, 3-inch-deep sand is an entirely different story. Grunting may have occurred, is what I’m saying. But listen to this: My two oldest girls (one of whom turned 17 on this trek), who are champions in many things, but not so much in outdoorsy, dress-wearing, cart-pushing, 91-degree sorts of things, did not utter a word of complaint. Instead they sang. Pioneer-era hymns. In harmony. All the way up the hill. More crying for me.

When we reached nearly the top of the uppermost hill, we saw this: A beautiful woman (the only one to go ahead, quickly, up the hill) playing her violin (“Come, Come, Ye Saints”) to encourage us along. And this: Three or four men wearing white shirts and khaki pants, holding their hats over their hearts, silently watching us push up the hill. As we crested in, we saw that the entire path was lined with men and boys, hats over their hearts, silently nodding us on, into our goal. The silence. The peace. The combination of honor and desperation on their faces. It was a precious gift.

And here’s what we didn’t know at the time. Manolo, one of our neighbors, got to the top of the hill with all the men and then said, in his improving but still broken English, “I go back now and help my family.” No, he was told. You stay here. “And do what?” he wanted to know. Stay here and pray for them.

When I heard that instruction, the meaning of the Women’s Pull became clear to me. This was not about showing up the men and letting them see what we strong women could do. This was not about giving them guilt so they’d take better care of us. This was not even really about honoring the physical sacrifice of the pioneers. This was a great, giant metaphor for salvation.

We don’t carry or push each other to heaven. We step out of the way and let God bring us home. We ask for His help along the way. We do things that are hard (but not impossible), and we claim the blessings that He has waiting for us.

Blessings.

 

[1] Why did we do this? It’s a Mormon thing, mostly. We went where the Martin and Willie pioneer handcart companies became stranded and then rescued (not quite Donner Party, but close), and there is a great and noble history of service, sacrifice and spiritual/physical rescue. It’s an exercise in remembering and honoring the past, a chance to feel just how “good we’ve got it” and a terrific opportunity to learn together.

June 7, 2012

Screaming

Filed under: character,familyness — becca @ 9:44 am

We are not a screaming family. Husband is quiet. I holler, but mostly happily / spastically [1]. The Kids as a group are quiet-ish, subtle in their emotions. Except for Kid 3, who is unsubtle as a Defining Character Trait, and we love that about her.

So I’ve been all braggy about this on FaceBook, but if you hadn’t heard, Kid 1 recently landed the role of Eponine in next year’s high school musical version of Les Miserables. This is big, guys. It’s her favorite role, singing some of the greatest songs. She’s a heartbroken, unrequited romantic character who is — okay, I’ll remind you — one part I’d really, really like to play if I could go back in time and be, um, not so near to 40.

So Eponine has solos. Good ones. And Angst. And a killer duet with Marius that I loved to sing when I was in high school, because I had this best friend who was a boy and also a singer and also a talented piano player AND THIS IS NOT ABOUT ME. Anyway, Eponine also has a crucial scream.

Yes. She screams.

At an important plot juncture.

The scream was part of the audition, and Kid 1 said it was the worst part. She said she was the worst screamer of them all. This may be true. I’ve heard some of those other girls scream. See, here’s the thing. Kid 1 can cry. At the drop of a hat. She can pout. She can pine. But screaming is not in her.

So we have to put it in her.

Yesterday, all the Kids got job lists. This will happen every day. Because I am turning into a person who makes lists every day for other people. Each Kid’s list said “Practice” — which is normal for Kid 2 (violin) and Kids 3 and 4 (piano). But Kid 1 doesn’t play an instrument. (Her voice is her instrument, and she has to practice her songs, right? Not exactly.) She asked me, very respectfully and not at all like someone who is weeks away from being seventeen and busy enough, thank you, “What would you like me to practice?”

“Screaming.”

“No.”

“Yep.”

“No. I can’t.”

“Sure you can.”

“I actually can’t.”

“I can help you.”

Smirk and one eyebrow raised. I don’t know where she learned to do that.

So I screamed. She smiled, told me it was well done, and that clearly I didn’t need any more practice screaming (That’s polite Kid talk for, “Mother, please shut it.”)

I asked her to please try.

No.

Please, please?

She laughed. “I really can’t scream,” she said.

I tried to remember a time when she’d screamed. I couldn’t. Once, when she was in elementary school, she responded to something with a very dramatic, “NEVER!” but it was heavy on the drama and light in volume, compared to — oh, let’s just say — me.

I told her to give me a big “HA!” as in, “I’ve caught you, ha!” or “I’m totally humoring you, Mom! Ha!” I modeled one. A ha for the ages.

I waited.

A while.

And another while.

Then she did it. “HA.”

“Good,” I told her. “Now do it longer. HAAA.”

“HA.”

I petted her arm, remembering that she was doing a very hard thing.

“HAA.”

“Yay. You did great. One more try.”

“HAAA. Can I please be done?”

“Good job. We can do this. You can do this.”

We may need every day of the next five months to get it right, but I am going to help my baby girl learn to scream. On stage. Wearing a microphone. To further the plot. Because, as Hamlet likes to say, “The Play is the THING.”

(Meanwhile, Vocal Coaches out there? Any ideas on how to get a non-screamer comfortable screaming?)

[1] Now. I used to yell. I’ve gotten over it. Mostly.

April 29, 2012

New York Today

Filed under: character,debts to the Universe,happiness — becca @ 2:48 pm

So I’m standing on the East Balcony in Grand Central Station. Why, you ask? Because I am a Tourist. Also I love pretty buildings, and I like to go inside them. Also? The Apple Store does free wifi, unlike my otherwise totally charming upper easy side hotel.

Shall I give you a taste? Italian food. French food. Deli food. Pizza by the slice. Gelato. Bread. Favcy-pants omelets. And I’ve stopped eating now and then for other nice things. The met. Lunch with a friend who lives and works here. Spiderman the musical. Walking through Central Park in the rain. Owning the subway transfers. Meeting the lovely Agent Meredith. Times Square. Union Square. The Jewish museum. Meeting another friend (who just happened to be here) for lunch. Seeing “Once.” going to church in Manhattan. FAO Schwartz. A rat in the subway. Or several. Seeing “Newsies,” and being part of the most adoring crowd.

Want details? Come back in a couple of days. I’ll expound. You’ll be enlightened. We will all be glad.

May 4, 2011

Weird Hair

Filed under: body image,character,word count — becca @ 9:06 am

So I was talking with a person lately. (This is news, right?) And the person has, well, really weird hair.

I can’t describe it to you, because I’m not that good a writer. Just kidding. Because I don’t want to offend any more people this week. It’s a goal. Let us just leave it at this: The hair? It’s weird.

And here’s the thing. I found myself trying not to stare at the weirdness thereof. So much so, that I sort of found myself missing the person’s words. Most of them. Like I couldn’t focus on the conversation, because I was Distracted.

Which begs this question: What’s my Weird Hair Issue? I’m pretty sure I don’t have generally weird actual hair. I have way more than my share of bad hair days, but not a noticeable penchant for doing strange things on top of my head. People are much more likely to be moved to sympathy/empathy by my hair than to be struck dumb and deaf with wonder at the bizzarrity of it all. But what is my thing? The thing that gets in the way of communication? Or completion? What is The Distraction?

I have a tendency to write far too many shoulder shrugs. My characters shrug a lot. A lot. This must cause some readers to throw my books across rooms in frustration. Although no one has ever actually approached me with this particular complaint, I imagine it’s out there. And I am working on it. I have a little shock-collar-and-siren arrangement hooked up for when I slip into shruggery. (That was a lie. I don’t have any such thing.)

Also, I lie. Mostly here, on the blog. Is that distracting?

Sometimes I make lists, and I find great satisfaction in crossing things off these lists. (Is that a good thing, like being organized? Or a bad thing, like serious overdependance on outside validations? Both? I’ll take it.) But sometimes I find my lists distracting me from actual completion of things. For instance: Can I count the words I write on the blog as part of my 1,000 words to be written today? The answer is NO. I can’t. But sometimes I do. Because I get to cross it off my list, and that is connected to a thoroughly distracting thrill.

Projects become tangential, and that’s distracting from the goal. Like, I need to deep clean the pantry (always), so I start taking things off shelves. I find a Halloween bucket in there. (Don’t judge. It’s a big pantry. Plus, I may have suggested that Kid 4 use a Halloween bucket as his Easter basket this year at Grandma’s house.) So I take said bucket to the basement, where there is a great storage room full of strange and wonderful and distracting items. Such as my high school yearbook, which is for some reason open on the floor, right next to a carton of powdered milk. No, I can not explain that. Thank you for asking. Eenie, meenie… I choose to pick up the yearbook. And look at a few pages. Two hours later, I pull my wretched bones up from the concrete floor, determined to reconnect with at least seven Dear Friends who must, must be on FaceBook. Cue the forty-five minute time-suck. Meanwhile, the pantry isn’t getting any cleaner. See the problem?

I could go on (and on, and on) but I’ve already passed half my necessary word-count for today. (Just kidding, Husband! Working! On the Manuscript! That’s what I’m doing! Completely!) But really, it’s an interesting thought to me – what’s the “weird hair” that gets in the way of my goals, wether they’re health-related, or parenting-based, or writerly, or something else altogether? And would it be helpful to me if someone pointed out that I do, in fact, have really weird hair?

NOTE: It would NOT be helpful. I have plenty of issues already. I do not need another one. Thank you.

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