Uncategorized

The Great Reframe

The truth is that you already are what you are seeking.  ~Adyashanti

IMG_0721

My husband took this photo because he liked the shadow of one building on another. He was, however, vexed by the reflection of the lights from his office in the photo until I told him those reflections form artificial clouds. I think they’re perfect. It’s all about shifting your perspective. 

People are prodigious purveyors of the best advice, which they themselves never follow. I have a gift for envisioning paths and solutions for others. When it comes to my own life, however, I have difficulty zooming out far enough to formulate a plan. I am so hyper focused on the micro that I don’t even recognize there is a macro point from which to view the entire dilemma. My successes have been achieved through a series of fits and starts over years of time spent haphazardly careening in the general direction of something in which I had interest. Then, when I finally reach a goal in this meandering and sloppy way, I complain about how much time I wasted getting there. Eye roll.

Negative thought is the constant rabbit in my garden, nibbling the buds of potential while I struggle to pull up weeds. And the curse of negativity is that it works the same way as positivity. What you focus on expands. So if I focus on the rabbit (as I’ve been trained to do) as it wends its way through the sprouts I’ve been striving to cultivate, more rabbits materialize. Cute, furry, reproductive little bastards they are. And when I become obsessed with their presence, they take over completely and I am left standing there on barren ground, wondering what the hell happened. There have been periods of my life when I’ve battled against negativity akin to the Rabbit of Caerbannog.

It has gone this way for me for a long time. Only recently have I gained enough ground to make progress against the rabbits. I’ve learned to notice them increasing in number and then plant some marigolds and install chicken-wire screens to dissuade them. I recently added a border collie to shoo the most stalwart rabbits away. Sometimes the border collie snoozes and a couple sneak in, but when she finally gets after them she pursues them with a renewed fervor that makes them far more cautious and less attracted to the garden. And, in this way, the potential that was always there for me is beginning to flourish. It’s Secret Garden-level brilliant too.

I spent a lot of time cursing the rabbits in my garden. It never helped. The more I railed against them, the more damage they inflicted. But when I shifted my frame of reference away from them and onto the potential I wanted to nurture and protect, I began to make headway where it most mattered to me. Instead of wasting time complaining and being fearful of stunted growth, I moved the frame away and onto protecting what mattered. I began to find solutions. When I stopped fighting against the negativity and started fighting for my growth and my dreams, my life changed. Fighting for wields more power than fighting against ever will.

There will always be rabbits. They will creep back into the yard. It’s inevitable. But I’m learning look at them differently, to take my large portrait frame, step back and shift it in a way that I see how a long-eared, fluffy bunny hopping around a safely protected, well-tended garden is not a problem at all. It’s a representation of life in balance.

Where can you move your frame so it holds the most positive, life-affirming tableau you can imagine, the one that will feed your soul?

 

The Permission Slips

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had paralyzing self-doubt. Some people doubt their beauty. Some people doubt their intelligence. Some people doubt their athleticism or their math capabilities or their decision-making skills. I doubted the entirety of my self-worth. When others would point out my positives, their words might have well as been Sanskrit. I was unable to process their praise, much less accept it. I would deflect with self-deprecation, never responding with a simple “thank you” because I couldn’t own it. Still, those kind words, repeatedly offered, planted seeds. They gave me permission to entertain, at least briefly, the modest notion that maybe I was more than I felt I was.

IMG_1499

My 7th birthday…when someone else decided a scary clown candle wouldn’t give me nightmares

Since the beginning of January, I’ve been considering a party to celebrate my 50th birthday next month. But, every time I would think about it, I would determine it wasn’t worth the money. Or I’d create a guest list only to decide no one would forgo their Memorial Day weekend plans to celebrate with me. I stressed about choosing a place where my vegetarian, gluten free, dairy free, beer connoisseur, and junk-food junkie friends alike could eat. I worried people wouldn’t find parking. I borrowed all manner of trouble looking out for other people, while the number of excuses I invented to avoid looking out for myself was macabre. My potential birthday party morphed into a monstrous, self-imposed migraine, and I decided perhaps it wasn’t worth marking the occasion at all.

I mentioned this during my weekly mental health session on Monday. My therapist, knowing the only way out is through and the only way through requires action, decided I needed to plan this event. The exercise in putting myself first, in believing I mattered enough to selfishly devise an entire day around my own likes and wishes without considering what others would choose, would be excellent skill-building practice. As I sat in her office pondering my preferences, it hit me. I had no idea substantive idea what I love. I had no clear preferences. It’s a blindspot I developed over a lifetime of never feeling worth the effort of asserting myself. My default has been to allow other people to choose where we eat or what we do or where we travel or when we go. I learned early on that anything I wanted was silly and wrong, not to mention undeserved. So I let others take the lead because I lacked the clout to choose. I was never in the driver’s seat, only along for the ride. By asking me to uncover my preferences, she handed me a permission slip, carte blanche to put my hands on my hips and declare, “It’s my birthday and I can do whatever I want and if others don’t like it or feel inconvenienced then they can stay home and miss out.” I didn’t have to feel guilty about it, either. It was a required assignment. Insecure rule followers are comfortable being told what to do. It’s safe.

21stbday

My 21st birthday…when someone convinced me pleated shorts were a good look for me

Because I wasn’t sure what I wanted, I concentrated on what I didn’t want. My aversions, unlike my preferences, are clear cut. I didn’t want to go to a baseball game. I didn’t want to eat sushi or pasta. I didn’t want to cook or bartend for others. I didn’t want to invite people out of a sense of obligation or guilt. I didn’t want to stress small details. I did not want negative people, no matter long we’ve known each other, involved at all. I did not want a party where people bring black balloons and Depends to suggest I’m at the precipice of death. Little by little, through the process of elimination, my mind was freed to discover what I did want. I was able to create a game plan that felt life-affirming, fun, adventurous, memorable, and empowering.

And since it was my birthday and I could do what I wanted, I decided to rebrand it. So, I am not having a 50th birthday party. I’m having a twenty-four hour Re-Birth Day. I know I don’t want to operate my next 50 years through the same rubric. I’ve been slogging  through a quagmire of issues that have plagued me since childhood and, thanks to my insightful and supportive therapist, every day I feel better about myself, more confident, less willing to deal with bullshit and naysayers and energy suckers. This is where I start owning my life rather than letting others direct it. This is where I begin self-advocation. This is my damn story. I deserve to tell it without someone else’s narration. I no longer need an advisory board. It no longer serves me.

IMG_2535

My 48th birthday…when I didn’t even believe I deserved a chair

With these things in mind, I’m approaching the next seven weeks as a growth quest. I know I won’t be able to return all my demons to the Upside Down before my birthday, but I might be able to sequester the remaining troublemakers in a soundproof cage long enough to create a better headspace for taking positive action for myself. Initially, I needed someone else to hand me a signed permission slip to look out for myself. It was a jumping off point, and you have to start somewhere. I accept that…for now. With a little practice, I’m sure that by this time next year I’ll be writing all the permission slips I need. The year after that, maybe I won’t need any at all.

 

What in your life is calling you,

when all the noise is silenced,

the meetings adjourned, 

the lists laid aside, 

and the wild iris blooms by itself 

in the dark forest, 

what still pulls on your soul?

~ Rumi

Is There An Echo In Here?

IMG_0554

Which is smarter? Amazon Echo or my plastic IKEA houseplant? 

My husband is a geek. And he is becoming more of a geek with each passing year. In the past, I would never have complained about this because, well, he’s my personal tech support. He’s the geek I go to when I’ve already rebooted and don’t know what the hell to do next. He is the one who talks me off the ledge when my phone is doing that thing again. He totally understands what an HDMI cable is. I simply understand that an HDMI cable is. He’s all about embracing new technology. And, despite the fact that our house contains several plastic bins filled with antiquated tech (my kids tell me that is the correct term) that he still hasn’t taken to the electronics graveyard, much to my chagrin, I have struggled to make my peace with his curious addiction to the latest and greatest invention meant to make life better. At least, I thought I had made my peace with it. That was until the Amazon Echo arrived in our home early in 2016.

It seemed innocuous enough. One day he came home with this curious new speaker thing. I vaguely recall being a little peeved because, as I pointed out at the time, we didn’t need another speaker thing. Because of his tech addiction, we already had four wireless music players. That’s right. Four. This one, he told me, this one was different. You could talk to this one, like you do with Siri. He prattled on for a bit about how this was not just a speaker because this could also turn our lights off and on remotely. While he spoke, I went to my happy place because when something like this catches his eye the only way to get him to stop talking about it usually is to let him have it. So I did. I rolled my eyes, sighed and, like a parent accepting the stray dog her son brought home, told him Echo could stay as long as he took care of it.

Since that night, Steve has been working with Echo to transform our house into what I assume is supposed to be a much more convenient, high-tech haven. He started by adding the special light bulbs necessary and then programming it to operate our lights, at least in the living room and hallway. Then, against my wishes, he persisted in teaching me the commands so I too could turn off our lights by barking orders across the house.

“Alexa (for that is the damned thing’s name), turn off the LIVING ROOM light.”

Emboldened by the success of having this electronic entity controlling our interior illumination, he added more bulbs in our bedroom so we could yell across the room at the thing on the dresser to turn off the lights on our nightstands, a process that takes longer than simply reaching over and turning off the lights by hand. Undaunted, he persevered with his toy. I told him that the technology creeped me out because occasionally, for no apparent reason, Alexa will start speaking, telling me about the weather or giving me some random definition for a word about which I had not inquired. It all feels a bit Big Brotherish to me. He shrugged off my negativity. This is the future. He expects me to assimilate.

Last Christmas, Steve decided our son might be an ally in the ongoing Alexa battle. So he bought a $30 Hue light strip Joe could attach to his bunkbed, presumably so he could read in bed (ha), and he bought him the smaller Echo Dot which doesn’t have its own speaker. Joe seemed semi-interested in the technology aspect until he realized that the light strip made his bed feel like the tunnel between Concourses B and C at O’Hare Airport. Then he too noticed that sometimes Alexa would start speaking out of the blue. Unbeknownst to his father, Joe unplugged the Dot and tossed it into his closet where he found it creeped him out much less.

Undeterred by his family’s lack of enthusiasm for his home automation, Steve continued in his quest. He added more light bulbs to control in his office. He added another Dot downstairs so we could use it as an “intercom” to beckon the boys upstairs when we wanted them. (Side note: It turns out we never do this because we prefer to yield to the more organic and primal habit of screaming at them from the stairs as parents have done for generations.) He programmed Echo to interact with our smart Nest thermostat so we can shriek at her to turn our heat up or down. He set Echo so now if we bellow at her she will play Sirius XM radio on our Sonos system. Most recently, he’s connected Alexa to our home security system so we can clamor for her to turn on our home alarm. Never mind that, aside from the lighting, we are able to do all these things via our iPhones without caterwauling through the house.

Last night, I caught Steve asking to Alexa to do his bidding again.

Alexa…turn off the Living Room light,” he called out.

“Living Room doesn’t support that,” came Alexa’s reply.

Steve repeated the command more slowly and firmly, as if Alexa were a disobedient child who simply needed to be told twice.

“Alexa…turn off the Living Room light.”

“Living Room doesn’t support that,” Alexa replied again, rolling her eyes.

It occurred to me that perhaps Echo’s name is quite intentional.

“Alexa…turn off Living,” I said, remembering Steve had recently changed the command so it included both smart bulbs in the living room lamp.

“Okay,” she said, and the damn living room light finally went off.

“Sometimes you have to wonder just who is controlling whom,” I said and strolled smugly off to bed for the night.

Steve might have an overactive case of Jetsons envy. He longs for flying cars and homes equipped with every possible automation. And I get it. We Gen Xers are experiencing an amazing shift from our childhoods when we tuned in on one of a few channels on a cumbersome television box with a rabbit-ear antenna on top to watch George, Jane, Judy, Elroy, and Astro living in their sky home with their robot maid, Rosie, attending to their every need, to a time when home automation, or some semblance of it, is reality. It is exciting and fascinating, and it’s easy to get caught up in the Jetson fantasy in 2018. Still, my hope for the future is that the speed of advancing tech becomes so rapid that Steve is at last unable to keep up or technology becomes more efficient so I can stop commanding the black cylinder on my kitchen counter to turn off the lights that all three men in my house seem incapable of operating either on their own or with Alexa’s brilliant assistance. I am not surprised Echo was given a female name. If you want something done, you ask a woman.

There But For The Grace Of Rum Punch

This week I have been on a cruise in the eastern Caribbean with my mom and sisters to commemorate my mom’s 75th birthday. Earlier in the week, the four of us did a rum and salsa dancing tour in Puerto Rico together. The next day my sister Kathy and I snorkeled in St Thomas. For the last excursion, I did something out of my comfort zone. I chose a catamaran trip to St Kitts and Nevis alone. When I booked the excursion, it never occurred to me that I would have to interact with people. Other people whom I don’t already know. As I pondered this the night before we arrived in St Kitts, I wondered if I’d made a huge mistake

When I got to the meeting space, I noticed everyone was part of a pair, accompanied either by a significant other, family member, or friend. I was the only solo traveler, the one who made our number an awkward odd rather than a neat even. It was all good, I told myself. As a reticent introvert, I have many coping strategies for being alone while part of a crowd. I occupied myself with photo taking, listening to headphones, and staring out at sea to avoid eye contact lest someone should view my gaze as an invitation to chit-chat. I spent most of the tour, including the snorkeling time, successfully isolated. I had no direct contact with anyone save for one of the catamaran crew members who kept checking to make sure I was all right. I rode out to the snorkel spot without conversation, swam by myself, finished lunch alone, and quietly sat on one of a pair of beach chairs under an umbrella while my bag occupied the companion seat. I focused on solitude and relished it.

On the way back, I determined I wanted to ride on the net of the catamaran. I had never done that before, and it seemed like something I should experience. So when the boat came back to pick us up at the beach, I made sure to be one of the first to board so I could secure a coveted spot. I had visions of stretching out up there with the water rushing by beneath me, eyes closed, sun on my face, relaxed and at peace. I live in a rainbow world. 

I had been in place maybe one minute before a group of people whom I had earlier pegged as the party crowd descended like locusts on a harvest. Suddenly I was surrounded on all sides by peers who were 1) loud, 2) not concerned about observing my requisite two-arms-length personal space boundary, and 3) more than a few rum punches ahead of me. I was trapped at the front of the net, and the only way out would require gathering up all my belongings, stepping over people, and beating a hasty retreat to the covered part of the boat to sit with the retirees. I sat for a minute doing a cost analysis. My options — run like a coward or make the best of it. I decided these people might make for an interesting blog post, so I stayed to see what might transpire. 

My rowdy compatriots shouted for more rum punch while I tried to figure out how they could get any more drunk. Once we all had a plastic cup, one of them raised his punch aloft and called for a group toast. There was no turning back. I was one of them now. A hearty salud later and we were off to the races. A tantric yoga instructor from Mexico City started a get-acquainted drinking game.  When it was your turn, you had to look at the group, chose someone, and from their appearance suggest something that might be true for them in real life. If you guessed correctly, they had to drink. If not, the drink went to you. I started to deeply regret my decision to stay up front. I watched quietly at first, hoping they would overlook me all together and the game would die out without my participation. No such luck. The ex-military guy next to me guessed I was a teacher. Nope. I looked around and saw a woman wearing a baseball cap with hibiscus flowers on it and guessed she had been to Hawaii. She took a drink. The game went on for a while, rum punch sloshing its way into our rapidly emptying cups over and over. One person guessed I was 42 and said I was too fit to be almost 50. I knew then I was among good people. Somewhere along the way, we stopped honoring the game play and talked amongst ourselves in small groups that ebbed and flowed as we each overheard and then pursued new topics with different people. And rum punch, being what it is, transformed us into quick friends. 

Life on the net


By the time we got off the catamaran, we were all intoxicated. A few folks showed the early signs of what would become painful sunburns. We swayed our way onto the pier, arm in arm, holding each other up, before getting our bearings and stumbling our separate ways. I walked off as alone as I had arrived, imagining I looked lucid but knowing I probably did not. I doubted many of my fellow tour buddies would remember much about the trip because, while rum punch makes friends, it also blurs memories and they were drunk when the game began. For my own experience, though, I was sober enough that I will never forget that excursion. It was the day I learned sometimes it’s good to let loose and see what happens. Yes. The people I met were what I said. They were loud and borderline obnoxious. But they were also full of interesting stories and a shit ton of fun. I watched as other members of the tour alternately gave our net full of crazies a disapproving once over. I thought about how I could have chosen to sit with them and judge rather than join. Indeed, I have lived most of my life that way. On that trip back from Nevis, though, I realized that sometimes judges really miss out and I am finished missing out. 

Sorry, B.B. — The Thrill Is Not Gone Yet

JusDrums

Trying to overcome negativity while wearing a shirt that says NOPE.  Me in a nutshell.

This weekend I am doing something I have never done before. I am going to be the drummer for a band — live and on stage. When my drum instructor mentioned back in July that he was going to set up a performance for some of his students, my first reaction was to laugh, all the while thinking Oh hells no! When he asked me what I thought of the idea of performing, to my surprise, while my head was in a there’s-no-way-nuh-uh-you-can’t-make-me space, my mouth opened and spoke what I knew in my heart.

“It would probably be good for me.”

We chose a song for me to perform at the exhibition. And we were off.

Jeff showed me a preferred beat for B.B. King’s The Thrill Is Gone, a slightly stepped up version of a beat I know already. But the minuscule sixteenth beat that the “fancy” (as he called it) version added turned out to be Herculean in scope for my brain. I have only one other drum beat in my repertoire that includes a sixteenth beat hidden among the eighths. That beat took me four months to get under command. I’m still not proud of my fluidity on that one, but at least when Jeff tells me to play go-go beat I no longer stare at him blankly. Progress.

Learning drums is a formidable task. You are training four limbs to do four different things, all while operating from the same one brain. No brain wants to operate four limbs independently. Humans don’t work that way. To drum, you have to retrain your mind to get your body to do what it has no natural inclination to do. Learning to drum requires infinite patience with oneself. I am infinitely short on patience for all things, most especially myself.

I spent the last two months whittling away at the mental impediments to procure the fancy drum beat for this song, all the while continuing to learn the other elements so I would be ready in time. I was fully committed to performing that fancy beat. And I spent an hour to two a day for fourteen days after the boys started school again working on it with my new bass drum pedal so I could go into my lesson last Friday and show Jeff I had met my goal. And I really thought I had gotten there, or at least within striking distance of there.

I hadn’t. When I got to my lesson, I could not do the beat. My brain and my right foot, in complete defiance of every bit of progress I had made, flat out refused to pop in that extra note. Each time I missed it, I grew more anxious and more despondent. I had spent triple the amount of time I usually ferret away for drum practice to nail that beat, and in the clutch moment it had vanished. Sensing my frustration and with a week left before the scheduled performance, Jeff told me to scrap it. He told me to focus on the groove and let that beat go for now. I agreed that was the best decision, and we continued the lesson without it.

The moment I got to my car, though, I lost it. The tears gently fell and my head ran a steady stream of self-flagellation until I reached my son at school and pulled myself together. Perhaps drumming wasn’t for me? Maybe it was time to burn the sticks and drop the kit into the dumpster? Maybe this dog was too old for new tricks? A year into drumming, and I still sucked at it. I felt lower and more exposed than a naked mole rat. I was an imposter and soon an entire audience would know it. Fantastic.

I have spent the last week doing some additional brain retraining. I haven’t been focusing on that bass drum part. I have been getting my ego in check and my attitude on straight. Turns out this has been nearly as difficult as acquiring the fancy drum beat, but I am finally there. Drumming is supposed to be fun. It was always supposed to be fun. I knew it would be difficult and, to be honest, that is why it appealed to me. Drumming is about the sense of accomplishment when something clicks and becomes automatic and I am able to advance to the next goal. The trick lies in not focusing on what is left to learn and instead noticing how far I have come from the point a year ago when Jeff handed me a pair of his drumsticks and I sat behind a kit for the first time ever.

I am performing on Saturday for better or worse. I’ve decided to be excited about it. I’ve decided to remember that the best things in my life have always come at the end of my comfort zone when I have taken on something that scared the bejeezus out of me and that I wasn’t sure I could handle. I’ve decided to play and be present and let go and not expect anything but a three-minute-long life lesson. It’s about the journey. I’ll get that fancy beat eventually. Until then, I need to refocus on the ride because B.B. was wrong. The thrill is not gone and, knowing my determination, it won’t be gone until I am.

The Statute of Limitations Elimination

FullSizeRender 2

When hubby locks a door, he also locks a window somewhere.

Sometimes the universe offers me creative opportunities to quench my introvert’s need for solitude.

After a late night at the Depeche Mode concert followed by an early run this morning, I found myself sleep deprived and in need of some down time today. To assuage this need, I grabbed my laptop, surreptitiously exited the sliding door, and settled myself at the table under our covered patio to chill, away from the three men in my house. This turned out to be a short-lived solution as, about fifteen minutes later, hubby discovered me and came out, armed with chips and guacamole, oblivious to my urgent need for peace. He joined me at the table and chomped away while I tried not to lose my mind (because I still haven’t figured out a polite way to tell someone their chewing may drive to me murder them). Eventually, my one-word, choppy answers sunk in, and he wisely vacated. He took our sons to Best Buy, and I took a deep breath and started to unwind.

Everything was perfection until I ran out of La Croix, walked to the slider, and pulled the handle. The door didn’t slide. Curious. I tried it again in case, weak from hunger, I somehow hadn’t tugged hard enough to open it. My original suspicions were confirmed. My husband, with his usual fervor for security, had locked the back door before he left. I would like to think this was inadvertent, but this is not the first time he has locked me out of the house.

Maybe eight years ago, when the kids were younger and exhausting, I escaped for an evening coffee with my friend, Lisa. I returned home a few minutes past ten and found the door from the garage into the house locked. I hadn’t brought a house key with me because my family was home. So, I banged on the door, slightly annoyed, and waited for hubby to open it.

I continued banging for 3 minutes, alternating between kicking it and pounding it with my reddening fist. No answer. With a rising level of annoyance, I got in my car and laid on the horn. That should get him. Nope. I opened the garage door again, walked around to the front door, and rang the doorbell about seventy times. No luck. I called the home phone repeatedly. I called hubby’s cell phone even more. No answer. It set in that my family had gone to sleep. With a noisy, whole-house fan running and ocean sounds on too, my three boys would be dead to the world.

I suppose I might have found the entire thing amusing if I hadn’t just consumed a grande latte and a bottled water, which had left me highly caffeinated and rapidly approaching saturation. It was ten thirty. What the actual hell? I walked through the side gate into the backyard and began to lob small river rocks from our landscaping up towards the second story windows in the rooms I knew might be occupied. The rocks were hitting both the siding and the glass panes before landing like golf-ball size hail on the flagstone patio and wrought-iron patio furniture below, yet not a creature stirred. In addition to my husband, I began cursing my dog. Some border collie. Here I was, violating her borders and storming her castle, and she was a non starter.

Options to awaken my sleeping family exhausted, I ducked back into the garage and closed the door resigned to my circumstances. The need to relieve myself of liquids was becoming urgent. I debated ringing a neighbor’s doorbell, but decided that ringing a doorbell at 11 pm on a Tuesday night might not be very neighborly. I toyed with the idea of checking into a nearby hotel because I thought I deserved it after this bullshit, but knew once hubby discovered I was missing he would be calling the police and hospitals desperate to find me. While the devil on my left shoulder urged me to do it anyway, the angel on my right shoulder convinced me that punishment didn’t fit the crime. Still, I needed a bathroom and wasn’t sure I was going to make it ten minutes to the nearest gas station. I considered urinating in the backyard (why not? the boys had) but knew the minute I bared my privates to the world a neighbor would open their sliding door to let out their dog and witness a full moon they hadn’t expected. So, I peed into a Solo cup from Costco in the privacy of our garage. Yes. Yes I did. And I’ve never looked at red cups the same way since.

Hubby did eventually wake up when our oldest got up to pee and, upon not finding me in bed to awaken so I could tuck him back into bed, notified his father of my missing person status. The garage light flickered on around 3:30 a.m. I had been sitting in my car, reclined in the driver’s seat, trying unsuccessfully to fall asleep for hours. Steve opened the door, saw my SUV, and began to close the door again, assuming I must be somewhere inside. I yelled out pathetically.

“I’m here! I’m here! Wait!!!!”

The look on his face registered somewhere between relief and terror.

His apologies flew like rapid fire from a semi-automatic as I entered the door. I was too exhausted to bitch and went directly to sleep. The next day, when I was in a better mental space, I recounted my story. I told him I needed to blog about it. Feeling horrible and embarrassed about the whole mishap, he begged me not to. And so I didn’t. For eight years. But, I figure the statute of limitations on that deal ran out the minute he locked me in the backyard today.

I do crave my time alone, but I am starting to wonder if my family is trying to tell me something. I’m wondering if I shouldn’t get a lanyard to hold my house key around my neck. Just in case.

 

The Permanence of Impermanence

FullSizeRender

Saw this pink flamingo slowly dying on the street this morning. Wonder if someone is missing it? 

You have to pay attention because, if you don’t, you will miss the best things.

My mind has been parsing the notion of loss lately. I’m not talking only about losing a person or pet to disease or losing my children as they grow and become their own people, although these two particular losses have been weighing heavily on my heart recently. I’m also talking about losing things like my hair or the bottle of peppermint oil I had in my hand a minute ago or the astounding piece of wisdom I was about to share but which vaporized before I could pry it from my brain. I seem to be losing everything these days.

When the universe persists in presenting me with opportunities for growth, eventually I catch on to the pattern. And the current rate at which I have been facing loss has given rise to non-stop mulling about the loss and what loss even is and where it comes from and how I can best deal with it in the moment and how to survive it long-term and what I can learn from it to help me along my path. Searching for meaning is what I do as a double Gemini.

Buddhism teaches that suffering is a constant condition of the human experience, and our inability to deal with all types of suffering (from physical pain to the pain of persistent change to the pervasive conditioning that finds us repeating the same negative behaviors from which we need to escape) keeps us from experiencing true happiness. If you are born, you will suffer and you will die. It’s how we choose to approach suffering that determines the quality of life before we leave.

Loss is painful because we have a misguided notion we have some right to claim ownership. We don’t. We don’t own our bodies, we occupy them. We can’t keep them from aging or changing. We may be able to lessen the visible effects of our unhealthy behaviors and the constant pull of gravity and genetics, but we cannot stop our march towards death or the visible proof of that continual process. We don’t own others. They too have a timeline and will move through this life on their own path. Our inability to accept that life is transitory and that the people in our lives are as impermanent as we are creates a path to misery because loss of life is unavoidable. In the poignant words of Walter White, “Every life comes with a death sentence.” We don’t even own items we own. A burglar can take my computer. An auto accident can wreck my car. A fire can incinerate my home and everything inside it. And there is very little I can do about any of it, really.

This morning I looked out my bedroom window into the park-like backyard I am fortunate enough to enjoy. There were finches and nuthatches clinging to the feeder. Squirrels chasing each other around the tree trunk. A mouse scurrying away with a fallen bit of feed corn. A small bunny gnawing a dandelion. This is not the same bunny that inhabited our yard before (I will never forget you, wherever you are, Wobble Bunny), yet our yard still has a bunny. The dead squirrel we found last week has been replaced by another squirrel happy to stake his claim. The players are different but the play is the same. This, in a nutshell, is life.

Loss is certain. Change is inexorable. Pain is compulsory. How we approach and what we take from these guarantees is a choice. My children are almost grown, and I can wallow in sadness about their impending departure or I can appreciate them now. People I love will move on. My hair will get thinner. Items I have lost may show up eventually or they may not. But squandering time perseverating about the loss of people or belongings I could never stake claim to in the first place is useless. I am going to practice appreciating life and its players now. So, I am going to close up my computer, drag my sons out of their basement cave, and take them outside to appreciate the carousel of revolving life in our yard because the only loss I can avoid is a wasted opportunity to own the fullness of this moment just as it is.

Clever Girl

Pale_Blue_Dot

That tiny dot about halfway down in the center of the brown line is Earth as seen from deep space by Voyager 1. Feel small yet? 

“That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilizations, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every hopeful child, every mother and father, every inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every superstar, every supreme leader, every saint and sinner in the history of our species, lived there – on a mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam…

…To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

– Carl Sagan

I have a deep and abiding respect for those, like Carl Sagan, who are able to see beyond themselves and understand the precarious nature of life on this blue orb that affords us our existence. Some of my favorite images were captured by the Hubble telescope, an instrument with value that can’t be calculated in the billions of dollars it has taken to create and maintain it. Through its lens, we measly creatures are barely able to scratch the surface of the vastness of the universe. Sit for a while with a Hubble image of a galaxy cluster and allow its magnitude to envelop you. When life hands me an epic smackdown, I view photos from the telescope to put things in my life back into perspective. All the stress we feel in our tiny lives and all the weight we give ourselves is lost in those images. We are nothing. We are less than nothing with regard to what we have been able to discern of the universe, yet what we do on this minuscule speck of cosmic dust means everything to our survival.

President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord, while disappointing and disastrous on many levels, is not surprising. Small minds yield small thinking. As full-disclosure of the president’s decision penetrated the news world yesterday, I discussed it with our teenage sons. There is nothing more important to me than teaching my sons their place in this world and their responsibility to it as educated, white males of privilege. I encourage my kids to be forward thinkers and solution seekers. There is no room for a future in a world where we live in the past. As I was lamenting the damage done by climate-change deniers and our unwillingness to make personal changes to save this planet, my oldest said this:

“The planet doesn’t care what we do. We will all die off and the earth will go on without us. The earth has suffered far worse than what we are doing to it now and it is still here.”

Dozens of hours spent voluntarily absorbing science-based programming on his iPad has given my son a realistic understanding of life’s precariousness here. We place so much importance on our impact on this planet, and for good reason, but our impact on this planet only matters insomuch as pertains to the existence of life on it. We don’t matter at all to this space particle that transports us around our star. If all humans suddenly ceased to exist, in as little as 25 years, three-fourths of paved roads would be covered by vegetation. In just three hundred years, man-made metal structures like the towers “great men” build and emblazon with their glowing, gold names would crumble and disappear. And after 10,000 years, only stone structures like Mt Rushmore and the Great Pyramids would be left to offer proof that we ever existed. We don’t matter to the earth. It does not give a shit if we cease to be.

We are erasable. For all the movies we’ve made and books we’ve written about alien populations wiping out our existence, we are our greatest threat. We know this, which is why we write stories about escaping the damage we leave behind. If we continue to barrel along, turning a blind eye to our impact on the air, water, and land we rely on for survival, then we will die off. We will have earned that fate with our ignorance and intransigence. Someday, perhaps a future population will refer to us the way we now refer to the dinosaurs, as sad, ancient relics incapable of stopping their own extinction, doomed to disappear. The difference is that the dinosaurs will have lived 159 million year longer than our species and have done so without sentient brains in their reptilian heads. Clever girl, indeed.

Swear Like A Mother

IMG_2595

Word

When you become a mom, everything changes. Your life is no longer wholly your own, a fact both awe-inspiring and terrifying. Little eyes are making mental notes of your example right at the moment when you are most exhausted, stressed out, and unsure. It’s not fair. Still, we try to do our best, especially when our children are young. For example, when our sons were small and learning to speak, I gave up swearing. Well, at least I tucked my offensive wagging tongue back in my mouth for about eight years when they attended Christian school and I didn’t want my words to come back to haunt me with their teachers. (On a side note, my youngest did go to the principal’s office in kindergarten for exclaiming a hearty son-of-a-bitch when he didn’t get to be the first kid in the reading teepee, but he overheard Sawyer say that while we were watching LOST. That one’s on you, ABC.)

As my sons aged and we moved away from the Christian school, I eased back into my potty mouth persona. First, I stopped substituting cheese and rice for Jesus Christ and crud for crap. But each swear word is a gateway drug for another, more foul word. Soon, shoot became shit and dang it became dammit. From there I went to the hard shit, right to the mother effing F-bomb when the occasion warranted. I mean, when the Costco rotisserie chicken you planned to serve for dinner slips out of your hand like a soapy kid in the bathtub, you have every reason to cut your tongue loose right before you look around for witnesses, invoke the 5-second rule, and toss that puppy onto the cutting board where it was headed in the first place. Who could blame you? Sometimes the situation deserves a meatier expletive.

Today, my friend (and fellow potty-mouth mom) Lynne sent me this article with a link to the new ad from Kraft released in time for Mother’s Day. In the ad, Melissa Mohr, author of Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing, covers creative substitutions for swear words because, well, moms are expected to set a good example for their kids. In the midst of raucous children interrupting her video and the all-too-common experience of stepping on rogue Legos, Melissa offers examples of ways to curb your swearing with more colorful expressions that aren’t verboten expletives. The ad is funny and honest. It hit close to home for me, as I imagine it will for millions of mothers everywhere.

My husband is not a fan of my swearing. He came from a home where his parents rarely, if ever, swore. In twenty four years, the only curse I have heard from either of my in-laws is an occasional good grief from my father-in-law which, let’s face it, is more of a charming interjection than a curse. Steve would like me to stop swearing altogether. My potty mouth bothers him, and I get it. But, dammit, after years of curbing my own behaviors and words for everyone else, from my parents to my sons to my teachers to my sons’ teachers to pretty much anyone who is not me, I am sick of pretending that you are only a good woman, a lady, when you eschew foul language. While I appreciate other’s reasons for not swearing and I honor their choices, I can’t get behind it in my own life. I am clever enough to cease use of inappropriate words in inappropriate situations. I often avoid swearing in my blog posts to prove that I have good judgment occasionally. But, our boys are about to turn fourteen and sixteen. If they aren’t hearing these words from me, they sure as hell are hearing them from their teenage friends or the television. No point in worrying about what language they might pick up. There are so few perks to getting older, but one of them should be the ability to say whatever you want under your own roof without censure. Steve, if you’re reading this, I understand your concerns, but I gotta be me.

IMG_2597

More great cards from my friend Colleen at ©Personal Paper Hugs

As Mother’s Day approaches, I would like to give a shout out to the moms I know whose foul mouths make me smile, from my friend, Colleen, who runs Personal Paper Hugs, an online store filled with cheeky cards she creates (add it to your Etsy favorites here) to my Queen Bitch, Leanna, whose daily language so closely mirrors my own that sometimes it’s hard to tell which comments are from her mind and which are from mine. I owe a lot to the fearless, mouthy women who raise me up with their honesty, the women who make me feel normal. There is too much unsolicited advice about what defines a “good” mother constantly weighing us down. We spend far more time berating ourselves over what we perceive as parenting foibles than we do acknowledging and appreciating the dedication, resolve, and sacrifice we make daily for our families. Sometimes we even beat ourselves up for letting a couple choice words slip in front of our children. We’re human. It’s about time give ourselves a little leeway to act human, even if we are also mothers. To all you moms out there who curse (on occasion or perpetually), remember that even with the naughty words you are amazing, vital, and, above all, doing a fucking great job. Your kids aren’t going to be derelicts simply because you pepper your life with a few not-so-creative word choices. Sometimes a well-placed curse is the only thing keeping you from losing your proverbial shit. Motherhood is hard. Expletives may be required.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Exhortation Proclamation

FullSizeRender

The peacock that sits on my desk to remind me to display my feathers

Once upon a time, in the days before voicemail or texting or the Internet, I kept a box filled with handwritten letters from boyfriends. The box was inked red and white and once contained a small, boombox from Radio Shack that played my New Wave cassette tapes. The empty box became the depository for letters I received from boys, and it housed them safely until I needed a walk down memory lane or a reminder that I was worthy of love. Some of its contents were pages long, penned in perfect cursive and detailing elaborate stories as if letters written by a soldier during war time to his sweetheart back home. Some pages were filled with song lyrics or poems. Some were hastily scrawled notes on scrap paper recalling someone came by to see me. Some were actual store-bought cards with a sweet handwritten sentiment inside. And some were missives written from all the way across country that arrived weekly in the mail because writing was far less expensive than long distance phone calls and miraculously made the 1500 mile separation seem shorter. As a collection, those letters told a story of a young woman I didn’t recognize, a young woman who somehow garnered attention she didn’t understand.

When I became engaged to my husband and we were in the process of moving my things into his house, he asked me to get rid of the box. In his youthful insecurity, he felt there was no need for me to keep letters from old boyfriends; after all, he was my future. And in my youthful insecurity, I decided to acquiesce rather than risk a fight over a past that was long gone and could not be recovered. At 26, I had no idea tossing that box into the dumpster that sunny afternoon would be one of my only regrets and, at 47, my husband feels miserable for having asked me to do so. We live, we learn.

Even though that box and its beautiful expressions of youth were buried in a landfill in 1994, pieces of those penned creations had been read often enough they were indelibly etched into my memory. One sentence from one letter in particular struck a chord.

“If you came across a beautiful peacock with its feathers kept tightly closed, exposing their brilliant iridescence to no one, would you not exhort it to do so?” 

He had written it while sitting at the main desk in the University Memorial Center on the University of Colorado campus during the Odyssey of the Mind conference, noting with humor that the youth in the competition might be better termed the “oddities of the mind.” He had been trying to coax me out of my shell, and I had been railing against the notion that I even was in a shell. He was an incredibly bright, friendly, funny, and confident young man, and I thought he was the greatest thing since the invention of the Sony Walkman (look it up, kids). That he liked me enough to spend any time with me was an anomaly. Yet, he sat there, writing this note to try to convince me of my worth while I sat in complete denial and thought to myself with naive pride, “I know damn well what I am worth and there is nothing wrong with me the way I am so stop telling me how to be.”

As I continue to inch my way towards my fifty year milestone, I find myself drawn once again to that unforgettable sentence. It has taken me almost thirty years to understand that young man was attempting to hold a mirror up to me, to force me to look into it, to see how much I had going for me, and to help me understand what I was missing. Alas, I was not ready for that message then. Hell. Even though his sentence runs through my brain on a loop these days, I’m still not sure I’m ready to hear it. I spent so long being afraid of failure that I couldn’t even fathom reaching for success. It’s a sobering thought made worse by the current understanding that my inability to hear what he was saying cost me decades of ignorant struggle against myself. Some of us are slow learners, indeed.

Still…I’ve been thinking about the peacock I’ve been hiding and I’ve been working on relaxing those feathers a bit, fanning them out a little at a time before pulling them back in to keep them safe. Every time I sit down to practice my drums, they open. Every time I allow myself to entertain the notion that I could write a book, they unfold a bit more. When I think about going back to college and pursuing a new career, I feel them display a little more. And each time the sunlight hits them, I come to becoming the me I was destined to be before I learned to be fearful instead. With each flash of their brilliance, I get more encouragement from those around me and I warm to the notion maybe there is something to me worth appreciating.

So, if you ever come across a stubborn peacock who is acting like a chicken, please write them a letter and exhort them to embrace and display their beauty. You never know when those words might be just the thing needed to open their eyes to their own possibility — even if it takes them nearly thirty years to get there.