Friday, December 25, 2015

Modern Traditions: on becoming comfortable with uncertainty

Carla’s new pup, Mr Twister,
takes mindful note of Rebekah and Carla’s 
tradition of making Aunt Rachie’s eggnog 
(wherever the 'heart' is) each winter.
This post was conceptualized several days ago under the tagline of non-traditional traditions. On further pondering, I realized that ‘non-traditional’ has always been my ‘new normal’, definitely an inherited trait. For example, I have just concluded my 30th full semester of ‘non-traditional’ teaching which was based on the ‘normal’ way that I earned my doctorate at a distance! 

After being exposed to 18 hours of ‘traditional’ graduate coursework in the Arts & Humanities alongside my doctorate-seeking friend, I am not sure what anything means anymore. (My morning mantra since 2002 remains: I’m sure glad I’ve graduated!) ‘Modernity', as my friend has shared with me, is an interesting quandary and I appreciate those who pontificate on the big questions of philosophy. Their work helps someone like me (brought up with very analytical hands-on scientific methods) to become more aware of and open to other ‘ways’ of thinking.

In a subconscious eureka moment, I realized that I ‘believe’ that natural curiosity and absolute joy of discovery precisely is what drew people – of all ages, walks, and interests – to my mother, Carla. Admittedly, I had to do some homework to figure out where this post might lead. As my Mother's Mother taught me, that starts with an in-depth definition of the terms at hand. During our ‘traditional’ tri-generational evening conversations, it was always my duty to find the keyword in Grammy’s relatively enormous unabridged dictionary on the sacred golden lectern in the library – and then read it aloud so the conversation could continue on the living room sofa. According to Wikipedia:

A tradition is a belief or behavior passed down within a group or society with symbolic meaning or special significance with origins in the past. Common examples include holidays or impractical but socially meaningful clothes (like lawyer wigs or military officer spurs), but the idea has also been applied to social norms such as greetings. Traditions can persist and evolve for thousands of years – the word “tradition” itself derives from the Latin tradere or traderer literally meaning to transmit, to hand over, to give for safekeeping. While it is commonly assumed that traditions have ancient history, many traditions have been invented on purpose, whether that be political or cultural, over short periods of time. (¶1)

The original recipe for my great
Aunt Rachie’s Eggnog, passed down
through my Mother’s cookbook. 
Hence, the seasonal Rucker-Nix family tradition of sharing a cup (or two or later even three maybe) of eggnog… not just any eggnog; it has to be Aunt Rachie’s unique brew! I can remember the afternoons spent religiously following ‘the recipe’ at my Grandmother’s house on Normandy, then our house on Miramar, and eventually, my house on Lakehurst… No longer allowed on my doctor-driven diet, indeed, the thought alone of making eggnog equates with ‘holding on to a previous time’. Forgivingly, Wikipedia does allow for adapting traditions to suit ‘the needs of the day’:

Tradition changes slowly, with changes from one generation to the next being seen as significant. Thus, those carrying out the traditions will not be consciously aware of the change, and even if a tradition undergoes major changes over many generations, it will be seen as unchanged. (¶5)

I will spare you my humble opinions on how ‘tradition’ might contrast with ‘the goal of modernity’ and move on to the point of this post. After my Mom died, my entire world turned upside-down. Stretching my personal horizons, at the time I happened to be reading Pema Chödrön’s book titled Comfortable with Uncertainty: 108 Teachings on Cultivating Fearlessness and Compassion. Most certainly, everything was uncomfortable – but instinctively, I held to the yet-undefined solid grounding my Mother and Grandmother ensured was embedded within my philosphophy. It wasn’t a sickening transformation, just a strange one to me.

As Chödrön said in Living Beautifully: with Uncertainty and Change, “If your mind is expansive and unfettered, you will find yourself in a more accommodating world, a place that’s endlessly interesting and alive. That quality isn’t inherent in the place but in your state of mind.” That’s how I remember my Mom… and I believe that’s the essence she passed down to me. At least that’s what I choose to cultivate within myself now.

Getting back to the definition of ‘tradition’ per Wikipedia, this is what I learned from my homework:

In artistic contexts, in the performance of traditional genres (such as traditional dance), adherence to traditional guidelines is of greater importance than performer's preferences. It is often the unchanging form of certain arts that leads to their perception as traditional. For artistic endeavors, tradition has been used as a contrast to creativity, with traditional and folk art associated with unoriginal imitation or repetition, in contrast to fine art, which is valued for being original and unique. More recent philosophy of art, however, considers interaction with tradition as integral to the development of new artistic expression. (¶28)

The first exhibits in
Carla's Creations.
In my technology-driven world, creativity seems to be synonymous with innovation. Like IDEO founder and longtime Stanford professor David Kelley, I survived cancer at an early age (25 for me, over half of my lifetime ago). It was, needless to say, life-changing – as were my Mother’s first bouts with cancer. Similar to Kelly’s resulting epiphany, my teaching has always been about “help(ing) as many people as possible regain the creative confidence they lost along their way.” (¶2) I’m presently reading his book, Creative Confidence - while attempting to summarize the results of my ‘non-traditional’ career. Stay tuned!

Whether it’s traditional or modern, I needed (not just wanted) to realize one of my dreams to explore further a glimpse into the legacy of Carla Sue Rucker Nix (7 NOV 1935 – 14 MAY 2009) as shared with me, her daughter. I hope that my Five Years Before project will encompass an evidence-based multimedia visual biography on living and dying with style and grace as she modeled it for friends and family – and those whom she did not have the pleasure of knowing on this Earth.

Adding to the reflections recorded within this blogsite, I invite you to follow my progress in developing the Google Gallery Carla’s Creations that I created as a ‘non-traditional’ gift to myself this holiday season to remember her ‘fine art’ representations of living life to its fullest. 

Look for captions and descriptions – and updates – in exhibits as the journey continues. I have boxes of printed photos and newspaper articles to examine... not to mention several gaps to fill in with notes from her calendars and diaries! Check it out at

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