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. 

It’s Never too Late to Have a Happy Childhood

“Your job is to play.” A nurse was speaking to children in an attempt to round them up and get them outside. “My job is to take care of you, but your job is to play.”

Funny how, as adults, our own play gets buried under work, under bills, under medical emergencies and divorces, education, and children.

Tom Robbins said, “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.”

Is that true?

While I’m not a big fan of absolutes, I have to say that in my limited experience, yes, this is true, but it requires a very un-child like re-focusing, re-prioritizing and re-framing.

We need to practice focusing on that which we truly want, prioritizing to ensure we’re doing that which is important to us, and re-framing the stories we tell ourselves when things that we don’t want happen.

But what if that happy childhood were a possibility?

What would life be like if we played more? Or we turned work into play?   

What would life be like if we purposely sought joy, if we embraced that light-heartedness and never-ending curiosity that is natural in children? What if we could get up as easily as we fall down, returning to our play as quickly as possible?

What if we practiced our happy childhood like medicine, like the piano, like cooking or any skill we wish to improve? What if we created a practice for a life, centered on joy and play and all of those things that we have been too busy to enjoy?

What would our play consist of?

What would that feel like?

Would we say yes more often? Would we say no?

Would we be our own heroes?

Would we dream more?

 

When I was a kid, I was outside all-the-freaking time.  The mosquitoes (the real Mississippi state bird) seemed irrelevant compared to going adventuring in the woods and building forts out of hurricane-toppled oak trees and winding vines. The woods held secrets that were meant only for me. Adventure and imagination and freedom hid in the taste of honeysuckle, swam in the swampy

spaces between cypress trees, and sailed in the sound of the crows and mockingbirds that slid between tree tops.

…and yet, and yet, somehow I traded the secrets, adventure, imagination, and freedom for air-conditioning laced mortgage payments.

I grew up and became overwhelmed with the responsibilities of adulthood. It’s true, being an adult holds certain responsibilities that we should not ignore.

And yet, what if there were a way to shift our primary focus to having that happy childhood, while still managing those responsibilities?

Having that idea is a part of what birthed Life 2.0. It’s not a do-over, but an upgrade.  I think it’s the closest thing we have to a do-over.

Maybe it means lying in the grass, watching the clouds more or taking things a lot less seriously and not bearing the weight of the world on our shoulders. It could mean splashing through mud puddles. Maybe it just means having a break from adult work and having an adventure once in a while.

For me, having a happy child hood means all of those things and more. It means enjoying a  fart joke ( thanks George Carlin ) or a riddle from a popsicle stick.  And laughing. A lot.  

What would your second childhood look like? Do you think it’s possible for you to have a second, intentional childhood?

As of right now, my “Submit a Comment” thingy seems to be on vacation. I’m hoping to get that taken care of this weekend. Thanks for hanging out in the meantime. And the layout. It doesn’t look anything like my “preview” version does. So…still dealing with a learning curve.

 

Acceptance, Resignation, and the Work before the Work

Acceptance and resignation are not synonyms.

When looking at our habits, we can find either one. Acceptance is simply acknowledgment that things are the way they are. Resignation, on the other hand, is the belief that things will always be the way they are.

Resignation is a trap that we can easily fall into if we’re not paying attention. Resignation is like depression in that it makes us see things through tunnel vision. Both cut off our vision from anything other than that which is directly before us: a pure shitstorm.

If you are depressed, please seek help. Call your doctor, go to the emergency room. Find the appropriate crisis hotline for you.

If you are depressed, know that no matter how you feel right now, the possibility for feeling better is always present. You MATTER, and the world is better for having you in it. You may not see it right now, but I promise you, someone does. You have value, and you are worth more than you believe you are. You are worthy of getting help.

But for better those days, ones when our darkness feels like it’s in some sort of remission, well, that’s when our responsibility kicks in. That’s when we focus on acceptance because it offers hope where resignation simply inflicts the false certainty of despair.

We accept that things are the way that they are, that we are where we are and how we are.  Right now.

I’ve discovered that if we really want something different than what we have or are now, there are a couple of things
we need to do after we have accepted our current state.  I often call it “the work before the work.”

1. We must really want change. 

Just as no one can love us enough “for the both of us,” the same can be said about wanting change. It simply is not possible.  We must realize that we are worth the effort and want something different  down to our very marrow.

If we do not want it deep in our bones, there is still hope. We can take a step back and work on our willingness to be willing. We can work on our willingness to be willing to believe in just the slightest sliver of possibility that things can change.

There is still hope.

 

2. We must take the steps to change.

No one can do the work for us, and it is work. It is practicing and practicing and practicing. It is practicing when we feel good AND not so good. It is practicing when we’re exhausted or disappointed or close to giving up.

It is work, and the work—and ourselves—are worth the effort.

3. We must forgive ourselves and be willing to try again.

We may have relapses; we may have set backs. We must accept them—remember that acceptance is not resignation—and move forward.

One of the surest ways I’ve found to self-sabotage myself is to resign myself to the results of one attempt.  I tried this thing, and it failed spectacularly, and so I won’t try again. What happened this time is what will happen next time. That’s resignation. 

Here’s a harsh truth: Every attempt will not be successful.

If that were true, if we succeeded at everything we tried, then what? How would we learn? We wouldn’t need to practice or work on progress; we would have already achieved perfection.

Perfection, in addition to being pretty impossible, is also pretty damned boring.

We must accept that we are not perfect and we won’t always succeed. (There’s that word again!) We need to re-evaluate our methods and adjust them accordingly.

 

 4. We need to prepare ourselves for loss.

 

Every change represents the death of one thing and the birth of another. If we choose to exercise even just one morning a week, that’s one morning that we won’t be able to sleep later. If we choose to add activities to our schedule, something must fall away, even if that something is only minutes from an activity that we’re still doing.

We’re doing less of it, and there is still loss, even if it’s a tiny one. When we consciously exchange one habit for another, such as  going to bed at a decent hour rather than staying up too late binging Luke Cage (ahem), the loss is greater, but so is the potential gain. 

Come to think of it, not watching Luke Cage at all would be a great loss, too. 

But sometimes that loss is represented by people.  When we’re involved in certain activities, such as drinking or doing drugs, we often have a set of people to whom we’re connected through that activity. When we give up those activities, we often find that we have less in common with those people than we originally believed. With clear eyes, we can see them  differently.  We may feel that the ties that have bound us together have weakened and perhaps dissolved entirely. 

 That is okay. In fact, it’s often necessary.  

Being prepared for loss, I think, doesn’t mean that we won’t grieve when we lose something or someone. It just means  that we’re are aware that it is almost certain to happen, in some form. Since we’re all at different points of our journeys, it is quite possible, even likely, that as we grow, we outgrow people and things that served a purpose once upon a time, but no longer do so. 

Different habits produce different results. Different results bring different possibilities, and those possibilities may require even more new habits.

But that’s okay, too. The process of change is just that—a process. It’s an incremental journey that begins the very moment that we decide that we want to do things differently.

 

 

What would you consider the “work before the work” to be? Have you ever felt that you had outgrown something or someone, or that someone had outgrown you? 

 

.

The Essence of Joy

 

Today, I am grateful for mended friendships. I am grateful for memory and the essence of joy.


There’s a first time for everything; that’s what the phantasmal “they” say, anyway. Right?  I don’t think that’s absolutely true. I mean, I don’t think that I’ll ever have a first time of eating a shrimp po-boy while balancing on one foot on the apex of the Eiffel Tower as I watch Neil Patrick Harris, tap dancing on a hot air balloon,  perform “Brand New Day,” from Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.   

But I could be wrong. I’ve been wrong before.

This isn’t the first time that I’ve been grateful for mended friendships or memory or the essence of joy. But there’s a first time—a conscious first time, I think—in experiencing an awareness of something we haven’t noticed before.  That moment when something ordinary, something part of our regular life, suddenly becomes extraordinary. 

I loved my Saturn. I had the earliest version, a silver 2002 VUE, stick shift and all, that totally rocked my socks. It was not love at first sight, but instead a love that grew steadily over time until the point that I couldn’t imagine my life without her. I named her, as I named my other vehicles, but I cannot remember what I called this car. Instead, my friend named her Babs, after Barbra Steisand.  Despite my taking something akin to a blood oath that I’d never call her Babs, I caught myself referring to her in just that very manner at least  a time or two.  Regardless,  I loved that car.  It nearly broke my heart when I had to let her go.

But this Saturn, my Silver Surfer, carried me toward Tampa.  That journey was a Renaissance Faire of a first solo trip, and I literally screamed with joy as I crossed the line that divided  Florida from Alabama.   

 

“I Alone,” by Live played as I raised my fist, pumping it through the moon roof in approximate time with the drum beat. And we were three: this song and this interstate, Babs, and me. Okay, so four. This road trip was one of those milestones that only grows more important  in retrospect. My first solo venture beyond 50 miles, that trip demonstrated that I was not resigned to a life of  panic attacks that had plagued me for the past six years. That in itself was remarkable. 
That weekend also marked the end of a relationship, although  I wouldn’t know it until a day or two later. It also signaled the beginning of my returning to me, the beginning of my spring: the seeds of adventure were planted. But just inside the state of Florida, somewhere along the interstate, something reached out and grabbed me by the hair.

I alone love you

   I alone tempt you  

  I alone love you 

  Fear is not the end of this

  Lyrics from a song I’d been singing along with for nearly two decades held a different meaning for the “I” of the song that day.  For the past twenty years, my understanding of the song revolved around that “I” to the exclusion of other people:

  *I* alone love you

   *I* alone tempt you 

 *I* alone love you

 Fear is not the end of this

 I, I, I. Me. Me. Me. Nobody loves you like I do, baby.

But on this day, with no warning except the sun through the roof and the purple flowers in the median, it hit me that perhaps I had it wrong.  Perhaps I had been getting it all wrong since the very beginning.  

Perhaps, just perhaps, the song didn’t represent a love that was singular, superior, and sapient. Maybe it wasn’t about a love that was true while others were false. Perhaps it wasn’t even about a love that was solitary and  to the exclusion of every other human in the world.

Maybe, just maybe, the song was about standing alone, unchained from self-created demons, free of baggage and all those things we bury that tend to be the murderers of relationships.

 Perhaps it was about the essence of joy: sheer, unadulterated joy. 

  Joy at its purest: stripped bare, whittled to its very marrow,  wrapped in love and liberated from imprisonment of demons such as guilt and shame. 

Perhaps it was just delusions of old age.

But then again, maybe not.

There’s an experience with music, a relationship with music that is created by the distance—or lack of it—between the performer or song and the listener. Art, I think, is less about what it sounds like or looks like and more about what sort of relationship it inspires with those who experience it. 

Some art does not inspire joy, but it still creates relationship.  But the art that pierces the soul and pours forth its own essence, creating and culminating in joy, well, that’s something else.

It’s damn near sacred. 

I will always associate “I Alone” with that road trip, that beginning and ending of fears, of relationships, and of a couple of inches between my ego and me. That music, those lyrics, that memory and me—a relationship that has endured nearly 15 years.

I had the opportunity to see that song performed a couple of weeks ago in Biloxi, Mississippi. I didn’t know that I’d ever have the chance to see Live again in concert. The band had split in what appeared to have all the acrimony of a nasty divorce. Maybe it was a divorce. Guys who had played together since they could barely drive could no longer tolerate each other and went their separate ways. 

And yet, nearly a decade after the torrid breakup, they were all on stage together, their magnificence spilling forth into the crowd. I was acutely aware of the “oneness” of the band, something beyond just the idea of unity, as if they were five fingers of a single hand (sorry, Daredevil and Iron Fist, the simile is apt) that constantly beckoned us. They did not play for us, but rather, they led us on a journey that was half  dominance of nostalgia and drum beats and half submission to that voice and that moment, the very experience we were living right then.

There was no hint that they had ever stopped playing together; no appearance that they had played these same songs a hundred or a thousand or a thousand thousand times before. Pure magic, both potential and kinetic energy occupied the same space, and that energy flowed into the crowd. It flowed into the crowd.   

 

 That magic flowed through us, winding itself around us, binding us together.  Energy, magic–perhaps they’re the same thing– pulled up our anchors and swept us away.   

 

Twenty-four years ago, Live told us that “it’s easier not to be great,” and yet great they were. They created a relationship that cannot be replicated just by listening to a recording or watching a video on YouTube.  And it would not have been possible had it not been for mended friendships, memory, and the essence of joy.

 

Weird Random Shit:

The first time I saw them in concert, I liked their music, but wasn’t totally in love with them. My best friend and I braved a hurricane watch to see them in New Orleans. The day of the concert, I had been fired as a waitress from a New Orleans style cafe. When I heard the opening percussion of their song “Waitress,” I knew that they were my band.  The music and I have been happily married ever since. The music, not the friend. Also. the internet apparently really does have everything. I found their set list from their 1994 tour here.

In the Beginning was the Thing…

…And one thing led to another…

Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume

How many of us have longed for a better life and yet have felt so stuck, so exhausted, so afraid to even hope that we simply don’t try? Maybe we tried once upon a time but fell flat. Maybe we couldn’t find the energy to try again.  Maybe we couldn’t even stand up again. Maybe we don’t even feel like we’re standing right now. We may find ourselves trapped, too tired to try again, too weary to even think about trying again. 

We’re officially in a rut.

Seth Godin, in his episode “Hitsville” from his Akimbo podcast, calls human beings “story telling machines.”

He’s not wrong. For every interaction we have, we have a story behind it. If the woman we pass by every day doesn’t say “Good morning,” after we say it to her,  we can create a narrative why she didn’t say it back.  She’s angry with us; she is psychic and knows that we don’t like her.  Bob in accounting told her about our party that we forgot to invite her to. In reality, it may have nothing to do with us. Maybe she’s running late, stressed about a meeting with her boss, trying to practice a speech, or worried about her marriage. 

We just don’t know why. But we make up stories anyway. 

We may look at our lives, wonder how we got here, and create a narrative which consists of all these little stories we tell ourselves, stories that we’re underpaid, overworked, sucky at relationships, don’t have enough money, or time or energy, have been hurt too much, weigh too much or too little. The list of stories is practically endless. 

They may feel true; they may even appear true to an outsider. But they don’t have to be true.

The thing’s that’s so great about being a story-teller is that we can change the narrative at any time. We can change the direction the protagonist (that’s us!) takes.

I love Wikipedia. I can start the morning with a cup of coffee in hand, through the endless links only to find the day gone, my half-cat sitting next to my empty mug, licking her lips in satisfaction.

That’s my cat, Tiger Lily. If she’s brave enough to bop my dog on the nose, she’s damned well brave enough to steal my coffee. ‘Cause Italian Sweet Creme coffee creamer. 

But I digress. I’ve found that, for me, digging into the “where” or the “why” of a belief can be a lot like reading through Wikipedia. It’s interesting, sure, but it’s nothing more than trivia, like the fact that George Washington didn’t really have wooden teeth.  In my experience, knowing the “where” or the “why” of a belief doesn’t undo that belief; it merely provides a distraction when we really don’t want to face it.

Staying focused and shunning those rabbit holes of distractions are difficult; examining the story perhaps moreso.  But changing our beliefs that limit us is a worthwhile challenge, and doing so requires our taking a long, hard look at the stories we tell ourselves and how we act based on those stories.

Like an iceberg, the belief is what lies beneath the waterline. The more visible part–the most obvious  part if we’re aware of it–is the action or actions that result from the belief. Unlike an iceberg, however (or maybe actually JUST like one, and I just don’t know enough about icebergs), the action–the result of that belief–further reinforces that belief.

Here’s an example: 

Simple enough, and I think many people might feel that way. Maybe our iceberg looks a little like that.  Maybe it looks a lot  like that.  Because we feel that we don’t have enough money, we can be so afraid of letting go of it that we never actually do anything with it.  Because we grasp tightly–both to our money and the story of how we don’t have any–the actions just reinforce the belief that we don’t have enough. 

It’s a cycle and can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

We can take a look at another example, the idea that we aren’t creative.  Again, each part informs the other and creates a cycle:   

Whatever that narrative is, we may not even realize that we believe it. It may only be when we start looking at our actions that we’re made aware that those actions stem from chapters of that narrative. Maybe we do realize it but have resigned ourselves to it.

Here’s the upside: Until the moment we die, there is always possibility. But even then, even at the moment of death,  the possibility for possibility still exists. .

Nothing is ever certain. 

How do we let go of these beliefs?  How do we discover the possibility that maybe things don’t have to be the way they are?  

We start by starting.

There are two angles from which we can approach this: by examining the habit side or the belief side. I’ve found that starting by looking through the lens of a habit is far less difficult than looking at a belief and determining the habit. 

After all, we can see the habit. 

We can look at our not doing anything creative or holding onto money, or any of a thousand other habits. Why do we do this?  If it’s not something we can figure out easily, we can write. 

I’m a HUGE fan of journaling. I think it’s one of the most therapeutic things we can do. We can take a blank page, sit down with our favorite beverage (although, I strongly recommend something non-alcoholic) and just write. Whatever comes to mind.  It’s prompted free writing, and I’ll be sharing more about this in an upcoming post. 

If we can’t figure it out on the first try, we can try again. After all, life is a practice.

Everything can be a practice. We can try again and again and again until we find the belief that hides under the water line, the foundation of the habit. 

That’s the first step. 

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

Lao Tzu, The Tao Te Ching

 Congratulations, we’ve officially begun our journey. 

Possible Interruption

Because I’m a total newbie (or n00b as we used to say in EverQuest), I’m not quite sure what to expect.

The short version is that I am changing hosting companies. I’m not sure how long it takes, when I can begin posting again, or any of the other details. The long version is something I could start talking about today and will still be describing two weeks from now.

So, let’s  just stick with the short version, shall we? 

If I’m not back by Thursday, August 9, 2018, I should be back to my regularly scheduled hi-jinks by next week.

In the meantime, enjoy this clip of Mr. Rogers accepting a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Daytime Emmy Awards. It’s fantastic.

Jeffery Erlanger, who had previously appeared on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, told Fred Rogers, “On behalf of millions of children and grownups, it is you that I like. Fred Rogers represented the best of what humanity can be. He possessed kindness, gentleness, self-assurance without ego, and generosity. He also possessed a grand vision, an inclusive vision of cooperation and equality. He was one of the better angels of our nature. 

In accepting his award, he said:

 

“Fame is a four-letter word. And like tape, or zoom or face or pain, or life or love, what ultimately matters is what we do with it. I feel that those of us in television are chosen to be servants. It doesn’t matter what our particular job, we are chosen to help meet the deeper need of those who watch and listen…”

 

Or you may want to see Queen at Live Aid in 1985. This event exemplified Queen’s “stunning rebirth, redrawing their legacy in a 20-minute eruption of passion and bravado before an enraptured London audience.”

Mr. Rogers’ grace or what might be the best rock-n-roll performance of all time.

I don’t think you would be disappointed either way.

In any case, I’ll be back in two shakes, give or take.

Art, Artists, and Life 2.0

Can you imagine a world without art? I simply cannot. I cannot fathom a world that dreary. As dark as the world may appear at times, imagine it for a moment without art.

Can you do it?

Art is a much a part of our collective unconscious as it is our every day lives.

From the clothes we wear to the television programs we watch, from the food we consume to the books we read, from the the music we listen to on our way to work and the sculptures or even graffiti we pass by every day, art is always present. Even the marketing logos we are constantly bombarded by are made possible by artists, and art seemingly pervades every element of our lives.

And yet art degrees and programs are constantly being devalued. Art program funding is being cut in school after school. (2)

A popular opinion in my neck of the woods is that everyone should get a “normal” degree or study trade skills. A degree or program in English, literature, music, or art appreciation are impractical and akin to basket-weaving. A “normal” degree, is one that fits the ideals of the critics, one that can be used to make money, especially for other people. MBAs are the practical; art degrees are not. In fact, according to Discover Business, the five main reasons for getting a degree in business are that:

1.     It’s practical (Writer’s Note: There’s that word again!

2.     You want to go into management (W.N.: There are far too many people in management who have no                people skills, let’s not encourage more)

3.     It’s versatile enough for everyone (W.N.: Really?)

4.     It looks good on paper and (W.N.: Again, Really?)

5.     Networking (W.N.: Because it takes a business degree to learn how to meet people?)

You know what looks good on paper? Words. Water colors and oil paint. Sketches. Calligraphy.

…and that’s not to say that “practical” degrees do not have their place in society, or even that they’re unimportant. 

They’re just not the right thing for everyone, and this disparagement of artists by those more “practical” seems to be little more than a cry for more conformity. 

If everyone obtained a “practical” degree or chose their life’s path in a “practical field,” we would have few if any artists. Without without artists and their art, the world would be lacking the Sistine Chapel, Macbeth, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, The Thinker. We would have never known Starry Night, Blue Moon, or “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud,” although more than a few high school English students might breathe a sigh of relief for not having to memorize the last one. 

Except, come to think of it, they wouldn’t not know to breathe a sigh of relief, so that’s moot. But still, No Queen or Calvin and Hobbes

There would be no story tellers, no clowns, no comics. No blues guitarists, no ballet. No Broadway. No crafts or quilts. No sculpture. 

Imagine for a moment the United States without her Statue of Liberty.

An interesting tidbit: it is highly likely that the Statue of Liberty was the first crowd-funded project. The French paid for the statue itself on the condition that the United States provide a location and a pedestal for her. When previous attempts at fund-raising fell short, Joseph Pulitzer ran a fund raising campaign and collected over $100,000 in contributions mostly consisting of less than $1 each. This amount was raised in about six months. Oh, and it was accomplished in 1884. (1)

Artists of all stripes all serve a valuable role in our society, regardless of the “impractical” nature of their fields, regardless of the seeming madness of the world and the obsession with all things “practical.”

Artists are our history keepers, our voice, and our conscience. They are our prophets, showing us how things could be.  They warn of dystopia, cry out for heedfulness, showcase beauty, and share with us the vision–if we are brave enough–that beckons us to walk into a better tomorrow.

I’ve heard that work makes a living, but art makes a life. 

 Artists are critical–both to and of our culture–and I believe that they should be celebrated, amplified, and supported. If we are to make efforts to create a better life, live Life 2.0, we cannot ignore the importance of art and those who create it, and we cannot value the art without also valuing the artist.

Within the next few weeks, I’ll be implementing my Starfish Project in order to celebrate, amplify, and support those artists whose presence makes the world a better place.

I hope you’ll join me.

Random Weird Shit:

While looking for a picture of the Statue of Liberty, I discovered what appears to be an attempted upskirt photo of her. I’m not sure if I am more amused or appalled.

I’ll have to get back to you on that one.

Credits:

Sources:

Art Examples:

 

 

What IS Life 2.0?

What EXACTLY is Life 2.0, anyway?   It is the life we begin when we realize that it’s fucking work to create the life we want.  It is the process of creating that life–one of our own design, one that matters, one that is not chained to other people’s rules.  Although some rules are okay, like not murdering anyone. That’s a good one to follow. I do try my best.

Most of the time. 

But it is not just the life we want to live; it’s the journey to getting there, too.  It’s both a journey and a goal.  I’m really talking about the rules of expectation, the ones that push us toward a rut that, once we’re in it,  is so very difficult to get out of. Those rules are that cyclical current that drags us along, whether we want to follow or not. In some cases, that current may look like going to college (if we can afford it or are willing to be buried in debt for the next 30 years), getting married (if we can find someone we can stand for more than 15 minutes), buying a house (again with the debt), maybe even having children.  Because we’re so modern, we may just find ourselves doing it all over again: new degree, new spouse, new house, new children.  

 

In other cases, maybe we started out by being born into poverty, and our rut looks like this: go hungry, try to survive, find a way to make money that may not be exactly legal, maybe get married or have children, get busted, and start all over again. But maybe we’re just not living to the edge of our potential. Maybe we’ve accepted and settled for the mediocre, the well-worn path, the kind of life that will leave us regretful on our deathbeds. 

There are many different ruts, but they all boil down to the same thing: feeling trapped and unable to escape. If we believe that we cannot escape, we won’t. What if we know we’re in a rut and kinda-sorta think that we may be able to escape and live that life that doesn’t fit into any pre-planned formula? but we don’t quite feel it in our bones yet?

This is where Life 2.0 comes in.

As I said in my welcome post, life is a product of our beliefs that have been cemented by a series of habits and practices. To paraphrase Wayne Dyer, “Want to know what you believe in? Look at your life as it is now.”

Our habits have brought us to where we are now.

Wherever and however we are, it is only where we are now. It’s just a starting place. The rut may be deep, the cycle seem unbreakable, but those two beliefs are only true if we wish them to be. Now, I don’t wholly believe that our beliefs determine our circumstances; After all, I don’t think that denying that we have cancer will magically make the cancer go away. But our beliefs can change the way we react to such things, and changing those reactions is the core of change. In fact, it can be the most powerful change of all.

And so, Life 2.0 consists of our vision for our lives, the habits we cultivate to shape that vision, and the realization of that vision.

“In truth, the only difference between those who have failed and those who have succeeded lies in the difference in their habits. Good habits are the key to all success. Bad habits are the unlocked door to failure.”

Og Mandino(1)

I personally feel that there is no failure; we all succeed at something, even if that something isn’t exactly what we wanted. Every action having a consequence, and all that jazz.  To mindfully cultivate habits is to step in the direction of our goals, whatever those may be.  To allow unexamined habits to drive us is to give up our power in deciding our fate. 

In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Alice and the Cat have this exchange: 

 

      “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

“I don’t much care where…” said Alice.

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

“…so long as I get SOMEWHERE,” Alice added as an explanation.

“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”

Lewis Carrol (2)

Walking aimlessly long enough will always get us SOMEWHERE, but do we really want to leave our destination to chance? 

I’ve done that for long enough, thankyouverymuch. 

Determining our own direction, is work, of course, and there are few if any easy wins. But if it were easy, if we had been making positive decisions and habits all the time, we’d be rocking Life 1.0. We wouldn’t be looking for a reboot.  And yet here we are.

The first scroll of Mandino’s The Greatest Salesman in the World reveals this:

“As a child, I was slave to my impulses; now I am slave to my habits, as are all grown men. I have surrendered my free will to the years of accumulated habits and past deeds of my life have already marked out a path which threaten to imprison my future. My actions are ruled by appetite, passion, prejudice, greed, love, fear, environment, habit, and the worst of these tyrants is habit…My bad habits must be destroyed and new furrows prepared for good seed.” (3)

Life 2.0 is about acceptance of where we are and what we’ve done to get here. It’s about acknowledging and releasing the need to continue the “old ways,” and accepting the challenge of discovering “new ways” and marking both how they move us and the direction in which we move.

Congratulations, we have arrived here. 

Now it’s time to get to work.

Credits:

Star Wars family Photo by Daniel Cheung on Unsplash

Pug in Blanket Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash

1,3 Mandino, Og.  “The Greatest Salesman in the World” as part of Og Mandino’s Great Trilogy, New York, New York: MJF Books, 1975.

2 Carroll, Lewis, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Peterborough, Ont.: Broadview Press, 2000. 

It Has to Start Somewhere…

It has to start some time

What better place than here

What better time than now?*

I may or may not be the world’s best procrastinator. I’ll admit, I’ve done some of my best writing right before midnight when a paper or three were due at midnight. The thing about writing–and one of the many reasons I have procrastinated in the past–is because writing requires the writer to be in her own head. Watching Doctor Who, for example, or playing Candy Crush, on the other hand, does not. When you have a billion thoughts bouncing off the inside of your noggin’ (that’s Southern for “head,” y’all) at a billion miles per hour, the last thing you want is to be in your own head.

 

 

It’s like a tornado.

 

 

As I sit here writing this, I’ve checked out my arm muscles (strength training is paying off!), looked at the grass, wondered if the unidentified object at the edge of the porch is a stick or a dog turd, made a list of things I need from the grocery store, and wondered if my morning glory is still alive.  

 

 And that’s just what I can remember.

 

When preparing to reboot, I had all of these tasks I wanted done before hand, a bunch of the blah-blah-blahs: the site designed, redesigned, redesigned again, several posts done, graphics laid out, a planned system of writing, and more.

Years ago I had paid someone to build me one and I didn’t have any idea how to use it, and I quickly broke it. By breaking it, I mean, I had lost access to my log in screen.  I had nothing backed up (how do you manage that?). I sat on the broken site until I finally deleted it because a) I didn’t know how to fix it and b) I was too timid to ask the developer for help and c) I was going bald from pulling my hair out in frustration.

So when I got ready to do it all over again, I prepared myself first. I started watching YouTube videos for WordPress development and started taking a class through Udemy. I mean, it was logical, right? But I learned how to back up; I learned how to fix things (some things, anyway), purchased a theme, and then played and played and played. And planned and planned and planned.  Apparently, I can plan a thing to death.

 

And then I realized that I was still procrastinating.

 

  Maybe it was the head thing. Maybe it was fear. But then I listened to Seth Godin in “The Grand Opening” from his Akimbo podcast (available on Spotify). In it, he talks about the history of hype marketing and the lack of need for it in today’s world–despite most things being advertised to us as hype.  He told an anecdote about meeting a man named Sergey 20 years ago who said, “I have a little search engine called Google.” Sergey then said that Google didn’t do any outbound marketing because a) he knew that one day, everyone would use it and b) Google was better every day.  Because Google was better every day, he wasn’t in a hurry for thousands or millions of people to use it right away. The longer they waited, the better their first impression would be. Now, I certainly have no grand vision to become the Google of writers, but I do know that I get a little better every day. Maybe it’s by learning a new writing technique; maybe it’s learning another thing about WordPress or my theme. Hype marketing really has no place in my vision or purpose.

At any rate, I pushed that unidentified source of procrastination aside and set a deadline: July 23, 2018, a date a little over a week from the date I set it.  As soon as I set a deadline, shit went crazy. Suddenly, everything that I was afraid of paraded through my brain, but instead of throwing Moon Pies and paper flowers, they threw gallon jugs of Hawaiian Punch and beer bottles.

I couldn’t do this. It will look weird look right. I don’t even really know what I’m doing. What am I going to write about? What if no one reads it? What if everyone reads it?

I began dissecting my fears, one by one:

1.   I could do this, but if I couldn’t, who would              care? Just me. And I’d start again. 

 

   

 

 Starting again is kind of my superpower. 

 

2.     It might look weird. In the end, I’m okay with weird.  Maybe being kind of weird is also my                              superpower. Maybe  like Jessica Jones, I have more than  one superpower. She can fly (or jump with              “controlled falling”) and has super strength. Considering her powers are tempered by excessive                        drinking, starting over again and being weird as superpowers don’t seem so bad after all.

3.     I don’t even know what I’m doing! But then again, when have I ever known what I’m doing?  Rarely!              I  tend to learn as I go, make it up as I go along, fly, not by the seat of my pants, but  rather by the wind           velocity of my unplucked eyebrows. That works better for me in terms of  actually getting stuff done.               Otherwise, I plan and plan and plan and do nothing but plan. (Thanks to one of my dearest friends for               pointing that out to me.) Apparently, I can plan a thing to death. I’m sure there’s a Prince song about               that. 

4.   What am I going to write about? I’ve known what I wanted to write about for-ev-ah.  Everything.

 

 Yes, definitely everything.

 

As part of that everything, I wanted to write about the good side of life: the things and people that  make the world a better place, stories that would otherwise go untold, the little moments and  miracles that fall in the space between memories, the struggles and foibles as well as the progress  and success of life, of self-development, of, well, everything. Also, weird random shit.

 Because I like weird, random shit. 

I’ve found that dissecting fears and seeing what I’m really afraid of is a great first step in getting through them. Normally, I would say “conquering them,” but I think that fear can be an exceptional teacher if we allow it to be, and learning from fear is more about making friends with that teacher than it is conquering it. 

At any rate, it’s bound to be a grand adventure.

Weird Random Shit:

(1) Lyric Source: The post title and subsequent lyrics are from “Guerrilla Radio” by Rage Against the Machine from their Battle for Los Angeles album, released in 1999. RATM is one of my *all-time* favorite bands, both for their hard-edged, politically charged lyrics and their brutal beat. Paul Ryan, the current Republican Speaker of the House has said that RATM is one of his favorite bands. In response to this, guitarist Tom Morello wrote an editorial for Rolling Stone, blasting Ryan as “the embodiment of the machine our music rages against.”

Welcome to Life 2.0

 

Welcome to Life 2.0

It’s so important that I figured it bore saying a second time.

Life 2.0 represents a complete reboot, both of my habits and of my website so that I may refocus on what I had been trying to accomplish, once upon a time: documenting the path to a better life and cheering things and people and experiences I find worth celebrating.

I had become a complaint-monster, both consuming and spitting out negativity and bitchiness. All the time.

Which isn’t what I wanted to do. At all. That was who I had been and was but was not who I want to be.

I had become a member of the Walking Dead: rags of some previous life hanging from me, struggling to hoist myself up again and again with no success. I wasn’t in search of flesh, however, or even brains. I was in search of heart.

I just didn’t know it at the time.

So I’m rebooting, focusing on the bonds, compounds, and energy levels of change and bearing witness to solution and dissolution, to growth, decay, and transformation.

A life is built by habits, and habits are made by practice. Life 2.0 is about creating new habits, allowing those which no longer serve us to fall by the wayside, and creating the life we really want to have.

While life, as they say, has no dress rehearsal, it does allow for many practices. It’s just that sometimes we practice in front of other people.

And sometimes we fall flat on our faces.

But, if we’re lucky, we get the chance to practice again. Maybe we even get the chance to pull it off, like in one of those sports movies where the hero strikes out, practices hard and meets the right mentor, and scores the winning home run at the end of the movie.

 

If we’re really, really lucky. 

 

 Life 2.0 IS a practice.

It is the practice of creating meaningful habits that can, little by little, transform our lives.

And the practice of transformation, the process itself, is both the path and the goal.

My dream is simple: to build habits and document the process of change so that I may focus on what I really, really want to do, which is finding things worth celebrating, amplify them, and in the process, forge a creative life that is worth living.

And maybe even save the world a little along the way.

Simple, perhaps, but not easy.

 

You may be thinking, “So many people have done the same thing,

why should I follow *you*?

 

  • I have grand vision but I screw up a lot. Sometimes, it’s really, really funny. Plus, you may learn about things you may not have known about or remembered (like the flux capacitor needed 1.21 gigawatts pronounced jigawatts in Back to the Future and you can learn how to build a replica here.)
  • I have a no-bullshit rule. I won’t make promises of miracle cures or have to testify in front of Congress for my dubious business practices. (I’m looking at you, Dr. Oz!)
  • I wear my heart on my sleeve and f-bombs on my tongue. They coordinate very well.
  • I like giving stuff away.
  • And then there’s this:   I can *almost* guarantee that those other people don’t giggle until they’re breathless–and had to leave a senior college Shakespeare class–because they said “two bras” instead of “two brawls” while reading aloud. 

There is so much more to life than working, sleeping, wash, rinse, repeat.

 

So much more, but searching for it and actively pursuing it requires courage. “Not battle courage, perhaps, but, I don’t know… a woman’s kind of courage, as Brienne of Tarth  so clumsily put it.

It’s not just a woman’s courage, but the courage of an adventurer committed to letting her boat leave the dock.   

“A ship in a harbor harbor is safe,  but that is not what ships are built for.”  The quotation has been attributed to several people as shown by quote investigator.

To a certain degree, safety is overrated. It’s what puts us in cubicles during our most valuable time of the day, day after day after day. It’s what keeps us from reaching just a little bit out of our comfort zone. 

 

It’s what encourages resignation and stagnation, and those are the antitheses of change and growth.

So I do hope you’ll join us as we walk the path of most resistance. It might not be a party, but it’s guaranteed to be…well, something.

Maybe even interesting.

But it’ll be something.