Bohemian Fiction

Bohemian Fiction

Fiction, I’ve read (somewhere) is the art of telling lies that present a greater truth. Fiction walks the tightrope between fantasy and reality. Good fiction shows repeating themes in different circumstances, often between made-up characters in made-up situations. The intricacies of these made-up characters or made-up situations can reflect the world we live in—our personal, individualized world that consists entirely of our own perceptions. 

If a story can make us relate to someone who seems entirely different from us, digs past the lies to the deep truth, then that story is the opposite of escapism; it’s the reflector of truth.

How we tell a story is every bit as important as the story we tell. How we show that truth by weaving inaccuracies or flat-out lies is every bit as important.

In any fiction writing, we often leave out elements in order to get into the story. We probably don’t recount every morsel of food the character eats; we probably don’t relate every time our character takes a leak or walks through the kitchen. Unless those details are important to the character or story itself, those details aren’t nearly as important as the ones we choose to focus on.

I’m mulling this over after having seen Bohemian Rhapsody this weekend. Spoiler alert: It’s fantastic. I could extol it in all the same ways that about a bazillion other people have praised it, like in the user reviews on IMDB.

 Now to say that I don’t see movies very often in the theater is an understatement. The last movie I saw in theater was The Shack. The one before that was Deadpool. It’s very likely that the one before that was Iron Man. The first one.

So it’s been a minute. 

And it was so worth the wait. Bohemian Rhapsody was beautiful. 

There were, of course, inaccuracies, some of which annoyed me until I realized the story the writers (producers? Directors?) were trying to tell.

 

In HBO’s Game of Thrones, there’s a scene in which Queen Cersei is comforting her son Joffrey. He has just suffered a stunning humiliation in front of a girl he wants to be all princely in front of.

Two things of note: 1) he’s a superb prick. 2) he ends up being relieved of his fancy-schmancy sword by a little girl and a broom handle. And then he’s attacked by the little girl’s dire wolf while he’s begging for mercy.

Afterward, his mother binds the bite, and she reframes the story that he fought off a vicious animal in an act of courage. Joffrey snaps at her, “But that isn’t what happened.” Cersei tells him that when he is king, the truth is what he will make it.

Critics have panned Bohemian Rhapsody because it glossed over Freddie Mercury’s rampant drug use and promiscuity. I would hazard a guess that anyone interested in this movie would already know about them; it’s pretty much mentioned any time Mercury’s name is brought up.

And yet…

Was it really glossed over? Just because certain facts figure prominently in someone’s life doesn’t mean that they figure prominently in the story that the storyteller wants to tell. Drugs and promiscuity were addressed rather obliquely,and, yes, they did figure prominently in Mercury’s life, more so than the film implies.

And yet…

The movie is about his dual nature: one of insecurity and the other of the flamboyance that hid it. The story focuses on the loves that surrounded those two natures and the complexities of those loves. Complicated love of his biological family, complicated love of the band who was also his family, his love for Mary, for Paul, for Jim, and most of all himself.

I think the simplest love he ever experienced was for the crowd that sang Queen’s songs back to him.

Freddie Mercury crafted his own narrative, from his name to his eventual diagnosis with AIDS. This too is what the movie was about. Mercury created his own truth, glossing over parts of it and flaunting others.

He decided what his truth would be.

The movie was stunning. Truly. I cannot wait to see it again.

Besides putting a Queen soundtrack soundly in the back of my mind, it made me wonder:

 

How do we craft our own narrative for our lives?

How many of us define ourselves by circumstance, losing ourselves and the right to define ourselves by not standing up, by not speaking out, by not doing the work that must be done? 

How many of us hide instead of showing up mindfully, intentionally, and with resolute purpose? 

How many times do we allow someone or something else to control the narrative of our lives? 

If someone were to make a movie about our lives after our deaths, and we had no control over what story they told, what would that movie look like? 

If we did have creative control, how would we tell our own stories? What would we omit or gloss over, and what would we lie about to tell a greater truth? 

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Confession

Confession

 

I have a confession to make: I have lost my voice. It’s here, somewhere, or there somewhere. Maybe it’s next to my car keys I can’t find at the moment, either. 

It seems that every time I am sick, I lose my voice, and it takes longer and longer to come back.  I think it dropped from a New York sky-scraper complete with a superhero landing.  My voice then careened around the corner towards home, only to run into an invisible adamantium wall, shattering its bones into a million pieces and leaving it with a-pubescent-boy-voice-cracking-at-random-and-not-so-occasional-words scar. 

Or something. 

The first rule of writing is to write to your audience, and every bit of writing someone does is targeted to a specific audience. Different styles, different nuanced voices are necessary for each kind of writing. I wouldn’t use the same style for both writing to my favorite author (hello, Tom Robbins, thank you for your reply!) and a hard-nosed professor. I wouldn’t use the same style for my novel about a smart-assed, reincarnating cat that I would use for blog content for, say, a church.

Actually, that’s the second rule of writing. The first rule is to just write. 

Writers are schizophrenic. I don’t think I’ve ever met a writer who didn’t have a thousand voices in her head, all competing to be heard. Some of these voices are the voice of a character, the conversation between two or more characters, the running description of a scene, our prim-and-proper voice for certain projects, our argumentative voice for others, our ranting-at-the-world voice.

 And that’s just the beginning.

In the process of writing about Life 2.0, I’ve discovered I’ve vacillated between competing voices: the sage who knows a very little bit but knows it well and the struggling smart ass who’s figuring out stuff on the fly.

But the process of discovering and developing a writing voice takes, well, writing. Lots and lots of writing. Lots and lots and LOTS of writing.  I have written more this year than I have in the previous eight years all combined. 

I’m proud of that. But I still haven’t discovered my voice. 

But it has come at a price. I haven’t been able to keep up with other bloggers, those people whom I enjoy and admire.  (Spoiler alert: the bad guy lives and it’s just an excuse.)

Or meeting with other writers. I haven’t been able to make time to meet with other writers, take part in critique groups, and just be with my kind of people (again with the E word)

Or really delving deeper into creating the kind of website that I want to have. I’ve been learning it little by little, breaking things, fixing things, discovering cool shit, forgetting cool shit (I’m starting to see a pattern here). 

Or, you know, working on relationships or going out and doing stuff. 

I really don’t know what I’m trying to say. Whatever thought I had was lost while I was being attacked en masse by stupid flying ants that are apparently using the middle of my back–just beyond where my arm can reach–as an open bar with free peanuts. 

Bastards. 

Maybe I have discovered my voice, and I’ve just been a little hesitant to actually use it. 

In any case, I’m still working towards balance, and I really don’t know how to get everything done that I want. 

So. That’s where I am, I guess.  

 

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The Gift of Okay-ness

The Gift of Okay-ness

 I f   we are to eventually accept that we can, in fact, be change makers, with both ourselves and the world,  how do we even begin that journey? We can          pick any place on any map, selecting our destination, and yet have only the vaguest  idea to get where we want to be.

We have to first determine where we are right now in order to get to where we want to be.

Of course, GPS doesn’t really make this allegory as relevant as it once was, but meh. Wouldn’t it be fabulous, though, to have some sort of internal GPS that tracked location in terms of goals and not of physical location? Especially if that GPS came with less of a grating (and judgmental, I might add) tone of voice when it repeated “Recalculating route, recalculating route…” 

I may need to think more about that. I’m pretty sure that my internal GPS would have never shut up. “Recalculating route….recalculating route…” It may have even stuttered on the “Recalculating” part, sounding like the Macarena song on meth and stuck in a permanent loop.

So…maybe not as helpful as I originally thought. 

It’s still true, GPS or not, that we need to know where we are to know how to get to where we want to be. And that sort of self-location system requires both ruthlessness and compassion.

 

Our honesty with ourselves must be ruthless.

 

Where are we right now? Not tomorrow, not yesterday, but right now? Are we sad or grieving or joyous and celebrating? Is our emotional state somewhere near the middle? Are we in spiritual chaos or do we find ourselves surrounded by peace? Do our inclinations lean more toward those of an Olympic athlete or a Netflix-ing couch potato? Do we have a solid social circle, or do we tend to isolate? Are we bored with our life, our job, our classes, or are we intentionally trying to learn something nearly every day? 

What are our habits that keep us from where we want to be?  What beliefs, attitudes, and habits shape our current circumstances? To what level have we taken responsibility for our circumstances? 

We must be ruthless in our assessment, but compassionate in our acceptance. 

                           

Because it doesn’t matter where we are now. 

It really, really doesn’t.  Where we are now is just a starting point, a point A to our on our journey to Point B and beyond. It doesn’t even matter how far we have come already; today is a brand-spanking-new Point A.

A bit of clarification: 

        When I say that “It doesn’t even matter how far we have come already,” I do not mean that progress is insignificant or unimportant or something unworthy of celebration. Our progress—how far we’ve come so far—is every bit significant and important and so very, very worthy of celebration. Instead, I mean that today is a brand new starting point. Tomorrow will be another new starting point. Maybe, whatever our goals, we’ll end the day far ahead of where we started; perhaps we’ll end it having taken a few steps back.

 It is okay.

 

It is okay because there are so very few completely straight

trips from where we start to where we end.

One of my most favorite Facebook memes ever is the one that shows

that  success so rarely resembles anything

near to what we’ve imagined.

 

It is okay because wherever we end the day, we have the opportunity to have a brand new beginning after resting. (Note to self: Resting is also very, very okay). Where we are doesn’t matter, not nearly as much as the fact that we know where we’re at. 

Being okay is something a lot of us have trouble coming to terms with. We’re okay. This is okay. Where we’re at is okay. We may have felt too sore-thumbish, too odd or too weird or too different or too lonely or too fat or skinny, and we aren’t used to seeing ourselves as okay.  

 

 

So sit down and lemme tell you a secret:

We are okay.

 

Not only are we okay; but we’ll be okay tomorrow regardless of whether

we’ve gained or lost

momentum in moving toward our goals.

 

We are okay.

This idea, this okay-ness is something so incredibly important to get—not just to know logically—but to feel down deep in our bones. It is the starting points of starting points. This is why we must foster compassion toward ourselves. If we’re too busy judging ourselves as guilty or as having too much of this or not enough of that,

we won’t be able to get past the noise of judgment to get to the silence of acceptance. 

And this is where we really, really start: acceptance.

If we can accept that basic premise—that wherever we are, we are okay—then we can look at ourselves and our lives with a sense of objectivity that we simply can’t have if we are emotionally tied to the results. That’s the same with anything, I think, but especially when it concerns ourselves. 

This is the gift of knowing we’re okay: it’s both acceptance and distancing. We accept that this is where we are, but we also know that we are not our circumstances. Yes, our lives have been shaped by the decisions we have made up to this point, but we are not our choices. We are the ones who make the choices, and no matter how we chose yesterday, we can choose differently today.

Too fat or too skinny? Take a breath. We’re okay. This is what we can do to move toward better health.

Trapped in a job we hate that’s slowly (or not so slowly) killing us? Take a breath. We are okay. Here’s what we can do to find something better.

Feeling like a bad parent or bad husband or wife and carrying around the guilt of that? Take a breath. We are okay. Here’s what we can do to be more loving toward our spouse or our children.

 If we’re so afraid of what we’ll find when we begin really, really looking  at our habits and beliefs, we can find it so very easy to lose sight of why we’re examining ourselves and instead focus on the feeling of judgment—and all the emotions that are tied to it—of our not being enough or of our being too much.

Our only judgment should be that we’re okay; our only assessment should be of our circumstances and location along the path to “Where we want to be.” It’s hard to be dispassionate and non-judgmental when we’re looking at where we are. It may require lots and lots (and lots and lots) of practice. 

 That’s okay, too.

 As we become better at ruthless honesty with ourselves, we can begin shifting from shame to solution, from hurt to possibility.

 Because being okay and assessing where we are are JUST a starting point.

 Where we go from here is up to us.

 

 

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Not On My Watch

Not On My Watch

     I had the opportunity to attend “An Evening with Marianne Williamson” on her Love America tour last week. (I love that name. I wish I had come up with it.)

She spoke of many things, all of which supported this:

 

“Where there is love, there are always solutions.”

 

In today’s political climate, we are desperately in need of love AND solutions.

 And hope. We definitely need hope.

She pointed out that “over time, we (as a country) get it right.” However we start, eventually we get it right. We are self-correcting, even if it takes us a really long minute. But we get it right. Whatever it is. Eventually. 

 For example, the United States of America was founded upon the most enlightened principles with the idea that “All men are created equal.”

 And yet, those very words were written and signed by slave owners.

There is and was a difference, she said, between being anti-slavery and an abolitionist. Someone who was anti-slavery might have said something along the lines of, “Yeah. Slavery is bad. I don’t own slaves. I don’t think others should own slaves.” Abolitionists, on the other hand, said “Not on my watch.” 

Not on my watch.

They took not only an anti-slavery stance, but they also took the risk of  being public, of both speaking an unpopular truth and actively working toward ending slavery. They recognized that slavery was not a political issue, but a moral one, a spiritual one. 

When we look at all the problems plaguing the United States right now: the divisiveness, the utter lack of respect for the dignity of others, poorly funded schools, too much focus on war and not enough focus on veterans, the fact that slavery is still legal in prisons, lack of accessible healthcare, wide-spread poverty, terrorism in the form of mass shootings, and so much more–it is so easy, so so so easy to be discouraged. It’s so easy to give up hope.

But we cannot, must not give up hope. 

 

We don’t have the luxury of being hopeless. 

 

 

We must choose a cause and say, “Not on my watch.” We must elect politicians who say, “Not on my watch.” If, as my friend says, we don’t know for whom  we should vote, we should vote for anyone other than the incumbent.   

Sometimes the devil you know isn’t the best choice. 

 

The preamble of the US Constitution says this:

 We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Our very government was formed to make a more perfect union, to establish Justice, ensure domestic tranquility, to provide for the common defense, to promote the general welfare, and to secure blessings of liberty for our founders and ourselves.

 

 This is the why  of the government and the nation of the United States of America.  

 

If we find those in government who are making our nation a less perfect union, we must vote them out. If we find those who corrupt or obstruct justice, we must vote them out. If we find those who destroy domestic tranquility, we must vote them out.  If we find those who are more focused on attacking than defending, we must vote them out.  If we find those who work against the general welfare of America’s citizens, we must vote them out. If we find those who work toward destroying the blessings of liberty we must vote them out.

To allow ones in power to continue defiling the very reason for the existence of the United States is to be complicit in that defilement.  To allow ones in power to continue perverting the intention of the Founding Fathers is to be complicit in that perversion. 

These problems that we as a nation are facing are not  political issues. They are moral ones, spiritual ones.  The spiritual and moral issues must be addressed, however, through political means. 

We must work through love to find solutions, and not just for a small subset of the population. Ambitious, transcendent solutions are out there, simply waiting to be uncovered from the animus which buries them.  

We must love our neighbors as ourselves. We must abandon labels which confine us and work together to find solutions. We must learn the art of civil discussion, addressing policy and not personality; we must refuse to react with mindless defensiveness. We must find solution-minded people with whom to work, regardless of their political affiliation. We must find those who will pursue solutions judiciously and  relentlessly. 

If our neighbors are unable to work with us toward solutions, if they are determined to focus on incivility and whataboutism rather than solutions, we must accept them as they are, love them and bless them and then move the fuck on.  Instead of wasting our time and precious energy on people who would rather be right than happy or people who would rather die than change their minds, we must find like-minded individuals and begin our work. 

 

And that work begins with

Not On My Watch

 

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Additional Photo by Anthony Garand on Unsplash

 

The Why, the More, and the Yes the Now

The Why, the More, and the Yes the Now

     In the excitement of having sooo much to write about, my horses were so far behind the cart that they were still checking out the Golden Gate Bridge while the cart was taking in a Broadway show.  So, there’s that. I’ve taken about a dozen steps back and going back to the beginning.  I have been all over the place, my writing going the way of my brain making a mockery of meditation. 

I paused for a little bit and stopped to take a breath. Or a dozen.

Good thing I’m not distracted by squirrels or anything. Or shiny stuff. Or ice cream. 

Good thing. 

In the process of doing the what  (rebooting for Life 2.0), I had lost track of the why. I didn’t lose the why, not exactly; I had simply misplaced it under the legion of books and notebooks and pens stacked in my office.  

I had forgotten that I had misplaced it, though. 

I saw a TED talk a while back in which Simon Sinek spoke about, “How Great Leaders Inspire Action.” In it, he talks about the importance of starting with “why.” 

I loved the talk.

I was inspired by it. 

And then the why fell right out of my head, probably bouncing on an un-mopped kitchen floor in the process. Sometimes thoughts tend to do that around me. 

 

Why is the driving force for any who, what, when,

and where.

 

Why do we want to change? Why do we do what we do? Why do we avoid what we avoid?

The why is the all-important starting point.

 Viktor Frankl, in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, writes,

 

“Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with

almost any ‘how’.”

 

Do we even know our why? Have we ever thought about not only what we want out of life, but also why we want it? 

My why for Life 2.0 is still a work in progress. The short-ish rough draft version is that I want more. I know that there is no such thing as true security (sorry, folks), but I want more, security or not. I want more connection with the God of my understanding (the understanding part is also a work in progress), with the world, with people who are important to me, with my animals. I want more health so that I can be present in those relationships and work actively and intentionally to strengthen them. I want more health, also, so that I can embark on adventures and more  financial means to invest in those adventures. I want more time, more energy, and more power to make the world a better place, amplifying artists who do make the world a better place and empowering people with the vital skill of critical thinking.

Huh.

Apparently, as I was writing this, I figured out my why for Life 2.0: 

 

I want to make the world a better place for having

me in it, and in order to do that,

need more.

 

Yes, it sounds horribly selfish, wanting more. Is it? Maybe.

But maybe not.

I believe that everyone can have more without causing suffering to others. Maybe that’s the line that divides the selfish from the unselfish. Or maybe it’s just a justification because I don’t want to think of myself as selfish. But I am absolutely certain (and that’s something I don’t say often, that absolutely thing) that we can all have more without hurting others. We just have to be willing to work for it.

Really, really, really work for it.

This life, whether we believe in reincarnation or not, is a train that rides a fixed rail of time. No matter how many medical miracles we are given, no matter how often we’ve managed to survive our own stupidity (hello, my adolescent years, I’m talking to you) our life will in fact end.

This is why it is so vitally important that we make the most of our life now

Yesterday is over, tomorrow isn’t promised. All we have is now.

No the now,” was the answer William Wallace was given when asking Marrin’s father to let her join him in a horseback ride.  It’s looped, so I cackled like a kid watching it. 

 

But it cannot be “No the now.” It must be

“Yes the now.”

 

If we don’t discover our why now, we cannot do our what or how effectively. How will we even know if it’s effective if our more doesn’t work toward our why?

We must know our why in order to get our more, otherwise, it’s pointless. We may get more but if it doesn’t serve a purpose, what good is it, really? What good is it if it’s a blind grab for more that hurts others? What good is that?

The bad news is that there is no security. A health crisis or a financial crisis or a natural crisis or one of a thousand possible crises can show us that there is no security. If we get more just to get more, we can lose that more in less time than it takes a two-year-old’s tear to drop from her eyelash.

The good news is that if we know our why, we can almost always recover. We can bear almost any how. We can stumble and tumble, but our why can pick us up once again and move us along.

 If you want more, do you know why?

 

 

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Avoiding the Snake Fangs

Avoiding the Snake Fangs

When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.

Maya Angelou

When we attach yourself to someone’s coat-tails, whether his trajectory rises or falls, our view never changes.

All we see is ass.

I heard a joke once:

A wealthy man meets a gorgeous woman. “Pardon me, madam, but would you go to bed with me for a million dollars?” The woman’s eyes brighten, and she says, “Of course.” He then asks her if she would do it for one dollar. “Of course not, sir! What do you think I am?” He replies, “That has already been established; now I’m just trying to get the best price.”

One of my favorite scenes in House of Cards is one in which three candidates running for the Democratic presidential nomination are debating one another. One, Frank Underwood, the un-elected sitting president; Jackie Sharp, a Representative in the House and the majority whip; and the third, Heather Dunbar, the Solicitor General, are all vying for the party nomination for President.

Jackie Sharp is ambitious; she has already shown that she will throw those she considers family under the bus if it means she can gain power. Prior to the debate, Underwood has given her instructions: she is to be the “pit bull” so that he can remain “presidential.” I can’t remember if it was explicitly said or merely implied, but the “good doggy” award is the Vice President slot on the ticket.

This is what she wants; this is her price, and she has been bought. Because Underwood cannot call a woman “sexist” without appearing ridiculous, he instructs his pit bull to do so. He also demands that she calls out Heather Dunbar’s hypocrisy by mentioning that Dunbar’s children go to private school while their mother calls for “equal opportunity” for everyone. In a pre-debate meeting, Sharp tells Underwood that she is uncomfortable with the whole line of attack: calling another woman sexist, bringing children into politics, and attacking her for her children? Sharp points out that her own step-children also attend private school, and that makes her a hypocrite as well.

This isn’t her first dealing with Underwood.

It was at his urging that she purposely took actions that hurt a family friend in order to get ahead. While she does not know what he is fully capable of (at times, I question that even his wife does) Sharp does know his character. She has been bought with gilded promises. Underwood does not have relationships, he rules dynamics. He is the sun around which all planets orbit. A planet–be it lobbyist, addicted Congressman, or naive reporter–has only one purpose: to serve his needs and to circle around him. When the planet is no longer useful, after Underwood has burned it up, he tosses it aside like a half-smoked cigarette. Sometimes the damage he inflicts is merely to reputation; at other times, it proves fatal.

This is his character. This is who he is.

In the debate, Underwood’s pit bull comes out snarling as if she just slipped her leash. She tears into Dunbar, attacking her just as the President instructed. In a surprise pivot (at least to Sharp), Underwood then states, in that Southern insult-posed-as-a-question way, if it’s true that Sharp’s children go to private school. He then goes for the second slam of a one-two punch by asking, “Wouldn’t that make you a hypocrite as well?” She loses her composure, unable to regain it for the rest of the debate.

She doesn’t understand his treachery. After all, she’s always done what he has asked. She’s on his side.

But Underwood is Underwood.

To expect him to behave any differently is folly on Sharp’s part.

In a world where the current political circus tells us that character doesn’t matter as long as it serves our purpose, and that integrity doesn’t matter as long as we get what we want, we must silence the circus barkers. Character should matter; integrity should matter.

We get exactly what we vote for.

If those who seek power show us their character, we should believe them, or we’ll find ourselves siding with the very opposite of the “better angels of our nature,” as Abraham Lincoln put it. When we can see base action after base action, again and again, name-calling and tantrum-throwing, violence and cruelty, but still find it acceptable, we have become part of the lowest common denominator:

We have entered into the agreement

that such behavior is acceptable.

A lot of people feel that they vote for one candidate over another based on issues, such as pro-life or pro-choice, a larger social safety net or more limited government, et cetera. It simply is not true. We vote FOR the person and his or her characteristics, good and bad, so that our chosen representative will do as we want.

We vote for the means, not the end.

When we choose indecency for the sake of expediency, when we choose those with a history of broken promises and corruption because they make us feel powerful—THAT is what we are voting for. Because the ends—what we thought we were voting for—may never come to pass. After all, if we have seen their moral flexibility or changing position, we can see that they can be bought. It really doesn’t matter if it is for one dollar or a million.

Their position will ally itself with the highest bidder.

And, should we discover that those whom we have elected have lied to us, why are we surprised? They’ve lied to others, do we believe that we are special, that we are somehow protected because we’re not one of “those people” that they stand against?

Jackie Sharp knew Francis Underwood’s character, and yet she still attached herself to his coat-tails. Underwood, the real attack dog, bit her because it served his purpose.

If we see those running for office who exhibit racism, corruption, homophobia, THAT is what we’re voting for. Our hope that our issue will be addressed in the way that we wish is our price. This is how we are bought. They show us who they are with every statement to the press, with every vote and action. If we do not demand integrity, promises mean nothing; a higher bidder will sway them. If we do not demand basic decency, then this indecency will be amplified. It will represent us; after all, what we permit is what we promote.

If we choose to elevate the worst of us, we have no one to blame but ourselves. We will no longer be a civilized society.

Civilization possesses a basic level of civility.

Electing uncivilized people to represent us makes us uncivilized. It strips away what once bound us together. It changes the way we see such behavior; it normalizes it, and, worse, the behavior propagates. It destroys our ability to solve problems because we can no longer talk to one another civilly.

That is our price.

Does it do any good to call someone out like that? I don’t have an answer to that, but I do lean toward “no.” Those who agree with the behavior will deny or excuse it. Those who disagree with it already know that it’s unacceptable.

And yet, if we do not call it out, isn’t our silence agreement?

Perhaps our vote is our voice, a means by which we can condemn the behavior. If we continue to vote them in, if we attach ourselves to the coat-tails of the indecent and uncivilized, eventually, we’ll be bitten. After all, it’s his or her interests that will be served, not ours. Not “we the people.”

We shouldn’t be surprised.

How Do You Fit an Elephant in a Tea Cup?

How Do You Fit an Elephant in a Tea Cup?

When I began embarking on the journey I labeled Life 2.0, I realized that changes had to be made. There’s that truth, no matter how cliche, that tells us if we do what we’ve always done, we’ll get what we’ve always gotten.

I began addressing what I consider the foundation domains from the ten domains of life as listed by Michael Hyatt:

 

 

[Image Text: The Four Pillars of Personal Development: Emotional, Spiritual, Physical, Intellectual. From Michael Hyatt’s Domains in Your Best Year Ever.  www.njray.com] 

I struggled with them. I only have so much time in the morning in which to practice the habits I wish to cultivate, as well as getting all my writing done and still getting ready for work.  I experimented, getting up earlier, shortening the time spent on some of the habits, lengthening others.  Even after several months, I’m still trying to tweak the time to get the most out of it. 

But now, almost six  months later, I can tell a difference. Somehow, my affirmations did in fact bury themselves in my consciousness, and I began to interact differently with people. I set limits. I grew–and continue to grow–more assertive. My dreams began to grow,  too, and my idea of what might be possible began to expand. .  

My meditation, while it did not necessarily help my focus (oh, hello shiny object!), did somehow evolve from my grasping for silence to some sort of meditation/prayer hybrid. The meditation, as it always has been, consists of my trying to return to the breath or focus on a mantra. The prayer, though, is mostly request:

 

Please guide me to the right words and the right actions; please help me become an instrument of peace; please help me choose kindness, always.

 

If I’m 100% honest, I’m not really sure to what I’m praying;  I don’t even know if those requests count as prayers. (Who’s doing the “counting” anyway?)

But progress was made. My physical activity did wonders for my ability to move in the morning and throughout the day. My balance improved, and the baby Groot of muscles had begun to present themselves. I was reading, something I had missed for so long in the bustle of a normal day. Granted, it wasn’t an intellectual exercise so much as my trying to finish all my books that I had started and tossed aside half-way through, but it was reading. 

And I was proud. This is accomplishment, I thought. This is me–actually sticking to a commitment.  But then I realized that, somehow, I had stopped moving forward. I hadn’t gone backward, at least, but I wasn’t moving forward, either. My actions in the four domains had become habit: good for the practice, but insufficient for the purpose. 

I had forgotten their significance in the process of checking off completed actions. I had forgotten why I began doing them in the first place. 

Sure, I wanted to feel less powerless and more grounded and focused; I wanted to become stronger and more connected and to learn things, and I had accomplished these to varying degrees. But I had forgotten the why behind the habits. I had become focused on the check boxes (check, check, check), all the while losing sight of my actual journey: 

Life 2.0.

 

In short, I had grown somewhat complacent. Or really complacent. Or really, really complacent. I had temporarily misplaced my impetus; lucky for me, it was stuck on the bottom of my shoe. 

I’m at a crossroads now—even while I’m writing this. Do I begin working in another domain? Do I work on shoring up on my foundation?

 I’m choosing to do a little of both.

The summer, even in South Mississippi, has passed, perhaps migrating south for the winter.  The pool in the mornings is not–at least for now–an option, and, even on our hotter days, it’s not much of an option at noon. I need to find another activity that will help me gain mobility—as the pool did–to replace it. I just don’t know what that looks like now.  But, in an effort to go beyond where I am now, to stretch just a little in the physical department, I have chosen to drink 64 ounces of water.

If I’m not careful, I can drink coffee (and nothing else) all day long. ALL DAY. Being sick the past few weeks has shown me that I haven’t been careful in a long time, and it’s damn near impossible to get rid of sinus shit when you’re dehydrated. 

It’s really not all that difficult if I actually pay attention. 

But I’m also choosing to work in another domain, Vocation. For me, it’s writing. My first goal for this domain is to produce one project–be it report, short story, essay, whatever–per month for submission. Somewhere, anywhere. This, in addition to my maintaining my current level of writing, which is primarily blogging. 

 

…Aaaannd this is where stuff gets tough. I don’t know how to make it fit. The elephant of my to-do list already cannot fit in the flower pot of my time and energy.  So I will have to fire up my creative juices, experiment, and see what frees up some time and energy. 

 

That might be a far more important habit than the actual writing. I already have two projects scheduled for November and December, ones that I have already contracted, and so the new-new projects won’t begin until January, unless I finish the others ahead of schedule. 

In a world of miracles, anything is possible, right? 

When we grow comfortable, we’re not growing. It is only by reaching out of our comfort level that we can move forward. 

Here’s to being uncomfortable, and learning how to fit an elephant in a tea cup. 

Writing as the World Burns

Writing as the World Burns

“The world could be burning,” a friend once told me, “and you wouldn’t play the fiddle. You’d be writing about the flashes of flame and the smell of singeing hair.”

 

.

It’s probably true, but I’d like to think I’d be trying to put out the fire.

 

Journaling is the first exercise I that remember ever writing, other than learning the alphabet or cursive writing.  My eighth grade English teacher, Mrs. Carrubba, assigned journaling as homework.

She seemed so old then, but I couldn’t describe her now. Memory hides in strangeness and seeming randomness.

I tried to journal, but my life was boring. I didn’t drive; I didn’t work. I didn’t have interesting vignettes to write, so I told stories.

“Tellin’ stories” is a Southernism for lying. “Are you tellin’ me a story?” my mom would ask. Her hand was probably on her hip. I probably told another story to solidify my first.

“Now, Nancy,” the teacher sighed. “Are you sure this really happened?” She was too classy to call me a liar. Her voice was soft like my grandmother’s, and held a Southern accent. My name in her mouth sounded half-way between Nun-cee and Naintsy. 

Memory really does hide in strangeness and randomness.

“Yes,” I assured her with the backbone of a thirteen-year-old. I may or may not have told her that it was “the God’s honest truth.”  I don’t remember what I wrote, but I am 90 percent certain that the words told stories of traipsing through the woods with my cat, Romeo—the truest part of the narrative—and dinosaurs and Greek or Roman mythology. I loved dinosaurs and mythology then.  Actually, I still do, but they have fallen into a deeper basket of interests. 

 I lack the typical historical narrative that other writers have about their childhoods. I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. Or rather, I did, but it changed every five minutes. I did not have a real clue until I hit my 34th year. I don’t think I wrote short stories at a young age. I didn’t win any essay awards. I don’t know if I wrote much at all. I wonder sometimes how different my life would be had I pursued it then.

But I loved telling stories.

As I grew older, I journaled off and on for years. At times, the writing reflected less a collection of stories and more a spectrum of emotions; other times journaling revealed less an account of my day and more a reaction to the world.

I journaled by candlelight after Hurricane Katrina destroyed my idyllic fish camp; I lacked the foreknowledge of the unity and hope that would follow—eventually—in her wake. I journaled about the Columbine massacre, rocking in horror at the thought of such a thing. I scrawled furiously about the attack on the World Trade Center, breaking the New York skyline and slaughtering coworkers I had never met.  I wrote about the shooting of a Sikh temple in Wisconsin and my horror that someone so ignorant wanted to kill Indian-Americans because he mistook them for Muslims; I wrote then about the ensuing prejudice and hatred against, not just terrorists but all Muslims, including and especially American Muslims. 

Everything wasn’t rage and helplessness, however.

In writing about 9/11, I celebrated courage of those who thwarted the fourth plane. My words sang of the fleeing of a friend from Venezuela with the help of her friends all over the world. I explored the beauty in forgiveness displayed by the surviving members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopalian Church after nine of their members were slaughtered. I wept at the humility I felt as an alcoholic taught me about grace.   I wrote about David Tennant’s charging us with being “rebelliously positive and positively rebellious” and Zachary Quinto’s “It Gets Better” video  and Shane Koyczan’s “Instructions for a Bad Day.”

 

 

Writing is a means of working through grief, of recording those incidents that have forever shaped us. Writing is a way of finding out what we really think, and not just what we say we think, those snap and surface answers we hold at the ready just in case someone asks us what we think. 

Sometimes we can even discover why we think the way that we do. Journaling allows us to explore themes, patterns, and reactions. Journaling allows us to rainstorm change.

When people approach me hurting, I listen to their pain. If I’m asked for advice, I tell them without fail to just write. That is usually my  ill-received advice to myself. Writing forces us to be in our heads, and sometimes that’s a very uncomfortable place to be. 

But we should 

write when we grieve and  write when we celebrate. Write of all the things we’re afraid to talk about:  our weirdness and wildness, our pleasure and our pain. Write down our dreams, the steps we can take to make them reality, but also our nightmares and how we might escape them.  Write because the world is burning, and write because we can extinguish it. Write because, from the ashes, we can create something new.

Without concern for grammar or spelling or punctuation; without counting adverbs or worrying about dangling participles. Fragments and run-ons, word choice and usage—none of these matter. 

 Free write. And write free: to free, to be freed. Just write. 

Nothing matters but the pen running along the paper or fingers pressing the keys. The mere act of writing allows everything we think to spill out, safely. Yes, it can be very hard. Yes, it’s definitely very messy.  But it’s liberating, too. 

If we’re afraid someone will find it, we should throw it away after. Shred it. Burn it.

If we’re afraid of what we’ll discover, this is one of the most important times to write. And write. And write. We should keep on writing. Tears won’t hurt us, only help. We cannot know who we are without this discovery. 

Fears can’t hurt us either, not when we’re in the depths of  writing. We can discover the fear, face off against that enemy, and vanquish it, becoming our own hero in the process.

Spitting out words allows the things that come up to come out.

It forces us to focus on one thought at a time.

And that can be one of the best gifts we can ever give ourselves.

 

Satan’s Seed and Real Commitment

Satan’s Seed and Real Commitment

I had only been exercising mindfully for a couple of months when I was attacked by Satan’s sperm.

Having been inspired by Michael Hyatt’s book Your Best Year Ever, I had started working in the emotional and spiritual domains by using affirmations and meditation. Spring came despite my efforts to hold it back; it was time for me to start working on my physical goals. I had procrastinated enough already.  

Buying an above ground pool was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I may have mentioned that a few times, and I probably will again. That lopsided (not quite flat, leaving one side always dumping water when I splash around and the other side permanently perilously low to dropping below the intake) pool is a MIRACLE WORKER.  I have Rheumatoid Disease (AKA, as Jessica Jones’ title-makers would say, Rheumatoid Arthritis, AKA, Shark in the Bathtub, Monster in the Bed), and so pain is that squatter I can’t quite get rid of, despite serving it with multiple eviction notices. 

But anyway. 

The pool is a MIRACLE WORKER because, after just a few minutes of moving around in it when the water is warm and the sun is hot, I’m pretty much as pain-free as I have ever been. Because my energy level plummets after work (actually, during, if I’m absolutely honest), exercising before work is the only real time I can devote to it with consistency. By making it part of my early morning routine, I am able to enjoy a level of mobility and decreased pain for the majority of my day.

So yay.

I developed exercises, loosely based on physical therapy exercises, that have strengthened my legs, arms, and core. They’ve also helped with flexibility in my fingers, legs, toes, hips, and knees. And supposedly helped with balance. Come to think of it, I haven’t tripped lately. Almost, but not quite. And definitely no falls. 

So double yay. 

I would run through the exercises before work, and sometimes, when I am super ambitious, after work as well.  ‘Cause warm water and hot sun rock.

It was probably about halfway through the summer that I discovered something floating around that looked like sperm with forked tails. I had grown accustomed to bugs in the pool; I had skimmed more dive-bombing and decidedly suicidal beetles, wasps, spiders, and lovebugs than I thought ever existed over this summer. I had even almost accepted the occasional tree roach–whisked  away at first sight–that had failed basic swim lessons. 

But this was something different. They didn’t seem to move other than with the movement of the water, but the sight of them freaked me out. THEY LOOKED LIKE SATAN’S SPERM.  And there were zillions of them. I was Rambo, bearing a skimmer rather than a machine gun, ready to bring about World War III. I recalled a line from The West Wing’s Jed Bartlet: 

 

  “I’m not frightened. I’m going to blow them off the face of the Earth with the fury of God’s own thunder.” 

I was resolute, and yet, no matter how long I would stay in, scooping and tossing, I would always see more. Some were merely small, but still large enough to witness the forked tails that would haunt my nightmares. Others seemed just on the large side of microscopic. 

But they floated, an act as aggressive as any storming of a castle. I would have made a smart ass remark to them, insulting their hamster of a mother and a father that smelled of elderberries, but I felt I was fighting a losing battle. 

Instead I chose another tactic. 

I bought another bag of salt, figuring I’d shrivel them like snails. 

Because they were so damn tiny, I couldn’t really tell if they were alive or dead. They didn’t seem to move unless the water moved them; they weren’t wearing John Travolta’s suit and listening to disco. They didn’t even wiggle like mosquito larvae. I just knew that sooner or later, the salinity would have to kill them since I don’t normally have salt water aquatic life hanging out in the pool.

Although having a dolphin would be hella cool. I’m pretty certain I couldn’t afford an above ground pool the size of the Gulf of Mexico. Besides, even if I could, putting that thing together would be a bitch. 

After 40 pounds of salt, I began skimming again, and after a few days, began seeing fewer of the little bastards. Finally. 

When it appeared that most of them were gone with only an occasional forked-tail demon seed floating near the surface, I finally could breathe. 

I hadn’t breathed in two months.

BECAUSE SATAN’S SPERM WAS IN MY POOL.

After a bit of research, I learned that they weren’t in fact demon seed, but instead dragonfly nymphs. 

 

Say what? 

 

Those nasty little floaters would have one day become those glorious, graceful, and gorgeous dragonflies? 

O! The guilt! 

I felt guilty about shoveling them out into the grass to die and worried about all the mosquitoes that would survive because these nymphs would die before maturity.  I just knew that all the not-yet-born mosquitoes would give all the dogs in all the world heartworms, and it would be my fault. Just because I didn’t let the nymphs hang out in my pool all summer. 

All the dogs in all the world would die, and all the people who had all the dogs would cry.  And it would be my fault. 

I’m not so sure that’s true anymore, but I can’t be positive it’s wrong. 

They looked like this, only really, really tiny. And without the third leg of the tripod tail. And in water. And looking more like sperm with forked tails and less like anything with legs.

Now I love me a dragonfly. In fact, I love all things dragonfly. Except their babies. I don’t want their children swimming around in my pool.

Come to think of it, even while swimming with what I thought were demon seed, I still managed to exercise every morning barring the one or two days when lightning wagged its finger at me to stay dry.

Now that’s commitment. At least for me. 

I think next summer, I’ll keep extra salt on hand in case they come to visit again. Should the worst case scenario–their invasion–happen again next year, I’ll keep Monty Python insults at the ready and a bucket by the pool. 

Maybe I can manage to get rid of them AND save them at the same time. Less guilt and fewer mosquitoes, unless the mosquitoes claim the bucket first.  

P.S.

I still don’t know why they laid their eggs in my pool: it’s both salt water AND the pump runs 8 hours a day or more during the summer. Supposedly, they only lay their eggs in still water. 

But there are many things in this world I don’t understand. I’ll just add this to the list. 

 

Random Weird Shit

Most of a dragonfly’s life is in its larval stage (AKA Satan’s demon seed). They live in water for up to two years and, on the wing, a few weeks to nearly a year. By attaching a tiny tracker (with eyelash adhesive no less), scientists have tracked one overly ambitious dragonfly 100 miles in a single day. They can also eat anywhere from 30 to hundreds of mosquitoes in a single day. According to Wikipedia, and citing an article in Ecology and general biology. Thorp and Covich’s Freshwater Invertebrates, a female can lay as many as 1500 eggs per clutch. 

Source: The Smithsonian.

Meditation: Being the Observer & Other Discoveries

A strange thing happened the other morning during meditation.

I sat and began calming my mind, as per my usual attempt, when I had a thought. Well, several thoughts, but one specific thought: I am the observer of the thought. My mind went from there to being aware that my heart beat was racing a little from my morning exercise, and I thought, “I am the observer of the heart.” I am the observer of the rain that was falling; I am the observer of the hand that dropped to pet the crying cat.

I am the observer; I am not the thing being observed.  I am the observer of the body; I am not the body. I am the observer of the thought; I am not the thought.

I didn’t have to do or change anything, but merely observe.

I am the observer of the mosquito that was biting me, right in the middle of my forehead, but I, too, am the observer who smacked it, smacking myself.

 So much for not doing or changing anything.

Funny how time flies. I was out of town this past weekend, a road trip to see Melissa Etheridge in Oxford, Alabama. I saw mountains for the first time since I was in Arizona, a mere 15 years ago.

She was touring for the 25th anniversary of her “Yes I Am” tour, a concert to which I had dragged my boyfriend in exchange for seeing  Lynyrd Skynyrd. 

I don’t remember a single thing about that Skynyrd concert. I don’t even remember if I went. 

 Twenty-five years. Gone. Just like that.

The concert itself was excellent, but it was a totally different experience than my seeing Live  a few weeks ago. Etheridge’s concert was in the Oxford Performing Arts Center. Looking like a Mississippi courthouse, the Center was all stately and formal, like a grandmother at Sunday church. The inside, however, was a whole other world: burgundy and green–much like my website colors–with rolling spot lights and a chandelier from their production of The Phantom of the Opera.  Smaller than the Beau Rivage theater, and thus far more intimate, the seats were comfy and the acoustics were incredible. 

I could hear nearly all of what she said on stage (except when she did that husky-voice-dropping thing). The seats were also far more comfortable.

The energy was more sedate; I think the majority of the attendees were theatre patrons rather than Etheridge fans. 

I think I may have just a little bit of the habit of judging something less on its own merits and more as it stacks up against something else.

It took me a long minute to realize that, instead of being a mere observer to the show, I was thinking how it differed from Live. Not the music itself—each act its own style, and each plays it exceptionally well. But I was scanning my brain trying to figure out how they were different during the show, and it led to me not being fully present at the concert itself.

 I lost out being completely swept up in the music, present in the moment, merely observing and not judging, and I was poorer for it.

With that being said, it was an excellent show, an excellent facility, and I had a great time.

 It was an adventure for sure, a success, all things considered, and I am looking forward to another road trip, no matter where I end up.  

Healing the Divide

Healing the Divide

A friend asked what I thought was the biggest problem in America. Without hesitation, I answered that it was our inability to discuss issues with civility and respect.

I have no doubt that the problems facing our country today could be solved if we could just talk to  (and not at) each other. If we could just talk to and really listen to  each other, we could work miracles. We could solve every single problem if we could just accomplish this. 

Every. Single. Problem.

Hurricane disaster relief, unsafe water, racism and all of its descendants, poverty, corruption. ‘

Every. Single. Problem.

But we’re too busy wanting a win more than a solution. We’re too busy sneering at those who “cross the aisle”  and attempt to work out  solutions. So many people automatically write off the opinions of those who don’t fall in line with our own beliefs. We’re too busy labeling each other “RINO” (Republican in Name Only) or “DINO,” (Democrat in Name Only) libtard or trumptard, etc., that we’ve lost the ability to hear what others are  saying over the noise of who we think they are

 

We have been divided by those who fail to see beyond their immediate scope.

 

We have been divided by those whose entertainment comes from stirring the shit and sitting back, watching us become even more polarized because they profit no matter who comes out on top. 

“Critical thinking,” this same friend told me over margaritas, “is the biggest problem in America.”

I’m pretty sure I shrieked, margarita or no.

 

“No No No No No Noooooooooooo!”

 

I cried it in my best pretty-close-to-shrieking-voice.

The lack of critical thinking is closer to being the biggest problem in America than any presence of it could ever be. 

I wish I would have asked him how he defined it. I think I may have missed an opportunity to learn. 

Critical thinking is looking for what isn’t being said just as much as what is.  It is hearing a statement and questioning whether it’s factual or not. It’s recognizing biased or inflammatory language and realizing there is something more than what is being reported. It’s asking who benefits from this bias or incendiary rhetoric.

Critical thinking is discovering the why behind a claim.  Paying attention to things such as 1) if any evidence is offered to support the claim being made 2) if the evidence actually supports the claim and 3) if answers to questions actually answer the question being posed. 

Once upon a time, we held journalists to a standard of truthfulness. The Reynolds Journalism Institute says that “To serve the public, journalism must be accurate, independent, impartial, accountable, and show humanity.” It was reasonable to expect that reported stories were factual, and when journalists made errors, a retraction followed, usually along with an apology. Reporters were respected, and many of them became household names 

Its purpose is to serve the public. Freedom of the press is so vital to a democracy that it was codified in the Constitution.

But in the past couple of decades, yellow journalism has replaced the semblance of actual news.

According to Frank Luther Mott, a 1939 Pulitzer prize winner, there are five main characteristics of yellow journalism(1)

 

 

We can see it modernized in click bait titles and radically biased reporting. We can see it in opinionated and biased language in so-called news stories. We can see it in sensationalist headlines and emotionally manipulative photographs.

Yellow journalism is emotional manipulation pretending to be news.

Having been exposed to this sort of journalism for so long, it has affected our thinking. Our thoughts and beliefs have become reflections of the news to which we’re exposed.  We live in the mindset of titillating headlines and biased reporting. We think in outrage, and I have seen that even mentioning a name can evoke bitter reactions, simply because of what we have been told about that person. 

Before the current President of the United States took office, I often used this example of the manipulative tendencies of today’s headlines: 

These might be the facts: Obama golfed at Whatever Golf Course, and he scored a single hole-in-one. On the preceding night, Congress voted and passed a law that his administration had worked to get passed. The day following his golf trip, there was a hurricane that was more destructive than expected.

 * 

Instead of a simple title that led for an article that reported all three facts as not-necessarily causative, the headline might be, “Obama Celebrates the Passage of ABC law by Golfing at Whatever Golf Course” by those outlets that liked him or supported him. 

 * 

Unless Obama was interviewed and he said something that specifically indicated that he was celebrating the vote, it is unconfirmed that he was in fact celebrating that vote.

 * 

Another headline, this time from an outlet who neither liked nor supported him, might be, “Obama Golfing on Vacation as Hurricane Jon Snow Decimates the Southeast.” 

Same situation, different biases.

In order for us to find solutions to the many problems facing us today, we must question who profits from our outrage or our impassioned delight. Someone is profiting, whether its sales of a specific item or advertising when we’re glued to a news site or television station. 

We must identify and scrutinize the language that causes such reactions and get to the root of the story in order to discern truth from fiction. 

We must meet somewhere in the field between viewpoints and discover viable solutions. If we can find no common ground at the onset, let us ask each other, “This is a problem. How do you propose we fix it?” 

We have to stop believing that the “Us vs. Them” mentality is the only way to think, or that it is beneficial at all.  We have to believe that solutions  and not winning should and can be the goal. 

Solutions are out there.

We just have to put aside our outrage, talk and listen to each other, and find them together. 

Source:

 

(1) Frank Luther Mott’s characteristics of Yellow Journalism as listed by W. Joseph Campbell: Introduction to Yellow Journalism.

 

We Are Now Entering the Twilight Zone

We Are Now Entering the Twilight Zone

 

Opinions are like farts, a friend’s mother once told me. Everybody has one.

Or maybe it was that emotions were like farts: the longer you hold them in, the worse it is for everybody.

It was definitely one of those, and it most certainly involved farts. I was around 10 years old. Farts were hilarious. [Side note: 34 years later, and they’re still just as funny.]

I’ve held the belief that faith isn’t faith until it’s tested. Otherwise, it’s just an opinion.

What does it mean to have faith? To live faith? What happens when we lose our faith? How do we get it back? Is it earned through trial or does it just fall upon us like rain? Is it the same once we regain it? What does it mean to be spiritual?

What does anything mean?

Maybe it was a bumper sticker, but I once read something to the effect of:

“Religion is for people who are afraid of going to hell. Spirituality is for people who have already been there.”

It’s something that has hiked up and down my neural pathways for years if not decades. I liked it. 

And then, from a Buddhist monk, I heard, “Spirituality is taking care of yourself so that you can take care of others.” I liked that, too.  Of course it had to be a Buddhist; there was no mention of deity. He was speaking of the tsunami that had killed almost 31,000 people in Sri Lanka alone, and the relief efforts of his and others, and how they managed to do what they needed to do to in order not to be overwhelmed by so much death and destruction. 

There’s a scene from Dogma, a movie I really dig, in which one woman is talking to another about faith:

 

“…faith is like a glass of water. When you’re young, the glass is small, and it’s easy to fill up. But the older you get, the bigger the glass gets, and the same amount of liquid doesn’t fill it anymore. Periodically, the glass has to be refilled.”

I like that, too.

I don’t know how it happened, but somewhere along the way, I lost my faith.

Maybe I started losing it when my youth minister flat out denied the existence of dinosaurs, or perhaps when a female chaperone at a church camp told me that it was okay to swim in a public pool while on my period without the good ol’ plug, because women don’t bleed in water. [Side note: They do, and I did, and it was horribly embarrassing to a 14 year old girl]. Maybe it was when I began seeing a small sliver of how much suffering there was in the world and wondered why a good God would allow all these things to happen, or when my church minister misappropriated funds and wrote off a rather large discrepancy to “new accounting software.”

Or maybe it was when my experience with prayer echoed dialogue from Dogma:  

 

Or maybe my cup grew, and I didn’t know how to refill it.

At sometime, at some place, I lost faith. Faith in God, faith that God is good, faith that humanity is good. I didn’t know how to get it back.

I still don’t, if I’m completely honest.

I don’t know what I believe. I have read too much and have seen too many similarities between religions to believe that there is only one story to God and that only one account is the truth.

 But I felt a void, an empty cup, perhaps.  There it is, in black-and-white: I don’t know what I believe.

One of the reasons I began meditating again was to quiet the mind-clutter that keeps me from discovering what I truly believe, and not just my pat answer in response to questions regarding my beliefs. I want to see what happens when the world (and my brain, but again, I suck at that part) are quiet.

In his book Your Best Year Ever, Michael Hyatt lists the different domains of life. The first four (intellectual, emotional, physical, and spiritual) create a foundation for the rest, such as marital, financial, vocational, and so forth. 

The first spiritual habit I’m cultivating is to meditate. I’ve lost track of the days, but I have done it every day since I made meditating a goal. [Side Note: That was true when I wrote it, however, I recently took a road trip and missed a day.] Well, I’ve sat and fidgeted, attempting to quiet the mind, at any rate.

 This is just one step of many, I think. But it IS a first step.

 I have no idea what will happen. I don’t know if I’ll recover my faith, if it will be the same, or if I will find an  entirely new set of beliefs.

 But not knowing the future, I suppose, is just how Life 2.0 rolls.

 But I feel like I’ve discovered a path of endless possibility, where every single step presents more possibility than the one before it.

 And this life I’m choosing, this Life 2.0, is all about the journey.

 

Getting Offended, Critical Thinking, and Draining the Wound

Getting Offended, Critical Thinking, and Draining the Wound

When I was a teenager, I met someone who said that I surprised him. I was smarter than I sounded, he said, with that accent of mine.  I was the epitome of an impressionable teen: I had no sense of self, I was an outsider, never really fitting in with these people or those people. But I tried. And failed. Like The Runaway Bride, I didn’t know how I liked my proverbial eggs.

But, boy was I offended. 

 Here’s a real picture of me before I discovered combat boots and Manic Panic

 

 

Okay, not really, but I’m really surprised that my face didn’t freeze like this when I was a teenager, only with my eyes rolled up so far toward my brain that I looked like Storm gearing up to rain down hail on the wicked. 

Now, years later, I don’t even remember who said that, if  they said exactly that, how they said that, or how I came to believe that. Funny how memory works. But I took it to heart and worked hard to adopt the “Midwest Accent.” It was the “standard English” that was supposedly adopted by newscasters, a so-called standard American accent without those Southern habits of speech. [Side note: Linguistics is a fascinating field of study. For a REALLY brief yet interesting summary of the evolution of American dialects, read the “Popularity” section of  Wikipedia’s article.]

Anyway, the back-handed compliment and its B-side insult stuck. I knew I had been successful in shedding it when people told me “You don’t sound Southern!” and once when I was visiting a gas station in Laurel, Mississippi, and the cashier said/asked, “Y’ain’t from round here, are ya?”

The point is, the original statement, that my Southern accent supposedly made me sound stupid; and that hit a sore point and stuck with me  enough for me to change my speech in order to not sound stupid.

 

I changed my behavior based on the opinion of someone I don’t even remember.

 

Maybe I was stupid after all.

But was it true? 

It was perceived by someone else as true, and I adopted that way of thinking. So, sure, it was true.

 

Could I absolutely know that it was true?

I couldn’t interview every single person to know if it were true or not. So, no.

 

How did I react, what happened, when I believed that thought?

I was offended that someone thought I was stupid based on my accent and speech patterns and not my words or ideas.

 

Who would I be without the thought?

Someone who didn’t worry about the opinions of others, someone who didn’t care if anyone else thought I was stupid. Probably, if I’m entirely honest, that I would not judge others based on their accent, either. 

Had I known those four questions, I think my accent (and my life) would probably be totally different.

Those four questions are a basic primer on critical thinking.

We hear and see so much garbage these days, and sometimes it’s offensive garbage. But when we see or hear something that offends us, how often have we taken the time to  examine why we’re offended? Chances are, it’s far more likely that we had a knee-jerk reaction to the offense. 

Sure, the surface “why” might be, “Dude thinks I’m stupid,” but why is it–or any other disparaging statement–so offensive to our sensibilities?

Because it hits our sore points.  It hits those little buttons we have that trigger our emotional reactions.  Those little buttons are  messes that haven’t been cleaned up yet, wounds that haven’t healed.  They are vulnerabilities, too, points to exploit by those who wish to anger or hurt us. 

 My wounds are not as they once were. But now, when someone acts as if I were stupid, or calls me some variant of stupid,  I don’t care for two reasons:

 

1. I don’t think I’m stupid.

2. That person’s opinion of me means less than shit to me. 

 

Whatever spot it was that feared being called stupid has been healed, and I am not hurt by it. 

As much as I’d love to continue viewing the world through my rose-colored glasses, it would be silly of me to deny the fact that there are people in it who enjoy hurting other people. They like finding those sore points, sliding a knife into those wounds, and twisting once the knife has hit its hilt. 

And then they laugh as they dump 40 pounds of commercial-grade pool salt in it. 

There are those people. There will always be those people, at least for the foreseeable future.  And we can’t change them. They are who they are and they act as they act. 

Sometimes my only way to deal with people whose sexual orientation is schedenfreude is to be grateful that my life isn’t so miserable that I need to get off on the misery of others. 

What we can do, on the other hand, is to look for those sore places in ourselves and see what we can do to heal them. We can actually thank those people (silently, not by baking brownies for them or anything) for showing us our sore points. 

Because it’s then that we have the opportunity to drain the wound and heal. 

Come Back

 

There have been two experiences in my entire life which have lent themselves to a still brain, and one of those two is having a tattoo done. I’ve heard about the endorphins released by the pain of a tattoo, some people getting some sort of high off of it, giddy and manic, but I had the opposite result.

It’s like I’m the queen of paradoxical effects.

The other experience, incidentally, is NOT sex. In fact, I’m a terrible partner because my brain is anywhere EXCEPT in the moment, which really doesn’t make it different from any other of my every day moments.

Focus, like everything else for me, is a work in progress, I guess. 

For my first tattoo, an unwitting gift from my parents for my fortieth birthday (“A tattoo?! I thought you were buying yourself a freezer!” also, “Thanks Mom and Dad!”) I had chosen a feminine derivative of the Fool card from the Gilded Tarot deck, illustrated by Ciro Marchetti.  and I wanted her big. Very big. As if she were to begin a back piece that would be a story.

 Which is kinda what I have planned.  Bandage fluff and all: 

 

I had put it off for so long because I was/am still kinda deathly afraid of needles.  As the hour grew closer, my anxiety level soared to the point that I thought I was going to stop breathing; I even had a designated driver. But I sat. And sat. And sat and sat and sat.

Four and a half sitting hours.

After the initial “What the shit? Everybody lied! This does so hurt; what the hell am I doing? I want to get the eff-ewe-see-kay out of here now!” my brain did the most wonderful thing ever:

It lay still.

It was QUIET. Or at least it whispered rather than screamed.

Sure, the occasional bubble of thought showed up, but I had this feeling of just watching it float right on by. I was detached, merely an observer–a non-fidgety, non-leg-shaking observer.

It was glorious.

 I had the thought that I might be able to achieve that state once more without wearing half a week’s salary. Eureka! I’d just meditate. Just. I’d just meditate, as if it were that easy. 

I tried as long as I could; I was so very, very frustrated.  So, I practiced like maybe three times.  Four times, tops. 

Fast forward about four years later, and I tried again. As part of this life 2.0 concept, I started meditating again, and I’ve been at it for nearly five months now. So, yay.

I have not found enlightenment—even after nearly 150 days!!— nor have I found the secret of life. I still can’t manage to ignore the mosquitoes or the dogs barking at the sun on the porch or a car driving by five miles away.

But I have discovered two magic words:

Come back.

 

Two syllables, almost elegant in their simplicity.

I know that we are not our thoughts; we are the thinkers who have those thoughts. Many–if not all–of them are habits, not really all that different from sleeping late—no more and no less than habit. We just tend to identify with our thoughts more than other habits.

We are not our thoughts any more than we are not the act of tying our shoes.

 I had a moment of frustration—just one moment in a long line of moments of frustration where meditation is concerned—and one of those not-so-fleeting thoughts was that meditation—at least for me with my very-monkey-mind, is in essence the art of starting over. Since starting over is my superpower, maybe I’ve gotten the gist of it after all.

I will inhale, attempting to quiet my mind, but I’ll have a thought, and that thought becomes seven becomes forty-nine: 

talking me down the road and over the river and through the woods and to grandmother’s house–dashing through the snow to the Fight Club but no one is supposed to talk about Fight Club, that’s because it’s located in Wakanda and Walter White is the government agent trying to help T’Challa and Kevin Smith has taken the Iron Fist—thank GOD—so Loras the Knight of Flowers will finally, finally shut up about his freaking Chi but I haven’t had a really good po-boy this year have I even had a bad one? Man would I love a half-shrimp and half-oyster po-boy—you always have to get it half-and-half because most of the time, the oysters aren’t cooked right, and at least you’ll have half a shrimp po-boy.

 So there’s that.

It takes me a bit to realize that my thoughts have run away with me again.

 And then I exhale. I’m certain I’ve been holding my breath this entire time and, for the merest moment, I am able to inhale without the run-on-sentence-from-hell attaching itself to my breath. But as soon as my lungs push that breath out, my mind is off running again.

But I then I inhale again, starting the process all over again.

But then one time, NOT at band camp, something happened. Some part of me or the mosquito that’s biting me or the breeze whispers “Come back.”

That’s it. Just “come back.”

And lo and behold, I did, my mind settling for two heartbeats, a single moment had stretched just one heartbeat longer.  Perhaps more importantly, I didn’t have to wait to exhale to find attention for my breathing again.

It’s only for a moment and then my brain is off again, but that moment is real.

 

 

The Art of Not-So-Successful Meditation

My brain is almost NEVER still.

I can’t even drink with any significance; once the booze is in, my filters are thrown to the wind, and everyone within a fifty mile radius knows exactly how much my brain isn’t still.  Also, how strong my filters are when I’m not intoxicated. 

For the past several months, I have been trying to meditate, trying being the operative word. See above.

In the process of attempting to become more focused, I chose to attempt meditation. Many, many times. These days, it is often before the sun comes up. On this particular day, the rooster ‘cross the woods had yet to crow, and I was attempting to focus on my breath.

I swear, I think I stop breathing when I try to do this. Or I breathe too much, and between the “in” and the “out,” I find myself thinking about something that happened the day before, what I wanted for dinner, when I could rent Deadpool 2  from Redbox, if my diva dog had stolen another shoe, how my parents were, thoughts of a friend I hadn’t seen in far too long, how I could use a piece of chocolate right now

Anything but the breath.   

Remember this scene from Eat, Pray, Love

 

That is so me. Nearly five months later, and that’s still SO me. 

 I had read in the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying that one should keep her eyes open during meditation: eyes pointed up if she needed to avoid falling asleep, eyes pointed downward if she needed less stimulation.

 My mind, as per its usual Talledega, raced, turning on two wheels as it made the corner.  I chose down…

…only to see a single winged ant, one of the myriad of bugs that are drawn to the porch light in the darkness. A three ringed binder, full of scribbles, doodles, and whatchamacallits lay open, awaiting my next burst of weird thoughts. I watched as the ant landed and began traveling the paper as if it were a prairie. Leisurely in its exploration, it strolled along, pausing, its bent antennae twitching. Apparently, it was weighing its options.

 Dare it go toward the blue and red flower doodles, or would this courageous adventurer keep to the notebook lines?

It chose neither, as it turned out. 

It walked along, its legs giving a jaunty jerk (think Jiminy Cricket), reaching the edge of the notebook paper. It stopped. And waited. And waited some more. After what seemed to be ten minutes (more likely to be 10 seconds) it took a u-turn and headed in the direction from which it had just come. So much for meditation. The insect kept going until it hit an invisible wall at the edge of the paper once again. As I hummed Foreigner’s “Feels Like the First Time,” (REALLY. So much for meditation) I watched as it turned, barely pausing at all, and began retracing its steps. Again and again it strolled along the edge of the notebook paper, stopping only to turn around and continue walking to the other edge.  

I felt like I was witnessing something private, something that made me some sort of Peeping Tom, but I couldn’t stop watching this one-ant parade. I couldn’t end my fascination with its repetition of patterns, again and again. It continued this route until it chose differently, veering from its established routine and climbing aboard the center metal ring.

What I know about ants I could probably fit in a teaspoon with room to spare, but I did know that this little thing had wings. Why didn’t it just fly away? It clearly wanted to leave the paper, but it wouldn’t go over the edge. Was it scared? Did its eyes see a vast cliff that was in reality only two or three times its length?

Why didn’t it just use its damn wings and fly to where it wanted to go?

It was so easy for me, with distance and vision that saw the “big picture” (or at least the whole notebook), to find a solution to its problem. 

I found myself pondering how many times had I come up against something that seemed so impossible and I just wouldn’t step over the edge into a waiting  world of possibility. I wondered if there were a big cosmic “Me” watching, also puzzled, thinking that the little “me”  had the solution but I just refused to use it. That from “Me’s” perspective, the fall wasn’t nearly as dangerous as it appeared to be to “me.”

The whole scene reminded me of a quote by Rumi: 

I set the alarm, and tried again. This time, I kept my eyes closed. 

The ant was gone when I opened them. 

Three Questions to Ask When We’re Ready to Give Up

While having an above ground pool has been one of the most beneficial purchases I have ever made, keeping it clean can be a pain. I’ve taken steps to make it easier, such as installing a salt water pump and a sand filter (both highly, highly recommended), but with all of the rain we get, there is always, always trash, whether it’s the billion, billion bugs that have suicided in my pool or the leaves that have thrown themselves down in either mourning or suttee-by-water.

Sometimes there is sediment. Sometimes there is a lot of sediment. 

After two attempts at obtaining decent pool vaccuums, I’ve given up. The first one was a rechargeable one (through a USB no less. Who the hell thought that was a good idea?) that exploded in the pool. Literally. It burst outward. The second was  hose-powered and too heavy for me,  so now I take a broom, sweep the walls and floor, skim what I can out, and leave the rest for the filter.

The first time I tried it, however, after nearly a week of constant rain, the water was clear, but it looked like my pool had a brown bottom. (I know there’s a joke in there, but I’ll put it aside for the moment). I got in with the broom and started sweeping. All the junk and sediment rose, and it looked horrible, like I would never get it clean. I would skim some of it out, and the filter would clean some more. When I checked the next day, again, the water appeared clear but there was junk at the bottom and I had to do it all over again. In fact, it took me almost a week of doing it every day to get it really clean.

 

Just as there is no magic pill for cleaning a pool, there is no magic pill for life. 

 

There’s no magic pill for justice, either, or for peace, or  for learning how to play the guitar or write, or even for weight loss, despite all the advertisements to the contrary.

There isn’t a magic switch, either, its position either granting light or withdrawing it. There is no magic barn, one of those places that we can be locked into until we’ve settled our differences—even if our differences are within ourselves.

To settle differences, to fix what we may perceive as broken, to learn a skill, to lay down our baggage–all of those things take work. Sometimes it’s damn hard work. It’s not a straight line, and it often includes those backward-looking steps.

 This is one of my favorite memes from Facebook:

Sometimes succeeding at something looks nothing like we expected.

When attempting to improve anything about ourselves or our world, we must act, but we must do so with a deep patience. We need to understand that if this attempt doesn’t work, or that attempt doesn’t work doesn’t mean that we should stop working.

Some work means that things appear worse before they are better. Like an abscess, somethings must be drained before they can heal.

And that can be painful. Very painful. But we can’t heal until we are rid of that infection. 

When we first commit to the work of improving ourselves or our world, we may face opposition or resistance. In fact, we’ll probably face a LOT of opposition or resistance. I’ve found that those two things appear almost immediately to challenge my commitment.

Whether it’s overwhelming odds, critics, or physical barriers or doubt or fear or lack of funds or lack of support, resistance is almost a surety. 

How do we know if that resistance is a sign that we should stop? How do we know when we’re actually doing something–even if the results are not visible yet–and we’re simply beating our heads against a wall? 

We can ask ourselves three things: 

 

 1. What are our motives?

             Why do we want to do this work to which we have committed?  What is its purpose? What do we hope to                              accomplish by doing it?  What is its overall benefit?

 2. What would things be like if we didn’t do this work?

            What would our life be like if we didn’t do it? Better, worse, or the same? Would the world improve without              our  effort?  Would we be satisfied if we didn’t do it?

 3. Should I involve others in this decision?*

            This one has a really big asterisk by it–or at least as big as I can make it for now. Normally, this is a no-                          brainer  for me: for the most part, I’d recommend not asking for advice. I’ve found I tend to ask advice from                          people  who, while they mean well, just don’t get me or get what I’m about.  If you have a friend or friends with                    whom you seem to jingle along the same jangle, then you might want to ask them because  they might make                          good  sounding boards. 

              But…

             If we are working on improving the world, one of the best first steps we can take (doubt or no doubt) is to ask the                  people we’re directly trying to help if what we would like to do is what they actually need. Or, better yet, ask them                what would most benefit them. This strategy is called People-Centered Development.  

 

In the thick of things, sometimes it’s difficult for us to know when to press on and when to change tactics, direction, or even entire plans.  By being really honest with ourselves and searching for deep-down answers to those three questions, we can get at least a glimpse of how we should proceed. 

 

 

My Grandmother’s Hands

My grandmother loved through her hands.

Where my grandfather’s hands were as rough and calloused as the work he did, my grandmother’s were as soft as the fine thread of her crochet.

She loved through her hands. Through laying her fragile, gnarled, and blue-veined hand over mine. Through the hours and hours of crocheting, an afghan with my school colors, a framed piece of filet crochet spelling my name and year of high school graduation. Through table runners and potholders, curtains and baby clothes. Through the peas and beans they would shell as we sat on the porch, talking about goings-on, as we worked our way through my grandfather’s garden harvest. 

 

 

My grandmother’s hands made the best pancakes the world has ever known,  golden and brown in all the right places. I watched as the butter sizzled and batter bubbled “just right.” Her hands could flip them with no drop wasted.

They made gumbo and peeled the shrimp for them. We’d converge upon her kitchen, draping ourselves where we could to share company and food. They made liver, and we would flee. 

Her hands baked pecan and pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving and Christmas, almost always making a lemon meringue especially for my father. It was—and still is, I think—his favorite.

They made candy at Christmas and cheese dip at New Year’s. I didn’t know until I was in my 20’s that “MeeMaw’s cheese dip,” also the best in the world, was made by other people. It was called Rotel dip and appeared at a work pot luck.

I was aghast.

I wondered how she and my grandfather were married for so long, more than 60 years. I once watched her as she crocheted, the television blaring and my grandfather blaring along with it. When he left the room, those hands reached up and turned on her hearing aid.

Those hands touched her face next to her brilliant blue eyes as they shone, brightening at the sight of my niece and nephew. Those hands cradled them as infants, waved to and played with them as toddlers, and, with the cooperation of her arms, hugged them fiercely as children. 

My grandmother loved through her hands.

She tried to teach me how to crotchet once; but I couldn’t seem to master the art. I made a single-stitch not-so afghani afghan once–king-sized–and sighed in satisfaction that I had accomplished so daunting a task.  True, the stitches ran like a drunk man rototilling a garden: all weaves and bobs and without a single even stitch between them.  

But I finished it, thanks to those hands and her patience. 

She had tried to teach me how to make pralines as well, but I didn’t have the experience to know how to add this ingredient “until it looked just right,” or stir it until it “felt just right.” Small wonder; her hands had been making them for longer than I had been alive.   

I made my first unsupervised batch of pralines this week. The smell of them transported me, and I was back in her tiny, blue-tiled kitchen, watching her hands as they poured the chopped pecans into the heavy gray pot, as they held the wooden spoon. I remembered the brown bubbles popping as the kitchen filled with the scents of our Southern Christmas: pecan pralines and my grandmother. I didn’t know the “just right,” part of it, but they were almost as shiny and beautiful as hers were.   
This picture was taken at my grandmother’s 93rd birthday and captures the beauty and essence of three of the strongest women I  know. All three of them have loved through their hands. 

While my grandmother passed some time ago, the legacy of those hands is immortal.  

The Dream, the Doubt, and the Dance

One of the first things I realized when I really began my work toward Life 2.0 was that I wasn’t really doing any work toward that dream life I wanted. I have a full-time job, but it isn’t my passion.

My dream life consisted of supporting myself through writing, forging a truly creative life, traveling, enjoying better health, having a positive impact upon the world, and maybe, I don’t know, even being somewhat financially stable. This wasn’t all of the dream, but it was a really good start.

I wanted to have work—and not just a job—that made me want to jump out of bed in the morning, jitterbugging with joy the morning (or afternoon as my dream would have it), ready to accomplish great things. I wanted to be excited to be up and about in the world.

But I lacked integrity.

One of the Mirriam-Webster definitions of integrity is “being whole or undivided.”  The truth is, I was divided. I said I wanted that sort of life, but my actions weren’t supporting that sort of life. They lacked integrity.

That’s the opposite of integrity: when our intentions and our actions are not aligned.

Something—many things—needed to change. Rather than tackle everything at once and ensure neural short-circuiting and guaranteed failure, I decided to attack the problem—the problem being my lack of integrity in this sense—in stages.

First of all, I accepted the fact that I couldn’t live the life I wanted to have right now, not completely, but I could—if I really wanted to do so—live a smaller version of that life right now. A microcosm of a life. So I went back to the first part of what I wanted my life to look like:

#1 Supporting myself as a writer. 

I had to face some harsh truths.

First, I couldn’t support myself through writing if I lacked focus. I have about 1000 things started and nothing finished, and that just wouldn’t cut it if I wanted to move forward. I had the habit (and, ahem, still do, but to a lesser extent) of starting and stopping nearly every little thing that floated through my head. While I had picked up some odd jobs here and there, those opportunities came about mostly by chance. They weren’t a product of my actively and mindfully working toward that goal. My odd jobs couldn’t pay the water bill reliably, much less a house payment.

My first goal was to wake up early. I had many near-misses until I finally got to the point of waking up with more time than just the minutes required to run through the shower, throw on some (semi) clean clothes, and make it to work. This was probably in February of this year (2018). Give or take.

A few months later, I had established a somewhat usual routine of waking up early. Let me stress that I am SO not a morning person, but my job has had me on a day schedule for almost a decade now. It’s quiet and dark and allowed me to get some work in—or at least dawdle—before heading to my job. So, my first goal of waking up early, fairly usually was a semi-success.

Too bad I spent the time reading headline news. And playing Candy Crush.

And I stumbled, losing focus. I was floating, some ethereal, nondescript goal somewhere out in front of me. Somewhere. At some point in the future. Something. 

It took me a few months to come back around and begin moving forward.   Sure, I was waking up early but not really accomplishing much else.  So, time to set another goal, this time actually with a definable goal. Thumbing through the Michael Hyatt book, I realized I had lost sight of any sort of plan, regardless how gossamer they might have been. 

As I said in my welcome post,  I have grand vision but I screw up a lot. Many, many of those screw ups are because I have the tendency to be crippled by doubt and fear. But I’m also really clumsy. And I drop shit. A lot. And stumble. Also a lot.

But anyway.

I have the tendency to start things and not finish them. Sometimes I think it’s because I unconsciously fear what would happen if I finished them.

What if no one read it? Or liked it? What if a LOT of people liked it?

I think that second one is actually my fear. If people liked it, there would be expectation, triggering another round of the fear and doubt. But sometimes I think it’s because I get bored. Easily. I want to learn everything; I want to read everything and write everything. But that is not realistic. At all.

So in order to tackle some of those doubts and fears, I began dealing with my emotional fucksticks, or as Michael Hyatt called it, the emotional domain. I needed to get out of my own way and chill with the fear and doubt and boredom. I needed to find a simple thing, a simple habit, that would yield positive results.  So I started working with affirmations.  

They sound silly, but, I figure if you repeat something often enough, sooner or later, it will become true. After all, we’ve seen a LOT of that in the past two or so years.  

 My first affirmation was “I love myself.”

This sounded ridiculous to my ears. It STILL sounds ridiculous, nearly four months later. It was painful, absolutely painful, to say at first. At my first “I,” my Adam’s apple grew how Sea-Monkeys were supposed to grow.  I was pretty sure it was the size of the Epcot Center, and the words would get stuck, unable to navigate around the giant golf ball. I lost my voice, quite literally.

As the sun begin to peek its head through the trees, I spent forever analyzing the mimosa leaves backlit by sunshine. I watched as the flies cannoballed into my coffee. I wondered if they would stay away if I did the Truffle Shuffle.

I am super-duper good at resisting. Through distraction (Hellooo Doctor Who, it’s been so long) to reading, to eating even. I can always find some method to avoid anything.

Maybe that’s my third superpower.

But I stuck with the decision to dance with affirmations.  After a while, the sound of it out loud was still ridiculous, but at least I wasn’t choking to death. The process of beginning affirmations was not like a rom-com when the guy wakes up (isn’t it almost always a guy?) realizing that he’s loved the girl all along. There was no magic moment, no singular moment (so far, anyway) that I’ve yelled, “Woo-hoo! I love myself and feel confident and grand, and able to take on whatever life throws at me.  So, come at me bro!” 

No. Nothing like that.

But I continued. I still continue, although the affirmations have been changed up a bit at the beginning of a new month.  I kept at it despite seeing no evidence whatsoever that it was doing any good at all.  Because I know that I know that I know that by repeating something often enough, it becomes believable, even if it’s not objectively true. 

Case in point: the idea that Barack Obama was born in Kenya.  Or that vaccines cause autism.  In both cases, there was a single source of the original premise and everything following was based on a false premise.   There was proof that both statements were false: an actual birth certificate (and not the fabricated one) in the first case; several studies which could not reproduce the results of the original study and retractions from both the author of the first study and the journal in which it was published.

But the beliefs grew and grew and one day grew up to be a beanstalk that reached the clouds. 

Or something. 

Even if the premise of the affirmation is not objectively true in the beginning (and then again, why would we need to convince ourselves of something if we already believed it?) it can become true for all intents and purposes, because affirmations don’t necessarily change things objectively, at least I don’t think so. Affirmations tend to change how we subjectively see things, which changes things in a sense. 

If I say a billion, billion times, “I have more money than Scrooge McDuck,” it won’t simply become true because I said it a bunch of times. I mean, it’s not very likely to drop from a balloon over my head at any given moment. But saying something to that effect can change the way I see money and lead to potential ideas to generate income.  

Because “I love myself” is subjective, it’s measured indirectly by actions that stem from that love rather than measured objectively by having more than or less than money than Scrooge McDuck. I don’t even know how much money Scrooge McDuck has, but apparently someone tried to figure it out.

So I kept at them, making tally marks on my paper for each time I repeated the phrase.  And after a couple of months, small, barely noticeable things started happening. 

In fact, clueless as I was and so prepared for nothing to change, I didn’t even notice then until far after the fact.  I didn’t even realize things were a-changin’ until after they had already changed. 

Like saying “No,” occasionally to unreasonable requests.  Or caring less for what people thought of me. Or finding more things for which to be grateful.  Or pushing past what had been perceived limits.  Or losing  weight without particularly trying to do so. 

Little things. Subtle things. 

I began wondering in an abstract way what I deserved in this life. Did I deserve to be a writer? Did I deserve a better job? Did I deserve a vacation, something I hadn’t done for 8 years (or more) when I took off a Friday and a Monday and took a road trip to Atlanta? I didn’t have answers to them, but I was asking, which was more than I was doing four months ago when I started. 

It’s a sort of beginning, anyway. 

Random Only Semi-Weird Shit

 

I was first introduced to affirmations while leading a book group many years ago at a Unity church. The group discussion was on Louise Hay’s You Can Heal Your Life, a book I don’t think I read a single word of before I began leading the group.  In addition to learning mediation skills, I learned that you don’t have to buy into a whole ideology to pluck the good things from it: discernment is key.  Some of Hay’s statements were a little woo-woo for me, but I did find some things that helped with assertiveness, compassion, and dealing with grief.  You can find 101 of her affirmations here.

 

Finding that One Square Inch

Everyone should watch something die at least once in his life. 

The sun, clearly hung over,  had barely raised his bald head from the pillow of the horizon when I experienced my first death of the day. Brow furrowed,  I had been writing outside before dawn. It appeared to be a usual day.  The quiet darkness not only encouraged the slow sipping of coffee and the even slower pretension of having deep thoughts but also cheered the sun’s sluggish attempts to remain asleep.

The darkness just wanted more time for herself. 

My diva dog and half-cat have a pattern; they alternate between nuzzling each other and attempting to rip each other’s throats out.  It’s not a particularly unusual occurrence, and so when I heard their tussling below the porch table, I hardly paid it any attention. The cat could have been riding the dog like a mechanical bull or the dog might have not-so-accidentally stepped on the cat while she was preparing to pounce.  

No matter, they would cuddle later.  

The sun must have gulped some coffee too; he had, ever so slowly, stumbled down the hall and was now relieving himself in my backyard. 

The diva dog and half-cat dog tussled underneath the porch table, their barks and hisses barely registering as I continued to write. They had moved to the corner of the porch, knocking over a potted azalea dressed in morning glory when I heard a chirp added to their cacophony. 

When I investigated more closely (or, honestly, at all), I spied a flailing bird  between them.  To my surprise, he was not bleeding.  The color of the instigator (he MUST have been asking for it since my animals are always so well-behaved) was shades of brown, layered upon one another. It made me think of desert sands as they shifted, revealing darker and lighter hues with each movement.

Like school yard bullies, my girls jumped and batted over the poor thing. I managed to pluck him from his nightmare and held him. His body claimed only half my hand. He opened his eyes, and he blinked. 

Good.

Maybe he had stunned himself against the window and hadn’t truly hurt himself. 

I’ve always been an optimist. 

He lay in my hand, and with one of its bright red cowpea eyes, he stared at me. He didn’t blink. He didn’t move. For all I knew, he could have been studying the knots and whirls of the fence through me.  His eyes looked to be capable of Superman vision. 

I gently rubbed my thumb against the top of its head and saw that he did move after all.  His neck had gained  a decidedly floppy motion, but he had lost his volition in the process. His neck had been broken, either with his alleged altercation with the window or somewhere in his instigation of my animals.  I watched as his tiny chest slowed, and slowed again, until it stopped,  his cowpeas closing in tandem. 

I kept saying, “I’m so sorry, I’m so very, very sorry,” in my best not-so-David-Tennant voice, as if that would make up for the fact that he was dying. I wanted to do something for him other than just tossing an empty bird-shell over the fence, but I knew that the dog would dig him up, and I figured at least for a moment, it would be airborne again.  

So I tossed him. 

.

I know everything is impermanent. I know that everything dies.

Doesn’t mean I have to like it.

But something happened while I was holding the bird. I realized I was watching the transformation of energy. Something larger than the bird; something larger than I could ever consciously be. With the 

exception of the depth of the emotional bond, it was not dissimilar to watching my 18-year old cat, Mardi Gras, fall into sleep for the very last time. 

But I digress. If I could have done something to save the bird, I would have. I wouldn’t have had to think about it. I mean, it wasn’t my pet, but it was a suffering creature. 

The United States has lost its respect for life.  Not every single person within her borders, no, and perhaps not even the majority.  Listening to the news, though, a fever-pitched vocal minority has certainly created the illusion of having the majority. 

I hear stories like “Eighty-one year old Great-Grandmother Kills Intruder,” and I witness people cheering, either through Facebook commenting (I really should know better than to look for reason on Facebook), or in discussions with others locally. 

Not everyone is cheering the fact that an eighty-one year old great-grandmother defended herself; some are cheering the fact that some scum is off the streets and that tax payers didn’t have to pay for his room and board. 

I read stories of the police killing unarmed suspects, especially the ones of those running away, (or running away*) and I hear the cheering that another criminal is dead.  Never mind that he (it’s almost always a black male) was denied due process or that, to my knowledge selling loose cigarettes, while illegal, doesn’t actually carry the penalty of a death sentence. 

How have we gotten to this point where we cheer the death of someone?  How have we become blind followers to the idea that certain subsets of the population can do no wrong, and others are always wrong, no matter the circumstances?

Carmon Sue Brannon is a former nurse at a Mississippi county jail who was found guilty of manslaughter after denying William Joel Dixon medical treatment, in his case, insulin, which killed him.  According to witnesses, she believed Dixon to be detoxing from meth, made derisive comments toward him, and ignored his pleas for help. 

She was a nurse who decided that a prisoner detoxing from drugs did not deserve medical aid.  Even if we ignore the fact that most drug detoxes require medical assistance and there is a specific protocol to be followed, she made the decision that he, as a prisoner and a drug addict, did not deserve medical care. 

She didn’t watch him die. To my knowledge, no one watched him die. He died alone.

How have we confused justice with vengeance? Or righteousness with cruelty? 

How have we lost our soul? 

For years, I’ve heard disparaging comments about prisoners, the mentally ill, the drug-addicted, the poor, the disabled, the otherwise marginalized.  I’ve listened as people discuss, loudly, with abandon, with no  thought of who may hear, their opinions on what this group deserves or that group deserves.  As if they were magistrates. 

I’ve heard the so-called justifications, but nothing excuses the abuse in prison, the criminalization of the mentally ill, the demonization of the poor and the addicted, and the smug superiority of those who say, “They’re illegal immigrants. If they wouldn’t have gotten here illegally, they’d still have their kids.” 

At which point did we stop thinking of these people as, well, “not people”?  Did we ever?  

As a nation, have we collectively killed the part of our brain that houses empathy?  Have we allowed our soul to be strangled, to have every drop of compassion squeezed from our beet-bodies?  After all, you can’t squeeze blood from a turnip (Thank you, Tom Robbins). 

For that matter, have we become turnips? 

How do we get our neuroplasticity rocking? Even if it’s slowly starting, like a train that doesn’t really want to leave Chicago, chug-chugging by sheer force of the conductor’s will, only to damn near jump off the tracks in excitement upon its arrival in New Orleans?  How do we become the anti-Rhett Butler, and actually give a damn?

How do we rekindle our collective heart and stoke our soul?

I don’t know that we can. At least, not any time in the near future.  I don’t know that it will happen until it becomes politically expedient, until the tide of popular opinion changes that makes it socially acceptable to be a decent human being. 

In the meantime, I think what we can do–all that we can do, really–is to make sure that we exercise our soul and not let it atrophy. To not look away when we see things that hurt our hearts; otherwise we simply won’t see them. Refusing to see is definitely an apathy step on the ladder to dead-soul-itis. We should find a cause–any cause–and work toward solutions, aiding those we can in the meantime. 

If all we have is one square inch in the garden of life, make sure it’s the best damn inch we can make it. 

Weird Random Shit

  On the Irony Meter: The second video shows the death of Walter Scott.  The song that is playing in the police cruiser is         “What It’s Like,” by Everlast. you can hear from inside the police car is the song  played is Everlast’s “What It’s Like.”

God forbid you ever had to walk a mile in his shoes
‘Cause then you really might know what it’s like to sing the blues

The video can be found here and the lyrics here.

Domains of Life and Finding a Starting Place

If we’ve looked at our current circumstances and realize it’s not where we want to be, where do we start?

We could, as Wayne Dyer said, “live from the end”(1), that is, act as if we are already living in our ideal circumstances.  I am fairly certain that I have misunderstood his meaning; after all, if I want to be a writer who awakes at noon and works throughout the day and has an active night life, I can’t very well do that now, since I have a job that doesn’t exactly allow me to sleep til noon. Even if I did, I wouldn’t be able to write; I would have to go to work. 

We could also do it project management style: set a goal, list all the steps necessary to meet that goal, and create deadlines for each step. That actually seems more practical, and I’ll be exploring that sooner or later. 

Perhaps practicality does have some use, after all. 

But what if we’re lost? What if we look around us, know we want to change something—everything—but don’t know where to start?

This is where Michael Hyatt’s domains come in. 

While I’m not a huge fan of all of the “Three Steps to Achieving Blah Blah Blah,” or “Five Steps to Perfect Abs,” I did find Hyatt’s book, Your Best Year: A Five-Step Plan for Achieving your Most Important Goals very helpful.  In it, he breaks our lives into ten aspects, or domains:

Hyatt states, “Every domain matters,” (2). They’re all related and each one impacts another—or all of them.

For example, if we aren’t emotionally healthy—or at least somewhat balanced—that state can impact our physical domain, either by not exercising, exercising too much, not eating healthfully, and a myriad of other ways that we might fail to take care of ourselves. Our emotional health directly impacts our physical health. If we’re not making the time or effort to relieve our stress by healthy means, we can find ourselves hurting, and not just emotionally: headaches, muscle pain, pain from absolute exhaustion that results from not sleeping well (3). 

Stress and anxiety can affect digestion and elimination, and I know a few people who can’t seem to leave the bathroom when stress comes to visit.  Their bowels become soldiers, either digging in and refusing to budge, hunkered down, guarding their defended contents, refusing to give up or give in, or running for the hills, their neural fibers waving surrender as the wind and waste of their escape alerts everyone within a three room radius of their cowardice. 

Shit happens. 

Or not. 

Again, we can either accept it or resign ourselves to it. 

But it’s just not that reciprocal relationship between physical and emotional.

If we’re off spiritually, disconnected from whatever we believe in, that sense of disconnection ignores the boundaries of other domains,  not so much bleeding into them as much as puncturing the membrane and invading all of our other relationships.

If our marriage or intimate relationships aren’t in good shape, that discord can affect our work, our physical health, or–again–all the rest of them. Our lack of connection in our intimate or platonic relationships can affect our work.  Maybe we hit the time clock or the office in a snit because we didn’t get enough sleep because we were arguing or we feel emotionally empty for a lack of communication or appreciation.

Maybe we’re just not getting laid.

The connection between domains is like a spider web, all dewy threads and bug-filled, circular patterns.  

So where do we start?

The first four domains, spiritual,  emotional, intellectual, and physical, deal primarily with self, including the spiritual one. While many people might define “spiritual” as relating to their relationship with God, I see it more in terms of readying a vessel. Whether we believe in the Judeo-Christian God, Christ, Allah, Shiva, a higher power, our higher self, or our buddha nature, it is our relationship with our self  that determines our readiness to embody that relationship. 

While we really can begin in any category–I believe the most important thing is simply beginning–the first four are the pillars upon which the rest of the domains stand. If we focus on the first four pillars, we will cultivate the focus needed to work with the rest of them. It can certainly be argued that all of the domains deal with self; after all, they’re our domains, and yet, the other six deal primarily with relationships to some sort of other: our spouse, our kids, our friends, our job, our hobbies, and our money.

But if we sort out the first four, we will have a surer sense of self and will be able to deal with the others in a more prepared state. 

But how do we sort them out? We create habits for each one of them, repetitive actions that specifically support each domain. If our goal is ultimately to improve each area of our life, then we must cultivate new habits. 

A new habit doesn’t need to be grand; it only needs to set the stage for a commitment to change. A new habit can be as simple as going to bed a little sooner or taking time out of our day to meditate or read. Or choosing to eat a salad once a week or journal. 

Just something different from what we’re currently doing. Something small that disrupts our current status quo. 

  If you were to choose one domain in which to begin your work, which one would it be, and what would your new habit be? 

Weird Random Shit:

In 1948, H.M. Peters, a zoologist, attempted to find a way to make spiders spin their webs at more convenient times for his observation. Peter N. Witt, a pharmacologist, tested spiders with caffeine, mescaline, marijuana, and other drugs.  Witt not only discovered that drugs affected their web patterns, but also there is a genetic component to their patterns, i.e., sibling spiders produced webs that were more similar than cousin spiders. You can read more about that here, a Mental Floss article, and a NASA Tech brief that discusses using web patterns to determine toxicity. 

Apparently, wanting to sleep in can have large repercussions. 

Also, here’s an odd You Tube video that’s worth a watch: Spiders on Drugs

You’re welcome. 

 

Sources:

(1) Dyer, Wayne. The Essence of Being in Balance. Compact Disk. Hay House: 2006.

(2) Hyatt, Michael. Your Best Year Ever: A 5-Step Plan for Achieving Your Most Important Goals. Grand Rapids, MI:            Baker Books, 2018.

(3) Mayo Clinic.