Monday, March 24, 2014


I'm in the City of Angels, visiting my son and grandkids for four days (as the last leg of a five-week odyssey). On my first night in town we watched Frozen (would it surprise you that Taivyn is five and Connor is two?), Disney's blockbuster animated musical about the power of sisterly love.

[As an aside, I was amazed that Taivyn, who will be six next month, could sing along with all the tunes, even though she was seeing the movie for the first time. Whoa. Talk about market penetration. It made me think of the Mel Brooks character, Yogurt, in his 1987 science fiction spoof, Space Balls, who revealed that the secret of the Force is merchandising. He was only partly kidding. Disney's promotion team was clearly not frozen when executing their full court press to hype this movie.]

While Frozen wouldn't have been the DVD I would have selected at Red Box, it was an evocative one to see, in a life-imitates-art kind of way…

—Frozen, as in the winter we just left behind
It's now officially spring, and seeing my kids (Jo in Las Vegas and Ceilee in Los Angeles) has meant highs in the 70s and lows in the 50s—which stands in sharp contrast to the (ma)lingering snow that held the Midwest in thrall when I departed on this road trip Feb 22.

This has been a throwback winter with a reluctant spring. I was thrilled to spot crocuses poking through the snow on an overnight in Maryland Feb 26, followed by full-bloom daffodils and sunshine (bona fide spring) when the calendar flipped to March while I was in North Carolina.

Still, southern California is not northeast Missouri, and I'm wondering what weather I'll return to next Saturday. When I skyped with Ma'ikwe five days ago she was wearing a wool cap and fleece jacket indoors next to the woodstove—an image that did not evoke spring—and the weather channel is predicting the dreaded "wintery mix" for Missouri today. Ufda. I really don't care to see another snowflake until November.

—Frozen, as in the unproductive dynamics that had crystallized in my marriage
Unlike in the movie, sometimes the phase change from liquid (as in flowing) to solid (as in stuck) happens so gradually that you don't notice, which is not a bad way to characterize where I found myself 15 months ago. Ma'ikwe was coming out of a bad year battling Lyme symptoms and was simultaneously thinking about stepping away from our relationship, where she was battling my reactivity and limited availability.

Fortunately we were able (with the help of couples counseling) to access love and our commitment to personal growth to thaw the parts that were frozen in unproductive responses, thereby saving our marriage—right on the brink of losing it forever. It was every bit as dramatic as the movie.

—Frozen, as in the dynamics that occasion groups to hire me
One of the ways to describe what I do as a process consultant is to help groups get unstuck (who would hire outside help when everything is going fine?). Sometimes that means people who are not hearing each other, and are stuck in their stories about how the other person has been a jerk, provocative, and self-absorbed. (It is especially poignant when this story goes both ways.)

Sometimes that means helping the group understand what it can do to blow warm air on frozen dynamics (rather than put on a sweater, hide behind the curtains, and hope for the best).

Sometimes that means offering ideas about how to better organize things so that they're less likely to freeze when encountering a cold snap in relationships among members.

Sometimes it's helping people find the courage to try, when they're frozen with fear, afraid that they're more likely to botch a difficult conversation than experience a breakthrough.

—Frozen, as in my passion for stories about humans testing the limits of cold
Every since I was eight, I've had an abiding fascination for tales of endurance and perseverance amidst ice and snow. This ranges from fiction (witness Ursula Le Guin's Left Hand of Darkness) to accounts of polar exploration. I can't tell you how many books I read about the ill-fated Franklin expedition of 1845-47, that was lost with all hands while searching of the Northwest Passage, ultimately resorting to cannibalism. In the instance of Dan Simmons' 2007 offering, The Terror, I got to lick both scoops: it's a fictional treatment of life aboard one of Franklin's two ships, the HMS Terror.

My dear friend Annie refers to this portion of my personal library as my "freezing and starving books."

—Frozen, as in connections with ex-partners
This is a tender spot for me. Sometimes I'm able to resurrect conections after recovering from the pain and awkwardnes of a failed intimate partnership, and sometimes not. There are women with whom I am very close (even closer than I was when we were lovers); women with whom I am still tender and am able to easily share in depth when we're together (even though that happens only occasionally); women with whom I am socially at ease, yet the door to depth is guarded; and there are women with whom I no longer have any contact. 

It's a humbling range from free flowing, to a precious trickle, to sluggishly flowing (choked with ice floes), to frozen solid.

• • •
Although it didn't occur to me until last night's DVD, when I was sitting on the couch next to Taivyn and Connor, my life can be substantially defined by my realtionship to Frozen.

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